We wanted something that symbolised that we were worldwide, because [SAROS] means when the poles shift, it’s always daytime or nighttime no matter what time zone a member is in” – Ian in the Water for CentralSauce (2021).
In a word created by Ancient Greeks and co-opted by modern physicists lies a sentiment of unity across time and space. Originally meaning “sweep,” the word “saro” unknowingly represented scientific phenomena and a means of global communication centuries before they were discovered and created. I cannot conjure a better word to describe the impact of the internet on our world than “sweep.” One broad stroke — taking cultures, customs and people from one end of the Earth to another — resulted in this melting pot we navigate through.
None represent the beauty found within the chaos like SAROS, a collective who have never met in person, but through their mutual love of art have found a glue strong enough to craft a rising underground hip-hop movement purely on the internet. Members from Australia, Saudi Arabia and all over the US are able to condense their individuality into a cohesive identity — a thorough exploration of emotion. I sat down with all eight members to peel back the layers of SAROS and to track how internet friendships grew into one of the most exciting up-and-coming collectives working in the underground.
This piece will work slightly differently to a regular interview article. Rather than a long transcript or sole podcast episode, this piece is a complement to the audio interview, which can be found embedded below. Imagine walking through a museum with an audio guide, the words in your ears adding extra context to the exhibit in front of you. This article is that audio guide, taking the talking points of the interview and giving you increasing depth and contextual relevance.
The interview can be found in the feed of our podcast, In Search of Sauce, which is available on all podcasting platforms. Queue it up as I take you behind the interview.
The crew introduce themselves one at a time. First to speak is Animist, an Oklahoma-based rapper and producer. Next is Negassi, who is the only poet in SAROS. Ian in the Water introduces himself as a rapper from Virginia. Currently based in the UK, producer Freddy Fargo originally hails from Saudi Arabia. Antoine Sand, a wordsmith and producer, is next to be introduced before passing it off to Amoah., another rapper and producer. Penultimately, we hear from Australian producer Jedos and finally, rapper, producer and graphic designer Brwnsounds tells us how tall he is.
Jedos first found Animist’s music through their remix of MF DOOM’s “Accordion,” a track which you can no longer find, but is an indicator to the musical direction Animist, and eventually SAROS, would take as Jedos entered the scene. The Australian producer has a great ear for chopping samples and does so in a way which most would associate with the experimental lo-fi hip-hop genre. His expertise in soul and jazz provided invaluable knowledge behind the boards of SAROS, which was bolstered once Freddy Fargo entered the fray.
Citing Twitter as the medium through which Freddy found this pre-SAROS music, Animist details the size of the hip-hop Twitter community at that time in early 2020. Though small, the community was set to rapidly grow into the established subset of Twitter which it is today. Though much conversation on the platform veers towards mainstream acts, at its very foundation was an appreciation of the more experimental side of the genre — an appreciation which too has grown exponentially in the last year. Even before SAROS was truly realised, their fanbase was ready.
Animist and Freddy first worked together to create Baby Steps EP, each of their debut projects and my first exposure to the sound of SAROS. Immediately evident from the project’s intro and title track is Animist’s mature view on mental health — celebrating the idea of taking life at their own pace. Freddy’s talents as a producer also take prominence through the entire project as he delicately shapes the mood of the EP.
The creation of the SAROS Discord server proved to be a pivotal moment for the group. It brought Freddy, Animist, Ian, Jedos and Antoine Sand to a point where they were regularly discussing music and establishing that creative bond which is so apparent in their music from that point.
The Discord also acts as a medium to engage with fans and artists from outside of the group, and therefore expand the communal feeling of SAROS beyond the eight members. Hosted in the server are radio sessions and album listening parties for anyone who drops something, whether they are a SAROS member or not. Animist tells me that the first listening party they hosted was for their debut album, Paradigm Shift, which was entirely produced by Jedos.
Paradigm Shift has tremendous scope and exemplifies the musical ambition of Animist and Jedos. The instrumentals are jazzy and euphoric, carrying a gravity which allows Animist to push themself in terms of flow and the topics they explore. Wider concepts like the idea of animism, the meaning of existence and the purpose of money are given as much attention as the granular daily struggles which plague Animist. Jedos’ production provides endless lyrical inspiration for them. Also appearing on the project is the poet of SAROS, Negassi, who opens “Nostalgia” with an excellent piece.
Animist and Brwnsounds collaborated for the first time on Three Songs EP, or as Brwnsounds puts it, “the three track EP with four tracks on it.” Even within this short project, the production from Brwnsounds speaks to so many different moods and emotions without the man himself saying a word. It is also already clear that Animist values collaboration, with the three projects I have mentioned thus far being produced by three different people. This value is at the core of SAROS, facilitated by the breadth of ideas and personalities we come across online.
With three projects amongst them about to be released, Animist, Jedos, Freddy, Sand and Ian decided to officially start SAROS. Those founding projects were the previously mentioned Paradigm Shift, a collaboration between Ian in the Water and Jedos called Drowning Cycle, and lifelist, an instrumental project from Jedos.
Drowning Cycle finds itself on the darker side of the SAROS spectrum, with Ian in the Water’s journey through his mental strife embracing the ugliest aspects of depression. On Ryan’s Record Talk Podcast, Ian discusses the origin of his stage name and how water and drowning are used as allegories to depression. He also expressed his desire to plunge beyond the surface of what people know depression as.
Emotion can be a complex thing to accurately describe and what I wanna do is just keep it so blunt, so detailed to encapsulate the feeling of depression, not just a surface level mood… looking back on the lyrics I’m glad I’m not in that mindset anymore but having the lyrics on ‘Ruins’ where it’s like ‘I know my cycle had began again / when my room floor got disorganised / and acted like I’m sorta fine’ very specific and detailed, I just wanna be as straightforward as I can.” – Ian on the Water for Ryan’s Record Talk (2020).
On the opposite side of that aforementioned spectrum, lifelist is a pleasant pack of instrumentals. Jedos’ efficiency when it comes to expressing joy through delicately chopped soul samples is undeniable here, each beat contributing another shade of happiness.
Antoine Sand recently released a cassette for his 2020 album Dead Petals, and though the cassette has since sold out, the project itself is more than worth your time. It is drenched in the blossoming SAROS identity, soulful instrumentals and carefully chosen lyrics. For a group of such different people with different experiences explored in their music, a common lyrical thread between the members of SAROS is a clear admiration of the English language, and Sand is no different. Especially clear on “CountOnMe,” is the tenacity of Sand’s tone — able to morph to fit the pocket and the topic.
As we come to discuss the SAROS identity and how it perseveres through each project, I bring up Freddy Fargo’s Dearly Departed instrumental tape and his recent collaborative EP with Antoine Sand, SeeItThrough!. This is an interesting comparison, as the projects showcase Freddy’s individual expression and what working with Sand brings out of him. Dearly Departed is a celebration of all of Freddy’s musical influences — taking in so many styles, pushing them within each other and intertwining them. Tracks like “Finder” are based on more disco-related sounds while “Cold” feels like Freddy’s interpretation of boom-bap. Neither of these styles seem to be present on SeeItThrough! where light strings and vocal samples dominate the soundscape.
A huge aspect of the identity of SAROS is their exploration of emotion. The suggestion prompts Animist to specifically mention Amoah.’s music as an example. They’re not wrong. Amoah.’s writing style is heavy on imagery as he describes his physical movements with almost whimsical adjectives. This manifests Amoah.’s emotions in a magical realism-style world, representing both their ephemerality and lasting impact on Amoah.. Their Tears Like Crystals captures the uniqueness of Amoah.’s writing and the strength of his production skills in just 18 minutes.
A strong theme I have noticed from following SAROS from the start is how often they incorporate nature into their work. For most of them, this was incidental, but nature is a huge part of Animist’s creativity. They got their stage name from one of their biggest musical inspirations, Milo, and his track “Re:Animist.” As they became more serious about music they looked into the idea of animism — where all living things are attributed with a soul. Animist identified with it. On the Groovy Salami Podcast, they talk further about the origin of their name and the way it increased in significance as they got older.
Ian also has a strong connection with nature. His eyes are set on working with animals in the future via veterinarian school. His obsession with animals and bugs is well integrated into his art, with his two albums showcasing different types of wildlife on their covers. His collaboration with Numbmoi, Forever Kohaku, fittingly displays a koi pond. The grotesque spider on the cover of Drowning Cycle is far from universally loved, despite it fitting the album well.
When asked about the quintessential SAROS projects, the first name to get dropped is Brwnsounds’ WITH LOVE., a project about maturing to adulthood and grappling with fear in order to find love and peace. I interviewed Brwnsounds specifically about WITH LOVE., and his motivations going into the project align well with the honesty and sensitivity we have come to expect from SAROS at this point.
There is no cap on the number of members SAROS can hold. More than most, they understand that there is talent in every corner of this planet and this digital space has only amplified their reach. Born from virtual communities, SAROS is constantly growing into its own. Where art is exchanged, emotions are explored and demons are exorcised. It’s at this point where I see myself within SAROS. I see young people running mental courses which I have either run or still find myself stuck in, a group whose bonds only exist through the love of art. Anyone within this online community can simultaneously be healed and inspired by SAROS.