Motez is on a self-assigned mission to bring a little bit of fun back to the dance music scene.
Drawing generous praise and enthusiastic spins from respected figures like the mighty Disclosure, Golden Features and Diplo, the Baghdad-born, Adelaide-based producer has developed quite the reputation over the last few years on the strength of his EP 'Vancouver', original tracks like "Own Up" and "Promise Me" and instant viral remixes of Sam Smith, Flight Facilities, Ellie Goulding, Panama and Owl Eyes (just to name a few).
With his brand spankin' new four-track EP 'The Vibe' (out now via Sweat It Out), Motez is further cementing himself as one of the most exciting, boundary-pushing producers in Australian electronic music. From the bone-shaking bounce of Tkay Maidza collaboration "Down Like This" to the buoyant groove of the instantly loveable title track (featuring Scrufizzer), 'The Vibe' keeps things light, unpredictable and way too addictive for your own good.
We caught up with the man himself during some time at home in Adelaide just before the release of the 'The Vibe' to find out about his upbringing, gauging the size and scope of his set in different venues, the rise of deep house in Australia and his desire to embrace the element of surprise.
Best Before: Hey Motez! How's it going, man? Where are you at the moment?
Motez: Hey Jordan! I'm at home in Adelaide. It's such a lovely city.
Has Adelaide been home for you since you were a teenager?
Yeah, pretty much. This year is the ten-year anniversary of me moving here.
You grew up in Baghdad, correct?
Exactly. Generations of my family are from there. We were originally based in Southern Iraq, actually.
Were you speaking English as a second language in Iraq?
You sort of study English at school and university over there, but you don't really speak it in day-to-day life. All your material at university is in English, though. With all the pop culture around us in English, it's hard not to catch on.
You completed a computer engineering course over there, right?
Yeah, I finished all of that over there. When I got to Adelaide, I completed my masters in international business here. I've done a lot of studying in life, haven't I?
Did your computer engineering background influence your interest in music production?
It definitely did. It really goes hand in hand with a lot of other industries. When we'd study electromagnetic fields, we'd touch on the idea of modulation. Modulation also applies to synthesis, which is what goes into music. There was a lot of parallels in there, but if I was honest, I've forgotten all about computer engineering. *Laughs* I haven't worked in it for so long. I was really young. It's all just music in my head now.
There's a powerful music culture here in Australia. Back home in Iraq, you're honestly busy trying to provide for your family and trying not to get killed. Music goes out of the window in an environment like that.
What spurred on the move to Australia for your family?
Well... *pauses* I guess it was inevitable. You see what happens in Iraq everyday. We essentially had to escape. My family is part of an ethnic and cultural minority that doesn't exist in Iraq and Southern Iran anymore. There's actually only 100,000 of us across the world. When something like war and invasion happens there, our people were the cannon fodder. My dad came to Australia on a boat, and once he'd secured his permanent residency, we followed suit.
Do you feel that the media faithfully portrays the situation in Iraq in the western world? I always question how accurate or biased the news is in capturing the reality of what's happening in the Middle East.
They always report the bad things. Always. I think there are times where they don't represent exactly what's going on. At the same time, there's a complexity behind that environment that isn't exactly easy to understand. It's difficult for most people to comprehend. It's hard to communicate the dynamics of what's going on there. It's not something recent; it's the result of hundreds of years of civil war, tension and back-and-forth conflict. One thing that I had qualms about was the recent refuge crisis that's been happening here and abroad. Because of my dad's experience, it's such a personal topic for me. At the height of the issue, I tried to paint a picture in interviews and communicate that we came to Australia for a very good reason. We wanted a safe, better quality of life, and most refugees really just want to contribute to the countries that they're moving to. It's sad, because we're not all extremists. We're running away from extremists.
Was your family supportive of you taking on music as a career?
I've always been doing music, man. It's always been in the back of my mind because of where and how we grew up. It's obviously not a viable solution for living in Iraq. My parents encouraged me, but they never saw it as a way to live. They liked it because it put me off the street. They always told me that it wasn't something to make a living from, though – especially when we came to Australia. However, Australia has way more diverse musical talent than Iraq. There's a powerful music culture here in Australia. Back home in Iraq, you're honestly busy trying to provide for your family and trying not to get killed. Music goes out of the window in an environment like that. The turning point for me was my mum actually telling me – "It looks like music is going well for you. Why don't you just concentrate on music?" I was applying for graduate jobs, and she encouraged me to put it aside. That was definitely a turning point.
I heard that your mum gives you little production pointers for your music. Was she an executive producer behind the scenes on 'The Vibe'?
*Laughs* She's so incredible. Mum's the one that supports me through thick and thin. She gives me a lot of pointers, even though music isn't really her expertise.
I guess every mum wants to be involved in their child's life.
Exactly! She just wants to be involved. I have to say to her, "Mum, stop! Sometimes you just have to be supportive to be involved." *Laughs* But she's incredible.
She's just practical.
*Laughs* She's very practical. She's my number one fan. When haters post on my Facebook, she's always the first to jump in and defend me. She's my little soldier.
Besides your mum, what were your actual key influences for 'The Vibe'?
All in all, the influences for 'The Vibe' were actually the inverse of what is popular at the moment. I was looking at what was going on around me in the house and dance music scene, and I feel like it's all converged to a point where everything is sounding exactly the same. Every drop sounds the same. I was actually talking to Golden Features about it all, and we came to a conclusion that it's not what music should be about. We need to stay unpredictable, and we can't just conform to the same format that everyone else is following. With that in mind, I've kind of gone back to basics this time. I was listening to a lot of Jon Hopkins, The War On Drugs, Moderat – artists in that vein. I just wanted to do something that's a little more self-aware. "The Vibe" is my next single, and it's a song that really doesn't take itself seriously at all. Pretty much, I tried to do the opposite of what's going on in dance music.
So it's not all formulaic hooks, emotional lyrics and face-melting drops?
Yeah! Exactly! I just went, "Look, I really want to do a song that's just fun."
Did that influence your decision to pull Scrufizzer in to rap on "The Vibe"?
Well, we tried so many things. The instrumental I'd done a while ago was really cool, and my managers listened to it and told me it was great. In the end, they said it was at about 95% on its own, and that they could release it like that, but they felt that there could have been something more to it. We decided to try featuring a rapper. Scrufizzer was the one that really nailed it. He had this cheekiness about him that fits the track perfectly. In the bars he provided, he's sort of paying himself out in a way – it's like an anti-superhero perspective. He really captured the vibe of the song – pun intended. Funnily enough, the track was originally called "Cockatiel" because I wanted it to be colourful, fun and the opposite of serious.
I noticed that you've included a club edit of "The Vibe" as well. Were you aiming for a club or radio angle for this track?
Neither, actually. What you hear in the club edit is the closest version to the original instrumental track I came up with. The radio edit was shaped to suit radio constraints, of course.
What goes into shaping the radio edit of a track?
You have to set it to a time limit. Also, I'd invested so much into the track since its inception – I'm sure you get the same thing in your job as a writer – and you end up in a particular mode, and you can't zoom out and look at your own product in any other way. I had people around me help shape the track to fit the vocal, but the gist of the track is exactly the same. I had to have someone come in with fresh ears and help me shape the track to exactly what we needed. That's the only help I was handed with the radio edit.
Have you had a chance to play tracks from 'The Vibe' in your set yet?
I haven't been playing too many gigs, but the last few I've played, I've had a chance to drop the songs. Thankfully, they've all gone off! People don't know it's my next single, and they just embrace it and dance away to it. It's been such a good feeling to see that response.
I want everyone to hear ['The Vibe'] with open ears and an open mind. I want listeners to appreciate the slow-burn, and take their time with my music.
Do you find that you have to change up your approach when you're playing at a festival versus your own headline club shows?
Yeah, absolutely. The size of the venue is always what I consider most. Last year I played at EDC in Las Vegas on the main stage, and there was about 25,000 people there. It. Was. Huge...
That's not daunting at all.
*Laughs* I know, right? That's something I really consider, though. You can't play cozy tracks from Kink or Emkay in a setting that big. You have to play bigger-sounding tracks. To be honest, when you play house music, that can be quite difficult to find. When I play clubs, I play cozy, nicer, darker sounds.
Do you find that there's a big difference between crowds in the US and here at home?
Surprisingly, not really. There's not a huge difference. They're actually kind of similar, and I think that's why so many Australian producers and DJs have been able to pull off such extensive tours over in the US. I think American audiences are generally a little more mature, and I think that may be because their legal drinking age is 21, but Americans and Australians are very similar in that they're after that instant satisfaction. It's different to crowds in Europe, where I find audiences are a little more patient. They give you some time to build it up, and they trust in you.
I often feel like the wider Australian club scene is yet to fully embrace the real world of deep house. They seem to always be holding out for that frenetic, intense house drop. With deep house, the drops are smoother, and you're eased into it, rather than absolutely assaulted. Do you agree?
Absolutely! I think Australian dance music fans are easing into it, though, and I really hope that it continues. I want people to appreciate the 'real' version of deep house music. There are venues and collectives in Australia that champion it, and they do it very, very well. There's actually a club on the Gold Coast called Elsewhere, and I think it's honestly the best club in the country if you're into tech house at all. They're 'trained' – for lack of a better word – to appreciate that style, and because of that they're a little more patient. Chinese Laundry in Sydney is also another venue that's really great with that. There's a few guys over in Perth as well that I actually didn't even know about that I played a gig with – Eats Everything and Oliver Hudson – and they were absolutely incredible. Perth is known as 'the bass city', and their scene was actually the most difficult to get into for me – just because what I do is quite groove-oriented – but there is a whole crew there that is doing house and techno the proper way.
What do you want to achieve with 'The Vibe' this year? How would you like it to be received?
I'd love it if people would receive the EP without any expectations. I want everyone to take it as it is at face value. Don't expect drops, don't expect anything! I want everyone to hear it with open ears and an open mind. I want listeners to appreciate the slow-burn, and take their time with my music. There's a little bit of diversity in there, but in the end, I just wanted 'The Vibe' to be a nice listening experience for everyone.
Do you feel like it will surprise people?
I really hope so. Nothing bores me more than putting something out there that people can predict.
Motez is also heading out on a national tour in support of the EP – find out everything you need to know at his official website.