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700 Bliss Nothing to Declare Hyperdub


Halfway through Nothing to Declare, the voices of Moor Mother and DJ Haram appear in a skit, in which the pair trade spoof critiques of their own work. DJ Haram, her voice an exaggerated Valley Girl snarl, is berating the album for its darkness. “Literally, who wants to hear that shit?” she asks of the listener. The record’s dystopian pronouncements are also a target. “It’s not like it’s the end of the world or anything,” says the voice of Moor Mother. “I mean, gimme a break.”

This mock commentary playfully acknowledges that this record – the first since their 2018 debut EP Spa 700 – isn’t exactly geared towards the frictionless world of algorithmic playlists or passive listening. The pair, after all, met in the midst of Philadelphia’s raucous noise/DIY scene. But the skit also hints at the fact that voices like theirs – queer, female, Black, Middle Eastern – are all too often pushed aside in the music industry, deemed too challenging unless they’re regurgitating pre-agreed narratives. As solo artists, both Moor Mother and DJ Haram have long been interrogating the cultural codes that determine who gets to speak and who is listened to. Moor Mother through her brutal takedowns of America’s self-constructed mythology, and DJ Haram through her work with the Discwoman collective, a group of women and non-binary artists steadily opening up spacefor marginalised artists in male-dominated electronic music scenes.

Despite calling the album Nothing to Declare, 700 Bliss have, of course, a lot to say. The record is mostly built around short, sub three-minute tracks – bulletins of alienation and tales of a daily struggle for air in a world that often feels suffocating and saturated with violence. Sometimes this violence is very literal: on Capitol (presumably a reference to the 6 January 2021, capitol insurrection in Washington D.C.), Moor Mother describes America as “a call for arms against itself/ and the selling of humanity one war at a time”. Elsewhere the violence takes on various other forms: on Discipline, a “multi-millionaire with his castle in the air”, dispenses psychological, chemical and biological warfare against an unsuspecting population.

The brilliance of the record is that, despite the dense, grimy production and claustrophobic subject matter, it’s suffused with mischief, humour and warmth, particularly on the tracks featuring guest vocals from the likes of Lafawndah and Orion Sun. On Totally Spies, for instance, Lafawndah’s lullaby whisper shifts the sonic territory to warmer climes, while on Nightflame, Orion Sun’s delicate vocals soften the edges of an otherwise militant track in which the chorus is “bitch make room”. Both contributions add emotional texture to a record that otherwise would feel fuelled primarily by anger.

Haram’s beats – often using crunchy darbuka drum samples and brooding basslines – create a solid anchor for Moor Mother’s lyrics across much of the album, while tracks like Seven eschew any beats at all in favour of crackles, distortion and rough field recordings. One of the most powerful tracks is Candace Parker, a collaboration with Palestinian hip-hop producer Muqata’a – another artist trading in noise, glitch and distortion to draw attention to voices that are otherwise ignored, forgotten or actively repressed. The track rattles with repressed rage, circling around a devastating lyrical hook: “they rape our mothers while y’all just record”.

“Is this even music?”, asks Moor Mother in the Easyjet skit. It’s a provocative question that highlights how Nothing to Declare revels in paradox, and is all the more powerful for doing so. This is music that is deliberately abstruse, raw and antagonistic. For these two artists, noise becomes a form of armour: a way to shield themselves from the harshness of the world they inhabit, but also a barrier against other people’s judgements, giving them the space to create work that is utterly fearless.