If there is one name that has really broken through over the last few months in Australian dance music, it’s local house hero Motez. Killing it overseas for us alongside Destructo and fellow Aussie Anna Lunoe on the Ship 2 Ship tour, performing all over Europe and playing to 25,000 people on the main stage of Electric Daisy Carnival are just some of the highlights he has had over the last six months, and now with the release of his Vancouver EP, things are only going to get bigger. It was just last year that he took to the Mix Up Tent at Splendour In The Grass, and delivered one of the best sets of that day (in this writer’s opinion). Now, he’s come full circle and will be headlining the Red Bull Music Academy stage at the same festival this year. We were lucky enough to chat with him as he readies himself for a slight change of scenery, but just as much fun at this year’s festival, to talk how continents differ in sound, what it’s like to be part of the Sweat It Out! Music family and where too from here.
I actually interviewed you six months ago
I remember that!
Fast forward six months and you’re in a pretty good place right now!
*laughs* If you say so. It’s been alright, it’s been alright.
I don’t know, I’m pretty excited for you. You’ve had so much going on lately.
Oh thank you *laughs* I appreciate it, thank you.
How does it feel going from in December when I last spoke to you, you were about to release the EP. Now, you’ve released the EP, you’ve toured the States, you’ve toured with Alison Wonderland.
It’s been going crazy yeah, crazy to say the least
Now you’re set to play Splendour again, and it’s like you’ve come full circle in a way?
It is, yeah! I’m playing Splendour in a different way this time. It’s good to do that. Last year, I played the Mix Up Tent and it was about 8000 or 9000 people. This year, I’m playing the Red Bull stage and I’m really looking forward to that. I remember last year going along, and my mates were actually playing there. Sable, LDRU and Yahtzel before they were Carmada, Indian Summer as well, and I remember looking at that stage and thinking, “Holy shit, this is an amazing stage!” It’s so cozy, everyone is up for it, it’s got low ceilings and I love that. As much as big stages are good, there is something about House music that makes it harder to play on a big stage. It’s cosier and small sounding. It’s very sexy and grimy, so it’s nice to play on a cozy stage. I’m really looking forward to it.
I remember being at that stage on the Thursday night as well last year, and it was huge. Even though it was technically the night before Splendour, it was a massive night for so many people – myself included… You’re right though, because the stage is so small, and people are so excited, as well as having your added house element in there as well, I think you’ll be in for a pretty good set.
It should be good, I think last year they had Jamie xx as a special guest there, and this year they’ve got Nosaj Thing, Shlohmo, lots of others. So it’s not short on big names, but it’s just smaller and nicer compared to the massive stage. It’s a really cool change.
Will you be approaching it differently, knowing you’ll be playing the smaller stage as opposed to the Mix Up Tent and not having to cater to an extra couple of thousand people?
Well I just played EDC [Electric Daisy Carnival] about a week ago, and I played the main stage as well. There was about 25,000 people in front of me. I knew that was going to happen, and so I approached it – I don’t plan my sets at all – but I made a big playlist of tracks that I thought would work on big stages because house music is not designed for big stages. It’s very small and it’s designed for smaller clubs, and it’s a little more social and sensual. The big stage requires bigger tracks, so I picked tracks that I would play on the EDC main stage for that reason. This time around, with the smaller stage, I think I’m going to be in my element. I’m going to be playing things that I usually play on tour here in Australia or even in Europe. I’m going to be in my element a little bit more.
I’m excited – Coming from EDC and playing America, have you experienced anything over there that you want to bring back to your shows back home? Everything is on such a bigger scale over there.
You know what? It’s really weird. I was pretty lucky that earlier this year, I played all three continents within like two months time. We called it the World Tour. It started in the tail end of 2014 with a few shows in Australia, then I went to America and played Holy Ship, and toured Ship 2 Ship with Destructo and Anna Lunoe, and after that went to Europe. It was completely different. Every continent has a different sound. America, you’re right – it’s got the big stages. But this last tour – EDC was amazing – I played a show in Salt Lake City in Utah, and it was one of the best shows I’ve ever played. It was a little crowd, not too small though. Maybe 600 people. But it felt really cosy and it felt more like an Australian night, even though it was an American night. Everyone was going nuts around me. I think I’m just going to play it by ear, I guess. Europe again was totally different.
Totally different. I played with Huxley in Dublin, and I played some stuff that I haven’t really played before. I haven’t played it in Australia except maybe once at Elsewhere on the Gold Coast. It’s probably the most underground club in Australia, and is probably the only place you can play that kind of stuff.
Why don’t you bring it to your other shows, and to the other Australian clubs?
I do bring it every now and then, but I think because my taste in music is so vast, I enjoy a lot of music, so I play a bit of everything and see what the crowd vibes off, then I just go with that. I try not to stick with one thing, because that makes me so boring to keep playing the same stuff. If you vibe off the crowd, and feel what people are liking and just go with that tangent.
That would also make it more interesting for you too, making every night a little different for you as well by changing up your set. Much better than playing the same playlist every night.
Absolutely. I love vibing off people and see what they’re doing and go from there. I also like sometimes to challenge them, and to just drop things here and there and it’s a great feeling when you do that and you don’t know what to expect, and they just go with it. You know you’re in a good place.
The response to the EP has been pretty great from what I’ve seen. I love it, BUT – only two tracks? What gives? Where is the full length Motez album?
I have so much music. I am constantly working on stuff. I would love to make an album, and I have enough to make one but the tracks aren’t connected as such. I think my management and I had a brainstorming session, we just thought for this time this was a good release. Similar in the way that they’re a little bit different. I mean, Disclosure were playing Tryna Shake It since they toured Stereosonic in Australia last year. Annie Mac also loved it, and she also played Tryna Shake It on her BBC Radio 1 show.
Which would have been huge for you, I would imagine.
It was huge, I met her on Holy Ship, and I was bamboozled because she spent a lot of time chatting with me and it turns out she used to open with my tracks for eight months. She used to open with Ride Roof Back for every show. When she met me for the first time, I thought it was awesome and we fostered a relationship so by the time we were ready to release Tryna Shake It, she said she would love to play it and she could see herself playing those tracks for a long time to come.
Wow. That is so awesome.
You had quite the touching post on Facebook the day the EP dropped as it was also on that day eight years since you had moved over here, and you were about to play a sold out show in your new home town. What was going through your head on that day? It would have been a pretty special day.
It was! It was surreal. I do identify myself as Australian but I am Iraqi, born and bred. I lived there most of my adult life, and that rarely surfaces that I realise, “Holy crap, this is a completely new environment for me and this is weird. I’ve been through a lot of the wars that we’ve had in Iraq, and now I’m playing in front of people.” It happened twice. It happened once at Splendour last year actually, and I got on the microphone. I rarely do that, I’m not a microphone kind of guy, but I just said, “Look, I’m really shocked in a good way that I’m looking at all of you guys. Everyone here is having a good time and I moved from Iraq not that long ago. If someone had told me that I would be doing this I would have just slapped them.” The same thing happened on that day as well, and it was like the stars had aligned and we were going to be in the most iconic theatre in Adelaide and everyone wants to play there, and it was so surreal.
It’s those special moments that keep you going, too.
How was the warehouse tour? That would have been, again, a different crowd to what you’re used to? Although I guess your music is still suited to a warehouse, but a more dank, grimier warehouse?
True, true. It was great, I had a good time there. Like you said, it was a different crowd to what I’m used to playing. The divide is not big, but there is a difference between the people that listen to trap and people that listen to house music. I realised that before when I toured with Nina Las Vegas, and that was what was interesting. I remember speaking to Nina afterwards, and she was saying how she really liked what I provided because I gave it that groove/funk/soulful edge that is kind of like the opposite to what trap is. Trap is very grimy and heavy, and very in your face. House is more soulful and cool and nice. It had it’s challenging bits, playing to a trap crowd, but I thoroughly enjoyed it.
I know exactly what you mean when you talk about the differences between the trap fans and the house fans. I’m definitely more on the house side, and I went along to review the show here in Brisbane and it was very different. It was really intense.
Intense is the operative word. The crowds are very intense.
Totally. Moving on, I read the nicest review possible about your EP and it actually was on the Sweat It Out! website, and it made me really happy seeing a label obviously so supportive of their artist. You obviously assume the label is supportive of their artists, but that was such a shining review. How important is having the Sweat family behind you now with this new release?
Oh man. The Sweat It Out! family. It’s part of the Australian music culture.
There is such a legacy with that crew.
It’s really humbling that these guys support me. I love each and every one of them. Beyond the people that actually work at the label, the people that you are with ON the label, like What So Not, or Dom Dolla, RUFUS – like RUFUS are my really, really good friends. I would say best friends even. And now their manager is my manager, and it’s a really cool family. You feel that. I would definitely recommend coming to the Sweat It Out! Christmas Party, because you can totally feel that family spirit.
That community spirit.
We have some amazing times together.
Looking forward now, what’s next? After Splendour, are you going to take a break or is it straight back into work?
I can’t take breaks. I’m terrible for taking breaks. I can’t do it. We are already discussing the next release. They’re made, and now it’s just a matter of picking one or more than one, and I am hoping that’s something you’ll hear soon. I have a gig in Bali after Splendour with Jessie Ware and Flight Facilities, which will be great because I’ve never been there. Maybe there will be a tour on the cards? We will see how it goes, but for the rest of the year there are no rests.
That’s the best way to be! Better to be busy than not busy!
You can catch Motez at this year’s Splendour In The Grass, headlining the Red Bull Music Academy stage on Thursday, 23 July.
You can also catch him in November at the Your Paradise festival in Fiji.