It was the evening after the Digital Dreams Day 1 weather fiasco, and Saeed Younan had just finished playing his afterparty set at the Sound Academy in Toronto. His intelligent blend of Tribal and Tech House, sprinkled with a little bit of old school flavour was a perfect way to open the floor for Carl Cox. We had never seen Saeed in person before, and upon entering the artist room backstage we didn’t necessarily know what to expect. Saeed greeted us with what we consider to be the warmest, and most genuine smile we have yet to see in the music business. We immediately hit it off, and the conversation flowed naturally. Fresh off of the stage, Saeed was pumped up and ready to go!
Hello Saeed! Thank you for taking the time to meet with us and do this interview with Decoded Magazine North America. What did you think of your set tonight and how do you feel about the crowd?
The place is definitely a lot bigger than I expected with a lot more people than I expected. It had a great vibe! Usually, I am not a fan of big rooms because it is hard to get a vibe going, but here it was different and everyone was feeling it. They all knew what they were here for, and aside from what happened this morning at Digital Dreams I think everyone came out with the intention of letting it all out. So, I had a great time!
That’s great to hear, we could certainly tell you had fun! In the beginning, what inspired you to start making music?
I started out in high school as a Hip-Hop DJ in ’88. From there, I started dabbling with House in the early 90s, and my first production was around ’93, ’94. I just fell in love with House Music man! I just wanted to make some beats. It was all about the love of House Music.
What were some of your musical inspirations and influences? What did you listen to while growing up?
Danny Tenaglia was definitely big for me to start. I made a lot of trips from Washington D.C to New York every weekend to go hear him at Twilo back in the early 90s. The whole Tribal sound that he was doing…I didn’t hear any other DJ doing it, and I think that’s what drew me to it. Hearing him play, and the way that he did the percussion was what I loved about it. Also, Louie Vega, Frankie Knuckles, you name it. All the old Classic guys in New York, and since it’s only 5 hours away from D.C it’s not a bad ride up there.
Let’s talk a little bit about your creative process. When you produce your tracks, where do you draw your inspiration from, and what does the process look like for you?
My inspiration for production comes mainly from playing live. Now that I use Traktor, it is cool because I will mash two tracks together and if I think it sounds great I will do a quick screenshot. When I go back to the studio I say ‘ok let me try something similar to that because those two tracks sounded great together.’ Inspiration also comes from hearing people like Carl Cox; I stick around to hear his sets all the time. Sticking around and hearing other DJs I think is the key. You know, a lot of guys will come do their sets and just dip out, and for me I like to hear other DJs play just like any other person. Sometimes I will put a hat on and go on the dance floor. I will keep my head low and stay focused.
What do you think it is about your approach that has made you such a successful remixer?
The way I DJ really plays a big part in my remixing because I am constantly layering. I use the DJ booth as I would use a studio. I am always looping, manipulating, layering, and then I take all that stuff back home and do my own edits, mashups, and put it out. I think that is what makes me stand out, from what people are telling me at least. I don’t just mix A and B together, I am constantly adding other samples, loops, playing with the pitch control, etc. Something is always going on.
That is quite an interesting approach. So, what is your primary DAW that you use now, and do you have any favourite VSTs/Plugins?
I use Logic most of the time. I also use Ableton for quick edits and just to do mashups and whatever. I love the Waves Plugins. My favourite synth would probably be the Rob Papen SubBoomBass, which is my go to and it’s what I use to create a lot of my low-end stuff.
Let’s talk a little bit about your label. What do you think has been the recipe for success for Younan Music?
To be honest I did not ever think it would take off like it has! When I started it in 2004 it was just my corporation name, which is Younan Inc, and I just added the word music to it. It was my new thing since my vinyl label took a dive after digital music took off. I of course needed to continue to release music, so I decided to start this label. I still can’t believe we have just passed 10 years. It is a labour of love, I mean I barely see any money out of it, but it is a great way to expand my name and help other artists grow, and to do some good in this scene!
Great! What kind of plans do you have for Younan Music for the rest of the year?
We just started a new brand called ‘Join The Tribe,’ which is basically what the label is based on. We are going to start doing some tours and parties under ‘Join The Tribe.’ I have some great artists on the label like David Herrero, Stacey Pullen, Wally Lopez, etc. We want to get everyone together and discuss with their agencies what can be done so that we can tour together. Well, maybe not everybody at once, but certain people in selected cities. I definitely want to take the label on the road and do proper label showcases.
Let’s talk about Saeed as a DJ. How do you prepare for your DJ sets?
I pretty much prepare the same way I think a lot of people prepare for a show or gig. I’ll sit down to rehearse and jam out with different accapellas and different things like that. I don’t know if you noticed, but I carry a USB with me that has a whole bunch of accapellas on it that I trigger things off of. I am constantly hunting for accappellas, looking up some hip-hop stuff, and whatever I can play around with at home before I bring it to the show.
So you essentially freestyle your sets as a result of your preparation at home?
Yes. Well, it is not like I practice mixing, but I will practice and find which parts will layer really will with each other, and which parts I can loop with a little reverb. Stuff like that goes in my head, and sometimes I have to make cheat sheets too.
This is a bit of a heavy question, but I have been looking forward to asking you, as you have been DJing for a very long time. What are your views on the Laptop DJ versus the Traditional DJ, particularly around the use of the sync button?
It’s funny you ask that, as I recently did an all vinyl set. I love vinyl, and I’ll still play vinyl, but it is hard to really wrap my head around it because of the freedom I have with technology. With the two vinyl turntables I cannot do what I do now, such as layering, looping, and it’s basically seven minutes of in and out to do your mix. With technology, it’s amazing because you have free hands to do a lot more. To be honest with you I use the sync button myself, but the only reason is because I run four decks. I cannot justify sitting there and being like the guy in the circus who spins the plates. You know the guy that spins plates on a stick and constantly has to keep them spinning? I am trying to keep my hands free to be able to focus on what I want to do. I have been playing for so long that I definitely can take the sync off and do what everyone does, but for me it’s the freedom of being able to do something else and being creative to the people instead of standing up there and mixing A to B, B to A, and repeating that for the whole night.
I am glad you see it that way. What were some of the greatest challenges that you faced when building your music career?
That is probably for another interview, as there have been a lot of obstacles! I have been doing this for well over 20 years, and you can name it and I have dealt with it: Bad management, bad lawyers, bad record deals, but you know what? It is all learning and I have learned so much. I wouldn’t take anything back because anything that I learn now I can hand down to somebody else. A lot of my artists will tell me that they have just done something, and I will say no! Don’t do that! You know, these are pointers I will give in case somebody gives a bad contract. It is very cool to know this stuff now, and everybody goes through their own pitfalls.
How do you feel that your sound has evolved over the years, and where do you see yourself taking it?
It has definitely evolved. Most people will remember me as a Tribal DJ because Tribal was so big back in the late 90s. It has changed a lot, although I still have a lot of undertones of percussions, and bass driven funk kind of stuff. So I might have changed my sound, but it is within the boundaries of what I am and what I do. People that have really followed me all the way to this point know that this is how things are going to progress for me, and where it is going to go. I am not going to keep playing in-your-face style Tribal that they were playing in the mid 90s. I just think that things will definitely evolve for me, and I like the Tech House, and bass driven sound I have now. I also like a lot of elements of surprise that maybe some of the people will know, such as a sample here and there that is recognizable, but different.
Is there someone you would like to collaborate with that you have not yet had the opportunity to?
Well I hope that I can get to do something with Carl Cox soon. I have been talking with Danny Tenaglia about doing some stuff, but our schedules have not been working out. Those are the two guys that I really admire and look up to, and I would really love to do something down the line with them.
Outside of DJing and Producing, what do you enjoy doing?
I am a really outdoors kind of guy. I like mountain biking and snowboarding. I hike a lot, meditate, and a do little bit of yoga. Fun stuff like that!
Is there any advice that you can give to emerging artists?
This is probably gonna sound like a broken record, but just be original. There are so many DJs and producers out there. Throw the rulebook out and be original. There is a really cool thing that I made for my studio where it says “no rules and no restrictions” right on my big screen. I put it there just to remind myself not to conform to generic stuff. When you are sitting there and looking at squares all day, you are bound to make everything look all cookie cutter. If people can step out of that and not follow any rules, then that would be the way to go and to stand out in this business.
When you say squares, you mean like grids and midi notes?
Yes, you are looking at regions and colours all day and you are not really listening anymore. At that point it becomes more of a visual exercise and not a hearing one. So sometimes you have to step back and throw it all out the door.
What is your plan for the remainder of the year, and what should we be looking forward to?
I am definitely going to be on the road for a little while as I am doing a lot of things with Carl Cox. There are a couple of festivals that we got, and I will be down in South America, Florida next week, and Canada I will be back to as well. I am going to be getting in the studio, and I have been in talks with Carl about doing some remixes down the line for Intec Digital, as well as an EP release. I also just want to see my label prosper and do well, and take it on the road. We have done two BPM festival label showcases and I want to do another one next year too.
Is there anything else that you would like to share with your fans and our readership that we may have missed?
I think we pretty much covered it all to be honest with you. Thank you very much for coming out and I appreciate this interview!
We would like to thank Saeed for his sincerity, kindness, and for the love that emanates from his presence. A big thank you goes out to Linda from Circuit-8 for making a hectic day and night of logistics seamless, so that we could meet with Saeed for this interview. – Anton Silaev and Maria Coliviras