Massive Scar Era is on the front lines of Rock and Roll. In a literal sense, they live in Egypt which is in the midst of a revolution. There is a history in their country of metal heads being thrown in jail for being devil worshippers, and the women in the band must contend with organized gangs who rape women in order to discourage them from being in public. Musically Massive Scar Era is pushing the boundaries of Metal: the band has a violinist and a singer that uses both clean vocals and brutal vocals in the same song. The music of Massive Scar Era ranges from soft and melodic to brutal and fast. The band has played entire concerts with acoustic songs and clean vocals. On other occasions the bands set-list would fit right in with the most brutal of the death metal bands.
Although the members of Massive Scar Era have never heard of the band Heart, they play the same role in the Egyptian metal scene that Heart did in the hard rock scene of the 1970s in the U.S. The band consists of two women and two men, it is one of 3 metal bands in Egypt with a female lead singer, and the only one led by a woman.
The name Massive Scar Era is sometimes shortened to Mascara. The band chose this name to give it both a feminine and an aggressive image.
When Sherine Amr founded the band in 2005 her parents would only allow her to play with women. In 2009 they relaxed these restrictions and the band evolved into its current line up which consists of two women and two men. The bands current line up is as follows:
Sherine Amr, Vocalist and guitarist
Nancy Mounir, Violinist
Seif El-Bayoki, Bassist
Maged Faltas, Drummer
The band has played not only in their own country but has toured in the USA, Sweden, Poland, The Czech Republic, Germany, and the UAE. Their music appears in the Egyptian movie “Microphone.” They have gone as far as they can go in their own country and now they are looking to see how far they can go in the rest of the world.
Massive Scar Era came to the United States to attend the South by Southwest (SXSW) conference in Austin Texas. They arrived at the interview already talking about the seminar that they had just attended.
The pictures are from a show in their own country. We were not able to attend their performance in Austin, but were able to contact the Egyptian photographers Ahmed Barakat and Mennatullah Hossam and get photographs from their April 21, 2013 performance at the El Sawy Culture Wheel in Cairo, Egypt. The following interview took place on March 16, 2013.
S: We were at the session today on “Women in Metal, And Why Is That Still An Issue?” They were talking about the kinds of things they face. Our issues are a bit more serious.
N: When I got up and told them our story everybody was clapping.
S: They are complaining that they never get the appreciation that they want when they do shows. When they get to the shows people think that they are the girlfriends or the merch [vendors]. We don’t even get to the stage!
N: It is a big thing for us to get on the stage.
D: But you do get to the stage sometimes, I have seen a few pictures of you performing.
N: Yes sometimes.
S: But we really wish that the music scene in Egypt would have a few more venues for us. It is very frustrating if you have one venue only, and lately another venue accepted us one time. We are not performing as often as we want. It makes you frustrated. Why do we have to go to rehearsals if we don’t get to play?
D: One venue in the whole country?
S: The whole country!
D: Not just one city, the whole country?
S: The whole country.
D: There aren’t private parties or raves.
S: Private parties are not really allowed for this type of music.
D: Do you know what raves are?
S: Rave music!
D: Yes, not just rave music, but the event of a rave? Where people just go to a farm and set up the equipment . . .
S: No no no!
N: It is impossible!
S: You will face problems with the government and the tax system and permissions. In order to make a concert you have to have permission, and you have to have a registration number as a company. So an individual can never go and make a concert.
N: You have to make a lot of paperwork and pay a lot of people a lot of money under the table.
D: And do people ever have parties in the backyards or basements?
N: We do not have backyards or basements. We have tall buildings.
S: Back in the time we used to have underground or secret concerts for metal and the police always find out about it and shut it down. Since we always make it very far out in the desert, people start labeling those concerts as satanic worship concerts because it is out of the town. It is only out of the town because we don’t have places. We face so many problems from society and the system of the country.
D: Sorry to hear that.
S: It has an influence on our performance because we don’t perform that much so our stage performance is really . . .
N: We do it with all the passion.
S: We don’t have a performance, we do it naturally.
D: You are not practiced and well rehearsed; it is just very felt at the moment?
S: I do this once a year, twice a year; this year we are very lucky because we have a show in the states, then a show in Germany, in our country. This is three times in a year. Whoo Hoo! I get very shy speaking to the audience, especially in foreign language. I lose vocabulary at the moment, and sometimes because of my accent, they don’t get what I am saying.
D: I understand. I speak Spanish and sometimes I make mistakes. So how did you decide to become a Rock and Roll musician in the first place?
S: It was my dream when I was really young to play in a band, when I was 15. No, no, when I was six I wanted to be a singer, so I was singing all the time. When I was 15 and I started to listen to rock, I wanted to be in a band.
I met Nancy in a Jazz concert. Which was very odd because I am not a big fan of Jazz, but my friend was playing and I wanted to see him. Her friend was playing as well, and by chance she was sitting in the next chair and she was very interactive with the music. I had my friend with me who was playing in the [rock] band with me, and I said “Look at her very passionate about the music,” and she had the violin with her. I have always wanted to get a violinist in the band.
Backstage I saw her, she was saying “Hi,” to her friend. I said “Hi” to her, and said “What is your name? What do you listen to? Do you know Avril Lavigne?” No! First I was “Do you listen to Rock?” She said “What?” I said, “Rock, Metal?” She said “What?” I thought, this is not working. “Do you know Avril Lavigne?” Because Avril Lavigne was the most mainstream, like anyone would know. She was like “Who?” I was like “Give me your number because I want to jam with you.” She didn’t even know Avril Lavigne!
N: I was so much into Classical Baroque Music, and Jazz later on. And then we met!
D: So were you formally trained in Classical Music?
N: Not really, but I had one year at a conservatory.
D: So did you already have a band, but wanted to add a violinist?
S: Yea, since day one I wanted to [get] a violinist.
D: I saw on your website that the band started as an all girl band. Because you parents would not let you be in a band with boys. Please tell us the history of how you put together the band.
S: First I was jamming with a band of guys secretly, and my mom did not know. Then I told her that I wanted to join this band and she came with me. She did not like it at all. The walls were very insulated and if anything happened inside no one could hear me screaming. So I started secretly performing with this band which wasn’t really comfortable for me to do stuff behind mom’s back. So I said “Know what? Actually I will make it an all girls band.” I begged my friend to play drums, and I begged my other friend to play base, and it sounded very bad, but I was very happy jamming.
D: So why Metal? Why do you choose that style of music? Or do consider what you are doing Metal? Is it more punk? You call yourself post-hardcore.
S: We are not a metal band and we are not a rock band. We are not a hard core band. We are really original. I don’t consider us metal, but when I apply for anything that is Rock or Hard Core, they tell me “No, no, no, you should apply for Metal.” Then when I apply for Metal they tell me “No, no, no you are not Metal.” So we are stuck in between. Even the shape for the Hard Core Music, the director is putting [together] we are not fitting in it. That is the closest, but not really still a hard core band. We are waiting for a record label to professionally identify our genre.
N: This is a real need for us. Identify us!
D: You have done some recordings. How many songs or albums have you recorded?
S: 3 EPs. We have 12 songs recorded.
D: Where have you toured?
S: Sweden, UAE, Poland, Czech Republic, Germany, the States
N: Three times in the States
S: And that is it.
D: Who have been your big influences, in your vocal style?
S: Evanescence, Paramore, the Cranberries, Arch Enemy, and so many hard core . . . like Korn, Korn, Korn! Very hard coreish! And some metal-core stuff.
D: Those are some very different styles. Angela Gossow has a very different vocal style from Amy Lee, and so on. In your songs I hear you mixing the growling and the clean vocals. How do you figure out which to do?
S: When to do what?
D: They are completely different styles. Putting them in the same song, is something that I don’t hear anybody else doing. Cradle of Filth does that, but with two different vocalists. They have a man doing growling and a woman doing clean vocals.
N: Yes, she can do one word like this, and one word like that. She can switch very quickly.
D: Why do that?
S: When you want to highlight a word. Like when you say “No this is not FAIR!” This is an expression, so then I scream. I use it when I want to highlight something.
N: I think she leaves it to the feeling.
S: It is like when you raise your voice.
D: Why sing in English?
S: I sing in Arabic as well.
D: O.K. everything I have seen on YouTube has been in English.
S: I can do both. My aim is to go international, really big. This is what we want, and lyrics are very important to me. Since I perform outside Egypt more than I perform inside Egypt, I want people to understand what I am saying.
D: What role does the violin play in your music? Why have it? How do you use it?
N: In the beginning at the very first jamming with Sherine and the band I didn’t find a role for myself and I couldn’t identify the notes. It was so different for me. I decided to do the first concert because it was a challenge.
S: I thought the same.
N: So I said I will do just one concert. Then I started to feel that there is a kind of connection between this type of music and some . . . I don’t know if it happened only in my head or if there is really a connection. But sometimes I feel like there [is a connection with] Astor Piazzolla an Italian composer and he is really aggressive. Vivaldi as well is really aggressive. Then you get the clichéd way of thinking in Egypt that the violin is a sad instrument. The violin is to express sad emotions. But I wanted to go to the aggressive part, and because most of the time it has been only one guitar and one violin, sometimes have to play only rhythm on the violin.
S: Especially since when I started the band, I had just picked up the guitar. So I wasn’t good at all. I had to sing and play some parts. My abilities at that time were not good at all. She was helping me with the chords. She would say, “I will do this and you do this.” And this came by coincidence. Later on when I had developed my skills, we had already developed a certain technique in writing together, me and her. I think if she had joined the band later it would not have been the same. If I had skills she would not find the same space.
D: So are you are using the violin somewhat like the lead guitarist role?
N and S in unison: And sometimes rhythm!
S: She is using the violin in a strange position.
D: When we were talking earlier you said that there was only one venue in Egypt where metal bands could play. What size venue is it? How often are there shows?
N: It is not really, really big, it not really small as well.
D: Does it hold 700 people, 1000 people, 5000 . . . ?
S: I think that it could fit up to 2000. The audience itself would never be more than 1500, and that is if all of the people showed up. The venue does not mind having concerts every month.
D: So once a month there is a metal concert?
S: No, the venue doesn’t mind, but the people won’t show up. You can’t have the same people going to the same concerts. There are one or two metal concerts every 3 or 4 months.
D: What city is the concert venue in?
S: Cairo. Back in 2006 and 2007 and until 2009 Alexandria’s library was holding metal concerts, but now it is banned – not allowed to play metal anymore.
D: Who listens to metal in Egypt? Who are the fans?
S: High school students, mostly.
D: Is it mostly guys? Are there women who listen to metal?
S: Now you can find some chicks, but not that much and not that dedicated. I think that they are so attracted by the style, not the music. I mean we don’t dress like metal heads. But you would find most of the girls with like the make up like metal you know? If you are 16 you are like attracted to the Goth look. I was!
D: How do you get in touch with the music from all around the world?
S: How to catch new music you mean?
S: Either search by type, and this is why genres are very important, because if you like post-hard core, find the band and that is it; or you can follow a record label. For example, I am a big fan of Roadrunner’s music. Marketing wouldn’t target us, and this is why there are so many bands that we wouldn’t know. Festivals too. We didn’t hear about South by Southwest before.
D: How did you hear about South by Southwest?
S: Sonic Bits. When I applied only our bassist knew about it. He told me, “What we got accepted to this festival!!??” I said “Yes,” and he said “It is the shit!”
D: It is more of a convention than a festival really. Festivals don’t have speakers who have slide show presentations.
D: When you become a metal head in Egypt, do you start to get to know all of the metal heads around, and it is kind of a small town community?
D: Is that limited to Cairo or do you have contacts through out the country?
S: Yes. The scene is concentrated in Cairo and Alexandria, but you find metal heads in other cities, but not big communities. Sometimes they come to our concerts and tell us that they came from Monsoura or Port Said. Port Said is kind of far.
N: It is like four hours by car.
S: Four hours to Alexandria, six hours [or] seven hours to Cairo.
D: So who wants to be a metal head in Egypt? You already have enough to worry about already, when you become a metal head you have to worry about being branded as a devil worshipper and getting in trouble with the government. What makes that worthwhile?
S: They don’t realize that it will cause you trouble until you are in the problem.
D: They are just kids who think that that music is cool.
D: How much trouble do you get in?
S: From the government?
D: Maybe the government is the wrong question. You can get in trouble from other people.
S: If the Muslim Brotherhood took over all of the [government] ministries, especially the ministry of culture, this would be a problem. It would be a disaster, because their lawyer filed a case against the metal bands and the venue. The only venue that plays metal. We found our photo in a newspaper.
D: Because your photo was in a newspaper you got in trouble?
N: They pictured us after a concert. We said we don’t want any press. Then there was one girl that came from this bad, bad newspaper and with a mobile phone – click! A couple of days after we found [our picture] on the second page of the newspaper The Seventh Day.
S: This article went big. I thank God that this was not a huge newspaper. Nobody gave it attention.
N: Because we were trying to control ourselves not to be really angry about it and not to take a serious reaction to it. Normally you can sue them for doing such a stupid thing. But we decided we would be calm and cool, and not even talk about it.
D: In the U.S. we have papers that are called tabloids. They publish things like who Kim Kardashian is dating, what Paris Hilton is doing, and how extraterrestrials are going to take over.
S: And I bet it sells!
D: It sells very well. We have that kind of journalism over here. When you were talking about that paper, that is the kind of thing that came to mind.
In the U.S. in the 1960s when we had a lot of social change, music was a very big part of that. Would you say that the situation in Egypt now is similar to that?
S: The songs of the revolution?
D: Not just the songs, even the way that the youth culture is. People would sing about revolution back in the 60s, but even the existence of Rock and Roll was a change.
S: So what is the question?
D: O.K. I will have to ask several smaller questions then. When people are doing the protests are they singing rock songs?
N: No, not rock songs. We had a composer back in the 1950s, his name is Sayed Darwish, a classical Egyptian composer who was from Alexandria, our hometown. He was a very strong artist and he had a big, big influence on the Egyptian music in general and specifically in revolutionary songs and songs about politics. The guy was assassinated. People are playing his songs again and again during protests, even the Egyptian rock bands like Mousaf Berry.
D: Is there a generation gap in Egypt, where the kids are really into Rock and Roll and the parents are not.
N: That is true. Parents stick to the traditional stuff most of the time.
D: How big an impact has the internet had on youth culture?
N: Huge impact!
S: Globalization of the culture.
D: How would you say that your generation is different than your parents’ generation?
S: We are out more. Especially we speak out more – the females!
N: We are out more, so sometimes I feel that I am more experienced than my mom.
S: We are out more, we are more courageous. And of course with the internet access we are more cultured. We are more updated with what is going on in the world.
N: They had a very stable life. They stayed at home, nothing major happened. Our generation has seen a lot compared to [our mothers].
D: In your Facebook page you mentioned that Egyptian women are regularly subjected to groping.
D: You were complaining about men touching you. Is this a very common occurrence?
S: Every day. Every time that you are in the streets you get harassed. Verbally, physically, or . . . when we go out on the street there is the possibility in our heads that we need to take care that we don’t get raped. There is always the possibility when we stop a taxi driver that, the taxi driver will drive us home. You know what I mean? When you take a taxi you always pray that you will go home safe.
D: Who is doing the harassing or groping?
S: Now it is very organized.
N: Some girls were courageous enough to go and tell their experiences of rape during the last protest against the Muslim Brotherhood. Pretty much everyone went to the streets to protest against them. They wanted to reduce the number of protestors. So they said “Let’s get rid of females first.”
S: It is not just to decrease the number of protestors. It is because of the position of women. In their minds, women should not be out on the streets. That is the first thing that provokes them, “What are women doing out in public? Those women are not like your daughters, they are bad, they are prostitutes.”
N: They didn’t say that “They are prostitutes.” They said that “They are there because they want to get raped.”
S: Remember when President Morsi went on T.V. and said “The rumors are wrong, my daughter does not wear jeans.” Can you imagine the level of thinking? When jeans are a sin, so of course women out there in the protest are prostitutes and whores. They say “They deserve this. We should get rid of this!” You know when you get rid of rats with a special weapon?
D: We don’t use a weapon against rats, we use poison.
S: But when you go and . . .
S: Yes. They say, “Exterminate this. Women should be at home, watching kids. If they work they should work 9 to 1 in schools with children, or in call centers with females only. Answering the phone, not meeting with clients.”
N: We didn’t get to that point, but this is what they have in their minds. Because also they think that we have a lot of unemployment, so the woman should stay at home with the kids so that more men will have chances to work. The thing is, when they got scared in the 27th of November when the people decided that we would replace this ugly thing and save the country from the Muslim Brotherhood. That is when they started to make plans for how to get rid of people. It wasn’t just the girls who got raped. The buses don’t have stops and stuff like that. When you see the bus, you wave, but you don’t just wave like this [waves hand], there are special movements. If you are going to the pyramids you do this [makes a pyramid with her hands], if you are going to another place you do this [makes another motion], if you are going somewhere else you do something else. So you just wave, and the bus stops and you jump in anywhere, even if it is in the middle of the street. You get off anywhere. The thing is they start taking people from the square, and they take them somewhere and torture or kidnap them.
S: Now people are scared to go to the square. The women get raped.
N: All of the ladies went on television and they shared their stories and they had the same incidents. You are walking, and four guys for example they come, and then others come, and they circle around you. Then they take you somewhere.
S: It is very organized.
N: They rip off the clothes with a blade. They are very organized, and then they start raping the girl. So now females are scared to go to the square. The guys are scared as well. You can get kidnapped very easy. When you open your page on Facebook you find everyday at least a few people are missing. After a few days they find them dead, or they don’t find the person.
S: Or they find them in a jail without any papers or investigations.
D: Sorry to hear that.
S: Story of our lives.