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YOUSEF - Liverpool’s very own space man talks ahead of Circus’s 10th Birthday
by Joshua Nevett
During the anti-establishment euphoria of the heady 90s, repetitive bass-driven undertones would resonate behind closed doors and through underground networks; a UK rave subculture emerged and a new platform for electronic dance music was conceived by a hedonistic community of fun loving vagabonds.
Liverpool’s affiliation with the scene sparked an unequivocal lust for urban escapism as club night imperium and globally-recognised music brand Cream was established, a catalyst in transforming this subculture into a mainstream movement. From 1992 to 2002 the formidable Cream brand salivated at the mouth over the world’s finest DJs, decadent in their unprecedented selection of the cream of the crop. After the turn of the century Cream closed its doors and decommissioned its weekly club night leaving a gap in the market and some big shoes to fill for any would be promoter.
From the ashes of Cream there rose a new pretender, enthusiastic to usurp the vacant throne and inject his fervent brand directly into the veins of the city and reacquaint Liverpool with its once heartfelt love affair with electronic music. His name is YOUSEF, a local likely lad and self-affirmed figurehead for house music and all its imaginings. After learning his trade as a weekly resident at Cream, he continued to keep faith and loyalty to his musical convictions after its closure with ambitious plans to establish a new empire. The fickle landscape changed; ten years ago Yousef introduced his tech-house orientated club-night CIRCUS to the revellers of Liverpool and since then, he’s never looked back.
On September 29th Circus celebrates its 10th Birthday, returning to its spiritual home of The Masque for the winter season with another notoriously quality roster of acts. Circus has been providing the biggest and brightest artists in house and techno for the past decade now and this landmark event holds testament to their eclectic selection of electronic music’s hottest properties. Headliner SASHA, noted for being an articulated master in transcending progressive trance will use his no doubt use his slot to exercise his ability to tap into the subconscious in order to reach a place beyond the realms of normality. Other acts on the bill include funk-infused groove robortant MACEO PLEX, the magnetic intuitive dance slurs of SETH TROXLER, and the boss-man himself, innovative tastemaker Yousef. The highly anticipated event will also see sets from the likes of DAVIDE SQUILLACE, LEWIS BOARDMAN and SCOTT LEWIS.
With the momentous milestone event fast approaching, we thought we’d catch up with Circus’ chief ring-leader to revel in nostalgia and explore a few topics related to the birthday, the production of his new album, and his rags to riches rise to prominence as a world renowned DJ, promoter and record label owner.
Bido Lito!: Hi Yousef. How was your summer? With so much going on for you in 2012 including a relentless schedule of live shows, recording your second full studio album, your weekly radio show on top of all things Circus related it must have been a hectic period?
Yousef: I’m great thanks, if not a little tired. I closed my season at Space in Ibiza on Tuesday and then flew straight from the gig (which was incredible) to Santiago de Chile to play Santiago Beats closing party tonight (Thursday), then it’s off to Argentina for two gigs Friday and Saturday. This is typical of my year, it’s been incredibly hectic - like you say, global touring, Circus events, Circus tours, Circus Recordings, a weekly radio show (21st Century House Music – which goes to 20 stations world wide), remixing artists and attempting to have a normal life. I managed to get married twice this year too! (to the same girl, don’t worry…! It was at the Grand Canyon and Liverpool) So organising my life has been hard work, but I love it all and I’m very grateful for every opportunity that comes my way or that I work to create.
BL!: How’s recording your new album going then? How was the process of writing it and what’s the story behind the album?
Y: The album has been completed for over 6 months. It was an extremely enjoyable yet a gruelling process of day after day in the studio. I wrote endless backing tracks and then built ideas for them, wrote lyrics, recorded vocals and instruments (with the help of Stefan K and Mark B on these tasks as I might add) and then mixing it down took me as long as writing the music, but I wanted to do it myself. The extra time it took give me a chance to determine the most appropriate list of tracks that reflected a broader me, telling a story but staying within the realms of the electronic music I’m known for. The album was designed to be a story, a reflection of the places I’ve seen, the places I’ve lived in, influences I’ve taken on board and an invitation to the more colourful parts of my personality. Everyone is a product of their own environment and the choices they make along the way, so this album is a reflection of mine.
BL!: Describe the music you produce and your biggest influence on your music today?
Y: For this project I decided to make compositions rather than just beats. I wanted to push myself as hard as I could and learn as much as I could along the way to complete a full body of work. Before now I’d always made track after track but not ever attempted to join them into a story. I read a lot about Quincy Jones and how he brings all sorts of amazing artists and influences into his projects so I was happy to let go and invite guitar players, singers and pianists into the studio with me, just like Quincy would. I’ve always listened to authentic black and Latin music as well as endless house and techno, and you can clearly hear all the above in “a product of your environment.”
BL!: In the past year or so it seems that the traditional boundaries between electronic music genres have overlapped, or just simply evaporated, meaning bewildering artist crossovers. What perspective do you take on this: is identifying genres becoming too confusing nowadays or is this a good thing?
Y: I assume you refer to EDM and Guetta and his pop R&B dance music collaborations? That type of music is personally not for me. I do think it’s cool that electronic music (albeit in a pop format) is now the leading sound in America and has easily over taken hip hop as the sound of choice, and what I mean by that is it’s all over both black and white radio – which is a huge deal. It troubles me a bit that EDM and house music are sometimes confused as the same genre, as it’s far from it of course – its’ pop music based around the Pavlov’s dogs theory. Whereas house music is about feeling and groove and rhythm and moments - not a formulaic sound that makes young kids and muscle Marys fist-pump. At the end of the day I couldn’t care less if people like one style of music or another, support another football team or take sugar in their tea – it’s their own choice and I’m cool with that, if they are having a good time then great!
BL!: How was growing up in Liverpool as a teenager? How did the sights and sounds of the city influence you as an artist and inspire your music?
Y: It was an odd teenage period for me. By the time I was 14 I was living with my two brothers, who were 16 and 18, and with no parents with us so obviously without any discipline whatsoever. Even though I made it through school (just about), I was pretty much free to do what I wanted. Musically I gravitated toward hip hop and acid house and then got into DJing. Somehow I managed to stay out of serious trouble (ish) and even more surprisingly was able to get the money together to buy decks. Eventually I moved back to my mum’s place in Seaforth, and I practiced my ass off six hours a day DJing and annoying the neighbours. At 17 and still discipline free, I met a wonderful girl who helped me get on the straight and narrow and I finally went to college. At college I was a self-appointed entertainments manger of Hugh Baird College music events. This gave me some early DJ gigs at the college events and even introduced me into very early gigs as a promoter as I used put on the quarterly college club parties at regional clubs. By the time I was 18 Cream had opened and that was it… I was introduced to the world’s best electronic music and I that’s what I wanted to do, I wanted to play at Cream. Six hours a day DJing in my bedroom rose to eight. After seven years of hard work I eventually won a DJ comp and Cream eventually made me a weekly resident.
BL!: Who gave you your ‘big break’ and how did you go about setting up the Circus brand?
Y: Even though I’d been DJing around Liverpool at Baa Bar and Eden (now The Masque), it was not until I won Muzik Magazine’s Bedroom Bedlam DJ competition in 1998 that things changed. I got gigs at Pacha and Ministry of Sound and was taken on their roster and I’ve never looked back. It opened a door, and I’ve spent endless time since aiming to open as many others as I can, even to this day. I set up Circus to be housed as my own event at Cream, as I had decided to leave my residency at Cream as their music policy was too far and away from mine. Then Cream shut so Richard McGinnis suggested I do it in The Masque with him. That was ten years ago… We are still at The Masque and Richard and I are still partners.
BL!: What is Circus’s mission statement as a record label and an event within Liverpool?
Y: The mission statement for Circus is and always will be “serious music and fun times,” which means the best in fresh electronic music, only going forward musically but we are about having a good time and not one-up-man-ship. We welcome people to have fun – Circus Halloween sums up Circus in party, great music but it’s ridiculous. The record label is being built the same way we built Circus – aiming to be a real player but with a real definition of quality running through it. Even though I’ve released music by Sven Vath, Four Tet and DJ Sneak, on the label I’m pushing new artists even more like Acid Mondays, Doomwork, David Glass, Yost Koen, MakesNoSense and Circus’ own Lewis Boardman.
BL!: How was the very first Circus event received in Liverpool? Did you ever anticipate it would reach this lofty ten year milestone?
Y: We hoped for 200 people, we got 450 +… At that moment I knew people wanted something new in the city, fresh music and not under a brand. Ironically I would say ten years in Circus may be considered “the brand” but we are doing the exact same thing we did ten years ago, we are just more experienced at it now.
BL!: How has Circus managed to maintain such vast longevity as a club event in Liverpool where so many other events have failed? What’s your secret?
Y: No secret. We all work very hard and are all experienced in other areas of electronic music and we aim to make each event unmissable. We treat our clubbers like friends and there is no “us and them”. The people who pay to get in every month are the only VIPs we are concerned about. Even after ten years I refuse to have a VIP Area – they are so wanky and NOTHING to do with the spirit of house music.
BL!: So you've decided to use one of Liverpool’s most affectionately cherished venues the Masque to host Circus’s 10th Birthday, what intrigues you to keep going back to that venue?
Y: There’s no place like home…
BL!: What in your opinion makes the perfect venue to host live music events and what’s the best venue you’ve ever played and why?
Y: It depends what type of live music you are going to see. For a dirty rave up and a reaction like scoring a goal in the World Cup final, there is no venue like The Masque. Yet for classical music the Guggenheim is acoustically perfect for it. All the options for amazing sound and lights can make any venue come to life. I really like the way other promoters in the city have been creative with finding other non-typical venues to have events in.
BL!: What can we expect from Circus’s 10th Birthday, what have you got in store for us? What was the impetuous behind this line up and will there be any special birthday surprises you can reveal?
Y: he line-up is reflective of what we think is the best in electronic music at the moment and they are all friends too, which is important for a birthday party. Sasha, Seth Troxler, Maceo Plex, Davide Squillace, Lewis Boardman, Scott Lewis and of course me. We are also inviting new Circus Recordings signings Makes No Sense and David Glass to DJ in room 3 (the bar). Both are both Circus regulars and locals too, I wanted to get them amongst it the way I craved playing at my hero club back in my cream dance floor days.
BL!: You're a world renowned DJ, producer, record label owner and promoter; you could probably put events on anywhere in the world if you wanted. Why do you continue to persist with Circus in Liverpool after all these years?
Y: That’s a good question. I mean I actually do it for pretty much nothing too (I’m not joking). Everywhere I go when I travel all over the world, and especially when the people I’ve met have seen the videos from the club, people are blown away by the line-ups and the energy in the videos when it goes off in The Theatre – like I say, there are few places like Circus from a DJ point of view. I guess it makes me proud to be behind the fuss and I’m grateful for the support we have received for ten years. Circus is a family, I want people to be proud of it and feel welcome when they attend and to care about it as much as I do, and stand by it through thick and thin. I’m not sure what the future holds but Circus is going to continue, Liverpool, London and New York now, too…
The Circus 10th Anniversary event takes place at The Masque, Liverpool, on Sat 29th September.
Yousef’s second artist album, A Product Of Your Environment, is released in October.