A stop in Cairo for a podcast and a passionate conversation with the man behind 1127 & Cellar Door raw beats.
Have you ever imagined yourself at the heart of a laserquest game in an apocalypse context at the foot of Giza pyramids? 1127’s music could be the soundtrack of this. Aged 24, Amr Alamy has been feeding the creativity flow from the cairene artists of the internet generation for three of four years. Electronic music is going towards different directions in Egypt, while seeking for itself the scene keeps going on and some audacious experimentations are surfacing. Amr’s ones sweat the digital era. 1127 -his project dedicated to the dancefloor- cultivates a kind of futur rave music. With Cellar Door, the alias he started to release his first tracks on soundcloud with, he works on nocturnal ambiances more atmospheric, more melodies, self-described as «abstract forms and shapes». The project is still running.
Before that Amr firstly forged himself a solid hip hop culture. He was resident DJ for the nights dedicated to the genre last year at VENT, one of the rare Cairo spaces hosting artists from the alternative and electronic scenes. VENT is lacking a permanent space since this summer by the way, it has been throwing ponctual parties in various places of the city since then. Mad of technology, Amr firstly shares his music with virtual communities. The last 1127 EP has been released through Half Death; a digital label gathering young connected artists from all around the planet.
The following interview covers various topics ; Amr builds up a portrait of musical subcultures in his country, develops on his link with the internet, talks about his way to write a track, exposes his vision on the electronic scene in Egypt and Europe…The mix coming with it is rich in emotions. We’re lost in a daydream, then some vocals and percussions bring back our feets on earth, afterwards falling in total insanity phases (this Angel-Ho track!).The flow and the superb selection show us that 1127 is a skillfull DJ of the digital era. The illustration accompanying the post is also Amr’s work: « It’s a picture of an old TV show which I played with a bit, the pic kind of links to the concept behind the mix which is reflecting back to old childhood memories, listening to my brother’s collection of tapes (mainly cheesy love songs) and making mixtapes etc.».
Can you tell us a bit about where your love for music comes from and what you’ve been doing in terms of music?
My earliest memory concerning music was back when my brother had a friend who worked in a cassette store near my parent’s place, he used to buy tapes almost daily, and then we would sit down and listen to them, compile our favorite songs in mixtapes, recording it using an old cassette player, the process was super fun.
I started taking it seriously when I came up with Cellar Door around 2012, that’s right after a long phase where I was analysing each and every song I was listening to, but at the same time I wasn’t sure what sounds to use myself, I remember I got a bit anxious at that time trying to apply my criticism of other tracks on my own, and trying to figure out a workflow between “spontaneous jamming” and the “sitting in front of the computer overthinking every single step” technique. It wasn’t until I started to get theoretically involved in art that I felt more relaxed and confident making music.
On the other side 1127 was always club related. I started making these weird, heavier tracks that didn’t follow any of the Cellar Door aesthetics. So I had to come up with a new project to keep things tidy. Keeping everything defined and clear helps me a lot during the process of creating.
When did you start to play your music out, in public?
I started playing live early 2013. My first Cellar Door live set was at 100Copies in May 2013, then I played the 100Live festival after that. I played my first 1127 live set at VENT around December 2013. My main focus with 1127 back then was to make tracks that share that weight of the early dubstep & grime tracks while not having an obvious influence with my choice of sounds, and my first live set was that basic following that one idea of having a certain weight to the tracks on a big system.
I stopped playing live sets and started focusing more on DJing around the same time due to various reasons, the most important one being that DJ sets felt less personal therefore it was easier and less stressing to perform a DJ set in a place where people don’t share any of my own tastes.
Did you already have the opportunity to play abroad?
Not in the way I would like to, not yet. I had a couple of offers in 2012 but I don’t want to play Live for the wrong reasons, specially if it’s abroad too. It has to be either relavent to my sound or challenging (if it’s a DJ set) with the right people being involved in it.
Most of your music has been released in digital for free on the internet. Don’t you care about format and financial value of music?
I do care a lot about format, and I believe that certain music should be listened to through certain mediums or in a particular environment, but it’s still relatively fresh in Egypt to make any decisions of that sort, I don’t think there is any room to even think about it realistically.
It’s so risky when you think of it as a business, or when you start focusing in financial outcome, not just in Egypt, but especially here, we have a really small following for the sort of nerdy electronic music we make, and it’s mostly people who are involved themselves in music somehow, so you don’t really wanna rip those people off for a pound.
If you’re not a pop musician you can’t really make a living out of selling songs, and right now I think it’s really hard to make a living out of live performances all alone, that’s where labels/blogs/medias come in and in Egypt it would still be hard to sustain an income with even all of those combined.
What do you think about the impact of the internet on your music approach?
I used to be a hardcore gamer, I stopped around the same time I found out about FL Studio through a friend of mine who is a graphic designer from Belgium, we were both playing a big online Pool game called Cueball or something like that, he introduced me to Fruity Loops, and that was it. But even in an indirect way the internet has always been a huge portal to so many influencing virtual objects that eventually led to forming my current values/ideas in general.
Aside from the fact that being connected to people, blogs, magazines over the web helps you grow as an artist it also teaches you to be more open to new ideas and more forgiving of those old ones you grew up with such as religion, race, nationality, sex or age. It’s a perfect tool when used right. I grew up in the UAE and then I moved back to Egypt, both countries share a shit load of fucked up thoughts, stereotypes and mindsets. It was an eye opening experience to learn equality just by listening to different music from different places, online.
Musically, meeting new people online and sharing ideas ease up the process a lot, the same way reading a book would save you a lot of time doing long researches. If it’s honest it always saves a lot of time, effort and even money; to share your experience with other artists who share similar interests but in different parts of the planet, with all the variables that come with that.
Basically I have two sets of followings on soundcloud on my two seperate accounts Cellar Door and 1127, they are both seperated and way too different, so I log into either of those accounts to check what’s new depending on my mood. I got into Sangam‘s sounds earlier this year through my Cellar Door soundcloud account and I found out that he’s starting a grime/experimental Club label called Half Death with one of my favorite artists that I’ve been following on my 1127 soundcloud account Kadahn from NYC. It was so weird finding out about that label, it seemed like the perfect link between my two projects, and my taste at the time being between ambient and grime / experimental electronic and club music, it was just right. Also that happened around the same time I was working on my second 1127 EP DF Trash 100 so I didn’t think much before I sent them a demo.
I feel that your music as a strong UK dance music aesthetic. How did you land there would you say?
Definitely, the 1127 tracks have a big UK influence. I got into dubstep around 2010. I started listening to random sets on soundcloud, then I stumbled upon Boiler Room later (thankfully) the UK scene is full of great music. I started getting into Grime, Garage, Funky, Jungle, early Drum n Bass and then I got into Dancehall, Dub & also many US genres like Ballroom, Ghetto Tech, Baltimore & Jersey Club.
I feel like I’ve been exposed to too much new music in a really short phase, it was mad fun to listen to all of these new sounds, and it’s much easier to control your direct influenceif you’re listening to either too much stuff or not listening to any, but I always find it problematic when I start listening to just one or two genres at the same time that I’m making my own music.
What would you say about the impact of your direct environment in your music?
Everything is so messy and unpredictable in Giza. it’s everywhere around you, you can’t block it no matter how hard you try, but it took me a while to employ it in a relavent way to what I want to present musically.
“That rich and almost overwhelming state of mind that a well made track puts you into, that’s my goal right now”
Right now I’m trying to fully make peace with that messy aspect of Giza, mainly with how different harmonic elements are rhythmically engaged in tracks, and that’s a part of my bigger final picture of the tracks I’m currently working on, I mean after doing all the mixing and shitty self mastering for the tracks, when all the frequencies and elements are occupying their intended space in the mix, that’s when I feel that it is (that harmonic/rhythmic and spacial combination) fully accomplished, that rich and almost overwhelming state of mind that a well made track puts you into, that’s my goal right now.
Can we talk about an electronic music subculture in Cairo, do you feel like to be part of a community?
Speaking of subcultures, I believe there are plenty in Egypt, even if they’re not that explicit or if it’s not consciously present, it’s there, the strongest out of them being the young counterculture, everytime I meet any of my musician friends there is always a big “pissed off” part of the conversation about something culture related.
There sure is a community that i’m part of even if it wasn’t a decision that I’ve made, I praise individuality, A LOT, but on a smaller and more realistic scale the only artist I’ve been connecting with on a daily basis and closely is Mostafa Onsy we share a lot of values concerning music and life in general.
Then, of course we have the VENT people (artists, media people, business heads or just people who are sick of the Egyptian routine and social bullshit) it surely helped create many opportunities for many people just by putting all these different people together in one place, and on a personal level it definitely helped a lot to reshape the 1127 sound after the huge UK club music influence, just linking those two spaces (the later being only virtual though) has helped me to come up with the initial 1127 sound.
Is it easy to develop an electronic music oriented nightlife in Cairo?
Egyptians love to party, so in terms of nightlife it always had a big role in Egypt, specially that I live in Haram where you will find most of the middle class oriental style cabarets.
But if we’re talking electronic club music I don’t think so, the average Egyptian isn’t as exposed to club music as many of us are. Not all people get it, and it’s so rare that people would dig for new music themselves, so right now we have only two Electronic related nightlife circles, one with all the rich kids who want to be cool and listen to Deep whatever, and the other being the heavy Bulgarian Lu4o sort of club music or “Tribal Tech” as they call it. These are the only two estabilshed electronic related nightlife circles I see, then you have the mainstream part of the Shaabi scene and the traditional Cabaret style Egyptian music, that’s as far as nightlife goes in Egypt.
“Strictly art-focused venues or spaces are lacking and we have a great deal of constraints to get rid of before we start seeing any progress“
For me VENT is the only venue over here that can help develop a healthy movement (both artistically and entertainment-wise). As I said before the nightlife isn’t that bad, so you can go out, party and have fun in many places, but we don’t have any other clubs where you can go and judge the tracks by the way they feel in that particular context at that given time like you can do at VENT. But unfortunately strictly art-focused venues or spaces are lacking. We have a great deal of constraints to get rid of before we start seeing any progress, first and most important we have the shit taste thing, and it has to do with apathy, the lack of exposure to decent medias (or the absence of it in our case) and laziness which are all a big part of our culture, then we have the religion thing & society and all of its stupid prejudice and over control.
It’s different than Europe for example, you have many decent medias, clubs, it’s more common that you would grow up having a DJ relative or an older friend who’s into clubbing or just being exposed to good radios.
Not necessarily. You wouldn’t find proper places where an electronic music subculture is living in every big city in Europe. Although you would always find clubs with commercial music.
True, the commercial thing is everywhere, but still, there’s a big presence of underground music abroad. For me I was never exposed to anything like that when I was a little kid in Giza, that’s why I’m a bit understanding when it comes to the music taste in Egypt.
When I first started making music around 2011 it was mainly hip hop, the scene only consisted of rappers, beat makers, photographers, my point is we didn’t have many fans back then, and we still don’t now, it’s very rare that you find an average Egyptian who’s not involved in this sort of music, being exposed to it, or supporting it.
But it’s not that pitch black though, you have the underground part of Shaabi music and all of its components (producers and MCs making music in their rooms to breakout of the routine of their poor neighborhoods, street weddings, toktoks etc) Sufi music and all of it’s highly spiritual content, whether it’s Moled (a form of live gathering to tribute a religious figure that at some cases include a live performance with a band and a Monshed) All of these subcultures are stronger than ever now and they’re more accessible thanks to the internet, so hopefully that will open up some doors for more young Egyptian artists in the near future.
Are there projects – not necessarily artistic-that draw your attention in the Mediterranean region?
I can’t think of any at the moment, everytime I try to get updated on all the news, I get frustrated or annoyed with all the bullshit that is going on politically and socially in the region, but after living in the UAE for a while and now that i’m back and i’m seeing all of these new compounds and their accompanying malls spreading in new cities in Egypt too, it’s a bit scary. I rememeber I paused in front of an ATM centre (the first time I saw one in Cairo) in the middle of all of these big brand shops and fast food chains, thinking how robotic it looks, that level of plain consumerism is just intemidating to me.
On the +side I just came back from Dahab (Egypt) and as soon as I arrived there I noticed all of these solar powered street lights, I wasn’t expecting anything like that in Egypt anytime soon tbh, if they were to install these lights in any of the big cities in the Country the whole system would be stolen on the first night.
What are your plans for the future regarding music?
I’m going through a huge ambient & experimental loving phase right now, stuff like Black Hymn Record and also Videogamemusic. I’ve been connecting with many artists who are part of this web based club movement, a lot of people from Europe, US and South Africa. Most of who are completely independent, everyone is doing their own thing, not caring much about outcome. Classical Trax crew, labels like Non, Seagrave to name a few. I have releases coming on the two last mentioned and I’m pretty excited about it.
“I want the future not to be just physical and national but rather global through the web”
Also right now to me I’m just trying to understand how the marketing side works. How to get people to listen to something that they’re not familier with, and can’t fully grasp, I think after all the gigs and releases everyone has had in Egypt so far, it’s really important to think of ways to expand in the right direction. I would love to see the country evolving til the point we have a strong fan base for each seperate sound or style of electronic music, different clubs or nights for different genres for instance.
Speaking from an audience point of view though, it’s not egyptian music we’re making but who cares. I’ve never believed in the nationalizing of music judjing the sounds or tempos used in a given piece, but I consider my music and many of my peers music to be part of a virtual land instead of a geographical one, we’ve all spent so much time online. That’s where i’m looking at, I want the future not to be just physical and national but rather global through the web.
Special thanks to Chloé for the translation.