A Soundtrack to Antics: Omar Souleyman and Justine’s Aren’t a Perfect Match

by Dylan Garsee

Three years ago, I caught Omar Souleyman at Fun Fun Fun Fest. It was the set before YACHT, and I wanted to get close so I could scream the lyrics to “Psychic City (Voodoo City)” at Claire. Being my typical punctual self, I arrived about 30 minutes early to the Blue Stage, halfway through Omar Souleyman’s set. Hypnotized by the repetitive Korg synth lines, high tempo Europop beats, and a middle aged man in traditional Syrian garb shouting Arabic lyrics, I joined the 100 or so sweatily dancing in the dust storm and never looked back. Even though I saw Spank Rock and Big Freedia later that evening, I danced the hardest at Omar Souleyman.

In the years since, Souleyman’s profile has increased thanks to work with artists like Bjork and Four Tet, which makes his set last Tuesday at Justine’s Brassiere confounding. Ignore the fact that Justine’s is a French restaurant and the opening band was local psych funk ensemble Golden Dawn Arkestra, it’s weird that Souleyman played such a small venue, if you can even call it that, considering his last appearance in Austin was at Red 7.

 

The vibe was off because the show wasn’t treated seriously. Golden Dawn Arkestra, as talented as a funk band could be, started off the night with a very lighthearted performance that sometimes leaned into jokey, with references to space and Ra and dancers that threw glitter stars and a bassist that looked very similar to a Chinese man appropriating John Bender. While they were fun, the energy they gave off was that this was a sort of free-for-all interactive evening, when in fact Omar Souleyman is the opposite of that.

Omar Souleyman doesn’t move around the stage that much. Most of the time he stands there with his mic between his arms calmly clapping to the beat, bringing the mic to his mouth only to sing or add in the occasional “hey!”  His inactivity on stage adds to the hypnotizing nature of his performance, but some in the crowd took that as an invitation to come on stage and dance along to his show, something that visibly angered Souleyman to the point where he had to get staff to remove them from the stage, at which point he cut his show to about six songs.

 

He may be making dance music, but unless an artist invites the audience onstage, it is never okay to invade the performance space. Just as stage divers are the scum of the earth, taking the attention away from the artist is selfish. You are paying to see a performance, not a soundtrack to antics.

In the end, Omar Souleyman’s 2013 album Wenu Wenu is a great dance record that deserves to be seen live. Just not at a French restaurant with a crowd who clearly has never been to a concert before.


Dylan Garsee is a freelance writer/bingo enthusiast currently living in Austin, TX. He is a member of the Loser City collective and used to avoid reading comics while writing for Comics Bulletin. An avid record collector, Dylan can mostly be seen at Waterloo Records, holding that one God Speed You! Black Emperor record he can’t afford, crying. You can follow him on Twitter, where he horrifies celebrities as @garseed.