- Wed, 2005-09-28 11:11
Yousef is a name synonymous with slick, jackin’ sleazy beats, edged with an aggressive and relentless groove. He is a DJ and producer that literally lives and breathes house music and who still practises his sets today - always trying to improve his technical abilities. He is also a DJ and producer that knows how to put the fun into house music and loves a good Circus.
Now one of the UK’s top DJs, Yousef began his DJing quest in 1991, messing around on a friend’s set of decks after a night out at the infamous Shellys in Stoke. I Like Music caught up with the man himself to find out a bit more about his new album, touring and playing live ...
“I Like Music because… It never turns its back on you, always supports your mood and never lets you down.” Yousef
ILM: Your new album, Friends, is out on October 31st. From reading your track-by-track description, it appears these kind of collaboration albums take a long time to finalise and release, with some of the tracks written and recorded 2/3 years ago. This must be one of the hardest album concepts...?
Yousef: Well, it's actually quite the contrary; it couldn't be further away from what you are saying, and the reason I say that is because it was never designed to be an album concept, it was just me making some tracks with some good friends at different times in my life, when we were just hanging out in various parts of the world, which is great. But, you know, the fact that i made so many tracks with so many friends meant it seemed a shame to release them one by one, so I came up with the concept of putting them all together, just really interesting music together. I think - as a package - it's not only stronger, it makes a little more sense than just firing out house track after house track. Like you say, there's quite a wide style of music going from jazzy house to near techno on that album, and for me that's what I play. Generally the tougher stuff, but you know I'm very happy with the way things have gone.
ILM: Of all the tracks on the album which one did you have the most fun producing?
Yousef: Erhm ... I dont really know. Probably the most surprising track was the Gene Farris one, because I know Gene for making loopy Chicago based gritty ghetto tracks really, which is cool. And I can make similar sounds, or something a bit more heavily produced, but we went in and for no real reason we made like an acid rock track! It was nothing I'd done before and nothing he'd done before, and we made it on a really sparse set up which consisted of a computer and a weighted piano keyboard plus one compressor and a mic, and we came up with Da Number 8.
ILM: What kinda software did you guys use?
Yousef: We used various stuff, but I essentially use CubaseFX. I find it really easy to transfer audio and move audio around, it's good fun. You can actually use the audio as more of a sampler really, obviously you can use a sampler to get the drums and the kicks and make them sound rich and fat, but, once you've got your sound out of the sampler and back into CubaseFX, you can manipulate it in so many ways that it's a good choice for me.
ILM: You've been touring all over America recently and have a home-coming event at Circus this weekend. What do you look forward to the most about playing live?
Yousef: You know what, I think the most important thing for me is to play a new record, something I'm really excited about. Whether it be something I've done or something I've stumbled across... something like a record I picked up from Chicago the other day. It's like a really old-style sounding house record, with loads of big drums. It's not really hard, it's just got loads of soulful energy and I can't wait to play it. Especially at Circus, which I know like the back of my hand, and I know what sound works where, when and at what time, and I'll be able to (hopefully, fingers crossed) play it at the right time...
ILM: Yeah right, I mean that almost covers my next question: what’s your current favourite tune to play live?
Yousef: Ahh, it's probably my remix of the new Jamiroquai track Electric Mistress. I've done two mixes; one is pretty much like the original, a disco workout. It's relentless. It's not really a poppy arrangement at all. I've also done this really warped mix which has also got the vocal in it, but sounds odd and quite nasty, which is cool man. Jay Kay's voice is so soothing and to have a quite nasty underlying tone makes a nice balance.
ILM: What piece of studio or live equipment could you not live without?
Yousef: Obviously the computer, you can't live without that. And for the DJ'ing, these days the CDJ, you can't do without that. But a piece of kit for producing, that I don't actually use anymore, is a nice outboard fat compressor. I'd say spend some money on that, Avalon or Focus. For example, you listen to Da Number 8, that was all done on an Avalon compressor and it sounds so rich just because you spend time on it to record a sound in a group and yeh, it's easy to make tracks on a simple laptop as long as you've got something to richen it up.
ILM: Can you explain the Yousef process of producing fine house music and prepareing a killer DJ set?
Yousef: [laughs] erhm, no! [laughs] ... I mean the process of doing a DJ set, is making sure I know the music in my CD wallet, and the remaining few records that I've actually got left, and to make sure that I can imagine the programme well. But, at the same time, what you've got to imagine in your head is the programme in relation to how that order is gonna work on the dance floor. It's two completely different things, and that is where your experience comes in ... Making music, again I come up with an idea, you know, like a hook or just a vibe and maybe just working with that. It's actually nice to get a load of records out in one go because its gives you a second to relax and think about things. So you're not forcing yourself, just easing along to make the next one really quick. Although, saying that, I've made a few things since this project but I don't make a record every day like a lot of producers. I'm too busy man, but at the same time I just like to scope a vibe and whatever comes naturally after that. Lately I've been feeling the more tougher stuff, not hard, but you know ...
ILM: So, from a DJ point of view are you exclusivly using CDs now, I mean do you play any vinyl at all?
Yousef: Erhm, I played at the Circus the other day and out of a 3 hour set I played one record, and that was only because I haven't got it on CD. And they only have 2 CD players and I need at least 3 inputs. You know sometimes you want to get a bit creative and you can't because there's nothing to use.
ILM: Do you have advice for young musicians/DJs/producers trying to break into the industry?
Yousef: I dunno... A couple of years ago I would have said "just work really hard and be creative," but I don't say that these days. Honestly man, it's tougher than ever purely because there's very little to go round at the moment, and you know there's a lot of good gigs, but there's not so many in the UK. The good gigs are few and far between on a worldwide basis and, you know, I ve got pretty well-known in the UK and parts of Europe, maybe the East coast of America, but in other parts of the world I'm totally super underground and its really hard to break through. So I'm finding it difficult and I've got all this music out like remixes for Fatboy Slim, Ian Brown and Jamiroquai. It's really difficult for DJs just to get a gig, but saying that I'm always really supportive of new people who work hard, persevere and who have got a bit of life in themselves, and that's what you've got to do. Like a new guy I'm keeping my eye on is Estelle Alexander, he's a great DJ and makes really interesting music; his sets and music are really well programmed, so I'm going to give him a gig at Circus and I'll have a DJ competition on boxing day, to give support for the local talent.
ILM: Have there been any DJs/live acts that have inspired you recently?
Yousef: It's probably more along the line of proper bands and stuff, like, I love watching the Chemical Brothers and even Faithless. I'm not a fan, I'll never play a Faithless record, but to see them live to be totally honest, they really know what they are doing and with Maxi Jazz laying down his beliefs, but you know, you're watching like 15-20,000 people all losing their minds, like at Creamfields a couple of weeks ago. It's incredible to watch. Who have I seen DJ wise recently? Erhm ... Justin Long from Chicago, he's ridiculous man; he's got so much energy, he's the boy!
ILM: We recently went along to the VFestival and saw the Chemical Brothers and that was something else man, it sounded quite old school, real techno, but it was a special show. And from a DJ point of view we recently saw James Zabiela ...
Yousef: Ahhh, James is absurd man.
ILM: Yeh, his delivery is amazing.
Youself: I mean, his sound is not really my thing, but I said in an interview recently that I think his skills are absurd. I'd like to see him play hip hop, I'd love to see what he could do with that kinda music. He's really super talented, and he's a good lad as well, he's kind and a full decent lad, and I wish him all the best.
ILM: Can you describe your best ever club experience as a punter?
Yousef: Probably some of the first ever times I went to Cream, when I was like 17 or 18. You know, being involved in something that was such a phenomenon, being so young and being so wasted with so many frineds and just having a good laugh. I was the kind of person that would run miles, I would say I'm just going to the bar and you wouldn't see me for the rest of the night. I'd be speaking to a stack of people I'd never met before. Used to go to a lot of parties, was into the fasion, had long hair n all that shit. It was great; we used to listen to some great music, like when Roger Sanchez first played Cream was amazing. It was totally different music, more energy than anybody.
ILM: So, was it this era that insipired you to start messin' with music youself?
Yousef: Well I was already DJing a bit, but he was one of the people that really leaned me towards house. I remember there were points I was so desperate to be a DJ, and to play my records I was wondering if I was playing the right music. So I started off with progressive, this was about 12 years ago, and I clearly wasn't feeling it. So, one night we all stayed in and we listened to a live Todd Terry CD at HardTimes, and I just said to myself, "I'm never going to play anything I don't like ever again," and I haven't. So thanks to that CD!
ILM: Can you describe your favourite place on earth?
Yousef: The first place that pops into my mind is being at home with my mates and family. I've seen everything on my travels: the Sydney Harbour Bridge, the statue of Christ in Brazil, I went up one of the World Trade Centres. I've been to China. I've been everywhere and, 9 times out of 10, I'll be by myself, or I'd be with my DJ mates and that's cool, but they're not like family. I took the night off on New Year's Eve and had a big party in my house and then at midnight went down to the beach where I live and had a big bonfire with everybody. It was one of the best things I had ever done.
ILM: What is in your CD player player right now?
Yousef: INXS' greatest hits. I used to be a big fan when I was about 15 and I stumbled across the greatest hits when I was in Tower Records, so I got it. What else? ... Brian Wilson's Smile album, 2001 by Dr Dre and there's this new band called The Brazilian Girls. All sorts across the board.
ILM: Is there any particular record that really sits with a fond memory in your mind? Like every time you hear this track it reminds of something particular?
Yousef: Yeh, there's a million, you know. Like a catalogue in my head with memories. There's loads of crappy records, you know, like Aint No Stopping Us Now by Ollie and Jerry reminds me of breakdancing when I was like 11 at school, and Take The Weather With You by Crowded House reminds of the first time we had access to a car when we were all 16-17, so we could drive around in the summer, it was great. But with house records... hearing In The Dark We Live by Felix Da Housecat in Cream with thunderous kicks was cool man, and, like I say, the Chemical Brothers or anything that's live. I'm quite glad I've got a really broad taste in music, I'll give anything a listen ...
ILM: Well it pulls in inspiration, it's a powerful thing if you're producing music yourself ...
Yousef: I just think it's stuff from the soul. I got asked a question in an interview the other day, the old "what's your desert island disc?" I couldn't answer that, I just said I'd like to lose my record box and find somebody else's, because I already love the records in my box and I've got them in my head, so I'd like to find somebody else's and fall in love with them. Can you imagine, there would be nothing worse than hating a record that you love because you had nothing else to listen to ...