Armenian Psych-Folk Revival: “Something Different” From Discotchari

Peter Holslin dives into the significance of LA-based imprint Discotchari's re-release of a forgotten 45RPM 7-inch record from 1970 – the sole collaboration between Armenian oud player John...
By    November 7, 2023

Image via Discotchari

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Peter Holslin needs oud lessons.

To the average crate-digger, mere utterance of the word “deadstock” can inspire Pavlovian excitement and anticipation. Deadstock refers to sealed, mint-condition records that at one point sat on store shelves but never got sold. It’s a term that evokes the gathering of dust and the moldering of cardboard—picture piles of records packed away in their factory boxes and forgotten for decades. But deadstock also evokes feelings of hope, optimism, and unabiding freshness. For people who are constantly on the prowl for overlooked tunes and obscure sounds, a piece of vinyl deadstock can have the almost primeval allure of unplowed snow or a virgin forest.

So you can imagine what a find it must have been for the curators behind the new LA-based imprint Discotchari when they recently stumbled across an entire deadstock run of a long-forgotten 45RPM 7-inch, containing some of the finest Armenian psych-folk ever put to tape.

The two-track effort, originally recorded in 1970, features the Armenian oud player John Bilezikjian and Lebanese percussionist Raja Zahr teaming up for a one-off collaboration. There are mournful melodies, breaks of funky Arabic percussion, and proggy harpsichord riffs that play against soulful runs on the oud, a short-necked lute central to much Middle Eastern music. The duo apparently disbanded not long after they recorded the two tracks, and the records fell into obscurity as the musicians went onto pursue successful solo careers. But now Discotchari has revived this mysterious 7-inch, releasing it this month as a combination deadstock reissue and digital release under the title Something Different.

Something Different sounds at times like 1970s prog bands like King Crimson and Soft Machine, but the arrangements come straight from the music you’d hear in Armenian and Arab urban centers like Glendale, Burbank, and Beirut. The Side A track, “Zulu Man,” is a slow burn of dense, layered instrumentation and moody atmospherics, complete with over-the-top lyrics that reference an African shaman and the troubles of man. Side B’s “Chemical Reaction” is even better: A two-and-a-half minute instrumental banger perfectly primed for a late-night needle drop at an all-vinyl DJ set. Moving at a bracing pace, the track is like surf rock with harpsichords and doumbek—a sure-shot way to get your dopamine receptors firing.

Discotchari was founded by Zach Asdourian and Anaïs Gyulbudaghyan as an offshoot of their label Critique. While Critique focuses on electronic music, they intend this new venture to serve as a platform for their latest Armenian musical finds. The name of the imprint combines the word “Disco” with “Kochari,” the name of an Armenian folk dance, and releases like Something Different represent Asdourian’s and Gyulbudaghyan’s culturally savvy, polyglot outlook. They come from a shared Armenian heritage, but that heritage is anything but static—rather, it’s a living, breathing, ever-evolving culture, extending from its origins in the West Asian steppe to Diaspora communities in Southern California and across the globe. Something Different is just one of many pieces of vinyl they’ve found along that complex path.

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