Ali ‘Dubfire‘ Shirazinia proudly wears the battle wounds of public self-realization not often found in the “everyone’s a techno DJ and producer” scene of today. Speaking with the Grammy-Award winning producer on the phone from Moscow, his voice steadily climbs above the decade-long rubble of dance music. He projects the zen-like ease of a seasoned music-veteran who smiles in the face of no-compromise. What’s even more astonishing? He’s managed to avoid the typical tropes of tight-knit techno politics. Battle wounds aside, his new release “HYBRID: A Decade of Dubfire” gives himself and his audience pause to reflect on the positive outcomes. Those being the music and his fully immersive live stage experience, HYBRID. But no one ever said it was going to be easy. After the split of Deep Dish in 2005, he began to see beyond his own limitations and the expectations of others. Expectations that could have prevented him from realizing his vision and forging his own path. We’ll let the journey unfold from the man himself.
Ana Lola Roman: “A Decade of Dubfire” is a collection of 42 tracks that comes with detailed notes on each track. Which of these tracks signify a benchmark moment or a poignant memory for you?
Ali Shirazinia: Ribcage. It happened when I was spending time in Ibiza, around 2005. I was going through the rather acrimonious break-up of Deep Dish and at the same time, looking for inspiration. It was a time where I was also trying to find my footing and how I was going to start my solo career. That trip served as inspiration for that track, and it triggers a lot of memories from that time.
ALR: Speaking of memories, you wrote on your Facebook page that you were struggling to reconnect with electronic music following the break-up of Deep Dish. How difficult was it for you to reconnect?
AS: It definitely wasn’t easy, and I knew that staying in the status-quo was simply not an option. It got to a point where I just didn’t want to wake up in the morning and face the emails. Basically we all reached the end of our creative cycle. Also there were some business issues that were really getting in the way of the music and our inspiration. Once I ceased to become motivated and inspired to carry on, it was just a matter of figuring out how I was going to reset my career. I was constantly trying to listen to my instincts and gut feelings. Honestly, I really sought out the support of the techno scene and to be inspired by what they were all doing. At the time Sharam (Deep Dish Partner) had a few commercial hits so I knew he was going to be okay. Because the techno scene can be a bit closed, I wasn’t sure I was going to be embraced by the scene. And even though a lot of those artists were initially influenced by Deep Dish in the early years, it didn’t necessarily guarantee me any sort of success as a solo artist. As much as I learned from our collaboration, Deep Dish turned into something I didn’t sign up for and it just got further away of what I intended it to be. So for me, reconnecting with electronic music means I needed to go back to the roots of why I’m inspired to innovate and why I fell in love with this music in the first place.
ALR: Let’s move into the present future. You’ve come a long way from a traditional DJ set-up. What was the catalyst or moment you realized you needed to evolve your own live experience?
AS: It goes back to my roots as a young adolescent who dreamed of a career in music. I was always performing and playing in bands, playing house parties, and trying to see which instrument I connected to the most. Then what happened is I started hanging out with BT (Brian Transseau) and watched his evolution as he wrote scores for films, and so on. Even though dj-ing for me is an art form unto itself, I still felt like something was missing. What was missing was the performance aspect. My goal was to really reconnect myself and my music with performance again. I always knew that once I amassed enough material, it would transmit very well in a live setting, along with visuals and technology. So, I went back to the drawing board and realized I could create a one-hour Dubfire sonic experience. That’s where HYBRID comes in.
ALR: So as you’re evolving sonically and visually, HYBRID begins to take shape. What led you to create a live experience that synthesizes 2D and 3D animation?
AS: I was listening to my music over and over again on the road and in the studio. However I was getting really tired of approaching the same material in the same way. So I went back into the studio and really tried to distinguish which tracks spoke to me the most. Or the ones that were the best in terms of translating the songs into a live performance. Eventually we re-worked all the material into a one-hour sonic assault on the senses. Once all the music was done I had to ask myself how can I do something that’s different, technologically speaking and how can I reframe and evolve this music?
ALR: Speaking of evolution, how have your audiences changed and evolved with you over the years?
AS: I think the audiences have been very supportive and have embraced what I’m doing. In the beginning when I went solo, I was trying to get away from the audiences who were hardcore Deep Dish fans. I wasn’t sure if they were going to understand my new direction. I was also consciously making an effort to not play for those promoters who were supporters of Deep Dish. That was very difficult because I felt like I was turning my back on a lot of the people who were supportive of me in the beginning of my career. But I knew that was the only way to refresh and reset everything within my career. Fortunately, it paid off.
ALR: You’ve worked and collaborated with many prolific artists. Who are some of your favorite collaborators and who are the ones you’d like to work with in the future?
AS: I actually had dinner with Vince Clarke who’s the founder of Depeche Mode, YAZ and Erasure. We were talking about getting into the studio then jamming. I also met Martin Gore of Depeche Mode, he’s number one on my list! Adrian Sherwood, another hero of mine, he produced Ministry’s Twitch album and Nine Inch Nails. In terms of Sherwood, if you go back and listen to Nine Inch Nails’ first album and then listen to Twitch, its a clear indicator and blueprint of the kind of career I wanted to have. Especially in terms of pushing new ideas and new sounds for my audiences. Adrian just remixed Ribcage, so that’s another dream come true for me. I met him when I was 17 years old at a record store in D.C. But it wasn’t until 2014 when I was curating the first show for HYBRID in Amsterdam that I reached out to him and asked him to play. He actually said yes. It was the most fulfilling thing any creative person, such as myself, could have hoped for.
ALR: Can you pinpoint the first moment that dance music changed your life?
AS: I think it was Front 242. They were using a lot of samplers, drum machines, and synthesizers that added a lot to what was happening at that time in Electronic Body Music. But the one crucial moment for me was being on the dance floor during Junior Vasquez’s set at Sound Factory in New York City. Just hearing him DJ and work a record for 30-40 minutes was very eye-opening. In terms of pinpointing those exact moments, it always comes back to what happens on the dance floor. Those moments when I have my eyes closed and I feel the energy of the people around me. The energy of the music, the sound that comes out of the speakers, the clarity of the sound, all these aspects gave me a clear idea of how I was going to spend the rest of my life.
ALR: Could you say that the dance floor became a source of escape and comfort to you?
AS: The dance floor is my church. I was born a Muslim and I came to America as a Muslim. But as I grew up in America and adopted American customs I started to go out and music became my ultimate religion.
ALR: On your Instagram it says you are a gastronome. If you’re music were a type of gourmet dish, or fine wine, what do you think it would be?
AS: I identify the most with Sake, because of the purity. I say I’m a gastronome because I see a lot of similarities in what I do as a musician and what culinary artists are doing. They clearly understand how to pace a meal, especially in terms of sitting down for a tasting menu. You’re simply not going to get the main course all at once. Its exactly the same as opening and closing a DJ set. I also think this is an aspect that a lot of young artists don’t understand. When you’re opening up a room and there’s only five people there, why would you bang it out? That’s why I always draw comparisons to the culinary experience. Everything kind of builds very naturally with small bites then the main course.
ALR: You mention young artists and some rookie mistakes they make from time to time. What’s the best piece of advice you can give a young, burgeoning producer/DJ who wants to go the distance with their work?
AS: I think so many producers are in too big of a hurry to have recognition. You have to take your time. I mean anyone with an idea can get their stuff out there. You have to take the time to stand along the sidelines, watch and learn. Listen to the DJ sets and producers who inspire you and you aspire to be like the most. With my solo career, I look at what I do no differently than say a successful movie director, only because it’s about creating legacy works. For instance, look at Stanley Kubrick. Every film he’s made, whether it’s a horror film or simple drama, it always stands on its own. I always tell anyone starting out, don’t be in a rush, and be careful what you put out there. Because once it’s out, it’s there forever to be judged and scrutinized. Always remember, as an artist you have to leave the best legacy you can for future generations.
ALR: What’s your favorite new music program, piece of gear, or toy you’ve been experimenting with lately?
AS: I always pre-program triggers and fills from Ableton and K-2 controllers so I don’t have to be trapped in the confines of my laptop screen. I also travel with the Model-1 Mixer, which is the standard for a lot of techno artists. In the studio I’ve been playing a lot with the Sequential Prophet-6.
ALR: Would you consider yourself a gear-head?
AS: You can definitely get lost in all the gear after a while.Ultimately, if you don’t have good ideas to begin with you’re just not going to get very far. Also, collaborations are very important. Technology can be the spark and it can help ignite an idea, but it can’t be what drives the idea. People forget that technology is merely a tool.
ALR: Aside from gear, what’s the one signature piece of clothing or item you can’t live without while on tour?
AS: I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been on a plane and I’m hungover and I stick my wallet in the seat pocket in front of me, then get off the plane without my wallet. So the thing I really can’t live without and have managed not to lose is my Rick Owens wallet. It has no pockets. Its just a zippered pouch that I can put a lot of stuff in. Its got a chain that straps to my belt. Until I got this Rick Owens wallet I was always losing wallets, so its the perfect piece for me.
ALR: What other artists or designers influence your “Techno” uniformity?
AS: With fashion, definitely Rick Owens, Julius, and Boris Bidjan Saberi. I mean those three people heavily influence me aesthetically, especially as a Techno artist. Visually I’m always inspired by H.R. Geiger and Anton Corbijn.
ALR: As a bonafide veteran of the techno scene can you reveal to us the most important lesson you’ve learned over the last 10 years?
AS: If I reflect on the last 10 years, one lesson I’ve learned is never to compromise. Never compromise your vision for anyone or anything. And it’s really hard because you’re going to want to bend for this person or that person, and you have to remember you’re not a rubber-band. Don’t compromise your vision!