[INTERVIEW] ARDALAN

[INTERVIEW] ARDALAN

(photo cred: trever dean)
"I was super happy making music and I would dream of a day where I could express my music to everyone besides myself in my bedroom. I guess I did believe in myself, I just didn't know I did."
Bouncing between Iran and the US for the early years of his life, Ardalan discovered techno and the underground sound in Iran. A millenial, the Dirtybird producer and DJ discovered his taste in music through friends, parties and online portals, as the internet was most easily at his disposal. As he said, ‘There’s no such thing as a club in Iran, but there is an underground scene. Alcohol and music, or clubbing, is illegal, but the culture is there, people love electronic music.’  Eventually landing more permanently in San Francisco, he started DJing and producing, and attended a Dirtybird day party which changed everything… We connected over Skype a few weeks ago and talked life, work, music and fun - his story is equally inspiring as it is interesting, threading Dirtybird moments with thoughts on self-belief, authenticity, creative expression and his ideas on carving out success.

How did you start and where?

Growing up in Iran my dad was a sax player in a band and my mom would occasionally sing with them. Music was always around us. I had guitar and piano lessons for bit but never got around to finishing them until later when I started messing around with chords on my own. I started DJ'ing first when I moved to San Jose - my friend bought two Technics and a Vestax mixer for his garage, which he’d pimped out with a pool table! His house was super close to our school and we would go there and just play the massive record collection he got from the guy who sold him the turntables. I later got a copy of Fruity Loops and slowly learned more about production.

You’ve connected with some influential people along your way - can you talk about the importance of that for you? 

Yeah, during my high school years, I had a friend from Iran send me a copy of 'Who's Afraid Of Detroit' by Claude VonStroke. I realized he was based in San Francisco and found out they threw barbecue parties in Golden Gate Park and I didn’t need ID - I wasn’t 21 yet. It was so cool - the music was so good! It was like perfect, awesome music. I just thought I’d love to DJ one day and be with this crew. After that first Dirtybird party, I realized that this is what I wanted to do. It just felt like I really wanted to be there.

It sounds like so much of what you were looking for was right there, and you recognized it…

Yeah, that’s completely true! I was 17 and it changed my life. Over the course of three years, I started meeting them, the OG gang from Justin MartinChristian Martin and Worthy to eventually meeting Claude and J.Phlip.

Those were the best times for me musically. Early Dirtybird really influenced me to make good music. Eventually, after sending Justin a demo on Facebook, he saw potential in it and helped me finish it, which was later known as 'Mr. Spock' [MJD note: which landed at #2 on the overall Beaport chart]. It was a dream come true and I feel like I still haven't woken up from it! Justin has supported me ever since and has helped me build my career. I’m really grateful for it. 

Did you always believe in yourself? 

At the beginning I never really did. But I had this fire and ambition inside of me and I really wanted to get a release on Dirtybird and then it just happened. I think when you want something so bad, you can get it. The positive energy that you bring with it, it just happens. If you imagine yourself where you want to be, it can eventually work out for you. I was super happy making music and I would dream of a day where I could express my music to everyone besides myself in my bed room. I guess I did believe in myself, I just didn't know I did. 

So cool that that one party had such an influence on you..

Yeah, and it was OG timing for me because that era of Dirtybird is what influences me to make the music. I try to bring back that vibe again. The sound is always changing but for me that moment was the moment I was most influenced.

Was there more of a turning point where you knew this was your thing and you wanted to pursue it? 

Yeah, after Mr. Spock became successful. I was in junior college at the time. Initially, I wanted to study automotive design. I loved sketching cars and helicopters because I was always bored in class throughout school (laughter). But then I decided to switch my major to something that was more relative to music production, but was also broad enough to be able to get me a job in different fields as back up. So I went to San Francisco State and did media arts, media communication, music engineering and production.

(photo cred: jack anderson)

What’s your creative process as a producer?

When I initially started making music I would make music like it’s a video game - like, I wouldn’t think about finishing it, it was just like an indulgence. Creating sound for me was like a high, like a dopamine. I would just work on this, and be my own audience. And eventually, getting bored of it and throwing it away and never using it. And then I just started getting more disciplined and [with having Justin as a mentor] realized that it’s actually so much more creative when you’re done with the creating process and you’re just trying to finish the music. For me, making music is just like writing an essay, or for someone that’s designing a floor plan or something.

I also realized that when I’m making music or picking a sound, it’s like I see an image behind that sound. LIke, someone or an object, and that could change the mood. So it kind of makes it like a character to fit the story, or the track. That way I can decide what needs to be there to finish the story. It’s kind of like synesthesia, but I can see the sounds.

Or the emotions?

Absolutely, very true. It is an emotion. That’s how I decide what to put in there, whether it fits the story of the track, the outline. And that’s how I try to finish my music in some ways. When it comes to making decisions for making music, I constantly keep changing things but the more I’m making music, the more I’m at home and in the mode, and I just start seeing it like a story, like, okay this sound fits the story and let’s move on, let’s not go backwards.

I see it like an image, the sound gives me an image, for some reason. This just happens when i’m really into finishing the song and when it’s in auto-pilot mode where it’s like oh, this goes here, this goes here, this sounds good. But for me, I’m just really… it has to be perfect. So when I get those kind of visual scenerios it helps a lot more. It makes my brain just work!

What about DJing?

I think of it basically the same way as making music, like writing a story, except for the fact that I don’t have all the time in the world to make a decision, I have to make a decision at that time, right then! I approach it all once I'm at the party. I can't really plan a DJ set because I won't know the environment until I get there. I like to be spontaneous and I like to read the crowd and see what they want and what I want at the same time. It's a mixture of exciting them with what they want and also surprising myself. I tend to play tracks I know work and tracks I want to play, which can be a risk, but that's where it's most fun! At the end of the day, people want to have a good time and I want to have a good time and I want to give them a different experience and something they will remember.

Like how you remembered that Dirtybird party..

Yeah, exactly!

Production-wise what are you especially digging these days?

Obviously, my roommate Justin [Martin] - I always dig what he cooks and he’s always inspiring me. One of my best friends, Sepehr makes some of the most underrated music, he doesn’t release his music, but his stuff is amazing. I really like Randomer, and Tiger Stripes and this dude from France, Traumer. And a crew from Brighton, Minimal Kids and their sound isn’t even minimal (laughter) - it’s got a Dirtybird vibe to it. And from Dirtybird I really like Bruno Furlan, his new stuff is really great.

Very cool. What’s been most challenging for you?

Just trying to get exposure. Getting people to understand that I’m not one sound. I don’t even know what I am (laughing), I’m not this or that. The challenge is being labeled as something - I don’t want to be pigeon-holed into one sound. It’s kind of hard for people to label me, I don’t even know how to label myself.

Maybe you’re breaking new ground as you go - being totally in the moment as you produce or spin..

Yeah, totally. And all the stuff that I have released right now, some of it I’m not in that sound anymore, and I have a lot of stuff I haven’t released. My recent mixes are a lot darker because I did a mix for the Tehran, a podcast in Iran, and I wanted to make something more deeper and reminds me of home. I like doing different things all the time - I get really bored doing the same thing. Just like everyone else does.

What is your biggest reward?

This whole life is the biggest reward. Finishing a song is the biggest reward ever. If you think about it, I’m getting paid to play for people. I’m finishing a song, so let’s celebrate this weekend at my gig, that’s how I see it. Actually Justin told me, the party isn’t the job, it’s the reward, you know? It’s like the job is making it to the point where you get the gig, so the party is the reward. So for me, that’s the most rewarding thing - at the end of the weekend I get to go play somewhere.

And, yeah, also one of the biggest challenges, and rewards, is I’m trying to keep myself from selling out while also trying to be successful because you have to pay rent. To make successful decisions without being too cheesy.

(photo cred: evan thompson)

That’s the thing, we all have this authenticity we want to pursue, but we also have to put bread on the table..

Yeah, exactly. And some people say you should never mix work with your passion, and sometimes that’s true and sometimes it’s not. But I’m really happy where I am. As much as my challenges are that I don’t want people to misinterpret me or to be pigeon-holed or whatever, I think about it and I’m like, I’m part of such a cool movement, with the Dirtybird guys, we’re successful in America and so many want to be where we are. At the end of the day, it’s about being true to yourself; it’s all about music, less talking, more dancing, more listening, you know?

If you had advice for yourself or others in terms of carving out a path that’s successful, happy - do you have a piece that comes to mind?

Yeah, have fun! Don’t let people judge anything. Just have fun, it’s not a race. If you want to be somewhere, you should have an idea that you want to be there, but it all starts with you and you can be original by doing it for the love of doing it. Have ambitions, don’t listen to the bullshit on social media, like, what you have to do, this way or that way… Use a laptop, use a CDJ, use vinyl - just do whatever makes you happy and find your own path. Get inspired, but also find your own way of doing things.

What inspires you?

Ummm…

I feel like this whole conversation has been about that actually (laughter). I feel like you’ve already answered the question.

Yeah, absolutely! I didn’t know how to say that, but yeah. What inspires me is understanding and being aware of how amazing music is and how it inspires everyone. It inspires me so much that people want to listen to me. My family and the people that are supporting me, that inspires me more to do what I want to do. Just being positive (laughter), as cliche as that sounds. And making it happen, you know? Just working and music, making music inspires me.

And also, playing soccer on the side sometimes. Having a balance. Taking my vitamins. (Laughter) And the people, I think for me they inspire me the most. I want to make them the happiest because they make me really happy. The fans and everyone, they make this possible for me to do what I’m doing. I try and expose that to more and more people - that’s all I care about.

What’s next?

This never-ending tour.. I’ve had like 30 shows since the end of March. I’m looking forward to it with my buddy, Sasha Robotti, who’s an amazing producer. And a nice vacation in Hawaii with my girlfriend! (Laughter) I’m looking forward to Bass Coast Festival in Canada. It’s near Kamloops, it’s going to be awesome, the lineup is so good! I’m looking forward to festival season (laughter). And yeah, I’m just looking forward to life - it’s fucking awesome.

Thank you so much for taking the time to talk today!!

Thank you, it was awesome!


2 comments

  • matt

    Just a heads up its sacha robotti not rivadi

  • Rye

    Love the interview! I feel closer to Ardy knowing his rich background and history with his craft. Again, your personable interviews make these artists shine in different ways, awesome job!

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