RIP Absorb - A Personal Retrospective
By Elizabeth Wells
So after 10 years, a monumental lifespan for a 'publication' which has simultaneously resisted either co-optation into the promiscuous world of advertising / commerce or the usual invidious pressures which see music websites collapse on a daily basis, Sheikh is finally closing the lid on Absorb Towers, packing up his Mac into his pocket handkerchief and waving a tearful goodbye to the bunch of misfits, idlers and pontificating pseuds who have comprised his editorial team.
It's been an impressive effort. no one predicted, least of all the boss himself, that what began as a haphazard attempt to chart the developments and releases in the chimerical and often confusing generic no-man's land that is Electronica would become, as one artist tagged it (albeit pejoratively) the 'NME of electronic music'.
Loved, hated and (occasionally) respected by pretty much everyone involved in the UK 'scene' and far beyond, clocking up tens of thousands of hits every week. Starved of a decent and consistent electronic music press out there in the non-virtual world (goodbye Jockey Slut, Sleazenation, and, er, Muzik?!), Absorb took on the mantle of the electronic music resource that artists and punters alike could consult without having to sully themselves in 'lifestyle' features or those irritating generic distinctions which would have other magazine editors getting all in a flap.
Good music was just good music, after all. Such became Absorb's mark of distinction that Sheikh would receive hate mail from those indignant over any delay in putting up the next issue; such was Absorb's status that press people would ring up and ask for the 'marketing department' (Sheikh would joke that he'd call his partner in the next room and get her to deal with it).
The funny thing was that people who didn't know Sheikh (and even some of those who did) assumed he made his living out of Absorb - as if there is any money to be made by a website that's free to view and that doesn't accept advertising - and seemed incredulous to find out that it was amassed out of late-night sessions in which, fuelled by buckets of Coke (er, that's the fizzy kind, mind - our ed. is nothing if not clean-living) and Kompakt and Kraftwerk on the stereo, Sheikh would drop his regular bread and butter work to update the site in bleary-eyed haste.
Ok, so no one got paid, at least in the conventional sense, but there were plenty of perks: not least press passes to gigs and parties where the venues were just as likely to include aircraft hangars, tube stations and boats as conventional clubs; there was the occasional trip to Maida Vale studios to see live sets and hear John Peel trip over his words, and of course a regular flow of records.
On that last point it was amazing to find out just how many major record labels really don't discriminate when they send out their material. Along with the trance and indie-rock (80's Matchbox B-Line Disaster I seem to recall was a recent submission) Sheikh received, there were also regular injections from the R'n'B fraternity, and I distinctly remember Sheikh telling me he'd quite enjoyed the recent Beyonce album a while back....
Over the past couple of years Absorb Towers has become renowned for its hospitality; nestling in the sunny environs of Cricklewood, North-West London, the small flat has struggled to accommodate Sheikh's ever-expanding workspace which is slowly drowning under the regular influx of CD's and vinyl, but this hasn't stopped it from welcoming visitors from all over the world who regularly make it a home-from-home, bedding down on the sofa whilst Sheikh steps over them to answer the phone.
Absorb hacks, artists and miscellaneous relatives have all been lucky enough to experience the towers treatment, from his partner's home cooking and mother hen ministrations to Sheikh's (possibly dubious) penchant for regular trips to Wonk Kei's Chinese in Soho. They know how to make strangers welcome, and in that way their kindness has inspired some profound feelings of loyalty, not least my own, for whom two years with Absorb rank amongst the most fun I've had.
But before I get all clogged up with embarrassing sentiment, let's indulge in some idle speculation....
One wonders what the pair will do with themselves now it's all packing up? Will they resign themselves to growing older, maybe listening to Sting or Mike Oldfield, curling up on a Saturday night to watch E.R. re-runs with a comfy pair of slippers and a couple of nippers in tow? The mind boggles. I suspect that for Sheikh at least, the workaholic ethic is too deeply entrenched to ever let it get to that stage. He's got plans, you see, and I'm certainly not going to let him rest on his laurels: we've got parties to organise, a book to plan and a documentary to devise. This particular chapter may have closed on Absorb, but watch out for further incarnations. unless, that is, you happen to wander by Cricklewood one day and find Sheikh relaxing to the strains of 'Tubular Bells', in which case, nick his collection of Caustic Window 12's and get the hell out of there....