Sunday May 19th, 2024
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XP Tuned In: Dar Disku

We sat down with the masterminds behind Dar Disku to discuss their sonic identity and how they are building a cultural bridge between the MENA region and the West.

Riham Issa

XP Tuned In: Dar Disku

In an era overwhelmed with global mainstream media, where musical patterns are starting to take a homogenous shape, Dar Disku emerges on a mission to unearth the forgotten rhythms of the Middle East, North Africa region and beyond. Through the lens of electronic music, the UK-based Bahraini record label and music collective skillfully reimagines traditional classic tunes.

Founded in 2018, Dar Disku, which translates to ‘the home of disco’, derives its name from a once-popular independent 1970s Egyptian pop-culture magazine now faded into obscurity. Helmed by Bahraini DJ/Producer duo, Mazen Almaskati and Vish Mhatre, the UK-based collective has since been sprinkling a heady cocktail of wistful joy across the UK’s dance floors, with their carefully curated DJ sets, club edits and compelling remixes.

From Rai, and Arabic Disco to acid house and South African bubblegum, Dar Disku has cultivated a sonic identity that delves deep into the unforgettable crates of the Middle East, North Africa, and South Asian regions. A vibrant mix of funk, disco, and electronic beats with traditional Arabic samples and influences, Dar Disku’s distinctive sound is a celebration of the region’s diverse cultural heritage and musical history.

In a virtual sit down with the masterminds behind Dar Disku, they uncover their mission to resurrect the region’s golden age of music, the story behind the collective’s moniker, and how they aim to amplify the diverse sounds of the region globally.

Hi, Dar Disku! Can you share with us a little bit about yourself and what made you decide to venture into the music industry?

VISH: I’m Vish, one-half of Dar Disku. I was born in India and raised in Bahrain. I grew up listening to my parents’ records’, and then I started practising the drums. So, music was always there in life one way or another. 

MAZEN: I’m Mazen, the other half of Dar Disku. I am originally from Bahrain and have been living in the UK for quite many years now. 

Music has always been a place of refuge for me since I was a kid. It was a way for me to explore my identity… a space where I felt I most belonged and discovered a sense of community.

What was the main inspiration behind launching Dar Disku? And, How did it come to be? 

VISH: At the time, there weren’t that many spaces showcasing regional music in the UK. So, we wanted to establish some kind of a cultural bridge between the MENA region and the world, by creating a safe space where emerging regional talents can showcase their art and be themselves unapologetically... The main idea was to bring the sound of our home to a place very far away from home.

MAZEN: The concept of Dar Disku was our way of trying to understand our Arab cultural heritage, and reframe our presumptions about where we come from, and how our sounds were supposed to be. It helped us to explore the diversity of our region’s sounds, and inspired us to create new music that resonated with our identity.You’re both successful artists individually, how do you integrate your craft into what you’re doing with Dar Disku right now? And, how do you envision yourself continuing with that?

MAZEN: Our innate never-ending curiosity and penchant for knowledge have been our driving force, propelling us to step out of our comfort zone, create new music, and forge connections with regional artists from across the globe.

There were many times when we’d hear a song and be like ‘I don’t know what this is, but I like it’. These were the times that actually gave birth to some exciting projects, whether it was a cool artist we signed or unconventional music we created.

VISH: By constantly being curious and seeking all sorts of inspiration from the world around us. Simply put, we are never afraid of trying something new, and it is right there when you are out of your comfort zone when you actually create something innovative.

What is Dar Disku’s mission? And, what are you looking to accomplish with it?

VISH: To create, curate, and share all sorts of pure and strange things… to showcase the diverse sounds of our region to the world.

MAZEN: Our mission is to nurture a community of regional talents from across the globe, because we have always viewed what we do as a sense of belonging to the collective, from the classic tunes we reproduce to the new music we create. Through what we do, we aim to honor our musical heritage and the artists who influenced us.How do you think Dar Disku will contribute to evolving the music scene in Bahrain and the MENA region at large? And, how does it aim to play a pivotal role in amplifying regional emerging talents?

VISH: The MENA music scene is currently thriving like never before. There is a lot of new exciting music coming out. We’d like to think that our contribution to it is by creating music which is a little more left-field than the mainstream.

A lot of classic MENA music is now being reissued. But, new songs seem to lack the same emotional depth and cultural essence of these classics. We aim to fill this gap through unconventional sounds that not only pay homage to the traditional music of our region but also incorporate contemporary electronic elements to turn it into a club hit.

What strategy and approach do you adhere to when signing artists with Dar Disku? Are there any certain requirements artists should have to sign with your label?

VISH: None whatsoever. If it feels right, we will be behind it 100%. 

MAZEN: It’s all really about the music. If it feels right and the artist shares our vision, it just happens. And, we try to accommodate and support artists to the best of our abilities.Why did you decide to name it Dar Disku? And, how does the name convey the label’s vision?

VISH: ‘Dar Disku’ means the ‘home of Disco’. It’s funny because, from the name, people think we mainly create and play disco music, which isn’t really true. Our sounds encompass a wide range of subgenres.

The name has a nostalgic feeling to it though, it sounds like what a club in the 70s would be called. And it is actually what Dar Disku is all about; it is bringing back the nostalgic Arab sounds of our region. 

MAZEN: Dar translates to a home in Arabic but more in a collective sense, think of a place where you would congregate with your neighbors. It is this sense of belonging and feeling at home with people you may not necessarily know but share the same ethos and passion for music as you.  From your perspective, what do you think of the Bahraini music scene? How much did it evolve and what do you think it lacks?

VISH: The Bahraini music scene is currently witnessing an influx of emerging talents with a fresh and distinctive approach to music. What is so interesting about it is that each one of those young artists has an  identity, and a sense of individuality, which they showcase through their sounds. This is what sets them apart from the conventional sounds found across the region.  When I was younger, I recall going to metal shows, where at the same time I would also see a talented jazz musician killing it on stage. 

MAZEN: There are a lot of talented artists who are now pushing the boundaries with their distinctive and unconventional music styles, and establishing new sub-genres along the way. Think, the ‘Mission to the Moon’ band or the left-field producer ‘7mnd’.

Can you recall one of the most memorable events you hosted?

VISH: Ahhhh..that’s a tough one!  We recently hosted a headline show at the Jazz Cafe in London though. It was like a dream come true to play at such a venue, and surprisingly it sold out very quickly. 

MAZEN: Yeah, it was one for the books. Unforgettable.

What are the three main things you put into consideration when planning an event? And, how do you curate your lineups?

VISH: We focus on establishing a certain theme for each event we host, and complement it with a diverse and fluid lineup of artists that feed off each other and fit within the same context. 

Some DJs prefer to play low-tempo and ambient music whilst others prefer hard-hitting energetic tunes. So, you have to really focus on creating fluidity in your lineup curation. Our lineups aim to showcase the diverse sounds of the region, while also creating musical peaks and valleys through their sets. This is what will make people enjoy the night. 

MAZEN: Music of course comes first… but we try to also keep in mind the cultural barriers that exist within the industry. So, we try to represent our communities and MENA cultures through the events, while ensuring the process is equitable as well.

How do you envision the future of Dar Disku? And, how do you plan on staying relevant? 

VISH: The regional music scene is filled with a lot of untouched territories and cosmos that we have yet to explore. But, we aim to stay consistent in releasing good-quality records that stay true to Dar Disku’s vision and showcase our heritage.

MAZEN: We try to stay optimistic about the future, regardless of what it will have in store. At the moment, we believe that all we can do is create, collaborate, and connect, and good things will come in time.  And, for our plan to stay relevant, perhaps we will try to join a reality TV show…I hear that’s the way to go these days.Are there any exciting projects you are currently working on that you can share with us?

VISH: We just finished our debut record, which we have worked on for three years. It offers a glimpse into the breadth of diverse soundscapes within the MENA region. From the past to the present, it literally explores multiple sub-genres like Rai, Khaleeji disco, Sawt, Iranian pop, and Turkish Psychedelia.

MAZEN: We are very excited to share that one with the world.

VISH: We also currently have some exciting collaborations in the pipeline, which we will reveal soon.

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