Lebanese DJs on the music scene in Lebanon

A pool of local talent

Photo by: Greg Demarque/Executive

Beirut’s local DJs have been creating a buzz among the country’s music-loving community. Some are co-owners or resident DJs at some of the biggest clubs in the country, others, such as those profiled below, circulate the scene playing different sets at Beirut’s electronic music clubs. From playing sets and producing music, to sound engineering and sound design, DJing as a profession is much more than just a set list. The DJs Executive profiled all play an important part in Beirut’s diverse music scene, they explain why they chose to focus on music as a career.

LILIANE CHLELA

Starting out her career 16 years ago Liliane Chlela was one of the first female DJs in Lebanon to join the scene. With only three other women in the game, she felt that she was being used as a marketing tool in the industry. Shortly after realizing that on top of the misdirected attention she had to be playing top hits to get booked, she decided to put DJing to the side and focus on production. 

Her journey in production started 10 years ago using manually rewired gear to obtain certain sounds; she only switched to digital in the last six years. Chlela still limits her use of software to editing and recording and uses what she has around her as instruments to produce sound.

She has been experimenting with her sound since, forming her sonic identity by always pushing her boundaries and working with artists who follow a different style. For the past two years, Chlela has been collaborating with Hamed Sinno, the lead singer of the Arab-Indie band Mashrou’ Leila, on the Butcher’s Bride, which combines Chlela’s signature sound of live electronics and production with Sinno’s distinct vocal stylings and lyricism: “We got to work together thanks to Beirut and Beyond, they wanted to throw a fundraiser, and they asked us if we had the time. We just clicked.”

Chlela also caught the attention of Boiler Room, a global online music broadcasting platform that has hosted shows in over 100 cities worldwide. Her session was chosen as part of their underground coverage of the scene in Beirut.

She mentions that gender imbalance in the line-up selection is still an issue and is currently working on shedding more light on this matter while figuring out tangible solutions.

Chlela admits that in previous years, it was easier to make a living out of DJing, remembering a time where she was charging $500 a set and sometimes earning $2000 a weekend. The fact that at the time DJ’s were rare to come by definitely contributed to the difference in the going rate. With the advancements in technology that led to the increase of DJ’s, the rate has been cut nearly in half for the local talent.

She explains that the best attitude to have is to always think that there is more out there: “Try everything you can, even if it sounds bad. Never let the aim or the goal be that you get to somewhere and think that you’ve made it. Keep trying. It’s very important.”

TASH HOCHAR

Tash Hochar owes her skills and passion for music to her father, Walid Hochar, who also DJs. As her world was always musical, she tries to attend most events and support local talent. Adding to her influence is DJ Gunther Sabbagh, known for his radio show Underground Sessions with Gunther and Stamina on Mix FM, as well as his long-time residency at BO18. For Hochar, “There is only one Gunther.”

Working as a copywriter, ghost writer, and digital strategist for eight years, she decided to leave the corporate world and dedicate her time to her career in music. Still accepting freelance writing jobs during the day from clients that she values, she is also the co-founder and music director of Thirteen Management, an event management company currently throwing techno events. She plays four to eight sets a month.

Hochar argues that what helps the industry grow is being present. She is always on the look-out for new local talent, as she sees that the nightlife industry is booming, with a rising interest in electronic music. She says that the networking that goes on at these events, venues with DJs and attendees plays a big part in the growing scene.

She studied music production at Per-vurt in Beirut, and later traveled to South East Asia to expand her knowledge and also work as a DJ. Hochar produces tracks in her home studio, however she has not yet released any, as she is still building her skills and does not want to rush the process.

For her, interacting with people through music is a magical experience. She enjoys seeing the effect music has on the crowd, and often bounces around with the crowd from behind the decks: “I may be a DJ, but my heart’s always on the dance floor with the people.”

Hochar was also featured in Damascus and The Ivory Coast: “I get booked by people who have watched me perform in Beirut. When I’m outside of Lebanon, I always love to explore the music scene of other countries, and I make friends easily.”

To her, the scene is only getting bigger, with large potential for Beirut to break the barriers.

WILLIAM MAHFOUD

William Mahfoud started his career in sound in London, where he got a degree in sound engineering. First playing his way through the underground circles, he eventually found himself featured on The Ministry of Sound. Mahfoud later moved to Dubai where he mixed and produced adverts for various agencies there and abroad. During his time there, he also managed to nurture his DJing skills as a resident DJ for the longest running club night in Dubai, Night Vibes, which is run by Rima Rached, and played alongside big international acts including Terry Francis, Dance Spirit, Dinky, Joyce Muniz, and Pillowtalk.

When asked about what helped him form his sonic identity Mahfoud mentions the Kaotik System and Silver Factory crews, who introduced more alternative electronic sound into the country, as well as DJs Dansz, Cesar K, and Fady Aswad, who played a variety of genres ranging from minimal house to breakcore. “They all shaped my sound today, and I owe them everything,” he says.

Mahfoud, who also goes by the stage name Rise 1969, has also been producing his own music for eight years with two albums and two EPs under his belt. While also working as a sound engineer at Red Booth Studios in Jounieh, he finds time to make his own music—while guzzling coffee at an alarming rate—and DJs at bars such as Abbey Road in Mar Mikhael, and clubs like Reunion, where at the time of interview he had played his semi-final set for the BBX competition, The Ballroom Blitz, and Projekt.

He explains that making a living out of DJing is difficult if it is done out of passion; to continuously bring something new is challenging, more so than mixing top hits that are known to be crowd pleasers. He sees no problem getting booked in Lebanon as opposed to how it is internationally, since the country is small, which makes it easier to gain popularity through word of mouth and social media.

However, Mahfoud believes that the electronic music bubble might burst soon, as he fears that the techno scene will become another passing trend. On the upside, he argues that it has generated some die hard fans and sub-communities that will carry it to the future through small event promoters who have “a musical identity” and a regular following, as opposed to those just following the current trend.

ZIAD MOUKARZEL

Escalier 301B

Ziad Moukarzel started getting serious about DJing in 2007. During that time he was working at popular alternative-music store, La CD-Tech, alongside Jad Soueid (Jade) from The Grand Factory and Ziad Nawfal, who co-owns the music label Ruptured—which Moukarzel is a member of—and who has been a radio show host on Radio Liban since the early 1990s. First accepting gigs at various bars around Beirut, Moukarzel broke into the club scene in 2013, when he played his debut set in Yukunkun, Gemmayze.

His influences came from movements spreading rave culture, such as Kaotik System, and Acousmatik, as well as long standing friendships with DJ Dansz, and Nawfal. He developed a taste for various genres, which he sometimes sees as a disadvantage as he finds that it can be challenging to be promoted as something that is not strictly house, tech-house, or techno. With a background in cinema, Moukarzel was found moving toward sound, “It was something interesting to give the value of sound because sound is always present.”

In 2016, Moukarzel moved back from Qatar, where he was working as a segment producer at Al-Rayyan TV station, to focus on his career in music and sound. He opened Woodwork Studios with his partner, located in Hadath, Beirut. However, he does admit that: “It’s a lot of work, and it’s expensive. You’re paying the studio rent, and the equipment, which is not cheap. My desk alone is $35,000, plus there are the acoustics of the room.” He charges his sound design services at a range of $300-$500 per day, and is mostly selective with what he takes on. When he’s not working on design or DJing, he works on his own productions that he has played live on a modular synthesizer as a solo act at Reunion, and with Akram Hajj in their indie electronica duo “Escalier 301B” at venues like The Ballroom Blitz, and B018.

Moukarzel won second runner-up in last year’s BBX competition, however, he was unable to join the one-week residency at Riverside Studios in Berlin due to complications with his visa process. He holds music production workshops and DJing lessons at vinyl record store and bar Orient Express, Tota, and Riwaq.

He prefers playing clubs to working in the studio: “Being on stage is different. It is a different feeling, it’s an ‘in the moment’ kind of feeling where you have to be literally in the moment all the time, and it takes a lot of focus to deliver whatever you want to deliver in a specific amount of time.”

DANNY SAMAHA

Danny Samaha, who goes by the stage name DJ Dansz, has been DJing for almost 30 years. He began his career back in the 1990’s, and was one of the first to play spaces like since shuttered Basement. Over the years he has taken sabbaticals from DJing, but he has never completely left the scene. Just last year, in August, he got the chance to play the closing set for his greatest influence in electronic music, German techno DJ Dominik Eulberg. Samaha took this opportunity to present Eulberg with a book on the different species of birds native to Lebanon, as Eulberg used to be a forest ranger and is wildly passionate about birds and known to use sounds from nature in his work. Samaha played his first set in the Ballroom of The Ballroom Blitz on March 23.

Samaha has also been featured internationally in Cyprus, Oman, Dubai, and more recently Paris. Most bookings are done through word of mouth and friends. He is a full-time DJ, playing at bars like L’Osteria in Mar Mikhael, and Cayenne, Gemmayze three times a week, and now making a comeback into the club scene. Over the years Samaha has established his reputation among audiences and his fellow DJs, he is known in the scene as producing exceptional sounds during every set, and doing his best to ensure everyone goes home satisfied.

Him and his wife Zeina have collaborated to form Escape, a semi-private party that is not advertised to the masses and instead relies on word of mouth through smaller groups on social media. So far, they have thrown four of these events, in Aramoun, Khalde, Achkout, and Batroun. Samaha sees them as the perfect getaway for those looking for a relaxing atmosphere with some great melodic beats. The fourth Escape had around 40 guests, and Samaha predicts the numbers gradually growing as more and more people gain interest in this concept of partying. He will be throwing the next one on April 25. He says, “This is exactly why I DJ, it is the ultimate way for me to do it. I am playing my music and doing everything not to impress anyone, but rather to create the best space that will make you feel good.”

His advice to anyone who is starting out is to “remember that you play for the people. Don’t ever forget that. This is your job, without the people you have nothing to do. You play to make the people happy.”

JAD TALEB

Jad Taleb was the first winner of The Grand Factory’s BBX competition. He started his career in DJing at Yukunkun, Gemmayze, in 2015 when he was celebrating the launch of his debut album for his former electro-rock band The Flum Project. His local influences were Arab trip-hop band Soap Kills, Lebanese hip-hop band Aks el-Ser, and jazz composer Toufic Farroukh.

He has released several tracks with labels like Exploited Records located in Berlin, Red Bull Music Academy, and Smiley Fingers in London. “Producing music reflects my introvert personality, and I love it. I like to spend a lot of quality time in my studio,” Taleb says. “ I [also] like to DJ because it’s the best way to interact with your audience.” Though, he does mention that a challenge he faces in the scene is the inevitable “Eh eh, yalla yalla,” coming from the over eager members of the crowd when the beat drops.

Through the BBX program in 2016, he was introduced to promoters in the scene who were interested in his sound. He eventually found himself touring in Berlin, Paris, Stuttgart, Marseille, Bielefeld, Saalburg-Ebersdorf, and Tunis the following year. “It was nice, it was the peak of my Europe experience in 2017,” he says.

When playing at clubs, he looks for the places with an identity—clubs that like to tell a story and serve a greater purpose, as opposed to clubs running only to turn profit. And to him, clubs like The Grand Factory and The Ballroom Blitz offer just that. It is at The Ballroom Blitz that he and art director Maria Kassab will showcase his audio visual platform “Assault on Structure,” which features interactive exhibitions and live performances from local artists yet to make their break, or those who rarely play live. He explains, “Most of the people who worked with us in Assault started projects, launching an album, or wanted to perform a new live set, so we worked on this to promote [them] locally and internationally.”

Taleb believes that Beirut’s electronic-music culture has yet to form its own sound, like Chicago with house music. He theorizes that perhaps this is because Lebanon has seen many a civilization come and go, constantly changing the country’s identity.

Sarah Shaar

Sarah is the deputy and online editor of Executive Magazine.

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