Dissecting the gastronomy of techno cuisine and artistic evolution with Dubfire [Interview]
Beneath the linear framework of time, life often operates on a more complex scale where one’s evolution is driven by cycles of self discovery and reinvention. This pattern is unquestionably the case with Dubfire, or Ali Shirazinia, who is amidst a transition into his next artistic manifestation. Ali has had nothing short of a storied development over his twenty-six years of playing an active role in the electronic music scene.
After reaching commercial success during his years with collaborator Sharam under Deep Dish, he needed more than ever to answer his innate calling toward the darker and more minimal side of dance music. His strong work ethic and passion for his craft led to a good deal of prestigious nominations, as well as global recognition for his overall precision and drive in using technological innovation in his sets. His SCI+TEC label is recognized today as a reputable force in helping recruit the next generation of technically-inclined producers.
Now, it’s time for Dubfire to explore new territory. He’s slowly ending his HYBRID live shows and bowing his head down to focus on his new album, which will introduce the new direction he’ll go creatively as well as in a live setting. After commemorating his career thus far with the release of his Above Ground Level documentary and retrospective album HYBRID: A Decade Of Dubfire, he opens up about his journey as a solo artist, the gastronomy of techno cuisine, and what his “third life” as an electronic musician will bring.
Photo via High Fidelity Dance Club.
Growing into Dubfire
Ali’s creativity at a young age catalyzed his traveling down the path he’s still on now. He spent his youth teaching himself bits of guitar and piano, eventually finding his way into the artsy, “alternative” community of his school. It was here that his love affair with electronic began. “All of them [“the alternatives”] exposed me to the music – a lot of them were bedroom producers or played in bands, so I started out by playing in bands. Then, I started getting more and more into electronic music and playing around with drum machines, synthesizers, sequencers, etc,” he recalled with an air of nostalgia in his tone.
To him, getting into the electronic scene was “was a very natural progression.” He attended shows at underground clubs at the time, closely observing their habits and incorporating it into his own. “Over the years I learned how to program – I learned from a very young age, typically playing open-to-close sets. I understood how important flow is in setting the right vibe for the night,” he described. He held these tools closely throughout his career’s progression, and continues to abide by the philosophy of flow being a cornerstone in piecing together a set.
Photo courtesy of Dubfire.
Outsiders often look at iconic artists and think of them as having achieved an ultimate state of bliss – they’re successful, well-known, and are living a rockstar-esque lifestyle doing what they love. However, many of these artists are not without internal struggles of their own. Shirazinia had been carrying an empty feeling inside for quite sometime – he was in a creative rut, and tired of the repetition he experienced in his situation at Deep Dish. So, in 2006, he made the leap of faith into rebuilding himself as an independent artist, and his Dubfire alter ego became his full-time persona.
“I was looking for inspiration…”
His first task was to find somewhere to begin anew; a clean slate of sorts. “I think I made the move because as I was reaching the end of that creative cycle with Deep Dish and going solo as an artist, I really wanted to escape not only Deep Dish, but the states,” he thoughtfully explains of his desire find himself abroad.
He divulges further: “I was looking for inspiration, specifically in Ibiza, and there were a few summers where I completely submerged myself into all the different techno parties on the island. I was going to as many of these events as possible and taking it in.”
Through heavy participation in the island’s thriving and transformative club scene, Shirazinia had found what he sought. “It was like the friend I needed, that I felt I didn’t have anymore when I was in Deep Dish toward the end,” he reflected fondly.
Photo via Peter Liu.
Dubfire exudes a humble force of determination and has displayed his immense work ethic time and time again. These traits served him well at the beginning of his tenure as a solo artist, where he had to keep his head down and deal with a good deal skeptics within his new world who doubted the intention of a commercial artist re-entering the underground.
Luckily, he was embraced by many artists that did matter: “A lot of these guys mentored me, like Chris Liebing, Richie, Sven Vath, Loco Dice, etc,” he notes. “They all really supported me when I needed it, and that helped to give me the right motivations to pursue this music and why I fell in love with it in the first place.”
However, while Shirazinia had many key mentors, he acknowledges that his shift toward commercial success in techno was cause for suspicion in some:
“A lot of people were cautious about what my motivations were because I was someone they looked up to in the older days when making initially deep house and techno stuff. And then we reached all this commercial success and the music, and everything, kind of changed and then here I was again going to these techno parties, so they were a little cautious about my intentions.”
By 2007, he’d established his Science+Technology imprint, known now as SCI+TEC as an outlet for his swiftly growing collection of releases. Soon thereafter, Shirazinia had earned nominations for the best Techno & Minimal Artist of the Year for his efforts in pioneering a brand new “jet black, polished chrome” version of techno, as DJ Mag lovingly dubbed it. Dubfire had officially made it as a well-respected artist of his own, hailed for his forward-thinking take on sound design and track production.
Photo via WARDA.
Like haute cuisine, electronic music is always reforming and refining itself…
Many know that Shirazinia is as much a gastronome as he is an electronic artist, and as such, he likes to draw parallels between the arts of fine cuisine and electronic music. Modern cuisine often involves the futuristic fusion, deconstruction, and re-envisioning of pre-existing dishes, much like technological advancements in gear are slowly giving way to a new approach in DJing and production. One thing that will always remain consistent for Dubfire is his eagerness to try new technologies as they’re coming out, if he believes in them. He and his like-minded peers like Richie Hawtin are always looking for “something that inspires us and our creativity in the DJ booth,” after all.
Take his progression through the years in terms of equipment: after starting on vinyl, Ali “graduated to CD technology, and even before that I had a portable DAT player that I was playing unreleased music on.” After that, he “jumped onto laptop technology, which allowed me to carry my entire music library and at a moment’s notice play a total classic record that I just have in my library, or be able to manipulate that or contemporary records in a unique way.” Dubfire’s setup now is intricate as ever; he combines four different decks uploaded through production software that give him the free rein he craves to essentially create music on the spot as he weaves his sets together.
Photo via Ryan Muir, courtesy of Coachella 2016.
Much like chefs today are aiming to break new boundaries in their food experimentation, Shirazinia is always keen on breaking out of his comfort zone and being as receptive as he can to new influences and sources of inspiration. Creating an “organic feeling” is his ultimate creative intention for his shows and productions. He uses back-to-back sets, for example, “as a challenge to see how far the other person can take me outside my comfort zone.” He and his partner “are conscious of how we begin, how we build, how we peak, how we break down, and how we end,” he stated, because people want to feel “like there’s only one DJ playing.”
Through this process, one can “discover new comfort zones within,” Dubfire asserted. Especially when working closely with artists on a similar plane as him, such as the aforementioned Chris Liebing and Richie Hawtin, he observed that, “we absorb a musical perspective that we can then take into the studio, or when we play solo sets after that.It serves as a great tool for inspiring us to go down uncharted roads.”
Additionally, learning from others during back-to-back can help enhance their quest in “creating the right atmosphere” as a DJ during a show. Like a 10-course meal, believes Dubfire, a true DJ follows a logical progression for their night that tells a shamanic story by way of percussion and synthesizer.
“You can go to a nice restaurant and sit down, but they’re not going to give you the main course right away,” Shirazina quips. “If they know what they’re doing, maybe they’ll give you a glass of champagne or another cocktail.”
“Then,” he elaborates, “they’ll follow with an amuse-bouche – you know, little tiny things that are sent out of the kitchen to open up your palate a bit. Then, they’ll continue with the appetizers and main course, then bring it down with a desert, and later coffee at the end. So there is a very logical, natural type of progression within DJing and how you create the right atmosphere and how you tell that story from the beginning to end of your set in a logical sequence.”
Photo via Felix Hohagen Photography, courtesy of Time Warp.
The Next Chapter
Much of the future remains uncertain for Dubfire. “To be honest with you, I’m still trying to figure that out,” he admitted when questioned about his new trajectory. His new album will be dictating a significant portion of it though, or so it sounded as he animatedly illustrated his thoughts and his creative process. “What I did a little bit last year and a little bit this year was go into the studio with a blank slate, turn on the machines, and focus on what came out of me creatively,” he began. He then carefully tracked the elements of everything he came up with.
Some works he finished and felt proud of, but “felt like they weren’t necessarily ready for my new album – even though I don’t know what my new album is supposed to sound like.” Other concoctions of his intrigued him, like a piece he wrote that has a “classic techno” vibe to it.
“But I’m not trying to be classic or nostalgic,” he advises. His mind is open, nonetheless – of this odd turn toward the past, the artist comments, “I’m not sure how that’s going to trigger the direction of the rest of the album, but once I’m done with the summer, I’ll be coming back to that material and seeing how I can further it.”
“When I’m producing this new material, I’m envisioning it as being performed by me during the next live show.”
However the finished and cohesive body of work turns out, he wants to make sure that it is built for his vision of the future. One emerging technology, 3D sound, is something his keen eye has fixated on recently, as well as production using different stems of songs that can help enhance the surround sound experience.
“I’ve already met with different people, a couple people here in Barcelona actually,” he affirms when discussing his research into utilizing this new advancement. One of the people he met runs a software company whose product “creates a really unique way of performing your music in a surround sound kind of setting, creating an immersive experience.” He continues, ”I think that it’s something the team and I are going to be focused on, and that I’m thinking about as I’m producing this new artist album.”
The way his new album turns out will directly influence whatever his new live incarnation will be like, says Shirazinia. “Now there’s an added layer with the live show in terms of how I re-worked the old material and how I mixed it and sequenced it into a DJ set or a live concert type of show,” he notes of his current performance methodology. “When I’m producing this new material, I’m envisioning it as being performed by me during the next live show.”
This is a new approach, he says, and one which he’s “still feeling my way around,” but is “definitely there in the background whether I’m discussing what I want to do with engineers or something else. It’s part of my thinking process when I’m in the studio.”
Photo courtesy of Movement.
Ultimately, he wants to be able to take what he’s learned over his first decade as Dubfire and use it in a refreshing, brand new way, which he said he “wasn’t thinking about before in that initial decade of being a solo artist and making all that music.” Shirazinia used to not be too keen on the idea of an artist album given the singles-dominated market climate, but he now looks at things differently and from an angle where this new project will serve as a concrete launching point for his next artistic iteration. “I’m really excited about that prospect,” he agrees.
“[Techno] is a religion. It’s something we pour our blood, sweat, and tears in, and we don’t want to see it fade into the background.”
The conversation wraps up with some sage optimism on the scene itself. A hot-button topic that has virtually plagued the electronic scene since its foundation is the issue of over-commercialization, especially now, in a climate where DJs are achieving superstar levels of fame and VIP culture is infiltrating clubland.
However, Dubfire has always maintained that things “right themselves out.” He asserts that artistry in DJing is here to stay, and “you only have to look at how big techno and underground, and credible artists and labels have gotten overall as part of the scene,” he quips when drawing attention to the fact a revolution is clearly underway as “a reaction to ‘EDM.’”
His points ring true: “Fans are supporting it, and you’re seeing [this in the] numbers of events and quality around the world with events like EDC… all of them are investing so much into techno.”
The reason for this, Shirazinia posits, is because the genre attracts “so many people, and to all of us, this is a religion.”
“It’s something we pour our blood, sweat, and tears in,” he continues, “and we don’t want to see it fade into the background. We want it to be as successful as possible.” Indeed, true passion always has a distinct way of shining through in the industry, and it has successfully gotten electronic music through threats of commercial corruption in the past.
Photo via Felix Hohagen, courtesy of Time Warp.
As he continues to pour his soul into keeping such a raw, organic spirit alive while also pioneering the path to a more refined future, Dubfire’s transition into his next incarnation will undoubtedly be one to watch. His enthusiasm for being part of the scene and reinventing himself artistically after a decade of learning his way as a solo act is infectious, and his track record thus far points to future excellence and clever arrangement. It’s more than evident that electronic music will only continue to relentlessly progress as long as people like Ali Shirazinia are staples in the scene – artists who are thankful for what they do, and committed to paving the way technologically and spiritually for those that will eventually take their place.
Words by Christina Hernandez.
Featured image by Damien Gilbert, courtesy of Secret Solstice 2017.