Techno Tuesday: Ardalan and the philosophy of being ‘Mr. Good’
Techno Tuesday is a feature on Dancing Astronaut documenting the culture of underground dance music. We’ll bring you exclusive interviews, tracks, and narratives from artists within the techno, tech house, and deep house world in an effort to shed light on some of the best talent outside the world of mainstream dance music.
Duality is a concept instrinsically connected with Ardalan‘s life and career. Born in Tehran to parents with international professions, he spent his youth living between Iran and his stateside home in the Bay Area and adapting to each locale’s different societal norms. Oddly enough, it was through his friend in Iran that he discovered DIRTYBIRD, courtesy of Claude VonStroke‘s megahit, “Who’s Afraid Of Detroit?” Not long after, he attended the very first BBQ as a young teenager. He released his first track on the imprint alongside Justin Martin by age 19, forever cementing his status as label family and one to be watched.
It was through this newfound success, and growth into adulthood, that the Ardalan noticed the contrasting nature of human existence, especially in the way one might present themselves to the world versus the person within. Thus, Mr. Good’s story was born. The key lies in its title track, and the more sinister “Mr. Bad,” which are the yin and yang of the album’s story. Just as everyone has a “Mr. Good” that they show off to the world, there exists a “Mr. Bad” to balance it.
The album as a whole is experimental, a step away from the lighthearted shade of tech house one migh have expected from his longform debut. Ardalan is no one trick pony, however, and he pulls off his album and its multi-genre exploration off with polished finess. One might even say that Mr. Good is an entrance into a new sonic era for DIRTYBIRD.
We chat more about the themes of Mr. Good for this Techno Tuesday, additionally taking a gander into its tech side, Ardalan’s artistic journey, his dual lives, and more.
Mr. Good really gave you a medium to explore your sonic range. In doing so, has your overall style in studio and behind the decks changed at all as a result?
In some ways I believe it has. I feel like I am always constantly testing new ideas and taking risks to do something different. Whether it’s in the studio or behind the decks, I really enjoy challenging myself to find a new sound. It’s fun. I look at it like its a puzzle, but with sound! I love playing different styles and creating a journey out of a DJ set. When I am in the studio, I always find a way to use or create something different with each track. I’m now excited to explore uncharted musical territories!
Which songs in particular really pushed you to go outside of your comfort zone musically, and in what ways did they do so?
“Lifted” with Claire George. It’s the one track on the album that isn’t 4 on the floor. I’ve never made a drum n’ bass tune in my life to this magnitude, so when I started working on it I didn’t really know what I was doing or know if there was a rulebook of sorts that I needed to follow. I was just jamming on the SP 1200 and having fun when I realized I could just work with the loop in half time and turn it into drum n bass!
Your dance music discovery really began in Iran. Can you take us to the time of discovering Euro house and techno there and how this ultimately prepared you for your full launch into the music world upon reaching adulthood in the Bay Area?
When I was growing up in Iran, I really didn’t have any sort of knowledge for music. I was just hearing all these cheesy trance melodies and some 90s pop house on bootlegged cassette tapes and satellite televisions from Europe. I was exposed to hearing Persian music as well. In the late 90s early 2000s, my brother got into Progressive House and Techno music from artists such as Deep Dish and Anthony Pappa. I got a taste of that and instantly got hooked. I then moved to the Bay in 2004 and really got into Boards of Canada & Aphex Twin. I then moved back to Iran in 2005 and moved into my brothers old room. He left his old computer behind with all the music mentioned above still in it. I started going through it and found James Holden’s Balance 005 compilation and that changed everything for me. I got into microhouse / minimal around 2006 and moved back to the Bay Area in 07. That’s when I heard Claude Vonstroke’s “Deep Throat” and ultimately DIRTYBIRD!
On that note, you’ve also mentioned that you made an effort to imbue the music of your ancestry into the project; how have you executed this?
I tried to incorporate a track that had those elements but I ultimately ran out of time and didn’t want to rush it as I want to do it right and raw yet keep those Iranian elements balanced.. I will go back to it in the future!
The album process was a long one for you, and with some tracks taking months to finish. How did you get over these periods of writer’s block or override what was holding you back?
Most of the tracks were finished in the last three months of the album process. But it took me forever to finish “Mr. Good” with PartyPatty. It was the first track that I was seriously working on for the album. I had never done an album and I really loved “Mr. Good,” so I wanted it to be perfect and I constantly kept changing it. I literally have about 250 versions of it. I took a break from it and read an article about how “perfectionism” is self-harm . I took a break from it and made “I Can’t Wait” and two weeks later I took one last stab at Mr.Good and I was happy with it. I grew so tired of hearing it in my studio during the album process, but now on my album tour, it’s one of my favorite tracks to play! Other than that, What kept me sane in that period was hanging with my girlfriend and family. Any chance I could I would take breaks as needed from the studio. I would dedicate some time to doing something different which I think really helped the album process for me as a whole. I got addicted to this mobile game called PUBG and was playing it with different producer friends like Sepehr, The Fitness, Option 4, and even Doorly! I thought I wasn’t gonna finish the album because I was having so much fun playing it. But it took some stress out of the process and when I went back to working on the album. I felt recharged.
You’ve gotten your hands on a lot of new hardware for the making of Mr. Good. What’s next in that regard? Have you considered trying your hand at modular production?
I think I have enough gear for now. Modular is a commitment and I know i wont stop once I start. So I think I will have to mess with VCV RACK until my new studio is 100 percent treated and complete. I have now moved to a new apartment and I have a smaller room to work with. I have so much gear so I think I’ll be okay in that department for now. Next thing for me though is to learn my new room the same way I learned my old studio and treat the acoustics more properly.
A major theme of this record is the duality of humanity; you have to be ‘Mr. Bad’ to be ‘Mr. Good’. Can you describe how this theme has played out in your own life, and how you translated it into the album/musical format?
I just think we go through different phases in time. Everyone has some sort of internal battle. Not everyone is 100 percent stress free, maybe a few souls these days. We all have ups and downs. Whether its mental instability, hardship of some sorts, or depression. Without all these negative experiences, how would we learn what’s good or positive in life? Sometimes we just have to accept that were not perfect creatures but we can learn from it and pursue happiness. I think it’s kind of funny because the theme of the album became about self doubt in finishing my album. I was hitting a wall and I wanted everything to be perfect. I was like, “this track needs to be “Mr. Perfect.” I learned that it can’t be perfect. Sometimes you just gotta let go of that self doubt and be bad or get freaky with it. Sometimes you wanna be a Mr. Bad and not sleep. Sometimes you end up going to an underground warehouse and lose yourself in the music till the next morning. These experiences turn out to be good for the soul sometimes.
Going off of the above, a lot of these tracks were written well before the themes of your album came to mind. How did the process play out in pulling these ones out of the archives and fitting into the overall story you wanted to tell?
I wrote a lot of tracks that didn’t make it on the album. There are only two tracks that were made before the theme. I guess in some ways I managed to fit them in the story. After finishing the Mr.Good track with Party Patty, I got really inspired to create tracks from scratch and not go to the old projects. I will eventually release all those. I have so much more music that didn’t make the album.
Now that you’ve taken this leap into album territory, what are some of the next milestones you wish to reach career-wise, and what are you doing now to accomplish them?
I want to explore new sounds and keep making more music. Even releasing different versions of the album perhaps. I am also trying to lean on making my studio more jam friendly and produce “live”. I want to make the leap into the live performance world at some point as well. I think that’s the next step career wise. It will be a fun challenge but very rewarding once I take it more seriously.
What are some of the biggest lessons you’ve learned over the years as you’ve blown up, especially within the last five?
I’ve learned to be extremely humble. I have met so many amazing people and fans in every city and im truly grateful for that. I don’t like being alone for long periods of time. I appreciate the time I have when I’m home. The album process taught me to be positive and not stress about the little things in life such as not allowing myself to get mad or complain that the coffee shop at the airport didn’t have almond milk. I learned to get excited about the small things in life. It’s given me the tools to push through the stress of being a touring artist. I have been touring since I graduated college in 2013. I try and exercise as much as I can. I play soccer every week between gigs. It’s my biggest passion after music. I try and go for a run as much as I can and during tour life. I think Justin Martin has inspired me in that department.
You’re currently on one of your biggest, if not the biggest, tour run you’ve ever taken in support of the album. Which places are you most excited about playing the first time?
I am excited to play at Meow Wolf for the first time!
Any final words or thoughts you wish to share?
I just wanna say that it’s been so amazing to see peoples reactions to my new album. I am really thankful for all the support!
Order a copy of ‘Mr. Good’ here