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Meet the Australian producer and DJ fusing Arabic percussion with techno

PHOTOGRAPHY BY  NIM D
GRAPHICS AND CONCEPT BY JERICHO MARCEL
WORDS BY ANJELICA ANGWIN
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH ADIDAS

“I’ve started to realise a lot of feelings I’d suppressed growing up Egyptian-Australian. I feel like a brand new person and I’m looking at the world now from a different perspective.”

We know that Melbourne has a wildly talented community of next-gen creatives (we’ve met a few on FJ before). For its latest project, the adidas Forum Newsroom, adidas wanted to tap into this talent. The brand recently brought together dozens of these local creators and set them a task, asking each to work on a creative project exploring one of five themes – identity, technology, culture, future world or life control.

Each participant was given creative autonomy over their project and a budget to enable their vision to come to life. They could work with whoever they wanted, however they wanted, creating whatever they wanted – some made baseball cards, others zines, others music videos. The project is inspired by the re-release of the iconic ’80s basketball sneaker and marks a new chapter for the brand, one that stays open to what’s next.


Looking for more music-centric content? Try our Music section.


Over the next week, Fashion Journal will play host to the creative outputs of eight of these makers, like Jericho Marcel, a sustainability-focused graphic designer and screen printer based in Naarm. Inspired by the work of Egyptian-Australian DJ and producer Moktar, for this project, Jericho used graphic elements laid over photos of Moktar to blur the line between communication and abstraction. His work is accompanied by an interview from Anjelica Angwin, in an exploration of creative identity. 

Drawing on his Egyptian-Australian background, Moktar infuses Arabic percussion, and Western club sounds to curate his signature beat. We sat down over a socially distanced coffee in the park to discuss his debut and self-titled EP Moktar. Verbally traversing the club space, self and social acceptance – as well as almost quitting the music biz – we discuss what it means to tell your story through music.

‘Silk’ is the first track on your debut EP. What is the feeling or inspiration behind the sound?

‘Silk’ is about how I feel today – the luxury of being comfortable with my Egyptian culture and the ability to move freely, both physically and spiritually. The inspiration behind ‘Silk’ has a lot to do with my struggles growing up in Australia navigating racism. I was ashamed of being Egyptian and embarrassed by my culture; I was made to believe that being Middle Eastern only came with negative connotations. Now, I’m feeling accepted for the first time in a long time.

The title is a metaphor. The silk material has been a luxury item throughout history; it’s expensive and feels beautiful against your skin. In the film clip, we used someone moving around under a silk blanket to show how free-flowing and elegant it can be.

‘Silk’ was my first demo for the project before I even knew it would become an EP. It was essential for me to fuse Arabic sounds and Western music; the club sounds I’m drawn to here. I wanted to incorporate these contrasting sounds in a balanced way for everyone to enjoy.

How recent is this feeling of luxury or comfortability?

Very recent. I’ve had a lot of things to unpack and they’ve only caught up with me as an adult. I’ve started to realise a lot of feelings I’d suppressed growing up Egyptian-Australian. I feel like a brand new person and I’m looking at the world now from a different perspective.

Everything feels different. It’s weird to find yourself later in life, but I think I’m coming into my potential now. I’m still growing and learning about myself – I’ve made massive steps toward feeling comfortable in my skin, even in the last two years.

How does your heritage show up in your music? In what ways has your music helped you embrace your identity?

I’ve been making music for 10 years now and I’ve found it to be such a valuable tool to communicate my story. I was doing it for fun for the first few years, but progressively it became my job. For the last four years, I’ve been producing full-time, so I’ve been able to connect with other industry people to help work out my sound.

I’m also terrible at writing and find it difficult to express myself in words, so this EP has been a way to communicate my story and collaborate with others. The film clip for ‘Silk’ really brought the track to life. Initially, I wanted to get as many Egyptian people on board and record it in Egypt, but obviously, COVID made that challenging.

My vision for the project was heavily visual, so Sam Whiteside from Soft Centre was the perfect director. We shot the film clip in Sydney during the lockdown and I had heaps of friends involved. They helped me execute my vision and were so honoured to be involved.

 

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A post shared by @jericho_marcel

How does it feel to share your music in club spaces?

It feels awesome! I’ve performed live loads, and it’s not the same as DJing – you can go from Reggaeton to classical if you want to. I love the freedom and feeding off the crowd’s energy; that’s what drives me.

It almost doesn’t matter what you’re playing if the vibe is right and you feel confident. Playing Arabic music feels really cool because it’s what I grew up on and it’s sick to watch people get into it.

Watching you DJ at Flinders 524 was so much fun.

Yeah, that and Neurotiq have been my only two DJ sets in Melbourne. With COVID, I haven’t had much of a chance yet. In the meantime, I’ve been smashing out mixes. It’s still relatively fresh, so I’m just going to keep doing what I’m doing.

I feel different every time I play and I’m still figuring it out. For example, my Error404 mix was super different, just because I felt different that day. I think DJing encompasses my love for music and wanting to share it with others.

I think ‘Cotton’ might be my favourite track on your EP. Is there a story behind it?

I wanted to make a track where the start sounded nothing like the finish and the middle section was completely different to the rest. I also wanted people to feel emotionally affected. It wasn’t a structured track with a predictable drop or the expected transitions. ‘Cotton’ has three different key changes, with different rhythms.

While I was playing that track, I felt sad, but in a good way [laughs]. It was the final track on the EP and the last track to finish because it took so long to figure out. Nothing made sense, but I was determined to make it come together. It’s also the longest track on the EP, so it’s a journey. With ‘Cotton’, I want it to be left to interpretation, whereas ‘Silk’ feels like my story.

I saw that beautiful DM you shared to your Instagram story. How does it feel to have people reach out and relate to your music?

It’s crazy. While I was making the EP, I wasn’t focusing so much on how it might affect other people. It was more so an outlet for me and a journey towards becoming confident in my music.

Getting that message from someone else about being nostalgic for Middle Eastern culture, and connecting to instruments from that area, made me realise I’m also drawing a narrative for others. People are relating to my story and that’s really special.

Is there anything else you want to share about the EP that feels important?

Well, this project only happened by luck. I was going to quit music a year ago. I had a meeting with managers and I told them I needed to stop for a while – this was before COVID became so huge. I was going to leave my label and everything.

I had a few projects going at the time that I didn’t think much of, which turned out to be ‘Silk’ and ‘Cotton’. I sent those tracks to my manager and he shopped my demos around without me knowing. When he came back to me and was like, all of these record labels want to sign you, I was shocked. It all happened so quickly.

I wanted to quit writing for other people too and never thought I’d be able to do something for myself. I was struggling to find my sound, but then it finally happened. After that, I was happy to keep going. I’ve been overwhelmed at how great things have panned out. It’s been crazy, but I’m so excited to have the EP out.

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