LIGHTING THE WORLD ON DUBFIRE

By WalterFanucci
It’s 10am in Tokyo. The witching hour for most DJs who would probably be asleep at this time, tangled in a mix of hotel sheets and drunken dreams – either that or still up partying from last night’s gig. However, Ali Shirazinia, known to the world as Dubfire, has already had an early coffee meeting, and shows up ready and caffeinated for his interview with DJ Mag USA.
 
It’s not altogether surprising, though. With a long and illustrious two-decade-plus career, the 44-year-old artist has learned to pace himself, and employs personal boundaries within a culture known for eschewing them to begin with. “This is a young man’s game, to an extent,” Dubfire says frankly. 
 
The secret to staying energetic and, not only in the game for so long but on top of it, he expounds on the virtues of yoga and ancient Ayurvedic detoxes, things he attributes to his wellbeing while constantly on the go. “You need to take care of not only your body, but your mind as well.” 
 
It was in Washington, D.C., where the Iranian-born Ali’s mind and ears were brought up on everything from hip-hop to rare groove and local bands like Fugazi and Minor Threat. It was also there, in 1991 that he met fellow countryman Sharam Tayebi and formed Deep Dish, arguably one of the most influential dance production outfits of our time.
 
Under this moniker he ticked off several bucket list items for any aspiring artist. Grace the stage of every relevant festival? Check. Found a label? Check. Grammy? Also, check, plus four nominationsAs it often happens with most collaborative creative efforts though, the two began to drift apart and decided to break at the height of Deep Dish’s popularity. 
 
While fans mourned the loss of what they felt was an institution, Ali saw an opportunity to shake things up. “I’ve never wanted things to be too easy,” he says. “If they become too easy, then I lose interest.” 
 
It’s been 10 years since they parted ways, and he’s never looked back. In the time since, he’s honed his own distinct sound, fusing minimal, techno and house, launched the label SCI+TEC and developed his current live show HYBRID, a multimedia experience that took two years to come to fruition
 
In 2014, he shocked the music world yet again by hooking up with his old pal Sharam for a one-off season return of Deep Dish. Reuniting for a live show in Miami that brought tears to the eyes of many in attendance, the duo also dropped one of the buzziest records of that year, ‘Quincy’, before once again going off their separate ways. 
 
If there’s one thing we learn from talking to Ali, it’s that he’s a deliberate soul who’d rather do things right than do them quickly. This is probably also why fans are still waiting on Above Ground Level’, his documentary, which teased a trailer this time last year – although he swears come hell or high water it will be released in 2016.
 
Really, Dubfire’s mantra as an artist is something to be admired. “At the end of the day,” he emphatically notes, I need it to look kickass.” Amen. 
LIGHTING THE WORLD ON DUBFIRE

Have things changed for you with DJing over the years? 
We’re evolving. It’s changed dramatically since I started out. It was pretty underground and more so in America, being a DJ was kind of frowned upon. I think all of us at this level in our career played a wedding or two. Now it’s become big business and mainstream

 
There’s a lot more money exchanging hands, everyone seems to be a DJ or wants to become a DJ, young kids are asking their parents for laptops, and mixers and turntables as opposed to guitars and real instruments… Maybe that has affected musicianship, which affects the arts in general. Those are some of the negatives, but it’s also gotten really, really creative. Incredible artists are coming out with genres you never imagined. 
 
Your live setup is a testament to that. It looks like a traditional DJ setup just exploded within the booth. 
“Yeah! I’ve been unfairly put in that traditional DJ category. It’s been an uphill battle to try and get promoters to see the value of the live show and what we’re actually doing. It’s unfortunate, but true, especially when you’re trying to play for the underground promoters.
 
They don’t see the need to put in the time and effort and the resources needed to produce the spectacle. In the end whenever we’re done with the show, it’s been a huge success. The fans are so giddy and the promoters see it’s made an impact, not just to the show, but also to the scene, the techno genre, and to their reputation. 
 
Certain promoters to this day, despite me not having to prove anything to anyone, have this Deep Dish baggage. We sort of split at the peak of our fame and commercialism and so they still view me as that guy from Deep Dish.” 
 
That has to be frustrating. 
It’s very frustrating. I just do what I do and hope they try to get past that and do see what I do now as its own entity. It’s like Al Jourgensen from Ministry… if everyone still brought up his new wave era and viewed him as that commercial act on Arista Records. Nobody is who they were a year or two years ago, let alone 15 or 20.” 
 
You’ve mentioned longevity is your driving force when it comes to your decision-making. 
I wish I had better hair so that I had hairstyles to define particular eras [laughs]. But yeah, I constantly push myself. I consciously try to not repeat, as much as people would like that. Whenever you have a hit song, people want more of that same formula that touched them in a particular way. I’m also evolving as a business owner, trying to give back with my label SCI+TEC – it’s a way to give young producers who are constantly giving me music to play, a shot at stardom.” 
 
You love being able to give back to young artists – you had an idea once about letting people submit loops to you on Twitter moments before a show and then incorporating them live. 
I’m glad you mentioned thatThis idea of taking loops and programming on the fly, it’s an idea that for people like Richie [Hawtin] and I, creates a new style and new way of performing. Anyone can take tracks and use the sync button…
 
the art form isn’t really about playing one song after another anymore. There’s a lot to be said about programming, and that’s something I learned a long time ago from some of the greats. I had a lot of practice with that playing open to close sets. The art of programming has gotten lost among a lot of the newer DJs. 
LIGHTING THE WORLD ON DUBFIRE
There’s a lot of stock put into the idea of putting yourself in uncomfortable or unfamiliar positions. 
“Yes, because that’s how you feel alive, that’s how you feel challenged. Some of the issues Sharam and I had, we were doing what everyone expected us to do, and we weren’t pushing each other anymore. It was too easy. We also drifted apart in how we viewed the business and the creative aspects. I constantly wanted to push the envelope, and do something that wasn’t as accessible as Deep Dish had become, and he felt the opposite. It’s just the way I’m wired.” 
 
Your live show HYBRID has you behind a screen. Considering the thought you put into your live performances and your desire to push yourself, doesn’t performing behind a screen seem counter-intuitive? 
“Yes, I’m behind a screen, but that was also part of the concept. The story is about a man/machine hybrid. I wanted people to see there was me, a human being, but I also wanted people to view me as someone in the machine as well. Having the rear projection and the silhouette between two screens was a way to achieve that. Maybe the next show I’ll digitize myself, I don’t know.” 
 
What was the process like coming up with the concept for HYBRID? 
“The original incarnation of the show we ended up scrapping because it became something we thought would work for the Deep Dish show, so we had to re-think the stage design for HYBRID all over again. These are those moments where I’m being challenged and the team is being challenged to come up with something completely different at the last minute.
 
 There are a lot of drawings and animations going back and forth, a lot of discussions about the concept and a lot of tests that have to be done to make sure that the technology will work and it will look cool.” 
 
A lot of artists now have tech-integrated shows. What would you say sets HYBRID apart? 
“It’s not like a typical EDM show where you’re trying to throw so much at the audience that they become desensitized to the spectacle. I’m trying to create something a bit more refined, something that has more finesse to it. It’s a concept where at the end of the day I hope people can appreciate it visually, sonically, and as something that represents who I am and my evolution as an artist for the past 10 years.” 
 
Have you already started to think about what’s next after HYBRID?  
“I’ve already started working on a new artist album that will have a new show around it that will launch in 2018, I’d say.” 
 
Is it odd to think 10 years have already passed as a solo artist? 
“I feel like I’ve had three careers, three lifespans.” 
 
Is there anything you miss or feel nostalgic for? 
“Sure, I have moments where I immediately think of all my vinyl playing days and all my records. You only had a certain amount of time to mix into the next record and nowadays you can manipulate music in any way, so I miss the innocence of that era. I feel for the DJs that are still playing vinyl but a lot of them are realizing it’s just not possible with the way we travel now, doing five gigs in three days, for example. It’s physically exhausting.” 
 
How do you get through those moments where you feel tapped out? 
“I go to the gym; I look forward to a very nice hotel room I haven’t been to for a year, or a restaurant where I know the chef. A lot of it is mind over body. It can be extremely difficult but I’ve found if I have an espresso to look forward to it tends to make things a lot easier.” 
 
I’ve heard you’re quite the foodie and a sake connoisseur. 
I developed a fondness for everything Japanese from an early age. Sake was just an extension of that. I’m taking my level two sake course this week. By the end of level two, if I pass the exam and get the certificate, I’ll have all the knowledge to teach anyone about sake.” 
 
LIGHTING THE WORLD ON DUBFIRE
 
Are you going to follow in Richie Hawtin and Magda’s footsteps and have your own liquor brand? 
It’s just a question of what I want to do. I want to open a Japanese restaurant for sure, I know I want to do it in LA, I know I want it to be modeled after the six to eight seat counter sushi restaurants in Japan. I know I want to do something with sake.” 
 
What are some of your favorite bites from around the world? 
Just Saturday night I ate at a restaurant [in Tokyo] and they served us ants, which was incredible. To some degree I’m open to trying weird things. 
 
Being from D.C. you probably know fellow foodie Tittsworth. 
Yeah, I just saw an Instagram post he put up the other day drinking snake blood in China. He finds it attractive to eat things other people would find repulsive.” 
  
I saw him bite into a raw tentacle and throw it into the crowd once. 
Speaking of tentacles, my sake teacher took us to a restaurant here and it was one of the most memorable eating experiences of my whole life. We ate live octopus. You watch the chef cut the head off and the tentacles are still moving all over the place when they’re put on a sashimi plate. It was shock and horror. But it tasted absolutely amazing.” 
 
All these stories are making me excited for your documentary Above Ground LevelThe trailer for it came out a year ago… when can we look forward to having it released? 
It’s been an interesting process. Basically the filmmakers had finished it, and they found out you can’t just submit to film festivals, you have to hire a film consultant. The consultant looks at the filmgives you his thoughts on the length and the content and the flow, and once he’s happy you can hire an international sales agent to try and get it into festivals and get a distributor.
 
We did test screenings and the feedback was great but the film consultant thought that we could make some changes to make it even better and easier to sell. One of those changes was that he wanted to see more of me in the documentary. Currently, I’m not interviewed, everyone else is. 
 
What was the intent behind that? 
I tell my story in a voiceover in the beginning of the film. I wasn’t keen on getting interviewed either and they thought that was a really cool way of interviewing me and having me be really comfortable and open. I was basically in a studio vocal booth and they were asking me questions from the control room, like an interview.
 
I just had to worry about my answers, and not how I looked on camera. So that was their idea but the consultant felt like, because of the subject matter, it would have more impact to have me interviewed. One way or another, it’s coming out this year. 
 
Is there anything you think people will be surprised by when they watch it? 
“Yes – the honesty of the interviews, especially David Guetta. His had the most impact for me when I saw it at the screening. Initially, when they approached me about this documentary they wanted to film me for Time Warp [in Germany] – the whole experience of getting ready, having dinnerall that stuff.
 
I’m in my 40s now and I’ve never been documented on film in this way, but I didn’t want it to necessarily be about me. I wanted it to be an immigrant story about coming to America, and I wanted it to be a very honest portrayal of what it’s like to do what I do, as told through the eyes of my peers.
 
So we set out to not make a typical dance music documentary, where it’s all about, ‘look how cool my life is’ with private jets, and five-star treatment and jumping around like a monkey in the booth. We wanted to tell a beautiful, human story.” 
 
Was it odd to have them following you everywhere, documenting moments like you in bed waking up? 
I had to give my room key to them and I told them when I was going to wake up. They would tiptoe in and set everything up before the alarm went off. Really funny! Very weird. 
 words: DANI DEAHL live shots: ANDREW RAUNER cover pic: KWAKU ALSTON/ @kwakualston 
 Category: EDM

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