Written by May Mansour
It comes as no surprise, to us at least, that across the entire MENA region, Egypt is the only progressive country devoid of an actual proactive punk scene. This is despite the intrigue of the fashion world when it comes to punk aesthetics, where you see models, and influencers dressed the part. However, the surprise here is that a band consisting of two guys based in Alexandria have managed to get into punk music, record their sound, and go on international radio shows.
One might open up their horizons to a whole new experience and end up liking such an unfamiliar sound, but it exists, in Egypt, through a band called Gnar Jar. They’re genuine outcasts, and their sound is essential in shaping what corresponds to defiant subculture, and they belong to Egypt’s skate scene headquartered in Alexandria, where a handful of people enjoy Gnar Jar’s music.
We interviewed the duo, Ziad Ashraf and Amin Reda of Gnar Jar, in the hopes of further amplifying to the curious Egyptian, what punk truly entails, as an ethos, and most importantly, as an everyday practice.
- How did you get into punk in Egypt?
Skate videos and skateboarding video games introduced us to punk rock; they had punk soundtracks from bands like Dead Kennedys and Minor Threat. The fast, aggressive music was so appealing that it went along perfectly with skateboarding. And sure enough, punk rock replaced whatever we were listening to at 12 on our MP3 players.
- What else are you guys doing in lockdown life when not playing music?
Skateboarding mainly, hanging out at Skateimpact, the skate shop, and work - whether it’s lockdown or not.
- What are the best skating spots in Alex?
Kolleyet El Handasa (College of Engineering) in Alexandria. We started adding our DIY skate obstacles to the spot, so it’s more fun than ever.
- Considering you’re a punk band, did venues closing during coronavirus affect you at all? Did the thousands of promoters who love punk music suddenly stop calling? And, of course, have you gone bankrupt since?
Yes, we lost millions *haha*. No, really, it didn’t make much of a difference. Venues only want electronic music, so we doubt we lost any offers.
- People in Egypt are all up in the fashion side of punk for the last few years without a clue of the culture behind it, music included. Why do you think that is?
Fashion/streetwear folks are always trying to look like skateboarders and punks. In Egypt, these are the same people who made fun of us skaters and insulted us for wearing skinny jeans and rocking long hair back in 2007-2009. Now, it’s just “kewl” for every bucket hat/colourful sock hipster brand to have a skateboard in a shoot.
- If you had the power, how would you revert the punk-curious into full-time devotees?
What we actually did in Alexandria, and we learned it from Bob Rob, our ex-guitarist, is that we’d make flyers with cool artwork and stickers and go around giving them out. Of course, playing gigs would help out a lot, and sharing playlists, which we do a lot with our friends. A zine would be useful, but we don’t have the time to put one together.
- We’ll ask you the same series of questions people always ask punks: “WHY SO LOUD? Why not chill out? What satisfaction could you possibly get from playing so much noise?”
Slower music is boring to us. It depends on the lifestyle; some lifestyles are faster than others. We skate, and we work at a skate shop. Maybe if we were suit-and-tie accountants, we would’ve listened to radio music, or if we were doing yoga in Dahab and getting in touch with our inner-whatever, maybe Pink Floyd would’ve been so cool.
- What can you not survive without?
Beer, skateboards, girls, and cats.
- Any future releases or projects in the works?
Yes, we’re working on a new album. Stay tuned.