Iranian-Canadian DJ Amirali is anything but conventional. His music is an evocative mix of the ambiance of Iran and the dance beats of Toronto that somehow come together in a rather unusual combination of flavours. Now based in London, Amirali recently signed to Crosstown Rebels and his debut album In Time released May 14 and has been already termed a “futuristic mix of indie idols”, at once pensive and danceable.
We sat down with Amirali to pick his brain about music and his favourite haunts.
You studied architecture, but when did you decide you wanted to be a professional musician?
There was no point in time where I made a conscious decision to change gears. I always knew I wanted to be a musician; it has been a childhood wish of mine. In this business things happen so suddenly that you rarely get time to think about it, you just need to adapt and move on. Although I still love architecture and believe that there is definitely a connection between the two, in my mind in both fields you are trying to create something that invokes emotions in an audience.
Your sound has been described as “Depeche Mode jet propelled into the 22nd century whilst being chauffeured by Art Department & Underworld.” What has inspired such an interesting mix?
Ever since I was young, I used to listen to different genres of music, and Depeche Mode was a band that I truly loved. I was always amazed by their music and live performance; Dave Gahan is definitely a charismatic frontman. A few years ago, I started listening to Art Department and a few other unique artists that captured my interest and what I realised is that you must always follow your heart when it comes to creating music, and create what makes you happy. That is what will propel you towards success. I can’t say Art Department and I share the same taste in music, but what Kenny and Jonny did and accomplished was definitely a good wake up call for me.
You remix live on the fly to cater to the individual audience. How do you gauge what people will like in different places?
If I am playing a DJ set, I usually try to feel the crowd the best I can and play tracks that resonate well with that specific audience; however, my live shows are like concerts that have been semi-planned. I usually prep myself before each gig and review my set to make adjustments; it’s a very natural process. For this world tour I’m doing right now, I have prepared a one-hour live set in which I play some tracks from my album mixed with other unreleased materials. I sing all my tracks live, play keys, add extra effects and loops and re-edit my tracks. That’s the kind of process I’m undertaking at the moment for the live shows.
Has your Iranian background influenced your music? How?
I think my background has influenced my musical taste to some extent; I come from a musical family; my dad is an architect, but he also plays the piano. As an avid music fan himself, he always had a wide variety of music in the house, from classical and jazz to blues and rock ’n’ roll. As a kid, I grew up listening to his collection and was immensely influenced by it. Also, in my early teens I was exposed to the raw electronic sounds of Depeche Mode, Portishead, Massive Attack and Chemical Brothers, and I was kind of trapped by their music. So, in essence, there are many different styles and genres of music that have influenced my taste.
You’ve already had some great success here in the UK and Europe. Where have been your favourite places to play and to party here?
I’ve said this in many other interviews, but I need to say it here too. The night I played in Fabric Room 1 last month was “pure magic”. It was definitely one of the highlights of my career. There was great chemistry between the crowd and my music. I would say the UK in general is the best place to party right now.
You grew up in Toronto. If you had a friend coming to stay for a weekend – what would be your must-see recommendations?
Honestly, I’ve been away from Toronto for only a couple of years, but the last time I went there two months ago, I felt like a tourist who has gone there for the first time. The cityscape and the nightlife scene are constantly evolving – just to give you and idea, there are currently 189 high-rise projects under construction in Toronto, more than New York, Chicago, Miami, Boston, and Dallas combined. The city is constantly growing. I myself had to call my friends to take me out and show me around last time I was there. I’m not joking, it’s crazy what’s happening there. So if I had a friend coming to stay for a weekend, I would definitely give my other friends a call and see what they say. [laughs]
What about your home city of Tehran? Do you ever get a chance to visit and, if so, how would you characterise the city now?
I have so many great memories from Tehran and I still go there to visit once in a while if I get the chance. It’s been a while since I was there though. Tehran has been characterised as ‘Sin City’: a very developed city, but over crowded. You don’t want to experience being stuck in traffic there. I have so many great friends who still live there in Tehran. It’s one of the places that I would definitely recommend you to check out. You’ll love it!
What are your favourite places to see live music in London?