A Conversation with Sadaf

Interview by Whitney Mallett
Photos by Sadaf


Sadaf’s music is a viscerally confounding heap of sounds and genres, raw and noisy, but knit together by a keen sense of story. Though New York-based and Persian-born, she first cut her teeth making art and music in Montreal’s experimental scene. Her music is best understood in the context of her visual work—she took the photos accompanying this piece and also works in video and performance. No matter what the medium, Sadaf has a dual urge for confrontational experimentation and narrative cohesion. She’s always telling a story about herself and it’s one that is rife with both a melodramatic vulnerability and an appreciation for life’s absurdity. 

There are so many different things being referenced in your music. What’s going on? 

The first thing that really influenced me back in high school was No Wave—DNA, Glenn Branca, Lydia Lunch, Tuxedomoon. But when I started to DJ, I was playing a lot of interna- tional world music—Angolan, Persian and other Middle Eastern beats, and South American music and Reggae- ton. Those beats are on a totally dif- ferent time grid and when you try to mix those things together they don’t quite fit. So it became about taking all these references—and metal, noise, techno, and digital hardcore like Atari Teenage Riot—and piling them on top of each other. I was also influenced by female vocalists like Diamanda Galas and Meredith Monks.

The Internet’s given us unprecedented access to music from different times and different places all at once. Do you think your music is a reaction to that? 

It’s a reflection of how you do research online. Whenever you try to find things that you like, one thing will lead to another, which will lead to another and those branches multiply and multiply. You can break down and fuse all of these things together and then it becomes a weird encyclopedia. I don’t set out to do anything specific. It just happens.



You’ve said before that when you perform, the things that you prepare the least work out the best. Do you believe in instinct? 

I would like to make sets where I’m sure what’s going to happen so I’d have less anxiety, but whenever I try to redo a recorded song on stage, I feel like I’m karaokeing myself. It’s not as exciting to me and that comes through. It’s like being an actor reciting lines that you’ve practiced versus improvising lines projecting yourself into a fictional situation. When I improvise, I do things that I would never think of doing if I were to plan it out. I will borrow lyrics from somewhere else when I’m on stage and I’m like, “that just sounds better.”

Your lyrics are very funny but also melodramatic. I don’t think people expect the two at the same time. How do you see the way they work together? 

I think that when melodrama is pushed to an extreme, just like anything else, there is an absurdity to it. There’s a freedom. It’s taking yourself so seriously that is becomes funny. Being overly dramatic, there’s a humor to that but it’s also something very real and that humor doesn’t take away from it.


Do you think experimental music is getting a wider audience today as it is blended into other genres? 

Experimental music has become a part of so many people’s vocabulary that musicians just can’t help but in- corporate it into their sound. What I want to set me apart is the experimentation in my music and the disso- nance in it that I think will start to become more and more normal in the future. Our ears will adapt.  But I really think it’s the ideology behind experimental music that keeps it marginal. It’s the same with experimental film. You’d think Jack Smith films would have reached a wide audience by now and while their influence certainly has, the films themselves haven’t. Anything that’s anarchist or that threatens a status quo, people are less likely to accept. The average person doesn’t want to be challenged. I’m not sure if that will ever change.