“Commercial but credible”: Dubfire talks Deep Dish return

Ali Shirazinia, otherwise known as Dubfire, spent many years as one half of the storied, Grammy-winning production duo Deep Dish, before going solo and putting the house sound aside in favour of harder, darker, polished techno.

Shirazinia quickly proved as adept at minimal techno as he was at anthemic house, and these days his DJ career keeps him on the road for most of the year – he’s about to head to the Netherlands for Amsterdam Dance Event, and he’ll be joining the Future Music Festival tour next March – but he still has time to plot and plan for the future, which may involve a Deep Dish reunion.

When inthemix speaks with Shirazinia he’s enjoying some well-earned time off in Ibiza and preparing to play Space alongside Richie Hawtin, but he put aside time to drop some knowledge from 20-plus years in the dance music business.

I see from the interview schedule that you’re in Ibiza at the moment – how’s that going?

Good, good. I’m staying in a villa here at the moment. I came on Sunday for a wedding, and I’m playing with Richie Hawtin tonight. I’m excited to be here for more than a day.

Did you DJ at the wedding, or was it purely a social occasion?

Ha ha, no, there were a lot of DJs there and they tried to get a few of us to play, but for me, it was purely social.

You’ve been in the business for more than two decades at this point – have you accumulated a lot of wisdom in that time?

Definitely, and I like to think I pass that wisdom down to younger artists, especially the ones that I seek out and try to develop at my SCI-TEC label.

How’s the label going?

Our release schedule’s pretty much full until March of next year. Every year, I try and get behind a particular group of artists and push them through our booking agency, have them play shows with me. For the last few years, that’s been Carlo Lio and The Junkies, both from Toronto, and SHADED from California. They’re the ones we’re really pushing at this time.

One of the things I love about your Twitter is you seem to spend a lot of time hanging out and goofing around with other DJs – is that what life’s like for you?

I don’t take myself too seriously. I take what I do very seriously – the profession, the art form. I like to think most of us, most of my friends in the business, have fun while we’re doing what we do. It’s just to show the fans there’s another side to it, that it’s not all work and no play, that we have a sense of humour and we have fun out on the road.

How much time out of the year would you say you actually spend touring?

I pretty much spend all my time on the road. It’s been a punishing schedule, especially this year, because I’ve been working on a live show. We were hoping to have it ready for Future Music, although my schedule this year has gotten in the way a bit, so at this point, we’re really hoping for it to debut around April of next year. That’s keeping me pretty heavily occupied at the moment.

What are your ambitions for the show?

It’s about pulling together the best and most recognised remixes and original productions I’ve done, and reinterpreting a lot of the tracks in a new way, putting together an hour-long live show set, where I’ll be performing some of those essentials. I’m getting a great visual design – I’m hoping it will be more than your typical live show when it’s all finished.

I want to now ask about the ‘EDM explosion’, as people are calling it, in the US right now. Does it annoy you a bit to see all this talk of electronic music as a recent fad, given its rich history in the US?

Well, we’ve had waves over the years, electronic music has been on the cusp of exploding many times, and for whatever reason, it hasn’t happened. A lot of this current explosion has to do with how pop and hip hop and RNB music has opened itself up to electronic music over the last few years. A lot of those people started coming to Ibiza, and began collaborating with the more commercial, mainstream dance artists, and came up with a hybrid pop-dance sound. I think the success of that in the charts is a big part of the reason for this recent dance explosion, for sure.

Your solo productions and DJ mixes are very far removed from the house style of Deep Dish – did you always have a burning passion to do something more techno oriented?

I don’t really think about the kind of tracks I want to make. I hit the studio, and what comes out of me is what people end up hearing. No matter what you do, what genre you fit into, you have to be honest with yourself and your vision. You just have to let things take shape in the studio as you work. I started a new musical chapter once I split, musically, with Sharam, and I was very excited and eager to go down a different path. I had a lot of ideas, and luckily, those ideas connected with fans and the audience. They’re the ones that have been keeping my momentum going.

Do you keep up with Sharam?

We see each other from time to time. The ball is slowly rolling towards a Deep Dish retrospective, and also a reunion. We’ve been talking about that for the last couple of years, and it’s finally starting to gain traction now.

That would be interesting to hear, after all you’ve done separately…

We think so as well [laughs]. We’re curious to see what kind of music we’d make if we got back together, and how we’d interact, whether we’d be inspired enough to make some new music. I always thought that our music, especially towards the later years, was commercial but still credible. I’d like to get back to something like that. A lot of pop dance music these days is commercial and cheesy, and I’d like to get back into it and do something a bit more credible.

Anousheh Khalali, who sang on those couple of Deep Dish tracks, is a really great vocalist…

It’s interesting, because when we met her, she was a coffee house singer who always wrote her own lyrics and played the piano. I don’t think there’s a pop bone in her body, and yet our collaboration worked very well. We’ve always had a melancholic vibe in our music, and she has that as well, so they really matched. I think if we were to make new music as Deep Dish, we’d seek out new vocalists though, for something fresh.

You play in clubs almost every weekend – do you ever get the chance to go out dancing and clubbing, or do you even want to?

I’m always out dancing. As recently as a few days ago, I was out at DC10 in Ibiza, hanging with friends and dancing. For me, it’s essential to go out and hear what people are playing and what the fans are connecting with, so you can get an idea of what the landscape is and also be inspired to turn around and create a new sound for yourself. I’m a firm believer in always trying to stay inspired by other musicians and other music.

One last very silly question. I’ve always thought Dubfire is a very cool name – how did you originally come up with it?

I was into dub reggae from a very early age, from the early ‘80s onwards. When I was coming up, a lot of DJs in the Washington DC area used their real names, and so I wanted to stand out, I wanted to make sure I had a unique name. There’s a Lee ‘Scratch’ Perry song called Dubfire that I’ve always loved – I like the way the word looks written down, and so I picked it.