Photo: Tim Buiting (Reza Athar)
In recent years, the DJ-as-selector figure has seen a drastic resurgence, with DJs preferring form over function and flow over flawlessness. There’s few who manage to mix their carefully selected oddities tightly enough to keep a dancefloor going while constantly surprising it. Reza Athar’s contribution to our Groove podcast is a fine example of a combination of skill and selection. Navigating between the obscure and the abrasive, the Balearic and at times cosmic, the Iranian-born Dutch DJ’s mix serves as a definite introduction to this up and coming DJ.
You were born in Teheran where Western pop music was prohibited, and moved to the Netherlands 20 years ago. What got you into the music you play and how did your first steps in the Dutch scene look like?
Music in Iran 20 years ago was a risky adventure. You could literally get imprisoned listening to pop music back then. But that didn’t stopped a lot of youngsters from listening to it. Every street corner had a shop that was selling VHS cassettes under the counter or had an uncle or aunt outside Iran who was sending VHS videos with Persian pop artists abroad from Iran, or recorded MTV clips. That was my first music experience as well. Listening and watching to recorded MTV clips of Depeche Mode, George Michael, Michael Jackson, Prince and Modern Talking. That made a lot of impression to me. My first steps in the club life must be around 14 years ago. For me it was kind of escapism. Going out to forget about the shit and insecurity I had to deal with around that time. But I was kinda nerdy as well. I downloaded all the torrents I could find about the artists that were playing in the club around my corner, Doornroosje in Nijmegen, just to be informed about them. Not so long after my first steps I discovered Club 11, which might have been the biggest inspiration for me. Olaf’s [Boswijk, who also founded Trouw] programming formed and shaped me in the person/DJ I am today. I saw a lot of DJs for the very first time there and that was a life changing experience.
How do you perceive the recent interest in mainland Europe for Arabian music?
With mixed feelings to be honest. Let’s take Omar Souleyman, for example. I enjoy to see his success in Europe, but I am not sure if the majority of his new fans is really into his music or they just love to see a dressed-up Arab man with a moustache doing his trick like a clown/carnival act. Let’s hope it’s for the music. But it’s not all negative. I love the way Acid Arab, Disco Halal, Versatile and Fortuna Records, Barış K bringing the Middle Eastern vibe and flavors to the European dancefloors and all the labels who release the remastered reissues of the middle east cult pop stars.
You’ve namechecked people like DJ Harvey or Daniele Baldelli as inspirational figures. What makes a great DJ for you?
Yeah, you can say I have a crush on grandpa DJs. (laughs) The thing I really like about both of them is that they are totally relaxed and in peace with themselves and with how they perform behind decks. More importantly, they don’t take themselves seriously and I guess that comes with the age as well. But what makes it different from the rest of the DJs is that they both still care about the music and their crowd when they play. Let’s say a good DJ for me is someone who shares his inner musical soul with his crowd in a suitable, welcoming and confident way and wins the majority of his crowd with that mentality. DJs who see their lives as educators are usually not the ones I enjoy listening and watching at.
You’re a regular guest DJ at Berlin’s Cocktail d’Amore parties. What characterises Cocktail for you, especially musically speaking?
It’s the most honorable job you can get as a DJ, playing in front of Cocktail audience. It sounds too cliché perhaps to a lot of ears, but for me it’s all about the mixture of people that makes the party great or not. The mixture at Cocktail is what makes it the best party I have played at. On one side, you have people who are attracted in the sexual part of the party, but you have also girls who want to dance without being bothered and that together with the music lovers and nerds or people who just want to have a fun time makes the energy at that party incomparable to any other I have played. It’s a privilege for the DJs to play there. I always get the feeling I can play whatever I want and get away with it. I am so happy that the love is mutual and that I already played four times in one and a half years there.
Your contribution to our Groove podcast is a very mixed bag with a balearic feel and some odd choices like Fever Ray’s “Mama’s Hand”. What was your idea behind it?
(laughs) Odd choices with balearic feeling over it. Thank you, I take that as a compliment. Since a lot of Groove readers rightly don’t have a clue who I am, I thought it would be cool to record an introduction mix of myself with all the vibes and moods I stand for when I DJ, compressed in a one and a half hour journey. It was quite a challenge, because I had to cut a lot of tracks, but I think in the end the mix represents who I am as DJ in short. I love The Knife and have been fan of Fever Ray since her first solo album. This track is the most special one on the new album and I had to find a way to fit it in the mix.
Last but not least: Where can we see you behind the decks in the near future and do you have any plans to debut as a producer in the foreseeable future?
Minimuzikhol in Istanbul, Bochum with the Malam crew, Drift NYE eve party in my hometown and I will tour Brazil, the US and Russia in 2018. I guess the best way is take a look at Facebook or Instagram once in a while to see where I am hanging around and come and say hi to me on the road.
No releases yet, I enjoy being the lazy dj with no releases for the moment, but there are plans for a label which excites me and I really can’t tell you about at the moment.
Stream: Reza Athar – Groove Podcast 134
01. Hieroglyphic Being & Sarathy Korwar & Shabaka Hutchings – Ashrams
02. LNS & Sotofett – Jugado Con Fuego
03. Michel Cleis – Obsoleto Lerobo (Drive Mix)
04. Ron Trent & Manoo – The Sound
05. J.A.K.A.M. – Wabi Sabi
06. Bjorn Torske & Prins Thomas – Arpa
07. Tambien – Collagelinger
08. Sapphire Slows – Piece Of You
09. Fever Ray – Mama’s Hand
10. Persian – Morning Sun (DJ Normal 4 “Hyponormal Proto” MikX)
11. TBD – Below (The Backwoods Mix)
12. Rocha – Feel The Love (Welcome Stranger “Creation” Dub)
13. Boot & Tax – Dimensione B
14. Cute Heels – The Glorius Dance
15. Kris Baha – Start Over
16. Lata Ramasar – Hiway X-Press (Lipelis Mix)
17. Virginia – Blue Pyramid (Mark Pistel Mix)
18. Barrabas – On The Road Again (DJ Kaos Edit)
19. The Emperor Machine – Leggwork
20. I-Robots – Brennero Express
21. Delia Gonzalez – Hidden Song
22. Thunder Tillmann – Oceanic