Moor Mother and DJ Haram's Noise Band 700 Bliss Feels Like a Spa Trip
After years as a live act, the Philadelphia duo’s debut project ‘Spa 700’ is out today on Halcyon Veil and Don Giovanni.
Photo by Amy J. Breesman
Noise can be cleansing. That’s been the principle of several decades of a certain strand of musicians armed with oscillators, mixers, and other more improvised instruments—that harsh static and atonal cacophony can do wonders for clearing out your emotional gunk, like sonic ipecac. It’s a lesson that the Philadelphia shredders DJ Haram and Moor Mother have both taught well in their solo work, issuing distortion-blistered beats indebted to both rap and club music from around the globe and abstract synth poetry that draws from the grey history of industrial music among other vibrant traditions of heavy music. They make noise as steel wool, favoring the sort of sounds that can peel off your rough outer layers, leaving you more sensitive and open to the world around you, and causing you to more closely evaluate all its all-too-obvious ills.
Over the past few years, they’ve also been working together as 700 Bliss. It’s mostly operated as a live phenomenon, hitting Philly parties like they’d driven a bulldozer into the building. They’ve released a couple of loose tracks here and there, but today they make their proper debut with Spa 700 a five-track collection that—like its title suggest—intertwines the abrasive strains of their solo work into something more healing than usual. Over email, Moor Mother explains that it’s meant to be “a retreat from the bullshit attacking ur ears.” Haram continues that it’s supposed to evoke the multisensorial experience of that retreat. “Spas bring you wellness through all the senses,” she says. “Shout out informal meeting places of femmes.”
But don’t take that to mean that either of them backing down from the scouring power of their solo efforts, this is a duo that, as Haram says, “met and made first impressions in the pit.” The beats are spare and generally devoid of distortion, but these tracks find their impact in other ways, ignoring accepted production rules in favor of stacking contrasting melodies and piercing synthetics in a quiltwork that’s as comforting and suffocating as a weighted blanket. Each of the tracks offers a slightly different take on this overall theme. “Basic" leans on chest-caving 808s that are equal parts Wolf Eyes and Ronny J. “Cosmic Slop” blossoms from inky abstraction into a gravity-warped club beat, as if it’s being pulled from deep within a black hole. Elsewhere there’s contorted takes on rap production—like sunny Madlib flips shining through a prism—and industrial wastelands. They cover a lot of ground, it’s all harrowing, and all healing.
All the while, Moor Mother sings, murmurs, screams, and raps over the top. Like her solo work and her crushing poetry with free jazz ensemble Irreversible Entanglements, she favors lyrics that are equal parts clever, ecstatic, and upsetting, shining a light on society’s darkest institutions—anti-blackness, alienation, government-sponsored murder. Sometimes it’s explicit (like the refrain on “Ring the Alarm” that goes “Yeah, you heard what I said / That anti-black’s programmed) and sometimes it’s more evocative (like her invocation of “Planking in a grave / Punching holes through the dirt” on “Basic”). But throughout, it’s packed with meaning—the sort of thing you’ll return to again and again and find new layers (it took me a handful of plays before I heard a sly reference to “Sunglasses at Night” creep through the static).
There’s something about this whole that feels uplifting, a sort of freedom that comes when you say fuck everything and embrace the noise. Both Haram and Moor Mother pushed back at my suggestions that there’s a lightness baked into these five tracks. “I don't think the tracks are light,” Moor Mother wrote. “They are rugged and I can only speak on what I know and I don't like to dumb down lyrics for the sake of making a so-called song or making it easy for people to numb themselves to.” Haram continued, saying that while Spa 700 was made “without white noise filters or tons of distortion,” they do have music along those lines too.
But I realize, as I continue to pummel myself with Spa 700, that it’s not so much a lightness I experience, but more the relief you feel after a deep clean. After picking at the spiritual plaque for five tracks at a time, it can make you feel ready to confront the world again—to dive headlong back into the fray.