Darem Aissa is a Canadian artist known for his deep and techy style. Taking influence from both house and techno, he is a talented DJ and producer whose latest release is an EP on his own record label Suleiman.
Alongside his three original tracks is a remix by UK techno artist Edit Select, who adds a dystopian remix. We were impressed with the diversity of styles, and invited Darem Aissa for this interview so we could learn more about the release…
Hi Darem, it’s nice to be talking with you. Can you tell me what part of the world you live in, and how would you describe the local electronic music scene?
Thanks for having me!
I currently live and am based in Montreal, Canada, a charming and beautiful city built on an island in the middle of the St Lawrence River.
I don’t go out much anymore and travel a lot for my other work, however, I feel very fortunate to have come onto the scene at the time that I did in a city with such a rich local music scene. At the time, Stereo Afterhours was still ranked as having one of the top 10 best sound systems in the world, most international DJs would come through our city first before being booked elsewhere and we also contributed greatly to the world with legendary cultural exports such as Fred Everything, Akufen, Pheek and Guillaume and the Coutu Dumonts, just to name a few.
I’ve had the pleasure to experience really awesome party concepts, hear some of the most up to date and cutting-edge electronic music and also generally be part of a city where electronic music was well-woven into the fabric of society.
When did you first discover electronic music, and do you consider yourself more of a DJ or producer?
I first discovered electronic music in my early teens, starting out by listening to Massive Attack which quickly led to the discovery of Portishead. Before you knew it, I wasn’t listening to anything else other than acid jazz and trip hop.
Once I started going out, I naturally gravitated towards underground electronic spots due to the type of music that I was already listening to and I ended up at the right place at the right time. Both tribal techno and minimal were the “in” things at the time and I absolutely fell in love with the sound!
To be honest, I don’t really see myself as either a DJ or an electronic music producer but a label owner. I identify myself with an administrative role more than anything else but who also has an interest in part taking in the music. I have little to no inclination to DJ in clubs anymore, but I do still love putting together sets and podcasts or spinning records on a Saturday morning with my coffee. I also make music that is close to my heart and means something to me. Because my primary role is not of a music producer but an administrative one handling a wide range of tasks and talents, it affords me the time I need to make a song, sometimes years, or simply the ability to walk away from it and come back when I’m ready.
How would you describe your style of music, and who are some of the artists that inspired you?
I’m heavily influenced by my roots in electronic music, being acid jazz and trip hop, what many attribute to melodic, I relate more to the style of patch work found in the downtempo genres. I’ve then interwoven these types of sounds with dance floor rhythms and drum patterns to sort of cross genre the two. For this reason alone, I don’t think that the music I make fits under any conventional genre or umbrella.
Artists that have inspired me have been the likes of Daso (RIP), James Holden and older Stephan Bodzin releases. I also can’t go on without mentioning Sasha and his ability to make music for all ears without compromising on artistic integrity.
What’s the most memorable moment from your music career?
I can’t say that any one moment stands out, it’s been a great journey all the way through and I’m enjoying the ride!
You also run a record label called Suleiman, could you tell us more about that?
Yes, I run 2 labels, Suleiman which is the digital-only parent label and Aissa which is the vinyl-only sublabel.
Knowing that DJing would not last forever, but music generally would, I wanted to find something a bit more permanent and a way to make music on my own terms. I was trying to find a way that I could work at my own pace, disappear when I felt like it, do work behind the scenes when I needed to, while contributing to the industry by releasing quality music and pushing great artists. On a more personal level, because of being Arab and growing up in the West, I’ve seen a great deal of bias in the portrayal of the Arab world over the past 20 years of turmoil. I, therefore, wanted to think of a way to build my own media institution, instead of sitting around and complaining, I found an answer in opening up a label!
To begin with, both labels are named after my grandfather, Suleiman Al-Aissa. He is a historical Syrian figure and poet, perceived much like how Che Guevara, Nelson Mandela or Ghandi are perceived in other cultures. With the unrelenting misrepresentation of Arabs for the past two decades, I wanted to remind people of who we are by focusing on the role models that exist.
Suleiman is the Arabic name for Solomon and Aissa is the name for Jesus in Arabic. Without being culturally disrespectful to anyone and seeing that Aissa is still my last name, I wanted to use titles that could hopefully spark constructive dialogue between people and hope that new cultural bridges could be built as a result.
As for the label’s catalogue itself, I set out to scout artists worldwide, with their only musical link being the quality of their music rather than genre… and I’m not done yet! Many great, creative and genuine contributors to the culture and history of electronic music have gotten on board, and it’s been an absolute pleasure to work with them. I’m incredibly grateful to everyone that has given me the opportunity to release their music and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
Talking of Suleiman, I understand that the label’s next release is your own music. Could you tell us more about that EP and its concept?
Syriana is special to me and one that I’ve been waiting years to release. I feel as if I’ve finally unlocked what’s been in my head this whole-time regarding bridging classical Arabic music with modern occidental electronic music. The goal was to keep the sound underground, unforced, and not over-the-top with oriental elements but rather a perfect balance.
“Drop of Oil” samples one of my grandfather’s poem recitals televised in Kuwait, I believe, and I decided to use the sound of a Txalaparta for the percussive hook amongst a foray of Arabic percussions, all weaved in with a combination of both analogue and digital synths for melodies. “Syriana” on the other hand, was meant to capture tribal/jungle, minimal techno, undisclosed location style rave, using classical Arabic orchestra string samples as the hook. I used two different sets of vocals consisting of strong statements made by my grandfather in an interview I came across and a bit of my own words to thicken the plot. “Sunshine” remained a vocal-less track and the only original fully composed with synthesised sounds on the EP. It’s actually a very old track of mine that I thought deserved a revisit and re-polishing. After giving the track a new finishing, I felt as if it gave the EP a healthy equilibrium that therefore cemented its place on the release!
Your new EP also has a remix by Edit Select, why did you choose him to rework your track, and are you happy with his interpretation?
I’ve been a fan of Edit Select for years and because I typically approach artists that I’ve followed for longer periods of time, I naturally reached out to him. I think Edit Select’s Rework is great, it brought diversity to the table and a style that enriched both the EP and overall label catalogue!
What’s coming next in your schedule, do you have any new releases or gigs lined up for the summer?
Our next release planned for fall, is by Mathias Schaffhauser including a killer remix by Dub Taylor. There are a few other really cool releases in the works that will be announced closer to 2023 and are certainly worth the wait.
It’s been nice talking with you, is there anything you would like to add before we finish?
I’d like to thank all of those who have contributed and helped over the years that have turned this into an incredible ride.
Thanks for the chat, people can buy your new release HERE