Egyptian-born, Brooklyn-raised and Berlin-residing producer Abu Ashley dropped onto our radar recently with his debut EP ‘Asmaa’, the first release on New York label [par•ka] Records.
Twisting Arabic soundscapes with spaced-out dancefloor rhythms, the past year has had Abu playing sets at some of the biggest clubs with some of the biggest artists worldwide, with his debut EP getting love from the likes of Mixmag and THUMP.
We caught up with the desert-dancing producer to find out more about him and the exclusive mix he’s recorded for us. Listen and read below:
So for those that don’t already know you, could you give us a little introduction of who you are, where you’re from and your musical background/journey so far?
Abu Ashley is a 6 month old project of mine. I’ve been DJing in NY since I was 19, so going on 5 years now. I just took up producing about a year ago and immediately started buying synthesizers while slowly wrecking my social life. I was confined to my tiny studio 20 hours a day until I started making something good. Which I guess is pretty quick, considering my EP consists of the first 3 of 4 tracks I’ve written.
From being in New York’s underground music scene for years, what made you up and leave to Berlin?
Berlin reminds me of NY in the 90s. I mean literally… shit can be really third world sometimes. From the fashion to general services.. but like you can’t take a selfie in a nightclub nor find anywhere that takes credit card, so it’s sorta a blast from the past. Also, Berlin is all techno and Middle Eastern food, so basically this place was destined to be my home.
Have you found the music culture to be vastly different?
Not really, the culture is the same; Americans are a huge part of the scene in Berlin. It’s just that the local laws and economy let the culture really flourish. The clubs don’t have any curfews and it’s pretty laissez-faire when it comes to governing the night clubs. Tons of DJs live here because it’s cheap as hell. It’s just how 90s NYC was pre-Giuliani – a free and liberating place who people would go out and lose their minds dancing all night.
You recently released your debut Asmaa out on [par.ka] Records, how did you team up with them and how long has this EP been in the making?
I met Anibal, [par·ka]’s founder, randomly about two years ago We started talking about Villalobos or something ha. I would invite him out to my parties and we soon become close friends. This was right around the time I started to take interest in making my own music. He soon told me he wanted to start a label, and I had some tracks, so did friends of mine like Bbodyworkk, Milo McBride, and Total Fitness. The label just turned into a creative outlet for our lil crew.
My EP took about 8 months from start to the day the record hit stores. None of us had any label experience and we all thought pressing wouldn’t take that long. Fuck were we wrong. Word of advice – never press a record in the US. Stick to European plants.
You also managed to team up with Tanner Ross on this EP, how did that come about?
Jules Born from Voices of Black is a really close friend of mine as well as with Tanner. We share a lot of music that we’re working on together. So when I was looking for an engineer to mix everything, he suggested Tanner and linked us up.
What does Asmaa actually mean, and is there a direct narrative/meaning behind the EP as a whole?
Asmaa is the name of a pretty dark Egyptian movie based on a true story. Basically this woman contracts HIV, and we follow her struggle dealing with social and medical discrimination in an extremely conservative and judgmental society. After spending 2 hours watching this depressing fucking movie, I went to my studio and starting a track. I tried to capture how I felt and somehow reflect it into the EP. Mainly Asmaa and Nado Heights.
This is something we always ask producers but it’s always interesting to hear people’s answers. With electronic music lacking a directive narrative of sorts, usually with no words, do you find it hard to get a specific message across in your music?
I don’t think so. Synthesizers can be pretty emotional and a certain pad or melody can sound really dark and get your point across pretty well.
Obviously coming from Port Said there’s a big Middle Eastern/Arabic influence in your music, do you listen to a lot of traditional Arabic music in your spare time, and if so, what are you loving at the moment?
I spend a lot time listening to old Egyptian classics like Umm Kulthum, who’s like the female Frank Sinatra of the Middle East, and 1950s heartthrob Abdel Halim Hafez. Plus stuff from my adolescent years like early 2000s Arabic R&B. Notably my fave girl Elissa, who’s so done up in plastic surgery she looks like a tranny from Paris Is Burning.
Have you ever played in Egypt, and if so, what’s the scene like there?
I will next week! I’m playing at this place VENT. You wouldn’t think there an underground club in Cairo, but they’ve hosted artists like Aurora Halal, Ital, Huerco S, and Terekke. I’m super excited too! There’s a small really, really techno scene. I think it’s about 8 people ha. I was hanging with some of the VENT crew this weekend, Zuli and Bosaina. They were in town for performing at Berlin Art Week and were part a really cool art show of Egyptian artists. So there’s a scene, but still needs a sometime before it can really be developed.
For those that don’t know, could you explain what Habibi means?
In arabic, habibi is a term of endearment for a male (habibti for a female). In the literal sense, it means ‘my love.’ The world itself has been tossed around in a more casual, almost ironic way. My friends all call me habib or habibi. It’s become kind of a nickname, i like it.
It seems that there is an ever-growing interest in local music from “out there” (we hate saying World Music) – why do you think that is?
I think Eastern music has a lot of personality. The musicians are like emotional engineers, they really make you feel the music. It’s also really complex, the time signatures are uniquely intricate and the instruments are really distinct. It’s bound to attract attention and interest.
Are there any dream collaborations you’d like to set in place with artists from Egypt or the Middle East (and everywhere else)?
Well I work with my brother in-law who’s an Arabic multi-instrumentalist. He can play anything! I’m working on my live show and trying to figure out a way to include machines plus live oud and tabla.
For dream collab, it would be Elissa. Her voice is amazing! Her songs are deeply emotional and it would be interesting to weave that into my music.
So following the release of a seriously tremendous EP, what is next for you? Upcoming releases/shows etc?
Yeah – I have an EP for Safer at Night coming out soon! I’m heading on a mini US tour in late October / November. I’m also working on an Arabic dub techno album, which will hopefully be ready sometime next year.
Lastly, could you tell us a bit about the mix you’ve done for us?
I’m really passionate about my record collection, so I wanted to share a few of my favorite 12s. I carefully selected every record and went for a sorta dubby, deep setlist. My room is mainly lit with candles, so I had the tendency to gravitate to a darker vibe when I recorded this mix.
Traumprinz – I Gave My Life [Giegling 014]
Juxta Position – Mercy [Mistress Recordings 02]
Break 1 2 – 2 [Forbidden Planet 002]
Beautiful Swimmers – The Zoo [L.I.E.S. 004]
QY – Hokus [Blank Slate 001]
Quartier Midi – Babylon [Grokenberger 001]
J.C. – The M-Theory [Greener 004]
Blazej Malinowski – Daul Reality [Phorma 007]
Rene Audiard – Lamia [Blank Slate 007]
Spacetime Continuum – Drift [Reflective Records 01] Abu Ashley – Asmaa [par-ka 001]