The new decade sees Yousef consolidating his status as an international DJ, Producer, Club Promoter and Music aficionado with ever greater impact. Running one of Europe’s premier club nights co-exists alongside manning a record label of the same name, whilst his reputation as a DJ grows with increasing stature and a constantly escalating global calendar. Ahead of his back to back performance with fellow house heavyweight Eats Everything at The Winter Social festival in Kent on Feb 6th, he joined A&R Simon Huxtable for a chat about the state of House music, Circus, and his plans for 2016.
Hi Yousef, we’re so glad you could join us today. How you doing? Busy no doubt..
Always crazy busy, I’m managing to work on some original music today which is good, as I my last three projects have been remixes.
Growing up in Liverpool during the 90s must have been very exciting, aside from Cream, what else was there for the discerning clubber?
It was, Cream rose out of the ashes of Rave culture, which became mainstream candy rave culture, so it was much needed and it changed the shape of clubbing forever in the city. I was never into bands, so I honestly couldn’t give you a concise answer with what else was going on, I wanted to be on the dance floors at Cream or finding how to get DJ gigs.
Like James Zabiela, you got your big break in 1998 winning the Muzik Mag bedroom bedlam competition. Things were clearly very different then, and mix tapes were really the only way to make promoters aware of you. How do young DJs contact you now, and do you think the art of the mixtape has been lost to the digital generation?
In some respects it’s the same format, the newer DJs need to be around the promoters, get to know them, send them tapes (or these days links). Both James and I didn’t just send in one tape and that was it, we sent in multiple entries, went to the clubs, got to know the DJs, chipped away, eventually got the gig, smashed it, and went from there. That theory is still the same.
From the platform of Bedroom bedlam champ you secured a residency which helped to build your fan base and reputation. What’s the biggest thing you took from the early days as a newly discovered DJ that you’d pass on to DJs today?
I got signed to Ministry very quickly, well within months, but it was after proving myself with about 6-8 gigs for them. I eventually got signed to Renaissance and then most notably Cream, where I held all three residencies at once at one point… The biggest thing I took from those days though was the vast difference from being an amazing DJ in your bedroom to a new DJ in real clubs; the leap is huge, and even though doors got opened for me I had a long way to go and a lot to learn.
You’ve been a producer for many many years, can you talk us through your current studio set up and which DAW you use?
I use Cubase 8.5, I’ve always used Cubase so its what I know, and I feel it sounds the best out of all the DAW’s. I have Arturia Key Lab61 to run my softsynths, a Moog little phatty, a MS2000 and Juno 106. There are sets of speakers and of course its slaved through a PreSonus monitor station, so I can easily monitor what’s happening. Most of mixing is done in the box now too.
Do you have a set workflow for making tracks? Drums first, or does inspiration hit differently?
It depends, I never have a plan or even a goal; I just sit down roll with it. Drums tend to come first but I’m flexible with myself as the last thing I want to be known for is making 100 tunes that sound basically the same.
February 6th sees you back in the booth with that cheeky Bristolian Eats Everything. Can you tell us about how you guys first met, and how you came to DJ back to back?
We first met when he used to be my ferret inspector. He would come to my boudoir to ensure “Cagney & Lacey” my ferrets were up to British Standards! He was extremely meticulous when checking them for tattoos, and making sure they had enough whiskey. It was then I realised he would great to play b2b with!!
He is an amazing DJ too, we’ve played 4 times b2b, and in clichéd terms its like we work together all the time, the connection is really outrageous. It’s the first time we’ve played a festival b2b too, so we are ready to level the place believe me!
What makes a good back to back set? Is it the DJ you choose or the music that determines the direction the set takes?
It’s all about encouraging each other to take chances and in the case of Dan and I, knowing that we totally admire and respect each other as proper DJ’s, so we trust each others choices and skill level. We have many years DJ experience between us so we feel the room we are playing in and go with the flow, he’s more breakdown building, I’m more thump and groove, it really works well.
We noticed you interviewed Dan for your B2B set for Red Bull Music Academy, how was it on the other side of the questions? Think you’ll become a journalist? haha
Is that a job offer?
Hahaha, maybe! In that interview, he rightly points out that techno is on the ascendance in house sets, how do you balance your own tastes with that expected by the audiences?
I go through phases, I rightly listen to all music with an open mind, its all house music to me. If I think I want to play it, it gets played. I love tougher techno and super deep authentic deep house; they all flow with each other for me.
Circus has been a massive success, both the club night and record label continually astound. Tell us, if you can, about some of the plans you have for 2016.
Thanks, both are labours of love and its amazing and even heart warming to see them flourish and still have the same ethos as they did at day one. Events wise, we are mixing things up in Liverpool, going between our original home of ‘the Arts Club” and a warehouse venue we helped put on the map many years ago called“Camp & Furnace” which is much bigger and fresher. Both are incredible spaces however our line-ups are still beyond belief really! But again the ethos is always the same.
We understand you only book the DJs you’re a fan of for Circus. How do you stay up to date with everyone?
Of course! Circus is reflective of me as DJ and the label now too, there is no way I’d book a DJ just to put bums on seats. Circus is authentic. That said we’ve always been practical with Circus, even though I stay closely connected to endless new artists through my touring, my music, the label or buying music I cant always book them, as although I don’t mind breaking even, I’m not prepared to lose money, so everyone I book has to at least pay for themselves via the harsh reality of ticket sales. Circus has always championed new names, from day one, but I book them when the line up is a home run so I can add them and help develop unknown names, like we did with Loco Dice, Jamie Jones, Seth Troxler and Luciano in some cases 11 + years ago…
How about personally? Any new music on the horizon?
Yes always, I have remixes coming out for Chus & Cebellos, Noir, The Glitz and amazingly Chaka Khan! I’ve got two more EP’s coming on Circus this year, one proper club techno and the other full vocal record, my finest to date my wife says! Hahaha. I’m always working on new tracks!
Haha, We’ll keep an ear out for those. We also noticed you’re up to episode 190 of your radio show. How have you found planning a weekly radio mix? Bet it takes up a chunk of your time finding the right tracks…
It used to yes, but now I record my live sets, and do voices overs myself and produce the show myself, which takes me less than 1hr, and it sounds big now and somehow has 4 million global listeners!? I’d love to get it back on a big UK station though.
We know that you take you job very seriously and as such look after your physical and mental health. What advice would you give new DJs serious about making it regarding partying and excess?
Its all about balance and choice, bottom line is being a party guy is fun but it limits your potential and puts your career in someone else’s hands. It you are doing the DJ smoooze to get gigs cool, thats fine but pop in, pop out, don’t be known for being the party guy, be known for being someone who is contributing to the scene too. Don’t get me wrong in the early days the partying side of me was so fucking extreme and extremely funny and it may of got in the way of progress, but for the last 8 years its been pretty much strictly business!
Yousef, its been a pleasure to chat to you. Finally, other than the Winter Social, where can we see you play in 2016?
More tours of South America, Central America, America, all of Europe, Ibiza, and all sorts of festivals and some place called Circus in Liverpool, Manchester, London and Barcelona!