Morocco has surpassed the regional level when it comes to electronic music, with formidable festival lineups and an ever-maturing scene. Not only that, but many artists from this beautiful North African country have actually gained international exposure.
In this interview I talk with Paris-based Bassam Ilabdi — one of the region’s and Morocco’s finest underground music exports. If you haven’t seen him tour the region, it’s because he’s busy running his record label, Antam Records, sharing the decks with some of the most respected selectors like Apollonia, Silverlining, Traumer and Djebali, organizing his night Distrikt at Paris, and building a killer portfolio of minimal productions. We discuss his thoughts on the scene in Morocco, the influence of his home country on his music, and his future plans.
Tell us about your background. What got you into electronic music?
I used to take music lectures and piano lessons when I was young, for five years. I really enjoyed it, but I was more into sports, so I did not have enough time to do both.
What got me into electronic music is definitely my first parties in Morocco. When I was 17 in high school, I used to listen to psy trance and Goa and go to some underground parties. But what I used to listen to at home was a lot of house music and hip hop. I still remember when I first downloaded Atomix DJ, when I was 16, just to learn the basics of mixing, then FL Studio to see if I could manage to create some music. In early 2011, I moved to Germany for an internship, and that was the best thing I did in my life, as I discovered the electronic music culture there and had my very first “eargasm” when I attended a party in Hamburg with Ricardo Villalobos [headlining]. After that night, my music taste changed and grew into a big interest in minimal and deep house. This is when I started producing seriously.
Have you ever lived in Morocco or do you just have Moroccan roots? If yes, why did you move to Paris?
Actually I’m born and raised in Casablanca, Morocco. I left when I was 18 to follow my studies in France. I first came to France in Nancy. Then I moved to Bordeaux for two years and Germany for a four month internship. After that, during summer 2011, I came to Paris for engineering school.
Do you still have a connection with Morocco? Does it influence your productions or DJ sets in any way?
Of course. Actually, I still have the Moroccan nationality only. I go back home two or three times a year. When I started producing music, I was really inspired by the ethnic sound of Gnawa. I used to sample a lot of guimbri bass sounds and also some Moroccan vocals. I also used to play a lot of records with Arabic sounds like releases on Cosmo Records.
Do you feel that Morocco is making an advancement in terms of underground electronic music? If yes, do you have any specific artists in mind?
The Moroccan electronic music scene is evolving every time. There are more and more underground events with amazing bookings, and a lot of crews are doing a great job and that gives the moroccan scene more maturity.
There are veteran DJs/producers that I respect for what they gave to the scene — Amine K and Adil Hiani. But the new generation is really talented, and artists like OCB, Kosh (Casa Voyager) and Polyswitch are some names to remember, as they are making a name for themselves in the international scene with their outstanding releases (RA 2018 Roll and Discogs best 100).
What do you think of fusing traditional Oriental instruments with electronic music? Have you tried to achieve such a thing in your productions?
Cosmo Records and its amazing catalog is a proof that the traditional Eastern instruments match perfectly with electronic music. I really enjoy this fusion and used to play some of it really often. As I mentioned, I also used to sample these sounds in my productions and it the result was always good.
You played last year’s Oasis in your home country - how do you compare the crowd there to other ones you’ve played to in Paris?
Oasis festival is an outstanding project. I’m very proud and happy that this kind of events exists in our beloved Morocco. I attended the festival three times in a row, and was really impressed by the quality and the vibe. There is a perfect balance between foreigners and Moroccans, and the music is really eclectic. The crowd was always very passionate and I loved the way they enjoyed the festival. However, it’s so different than Paris. The Moroccan crowd doesn’t have enough maturity — people there still need to see “big names” to attend an event. But to be honest, The Moroccan crowd knows how to party!
You studied sound engineering, how did this help you shape your sound?
Actually I studied electronics engineering, and it helped me to understand the electronic music theory. When I started producing, it was easy to understand how a lot of features in Ableton live work for example.
What does your production work flow look like?
To be honest, I don’t have a lot of machines. I use a lot of VSTs (Virtual synthesizers). I always start by making beats with my TR-8 drum machine or my MPC1000. Then I export them as audio and start making synth layers: bass (subs and acid), pads and some keys. I layer sounds until I have a 16 or 32 bar main loop. When I’m ok with it, I start the arrangement around the loop to make the track. Sometimes, I always love to jam and record. After that I do some arrangement, automations and mixing.
Your night Distrikt Paris follows a stripped down model that offers affordable tickets. Does this limit you in terms of the bookings you make?
I don’t know if it really affects it, but it’s sure that we won’t be able to book some of the artists we booked three years ago, as their fees are getting higher. We never aimed to become a big event factory, as we always focus on intelligent bookings with uprising artists and locals. Sometimes, we work with a big artist but they’re friends, they don’t charge that much.
Who would you be interested to book in Distrikt?
We’re dreaming of having ZIP one day…we’re working on it every year.
Are you planning to organize something here in the region?
Organizing no, but playing yes! But we never know…if we have an opportunity to do a showcase in Cairo it could be an honor for me personally.
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