In Focus with Dubfire!
Interviewed by Priya Sen. You can follow her on Twitter here.
Applying Punk Rock ethic to his musical demeanour means one thing; Dubfire spells nasty and is an undisputed leading Dj/Producer and what’s more ground breaking to boot.
The intelligent gaze of the Grammy winning icon is gripping as his capabilities single handed shapes club land with numerous hefty tunes to the way he revolutionizes dance music, bow worthy every single time he graces a console. Ali as a performer stands out, with his penetrating imprint on Deep House and shiny take on Techno…He has gone on to release, countless number of dance floor bombs and taken the flexibility of a Dj/ Producer to a newer level along-with his uber- cool successful SCI-TEC label just part of the effortless package.
Dubfire undoubtedly suggests a musical future of the future…and I’m happy as a lark to mix with the man that not many people know as much as they should. The enigmatic Dj is here for the first time in India; courtesy going to the Underground front runner Prateek Pandey who heads sLick! And my, he’s got my thumbs up with this blasting the roof tour…
As I sink in to the Dubfire vibe in advance of his shows…it turns out to be a no holds barred tete a tete with twists of refreshing revelations…
1- Hi Ali it’s been too long coming; the common refrain would be that you should have toured India, much earlier. Your name is sung in high volume this side of the world. Give us a brief of what made you take up Djing and when was it that the world of music and its magic start you over to choose it as a career?
DF- It started for me when I first came to America, a sort of social outcast. I didn’t speak the language, so I naturally gravitated towards the foreigners and I mean the non-English speaking people and a lot of them because they weren’t accepted in the mainstream culture they were in to alternate life styles. A lot of them were punks and ravers, people from those cliques. People like them are in to the Arts, and also my dad whose a Poet think I have it in my genes and I naturally went that way and eventually music. I was actually in to drawing; I used to draw a lot as a kid. I drew the cover of the elementary school program, it was the one taste of the mainstream recognition that I had back then. It had made me very happy, and then I was getting older and hanging out with different people, went in the music circle and started playing in bands. I really looked up to musicians and wanted to be one myself. I wanted to be on stage and I tried it, but it didn’t work out great for me at that point. Right around that time I was on this path of self-discovery, the music happening, electronic music and somehow it all led to this.
2- What were you listening to while growing up and is Washington still home. If you could share with us some memories of your early years?
DF- I grew up in Washington D.C and it was very famous for its Punk ethos and later on when I got in to electronic music we had artists such as Basement Boys, Ultra Nate all these amazing local home town House music artists getting recognition world- wide. Then I remember connecting with this guy called Eric Hilton; he was a club promoter he was doing a weekly party by the name of Exodus and I did a residency with it. They put out a release on under a big House and Jazz record label at that time and I did some scratching on it and when I saw my name on the credits I was over the moon cause of that. I also, did the art work for the record sleeve. When I saw that somebody from my home town who I was working for could do it, I found myself thinking that I could do the same as well. I went on to release a few things with a local record label, but it wasn’t till I met Sharam and we started Deep Dish that the grand plan of starting a record label took shape. Everything happened very naturally and in an organic way. I spend half the year maybe, about 7 months or so in Barcelona now.
3- As one half of Deep Dish (earlier project with Sharam) which also includes the renowned subsidiary label of Yoshitoshi, the two of you made a huge impact in dance music. Giving the world such fabulous hits such as the remix of De’Lacy Hideaway and the Grammy award winning remix of ‘Thank you’- Dido truly propelling your brand to super stardom along- with other numerous awards, what made you change that equation. When I look back at the body of work I can see a marked difference between you two in terms of style and musical sensibilities. Can I safely say that it was a need to explore your own artistic individuality that made you go your own way?
DF- Deep Dish started off in one place musically initially and then veered off course. It went in to an area both creatively, musically or business wise that I didn’t necessarily sign up for. It was after so many years, of being together I realised that I cannot continue to go down this path that I don’t really believe in. Also, Sharam and I not only were we growing apart as partners, as friends, as a creative alliance but we were growing apart on every other level where it came to Deep Dish. So we felt that we had these ideas not really appropriate for Deep Dish, that were unrealised and so the healthiest thing to do is go our ways, other than to kill each other. We couldn’t stand each other. We couldn’t agree on anything, we got tired of arguing.
4- You have re-invented yourself constantly over the years as the after math of enjoying a solo career and endorse the kind of sound that is stunning with its simplicity in a markedly Underground way; take for example all the Dubfire releases were fired up with an intent for aural murder such as ‘Ribcage’, ‘I Feel Speed’ and then the monster remix of Radio Slave’s ‘Grindhouse’. Were you confident prior to these tunes coming out of whether it’d hit bull’s eye so to speak?
DF- No I wasn’t confident at all. I was really freaking out actually cause when we first went solo before Deep Dish actually officially split, Sharam had had few hit singles such as ‘Party all the Time’ like commercially viable and I knew that I wasn’t wired to make Pop music especially at that point. I was also freaking out because I didn’t know what I was going to do, but I had all these ideas….things which I wanted to express whether it was going to be accepted by the Underground community or the dance music community. So it was a gamble and a risk, and you can’t go through life without taking them.
5- Was setting up SCI-TEC your own Electronic record label, an easy affair and what kind of process did you apply to find the niche reputation it enjoys now?
DF- The reason why I started SCI-TEC was cause I was giving all these early Demos that I was working on to not only friends, but other record labels that I was following and respected hoping that they would release it and I wasn’t getting anywhere as lot of people only saw me as Dubfire from Deep Dish and they were quite reluctant to embrace whatever I had. I started my own label as a way to get my own music released. Once it started to come out, to do well…everyone started talking about it. Then I was getting Demos. I never expected to have a fully blown record label to release others music. It was only reserved to release my own at the beginning, at-least that was the plan. Especially since Sharam and I had already run 3 or 4 labels at that time and it was kind of getting annoying with all these different artists. (Ending the dialogue with ‘I love Indian food’)
6- Is there a specific requirement that you are looking at when releasing their work under the brand?
DF- The label is a reflection of my personal taste. My personal taste is dictated by the artists. It’s not just about me dictating the course of the label, it’s about me listening to the artist, taking my cues from the artists and the artist dictates the course of the label. A lot of people think that it’s well it is my guidance my direction cause I do the A&R for a lot of tracks. I don’t just pick up a track and release it. I actually work with the artists to fine tune the stuff that they send me if I feel that that’s what it needs. So it is a very collaborative effort.
7- What is Dubfire excited with in technology in current times.
DF- Techno is driven by technology, it has always excited me. In that regard, technology drives what I do and what the label is about.
8- The Ali of Global Underground series ,‘Live in Taipei’ stands out as an iconic compilation of lush Progressive House mixed up with several other outside elements rearing its musical head up in an illusion of a cavernous smoky nightclub kinda vibe. Do you think it’s evolution to what you do now, or would you call it an absolute transformation from that time and space you were at musically?
DF- I think both evolution and transformation. I definitely wasn’t comfortable in my own skin towards the end of Deep Dish, I wanted to get out and so in that regard it is transformation. I was transforming and at the same time human beings are always evolving, so yes as a person, as an artist, as a business man, on every level.
9- There’s news of your co-owning ‘Bullitt’ a top booking agency overseas, namely in Barcelona. What role do you play in it?
DF- Bullit is basically Ryan, my brother and I. Sharam was a founding partner, but he left the agency as well. The agency was always going on, then he stepped away and we carried on and now the irony is that Sharam is back in the agency but no longer as partner, but a client as of two weeks ago.
10- Can you run us through the ideas behind getting together and associating with Oliver Huntemann, what are the two of you up to currently and how did the collaboration happen?
DF- I didn’t know whether it would work, I saw a kindred spirit in him. I am not sure whether I have so much in common with him, now. But yes about 5 years ago when I first approached him, I was definitely inspired. We didn’t know how the collaborations would go… when we saw the reactions to ‘Diablo’ & ‘Dios’ we saw a sort of concept forming as we were working with each other. Eventually sprouting elements with lack of series cause of our busy schedules it was getting difficult to realize. Originally we wanted to get it all out in the span of one year, but it got tough. Now we are on the third one in the series and starting to work on the 4th, I think once we reach the end of that creative cycle we may go our separate ways and then come together if we feel like.
11- What according to you is the status of the Electronic scene, do you think the Productions that are being released and events scene in need of any kind of improvement. Are there enough supporters for the Underground vibe you speak of vis a vis the more commercial sounds that’s prevalent in these times?
DF- Sure, there’s a lot to be done and everybody has a responsibility to not support the lowest common denominator of dance music. You can pretty much go by what’s happening in Ibiza these days….you have clubs hosting a Luciano, Loco Dice is doing a new night, Cocoon, DC 10. There are so many amazing underground parties. DC 10 opening and closing broke all records in the last couple of years, to me that’s a true indicator of how important, vital and big our scene is. It may not be huge in certain markets, but it starts and ends in Ibiza during summer.
12- Do you have a particular regime in terms of segregating studio time with gigs around the world, how do you manage to put a method on it?
DF- You see a pattern forming every year but it’s not an exact science. Like the early part of the year used to be a time when you could take a step back and be at the studio and not really travel much. But now there’s the BPM Festival in January, then Carnival Brazil in February, then the Winter Music Conference in March. There’s South America as well, so you are just winding down from the year before but really heading in to peak time in the SA market. Then once you’re through with that WMC, Timewarp… I am in India now. So nowadays you’re literally on tour throughout.
13- On an emotional level, has there ever been a time when you may have been at a space where you may have wanted to take a break or has it been a straight run; how do you keep the enthusiasm of a hectic career schedule and to perform your best at every show?
DF- I want to take a break now actually…it’s difficult these days cause if you take a break for a second then somebody else comes along. There’s so much competition and so many Djs, so many producers. There are so many overnight sensations, back in the day if somebody was new; you knew that they are going to have to work years before getting recognized. These days somebody comes with a song or you put a mouse over your head and overnight you become huge.
14- Ali you’ve played at all the best venues, any particular club that’s impressed you with their sound system and vibe; what do you look for to call it a top gig?
DF- Go to Ibiza, Warung in Brazil and you see exactly all of the perfect elements that it takes, the marriage of elements that takes to create a successful club night.
15- Closing off with the last one, what’s Dubfire going to challenge himself with musically, anything special planned for the year that you’d like us to watch out for and which upcoming gigs are you excited about?
DF-The biggest challenge I have right now, is actually to put together a Live show that’s something I am working towards. I am obviously working on releasing a lot of remixes, original productions. I’ll always be doing that, but I am challenged with the Live angle, so we’ll see how that goes….
To sum up the Dubfire India tour is difficult as we go to print, cause words cannot express how ridiculously good the parties turned out to be in all 3 cities, which includes a last minute secret rave in Delhi, where the man decided he’ll be happy to play a surprise set for his followers and die- hard fans. Each party had a big room, warehouse vibe to it with tons of dance heads screaming on every tune he so carelessly threw off. Filthy, grimy and much edgy fun was had by all that attended. Ali is easily right on top of my list with being a fantastic human being, a great Dj and an awesome Producer all rolled in to one. He makes the world of electronic dance music an even better place to be at, his steerage unpatrolled and we don’t care where he takes us fun