Abdullah Siddiqui: A Star is Born

January 3, 2021

Abdullah Siddiqui embraces electronic music and its many facets to create a voice that is building a narrative about the self, spaces, colours and melancholia while taking sonic risks.

Album artwork for Heterotopia

“Someone falls to pieces/Sleeping all alone/Someone kills the pain/Spinning in the silence”.

– ‘Be Yourself’ by Audioslave

There are always artists who get it right with one album and vanish into thin air afterwards; they continue their journey but never quite create the thunder they created with that one album.

With Metannoya, his debut album released in 2019, Abdullah Siddiqui created thunder as an electronic artist and to a point that everyone took notice. Add to it the truism that debut albums are often forgiven mistakes for they are the beginning; step one and Metannoya was destined for success.

A sophomoric album doesn’t get the same leeway.

Abdullah Siddiqui, in the world of electronic music, is an anomaly, a polymath who has not only risen as one of the most exciting electronic artists of this generation but is making room for electronic music – in all its facets – to be embraced past EDM.

To do so, Abdullah Siddiqui has not only used rich synth-based music to create a sonic landscape. He has done so in a manner with the right samples and guitar loops, manipulation of voice as texture and synth bass, drum arrangements to create, nah, elevate an album that has made the electronic genre something worth delving into.

What’s clear is that most of the music is synth-based with minimal acoustic instrumentation, first and foremost. The album that takes its title from the concept of Heterotopia by philosopher Michel Foucault is Abdullah taking a step towards the known and the unknown. If Metannoya was electro-pop or simply put, safer in terms of its sound, Heterotopia is where the prose and the sound grow up.

“And be yourself is all that you can do/To be yourself is all that you can do” - ‘Be Yourself’ by Audioslave

Heterotopia may have seen several single releases but to experience it as a cohesive album, it must be heard from the beginning, with a song called ‘Pink’. What begins as a sparse, minimal electronic landscape morphs into a hyperbolic, glossy and bright space, which ultimately becomes chaotic. But the landscape matches the verses on ‘Pink’ where the songs hops towards optimism and comes to the end: “I’m breaking free/I’m whoever you want me to be/I’m available for love.”

In ‘Frontline’ featuring Natasha Noorani, dubstep influence steps in with wobbly synth that makes it sound at one point that your house is crumbling, which is perfectly laudable because the lyrics make you wonder if this is a broken, negative toxic relationship Abdullah and Natasha have written about. “I’m not mad at what you said/I’m just mad at who you are/I’m in the backseat, driving/I’m on my way/I’m jumping off this ride if/you can’t change/I’m at the front line.”

‘Control’ is where things quickly change pace. With organic percussion joining synth-based mastery, this is a song that is hard to interpret. Unrequited love? The need for some control in an environment where control is slippery. The song is very much open to various interpretations.

With ‘Magenta Cyan’, Abdullah is exploring South-Asian heritage, his own past and yet the song is also about self-loathing and unrequited love if you read between the lines. The manipulation of Meesha Shafi’s voice is something to be marveled by while the music video clearly shows a penchant to learn about where he came from. Then again, this could be my interpretation.

What makes Heterotopia such a force is that Abdullah has not shied away from dabbling in genres or being influenced by trap, house, dubstep, qawwali samples as well as jazz, which is most palpable on his song with Zoe Viccaji called ‘On Our Own’.

From purely electronic club beats to textural loops to manipulating his own voice as instrument on the song ‘Preacher’ to minimalistic discreet samples, like micro beats such as strings, cello, violin, it’s all there along with the tabla and subtle horns acoustic percussion, almost tribal drum samples, chimes, steel drums, underneath synths. Abdullah has explored and created what is a sonic adventure.

If there is darkness within the verses, there is also light. If there is loss, there is also love – whether unrequited or not – is your perspective. It almost feels that Heterotopia paints a more positive horizon while staying within the multiverse of music that only Abdullah Siddiqui, it seems, can create.

Abdullah Siddiqui: A Star is Born