It isn’t everyday that Persian music is fused with electronica and a Filipino flair. Somehow, it’s typically Canadian and the Edmonton-based musician and producer Noel Jon, the brainchild behind HundredMillionThousand. Jon, who is also a photographer and a videographer, has brought together a melange of unlikely influences for his debut album “lp1,” which drops April 8. There is personal history behind the Persian samplings and spiritual chants, so he took some time to spill the deets and dish on some of his tracks and his struggles as a millennial.
Local Suicide: When did you start getting influenced by Persian music and how did that lead you to songs like Yalda?
HundredMillionThousand: My dad is Iranian and brought my siblings and I to cultural gatherings since we were kids, which usually involved musical performances with Persian instruments and vocalizing. Out of all the music, the chanting in Farsi was by far the most powerful experience. There would be people who you’d least expect to have any musical ability, mesmerize a crowd. For example, you’d see an elderly gentleman with a big stomach and thick moustache (wearing the same clothes he probably immigrated to Canada in) take the mic, put it down because he didn’t need it, face the crowd with eyes closed, then unleash the most powerful singing voice you’ve ever heard. That stuff would even make the babies stop crying it was so profound. My siblings and I never had a clue what the chanting was about, because we were halfers in Canada who never learned Farsi, but it didn’t matter — the mystery made it that much more gripping.
LSD: What was it like growing up in a half-Iranian, half-Filipino household?
HMT: Being half Filipino and half Iranian, born in Canada and raised in white suburbia, I started feeling a lack of belonging a few years ago. I started binge-listening to traditional Persian music and playing Tagalog karaoke. It was a bit of a “cultural renaissance,” I guess to rehabilitate my cultural identity. It was like some lost soul going on ancestors.com and discovering their background. Fast forward to now and I’ve found production style based on Middle Eastern key signatures and percussion patterns voiced through new wave electronic timbre. Honesty and identity are fundamental to me when writing music, so it all felt necessary: from incorporating Persian samples (in songs like Yalda), to recording tombak with my bud Laheeb, to generating highly-dramatic atmospheres inspired by chanting. I’m real upset I don’t know Farsi though.
LSD: What is the new album lp1 about and how did it come together?
HMT: I wrote “lp1” when I was a struggling university student, taking a program that made my parents happy (and would theoretically land me a job), trying to stiff-arm my way through mental illness, while dealing with habitual behaviour, doctors with prescription pads, and the rest of the same bullshit you’d see in a guilt-trippy MTV commercial. Story of every millennial. On the other hand, “lp1” is not about those exact problems per se, but more so the trends of my varying moods, emotional responses, and personalities I observed in myself through those times. One therapist told me to keep a mood journal and write down how I feel day by day. Instead of writing it in a notebook I wrote it in an album. Each of those 9 tracks on “lp1” conveys a different headspace I was in, transitioning from one into another, and changing gears to really tell a story about overcoming something. It’s not an album about disorders; it’s an album about mindfulness.
LSD: Can you give us some examples of your visuals in reference to Iranian art and poetry?
HMT: So there’s a Female poet in Iran named Hila Sedighi. She recited this powerful poem in public for oppressed students, and I weave video clips of this poem in between each song like skits in my live performances. I don’t include the subtitles for the audience, even though it was recited in Farsi, because the raw human emotion and expression from Sedighi is I want to convey; not necessarily what is being said. Again, my aesthetic is very impressionistic and this ties back to the feeling I felt as a kid not having a clue what was being said during Persian chants and singing.
LSD: It’s a very repressed country under Islamic law with limited women’s rights, so what can really be expressed?
HMT: I’m no expert on this topic since I’ve never been to Iran, and will probably never go since my family is part of an oppressed minority. But what I gather is that nothing can really be expressed by Iranians at all if it doesn’t subscribe to the government’s ideology. However, there is a thriving underground culture in Tehran and the youth do find ways to have fun like we do, but at a risk, and with more caution with their social media profiles. Women especially are oppressed in Iran economically, but on the bright side, Persians support higher education regardless of gender. Females actually make up 60% of university students and have much higher enrollment in science and engineering fields compared to men in Iran. Kind of a “nuanced” oppression of women in my opinion, since they can’t even perform music or dance in public, but can get Phd’s in engineering.
lp1 is being released on April 8. Check out HundredMillionThousand on Instagram.