In Conversation with… Yousef
Yousef proudly steps into 2017. With previous releases on Desolat, Bptich Control, Cocoon, Defected and Cecille, and new Yousef music signed and ready to be released this year on Crosstown Rebels, Knee Deep in Sound, Hot Creations, This & That as well as his own Circus Recordings. 2016 saw Yousef tackle remixes for The Glitz, Diego, Frank Storm and provide a powerful ‘yousef circus rework’ version of the legendary Chaka Khan.
His legendary Circus event in his native Liverpool rolls into its 15th year, championing the finest in house & techno since day one, Circus embarks on its first worldwide tour with a staggering 15 events across the globe in 15 of the finest locations such as London, New York, LA, Sydney, Milan, Berlin, Paris and Barcelona. Yousef continues to show is multi artistic approach towards all projects, from his involvement in an amazing 3D surround sound show for Dolby to his weekly radio show ’21st Century House Music’ now on 100+ FM stations around the world with around 20Million+ monthly global listeners in over 50 countries.
HEY-HEY! Anish, here.
Still reeling from the awe-inspiring experience of my last report, I was blessed once again by the celestials of House music, managing to bag myself some time in the mind-blowingly busy schedule of Circus Recordings’ main man, YOUSEF, ahead of his gig at this weekend’s WILD LIFE festival.
A – So you’re playing WILD LIFE festival on Saturday 10th, what’re you expecting?
Y – I’m just really looking forward to getting down there! Brighton’s always full of energy, with people always looking forward to a really good night out. It’s a daytime thing, it’s for Elrow, and with all the ingredients combined, it’s gonna be a belter!
A – You’ve been playing for about 15 years now, how do you feel about the whole Festival vs. Club thing, in terms of the vibe and how it feels for you?
Y – Well, I think it’s different worldwide. The energy at festivals is always quite heightened in the UK, because from a British perspective if it’s not raining it’s a bonus: people are happy to be dancing outside because it’s the exception rather than the rule. Whereas in Europe or South America, or Asia, a lot of clubs are outdoors, so I think people in the UK – from when they arrive to the moment they leave – make the most of it, and that energy is really good. Even the quality of the production of festivals in the UK these days is exceptional, competing with anywhere around the world. In terms of the experience, they’re really getting good value for money.
A – You mentioned Asia, and other such sunny climates: looking at your touring schedule, it’s quite busy!
Y – Y’know, I’m not one of those DJs that wants to be away twenty days a month. I like to do eight to ten gigs a month because I’ve got a family and I don’t wanna miss out on my son growing up. I do really pick and choose, and I’m lucky enough to do WILDLIFE, and my touring is really enjoyable to the point where every gig that I do is really fun, and I’m still getting to visit new places… even after being on the road fifteen years. My attitude towards touring’s never changed even though it’s graft, and to get to what we’re trying to do, it’s always a privilege and still really enjoyable to actually make the most of it.
A – How does touring affect your family, and personal life?
Y – Y’know what, it affects it how you choose. Obviously ten years ago I used to be w-i-l-d! I’d go out and disappear: it’d be party after party after party, and club after club after club, and I’d get up and not really feel anything from it. But now – and not just because I’ve got a son – I like to go to a gig, get the last flight there, go for dinner, make sure I’m there to absolutely rock it, then come home, and get back to normality. I find that really suits me because it means I really appreciate my home life, but I really enjoy the gig a lot more – not turning up feeling a bit trodden, y’know? I’m really healthy as a person, and – because I run the record label, and I run the Circus events, and I do the radio show, and I’m producing music every day – my mindset is always really active, and I have to put on different hats. But other than DJ-ing, of course my favourite hat is being a dad.
A – Would you say keeping busy professionally actually regulates your life and keeps you in good stead?
Y – Y’know what, that’s a really good way to put it actually. It does regulate things because I’m just too busy to be getting hammered [laughs]. I’ve got so many activities, and I’m a naturally creative person, so I have to be in the studio a couple of times a week, and I have to be curating my events most days, and preparing new music, and doing edits, and just something every day. I’m one of those people that if I’m awake, I’m doing something constructive – even if its something mundane like fixing up the house (I love home renovation)! Plus, if I’m not in the studio, and not in any sort of creative energy, I literally get into a bit of a grump. My wife notices and she’s like “I think it’s time you went and made some tracks or something!” So yeah, it does: it gives everything a nice, even feel.
A – So you’re nowhere near the whole ‘DJ-depression’ side of it, then.
Y – Far from it! From a work perspective, I’ve never been busier. Gigs have never been better, more enjoyable, creative energies are flying, ‘Circus Recordings’ is rubbing shoulders with the top labels now, and we’ve just been nominated for ‘Label Of The Decade’ in Mixmag as well! What’s really interesting is, obviously I’m DJ, Producer, Label Owner, Event Organiser, and I do the Radio – which has twenty million listeners a month now – but we don’t focus on the UK much at all. If you go to all the different regions around the world, some people know me for the Radio, but another place they’ll know me for Crosstown or something like that, then a different region’ll know me for DJ-ing, and it’s just a really interesting dynamic now in 2017. I really enjoy having a wide range of activities. DJ-ing is what I do best, but everything else starts off as kind of a hobby/necessity and becomes part of my story… and I really enjoy the whole picture!
A – Do you generally have a typical day? Or does it all change as it comes?
Y – Well, obviously Friday-Saturday I’d typically go to the airport, fly somewhere, do a gig, get some dinner, and go home. But during the week, I go to bed about midnight every night, and I’m up about half six or seven, ready to go. I usually get up before my wife and son, do a little bit of work, then make sure my son’s cool, get him ready, take him to nursery, take the dog for a walk, and as soon as that’s all done it’s straight into the office or my studio until maybe four-five-six o’ clock. I’d do three hours in the studio, and maybe go to the office and do three hours on Circus, and come back and answer all my emails, the record label, gig offers, management: it’s constant, every day. My wife says that other than the weekend, I tend to do forty hours at least on everything else in the week, too! And also trying to squeeze in running, and charitable activities – I’m trying to help the homeless in Liverpool, and helping a kid [Luke] not to end up in a wheelchair, and trying to generate money for other people, as well as further my career all the time. But I like being active, I like being in the red, and to complete projects. I’m not a ‘serial-starter’: a lot of people start things and don’t finish ‘em, I’ll see it through ‘til the end – even if it takes forever.
A – About some of your other projects, I read about your 3D surround show. That sounds nuts!
Y – Yeah, it is. My second album “Products Of Your Enviroonment” was originally meant to be completed in surround sound, but because of the unbelievable expense of it, it just came out in stereo. Fast-forward a year, I happen to bump into the guys from Dolby at ADE, and got explaining it to them. Fast-forward another year, they got back in touch saying that they hadn’t forgotten what I’d said, and had developed the software and capabilities, inviting me in to help them out and be a part of it. Long story short, we set up an exhibition in Ministry Of Sound last March(?) where I’d prepared about maybe twenty or thirty tracks in Dolby Atmos. I’ve done it twice now, and it’s still early days for using it commercially for clubs all around the world, but I’m doing it, and I’m hoping the bigwigs at Dolby will be able to sign it off as a project they’ll want to invest in long-term. From a musical perspective, hearing your track, or any music, in Dolby Atmos is… a whole different level!
A – Going back to festival life, are there any pre-gig rituals you have?
Y – Erm, mine are always the same: make sure I’ve got a tonne of new music. Whether it be on a plane, or a train, or in the days before a gig, I’ll simmer what I’ve got or get sent down to usually twenty or thirty brand new tracks every week, and then I’ll start doing edits… and that’s an absolute priority. Then, if there’s time, maybe I’ll eat [laughs]. But the most important thing is to make sure I’m ready to basically turn up and nail it. I never turn up winging a gig because the way I see it, they’ve paid twenty quid to get in to some places, or more at a festival… so one way or another, they are getting a show!
A – Twenty or thirty tracks a week? That’s… quite a lot!
Y – Well, let’s say it’s twenty: ten of them might be peak-time, five of them might be bolstering Techno, and five of them might be super-deep that I’ll only play occasionally… so on certain gigs, I get a chance to experiment and play a lot of these tracks I don’t get to play peak-time. I can just groove it out. Each record is gonna tell a little story, rather than just be ‘DJ tools’.
A – Would you say edits are more of a contemporary thing?
Y – Well, I’d say it’s down to the individual DJ. You get a lot of guys that wouldn’t even dream of doing an edit. I personally think it’s a really important part of what I do, and sometimes it makes a big difference to that particular track. I do a couple a month – not every track needs an edit. If it’s something that’s going to stay with me for a while, or something I’d never play unless it has ‘that’ bit chopped out (which is usually the case) I’ll just quickly do it. Sometimes they’ll stay with me for a while, sometimes I’ll just play them once. I really concentrate on that particular gig when I’m organising music or making edits. I’m not doing it for self-gratification or anything like that.
A – Speaking of new music, what’s happening with you and the label?
Y – Well, I’ve got a new EP in a few weeks on Hot Since 82’s ‘Knee Deep In Sound’, then another EP on Lazarus’ ‘Crosstown Rebels’ – which is a big vocal thing – and then I’ve just had an EP out on Davide Squillace’s ‘This And That’ which is doing really well. And I’ve got LOADS more coming up, but I won’t bore ya with it.
A – Haha, okay. So this weekend you’re sandwiched between DJs at WILDLIFE: how does that sort of thing sit with you?
Y – Well, like I said, I try to prepare for anything. I don’t mind if I turn up and someone’s playing super-Deep or really quite tough. I’ll set my tone within a few tunes. I won’t stop it, I’ll just follow on from what they’re doing and fade in to what I like to do, as and when I can. I always keep an eye on what I feel the audience needs because, even though I always play new music, I wanna make sure that the crowd has a really good time. “Entertainment & Enlightenment”, that’s what I’ve always said. On Saturday [27th May] with Laurent Garnier, it was nice to have the opportunity to tell a story for a change. I always try to make my DJ set into an actual set, rather than tune-after-tune-after-tune-after-tune.
A – Now, you’ve been going for 15 years and have no doubt met a lot of people in the process: is there anyone you’re aware of that’s also playing WILDLIFE that you’re looking forward to seeing again?
Y – Yeah! I’ve got loads of DJ mates from over the years that I would consider actual friends, and a lot of them are playing Friday, like The Martinez Brothers and Jamie Jones. Both of them I’ve known for years, since they were unknown, but we’ve been friends and play each others’ music and hang out and have a laugh.
A – Finally, would you say there are any ‘essential items’ for braving festivals, because it can be quite daunting hitting muddy lands, etc.
Y – Well [laughs], there’s always ‘must bring wellies’ for a UK festival, and it’s probably wise to bring some loo-roll as well!
A – Haha!
Y – I’ve said this before down the line: what’s me, and what I really like to do, is to get lost, go explore, and meet new people. For me, it’s all about the adventure!