It’s a pleasure to be here, thanks for having me.
I wanted to start with your back story - how you got into the music scene way back in the beginning?
Always loved music, it’s been a big part of my life since I was a kid and I used it as an escape from what could have been a traumatic childhood growing up in Lebanon in the late 70’s to the late 80’s during the civil war. My parents used to travel a lot to Europe & the US and always brought back some of the coolest records that they used to play when hosting house parties with their friends. They even had a convertible dance floor in the living room with a disco ball, neon/black lights, moving head lights, stroboscopes, wall projections and all kinds of party games (darts, arcades, pinball machine, etc.).
I used to stay up late listening to them all night, then next morning I would play their records, listen to them very carefully, study them, and read the credits. Then, over the weekend, I borrowed my favorite ones to premiere on my weekly midnight radio show which was the only show in town that was hosted in English, playing everything from Disco, Funk, R&B, Hip Hop, Cool Pop and a new style called House music.
It wasn’t scary at all. I was actually very happy to be leaving a civil war-torn country that offered no future prospect to anyone. Leaving Lebanon was like a journey of discovery that had the promise of a better life, freedom, security and safety. I first landed in the UK to finish my High School studies and continued to the States for university. I first got a little involved in the UK’s Acid House scene before arriving to the States where I found my calling. I literally transformed into a 90’s club kid and discovered every club imaginable to listen to as many DJ’s as possible. From the Sound Factory to The Tunnel, Limelight, Red Zone, Zanzibar, The Loft, Palladium/Arena, Vinyl/Arc and Twilo in NYC to Sona, Playground and Stereo in Montreal. I explored the different venues, examined their sound systems and dissected the DJ sets. I then took all that knowledge back home with me and practiced, practiced, practiced for at least 6-8 hours per day.
Oh man, those were the days. All of them inspired me in their own unique way and I have all their lessons embedded deep into my spirit and my subconscious. They’ve played a big role in moulding the artist that I am today.
I honestly feel like each city had its own style, charm, vibe, creativity and inspiration. I have kept a little bit of influence from each one of them. The stand out cities that have impacted me the most would certainly be London, Los Angeles, New York, Beirut and Montreal.
Yes, I did Marketing at first and after my graduation, I decided to continue and do Sound Engineering & Computer Assisted Sound Design.
Yes, graduated my second time in 1999, took out a loan and built my studio right away. My goals at first were to gather as much knowledge and experience as possible while making enough money to survive. The studio served to produce my own music as well as offer paid production services (engineering, programming, arranging, mixing, editing and mastering) for other artists around the world.
There is no one best advice. I think it’s the accumulation and collection of good advice that makes me what I am today. Some highlights would be “Stay Humble and always keep your ego in check”, “Never forget the music” “Never forget where you came from”, “Always protect yourself legally”, “Always read between the lines”, “Finish your studies” and so many other production, composition, engineering and quality studio advice from my mentors.
It’s a mix of everything I’ve heard and everywhere I’ve lived. The middle east had my roots while Los Angeles taught me how to chill and get deep, NYC was all about the raw underground Rhythm & Soul, London in the early days was acid, vocal house and garage and later switched to the UK Deep/Tech House while Montreal injected even more rhythm with a culturally diverse electronic approach which was responsible for the big room Montreal sound.
Yes, I go to the studio religiously almost every day when I am home. Inspiration plays a big role obviously, but you need to put in the work first to spark the inspiration. And from my experience, I’ve learned to never push the inspiration and expect it to always be available. If it’s not there, I get busy doing other things or take a break until it sneaks up again. Writer’s block is a very well-known phenomenon that many artists suffer from. Don’t let it frustrate you, be patient and try to teach yourself new ways to stimulate it.
When I first built my studio, I used to own lots of Hardware and analog synths, samplers etc… (MPC2000, Juno106, TR909, TR808, TB303, TR707, TR606, Roland JD9000, Roland JP2020, Roland SH101, Akai S3000 Sampler, Emu E64 Sampler, Waldorf, Moog, Novation Supernova, Korg and Access Virus analog synths, and many more). In 2008, when I knew that I was moving away from North America and since North America uses 110V electricity, I decided to sell all my gear because it was all made for the USA/Canadian 110V markets and required the use of transformers to operate them anywhere else in the world and the transformers can add unwanted electrical noises like buzzing, hissing, humming, and earthing issues. Since then, I’ve switched to an almost 100% digital and mobile environment. I use Logic and Ableton as my main DAWs as well as some of the best VST plugins on the market including my personal audio sample libraries that I’ve been building for the past 20 years. I also use Wavelab for editing, batch processing, analyzing, and post-production work.
Learn your equipment, stay organized, build personal libraries, ask questions, ask for advice if you don’t know how to do something, use the knowledge of other professionals around you who can help you achieve your production goals even if you must hire a proper engineer to do the work and don’t overthink or over produce a track. Less is always more. Watch Youtube video tips or take a class. You really need to teach yourself when to stop working on a track, finalize it and move on because you can keep going for months/years chasing the perfect, sweet sound that doesn’t exist since we are always learning new tricks and evolving as producers. You will never ever be satisfied if you keep searching.
I produce under many different aliases including (BiGz, Soul Collective, Audio Lab, Beat Factory and Harlem Knights). I also have a few secret aliases that I never share publicly as I don’t want anyone to know who’s behind them. Some projects started as cool collaborations with close friends of mine while others were created to expand my vision and be able to freely produce different sounds and styles with no restrictions.
Harlem Knights started in 2010 by myself and Hungarian co-producer Levente Szabo aka Human8. He was initially an artist on Ready Mix Records who I respected, vibed well with, and became good friends with over time.
We were in the studio messing around one night and came up with a sick new soulful, funky, bouncy, groovy and organic sound that neither of us were producing back then. He was more of a progressive house head while I was deep, soulful and eclectic. Harlem Knights is the compromise between both our sounds with an emphasis on the deeper side of house while Beat Factory was more on the progressive / melodic house tip.
I am a DJ first. Been one since 1989 and it took me exactly a decade before I got into production which was when I graduated from music school back in 1999.
Eating/resting/sleeping and drinking lots of water. A bit of meditation while burning my favorite incense can help me get in my zone quicker. I also find myself researching the venue/club/promoter/clientele by checking out their past flyers, videos and feedbacks/reactions to acquaint myself with the type of dancefloor to expect. Digging for new music to add to my stories. Rehearse, generate playlists, cerate my own special edits while always leaving room for improvisation.
Be professional, be punctual, be honest, be respectful, know your vision, protect yourself by learning the business side of the music industry, stay humble, network, make connections, build your collection/library/sound, study your records very well, be prepared for any type of gig, ask lots of questions, learn & respect your peers, market yourself, hire a manager/agent and last but not least, EARN IT!!!
So many favorites to mention but my top 2 are both in my hometowns. Stereo in Montreal and B018 in Beirut. Also, honorable mentions go out to the Ballroom Blitz and Projekt Afterhours in Beirut, and of course, my own private studio/loft space where I host many intimate gatherings.
Danny Tenaglia, Masters At Work, Junior Vasquez (from 1989 to around 1996/97), Roger Sanchez, Todd Terry, David Morales, Doc Martin, Derrick Carter, Mark Farina, Terry Francis, Lee Burridge, Deep Dish (back when there was Deep Dish), Josh Wink, Dubtribe Sound System, Francois K., DJ Vibe, Angel Moraes, Frankie Knuckles (RIP), Tony Humphries, Marques Wyatt, David Alvarado, a new up and coming selector named JAVID and many more.
I am a DJ first but after the 20+ years at production, I now feel that I have finally caught up to both. I am now an artist!
In 1999, when I finally graduated from all my universities, I always dreamt of launching my own label to be free artistically and have a platform for myself to release whatever I wanted without any restrictions and offer an outlet for talents that go under the radar. I also wanted to build a community to help create a space for artists with talent and creativity to have a place to call home, exchange ideas, and be part of a group of like-minded individuals. Also, neither Montreal nor Beirut offered any publishing platforms for new artists, so I wanted to pave the way.
Haute Musique with my wife (Zee), Itom Records with partners (Moti Brothers), StereoTrip with partner (Chriss Ronson), Tiny Lamp with partner (Ellroy) and my latest venture Digger’ Delight Records with Ribal Rayess, Georges Chlouk and a collective of talented artists from Beirut.
I was always into eclectic music. I have a mixtapes series dating back to 1998 where the themes were all about travelling the world and capturing the sounds of their cultures. These mixtapes were full of world/ethnic/oriental/afro/Latin/Brazilian/downtempo/Bossa stuff which were very common back then. Fortaleza Café, Mombasa Café, Fez Café were among my most popular ones.
Also, if you notice and since its inception, our Ready Mix catalogue always had African/Middle Eastern/Latin/World/Ethnic eclectic influences.
So, after 20 years of Ready Mix, I think the music has made a full circle and we’re back to showcasing my travel diaries through many different cultures.
They each have different sounds since they are run with different partners and of course, the partner’s opinion weighs in on the final output decision but since I am also involved in all of them, there’s an essence that unifies them all which is obviously me. I am not sure how to describe it, so I invite everyone to check them out and hear for themselves.
I will respond first by asking how do you define success? The obvious answer would be through record sales but for me, it could also be through the impact the song had on someone personally. Having said that, in terms of record sales as it is more easily measurable, I could name a few of many amazing tracks we were privileged to release.
Onur Ozman – The Voice of You (The Timewriter Remix)
The Quasar & The Pressure – Take Me Over (Gorge Remix)
John Creamer & Stephane K. Feat. Nkemdi – I Wish You Were Here (The Remixes)
Hraach – Paseo De Los Tristes EP
rBert – Sinere (Elfenberg Remix)
Stan Kolev – Emotional Content (The Album)
BiGz – Andalucia (Dave Pad Remix)
Armen Miran – Jojo In The Stars (Hraach Remix)
BiG AL – NYC (Markus Homm Remix)
During the week, I usually do the 9 to 5 dedicated to office, label, legal, business work. In the evening, after spending some time with the family, I get to work in the studio. There are so many distractions during the day which makes it impossible for me to focus creatively so time management is critical especially when wearing different hats. You must be capable of juggling and switching from one character to another instantly and on demand, it’s usually a cocktail of schizophrenia mixed with a little OCD that always gets the job done. ;)
Well, I had many plans for 2020 but it seems like 2020 had much bigger plans that forced all of us to either reschedule or cancel ours. ;)
Cancelled my Spring 2020 India Tour
Cancelled my Spring 2020 Middle East Tour
Cancelled my Spring 2020 Euro Tour
Cancelled an appearance at the MDL Beast Festival in KSA
Cancelled my appearance at Miami’s MMW2020
Cancelled my visit to my hometowns “Montreal & Beirut” in April
On the production front, I’ve been much more active and pumping out content non-stop.
Got upcoming collabs, remixes and originals signed to different labels.
BiG AL & Kiano – Flight Path EP on Oh! Records Stockholm
BiGz – In The Zone on Ready Mix Records
BiGz & Soire Feat. Ersin Ersavas – Babel on Shango Records
BiG AL & Rishi K. & Adrian Pricope – Soldiers of Fortune on Dutchie Music
Tidy Daps – Something Brewing (BiGz & Soire Remix) on Dutchie Music
Sasch – You Were Love (BiG AL Remix) on Vibe Me To The Moon Records
Nic Falardeau & Johnny Messina – Biome (BiGz Remix) on The Purr / One of A Kind
Beat Factory – Exodus on Itom Records
Harlem Knights – You & I on Itom Records
BiG AL – Reaction on Diggers’ Delight
I’m also working on a few singles and EP’s as well as collabs with my good friends Deep Active Sound, Freedo Mosho, Moe Turk and Kiano & Below Bangkok.
Where can people follow you?