One to Watch: Lara Sarkissian

If music was to ever run through someone’s blood, it would be through Lara Sarkissian’s. An Iranian-Armenian artist whose work kindles her heritage with the blazing torch of electronic music. In movements that synchronise the past and future, she blends the sounds of a youth spent within the Armenian diaspora of San Francisco with the raw ecstasy of electricity.

Decisive in her sound, complex in her technique, Sarkissian’s first intersection with creating music was at high school where she learnt the drums. However, it wasn’t until after years studying film at UC Berkeley and a move to Copenhagen that percussion reclaimed her attention. From learning Ableton in her room, she distilled her love for experimental film into scores of fizzing beats. Taming the vastness of sound within an electronic, worldless voice which ebbs from the soul. Unique and hypnotising, hers was, and is, a voice accented with traditional Armenian instruments such as the duduk (a woodwind instrument made of apricot wood).

After refining her sound through the moniker of FOOZOOL in the underworld of clubs, it was only in 2016 that she began releasing singles under her own name. While her debut, ‘Apre ԱՊՐԷ’, feels like a heavy metal single in comparison to the recorded ambience she produces now, the track is alive. With a title that borrows from a Paruyr Sevak poem, it embodies its translation, “to live”. Moving like a body forcing its way through the bright day and stormy night, Sarkissian orchestrates a movement through time, or more aptly through memory (also known as Hishatak).

It wasn’t until 2017 that Sarkissian made her live international debut at Moscow’s Museum of Modern Art. Here she filled rooms with sound to complement their Hosting The Inhuman exhibition. Soon she took up more extended residencies outside of America, moving to Berlin a year later to create an immersive sound and visual installation with Jemma Woolmore for the Institute for Sound and Music in Berlin and ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe, Germany.

It was in this period that her live and recorded sounds started to diverge, if only slightly. While her live sets still imbued the energy of collective euphoria, her recorded tracks reached for deeper meaning. Increasingly tempered with an emotional and often soothing ambient flare, this growing emotional spark culminated in the debut EP, ‘Disruption’.

“staggering woodwind and industrial beats embody a wave that spans the entire world – one end touching American soil and the other lapping at the Middle Eastern coast”

Said to be the soundtrack to a fictional film of Armenian fairy tales, the narratives are a mystery from an outsider’s perspective. Nevertheless, their emotions are not. Ambient in a similar way to being left alone with your wandering thoughts, Sarkissian uses these five tracks to communicate with passed family members. Reaching its climax in ‘The Wave’s Recountal’, this track’s staggering woodwind and industrial beats embody a wave that spans the entire world – one end touching American soil and the other lapping at the Middle Eastern coast.

Sarkissian’s work goes far beyond just the creation of music, however. Most notably, she is the co-founder of the Chai Club. Founded in 2016 with her collaborator, 8ullentina (Esra Canoğulları), this small collective found its feet through local club nights in the Bay Area. But now, five years later, they are so much more. 

“each monthly show works to foster collective awareness and empathy through sound”

Almost undefinable, Chai Club is a movement aimed to fill a cultural void. While still based in the Bay, its branches reach across the globe. Uniting minorities who have been traditionally silenced within the pursuit of conventional Western music. With a radio show on the global digital station NTS, Chai Club does far more than play a setlist. Rather, each monthly show works to foster collective awareness and empathy through sound. Taking their October 2020 as an example, here Sarkissian used the platform and a range of Armenian artists to call attention to the mounting human rights crisis in Artsakh following the attack by Azerbaijan.

An unshakable musical beacon within the global Armenian community, 2021 has already seen Sarkissian release another single of pure obsidian, ‘Suspended In Time, By The Sea’. As a track that finds its home within the collection YERAZ [Past, Present and Future Armenian Sounds From Los Angeles To Yerevan], it only highlights further Lara Sarkissian’s innate ability to create intoxicating melting pots of sound which unify the Middle Eastern and Western musical traditions.

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