GET FAMILIAR: MOVING STILL
Can you introduce yourself to our readers, let them know what you do and who you are?
How’s it going Patta! Of course I can. I am Jamal Sul aka Moving Still, a Saudi/Irish producer and DJ based in Dublin, Ireland
How did music first enter your life?
My first ever recollection of music as a kid was in 1993 when I was living in Jeddah, Saudi. My mam used to bring back loads of cassettes and CDs from Ireland. She had this one CD Now Dance - The Best of ‘93, it had so many amazing classics like All That She Wants - Ace Of Base, Sweat (A La La La La Long) - Inner Circle, Wind It Up (Rewound Edit) - The Prodigy, Cappella and their frantic U Got 2 Let The Music and Do You See The Light (Looking For) by Snap. This CD got played in the house for a very very long time. My mam was a huge 90s dance fan so we always had dance music playing in the house.
Around the same time, my auntie graduated from her degree and she had a party at my house. At the party there was a female ensemble - could have been my cousins (have very vague memories of it). They all had little percussive instruments and were chanting and ululating and singing. I don’t think I knew what was going on at the time but I remember how joyful it was, and all the aunties kissing my cheek. That kind of celebratory music was always part of my upbringing in Saudi.
I have been blessed to have such a mix of music cultures growing up in Jeddah and listening to Arabic 90s music from Hisham Abbas, Najwa Karam, Amr Diab, Hamid El Shaerai, Ehab Tawfik, Samira Said, Eteb and Mohammed Abdu and traditional Saudi Mizmar while also having the rich Western music of Stevie Wonder, Bob Marley, Donna Summer, Diana Ross and of course all the 90s dance classics.
What record would you hear growing up that made you want to make music?
The one EP that really got me wanting to know how to produce was Myreim by Dark Sky. I remember being in my mate Dave’s house, he had just picked up a few records from All City Records in Dublin and when the first song kicked in, I was completely blown away - I said to myself “holy shit, this production is incredible”. It was so fresh and had everything I liked at the time - Garage, UK Funky and even nods to Electro and UK Bass. The last song on the EP “Gaddagive'' was the first time I heard an Arabic inspired song in this genre of music and man, I wanted to hear the song over and over again. I went the next day to buy it and it was gone, sold out! I was devastated. I have included this song in nearly every set as a reminder of what got me into production and pushed me to bring my Irish and Saudi heritage into my music.
How did you get started?
It all started when I got a Macbook in 2010 (which is still the same one that I’m using now to make music - fingers crossed it lasts another while!). I basically got hooked on GarageBand, even though I was technically and creatively super rubbish at it. I had literally no idea what I was doing and plus GarageBand was very limited. The following year I went to Bloc Festival in England - it was my first time at a festival and I was so curious about everyone who was playing live and how they did it as it made no sense to me how they were creating all these loops with a controller. From there, I got Ableton and taught myself how to use it by watching videos on YouTube. I won’t lie, everything I made back then was rubbish, but I found it relaxing so I kept it up. Around 2014, I started to get the hang of it and I started my PhD that same year. Production for me has always been an outlet to escape any stress I’m feeling so it was a good companion during that time.
What hurdles have you come across since you entered the scene?
Unfortunately in Ireland there is a very clear divide between mainstream music and underground arts. The underground scene is rarely spoken about or even mentioned on bigger platforms. Although there are great publications such as District Magazine, Nialler9 and Four/Four that cover independent artists in Ireland, unfortunately you don't often get support from other publications unless you somehow get recognition and fame abroad. I feel like it's completely different to the UK where bigger platforms are more likely to give recognition to niche artists - you could say there are a number of reasons for that, they have a much bigger population for one, so even underground audiences are much bigger in numbers. There is a huge disconnect between independent music and mainstream platforms in Ireland.
I have always found I had to work 10 times harder to get anywhere close to getting some form of recognition and I still find it difficult at times. My way around it was actually looking at doing radio and gigs abroad and it really helped me build my profile both here and internationally. I guess it's understandable why some artists keep a lot of stuff very close to their chest, because they have been struggling to get anywhere with it.
It's unfortunate that there is no confidence in local talent! Even though the community is tight and we all support each other, there aren't many opportunities for upcoming producers and DJs unless you somehow make a name for yourself outside. It's a shame really!
Your edits really feel like they come from a pure place, what is the thought process behind which classic tracks that you choose?
That's very kind of you! Honestly, I started doing edits purely for myself to DJ and for fun. I find chopping songs for edits very meditative so I just zone out and it comes together very very quickly. My process for choosing a song is nearly like an obsession - I spend quite a long time digging into old 80s/early 90s Arabic tunes to find something that doesn’t have a lot of elements but has a westernised disco feel to it. From there I imagine how I can make the original song pop - I create a simple drum pattern just to give me an idea what to do with it and then spend a few days chopping the song to pick my favourite parts. Once I get the arrangement done, I bring out the bass and sure I am just bringing out what the original song intended and I try to do that with the utmost respect. The whole process happens quickly as I’m always pumped from the HINRG of the song and it makes me work incredibly fast. I'd say I spend more time mixing the track than making the song!
I think my favourite story is definitely when I found a cassette in Jeddah summer of 2019. I basically bought it because the cover looked sick. I didn't even listen to it until COVID hit and then when this incredible track “Maadna Bukra” came on I knew straight away that I wanted to collab with Tjade. We were already in touch through Instagram so the back and forth between the two of us was very organic and I think we got the track done in a week or so. It got signed nearly immediately with Dar Disku Records. I think it's quite magical when a song didn't become popular 35 years ago and then all of sudden people halfway across the world are dancing to it. It's just a nice feeling that music from my culture is changing how people might have viewed the SWANA region. I think it's definitely heading in the right direction within the music scene but still a lot to accomplish.
How do audiences typically react when they hear you for the first time?
When I think of audiences in general, I think back to my first DJ set as Moving Still. I have been DJing for years, but mostly hip-hop/beats. I had heard that Habibi Funk was coming to Dublin to play a headliner gig in the Sugar Club in Dublin in 2018. I contacted the promoter and asked if I could support him as I was dying to play alongside a label I absolutely love and respect. I remember being super nervous about how people might react to the music as I had no idea who might show up to this gig. Just before I got on stage I saw that the majority of the crowd were from the SWANA region which gave me goosebumps. It was such a lovely feeling to see people from my culture be at this gig in Dublin and it was really heart-warming and made me even more sweaty from the nerves! I got on stage and I immediately got a bit flustered at what to play first to get everyone up, as everyone had been seated for the previous artist and it's always quite difficult when choosing a song directly after a beautiful mellow set (shout out to Farah Elle). I ended up going with a track from a Saudi female artist called Eteb and I swear the entire club got up and started dancing. I was a bit in shock! The reaction, the energy, the love and respect from everyone. I don’t think I will ever forget it.
What really did it for me is mid set I ended up playing the original of Bas Asma3 Meny by Saria Sawas and honestly I couldn’t believe the energy I was getting from everyone on the floor, it was so beautiful. It was everything I had dreamed of in a gig. I even did my first cheeky Dabke wheel up and you could hear people chanting and uluating from the back of the room. That song and gig kick started my Arabic edits as I wanted to make them more club accessible and the rest is history.
What contemporary creators get you excited about music in 2021?
I am a huge fan of Fatima Al Qadiri, everything she touches is gold. The way she uses her heritage in her music is mesmerising and she does it with so much love, depth and texture. It’s sick to have representation in the scene from an Arab woman. She recently put out her album “Medieval Femme”. The entire album is inspired by female Arabic poets from the Middle Ages. The textures are so beautiful with her use of old antique instrumentation, and she uses space so skillfully in her music. I love that she works around a concept and builds around it creating lots of imagery. Her music is timeless. If you haven’t heard her then you should!
Where did you find your name?
At the time I came up with the name “Moving Still”, I was working on a mixtape for a collective/label in Dublin called wherethetimegoes. I was writing a lot more ambient and mellow electronic music, but I was starting to explore more explicitly Arabic sounds. I wanted a name that could fit whatever direction my sound took, and I really liked the idea of something that sounded like a paradox, an oxymoron. It fits a lot of things, but I love how it relates to my fascination with jellyfish - when I was a kid living in Jeddah, I got stung by one (it wasn’t a bad sting) but I was kind of in love with its beauty. Even though it's really deadly, seeing one gives me a sense of serenity because it seems to be both “moving” but also “still”.
What set up are you working with?
So I mostly work with Ableton as my main DAW and with some favourite VSTs like Sub Boom Bass and more recently Taqsim. When it comes to hardware I don’t work with drum machines at the moment, I mostly sample my drums as I prefer the layers I can make with samples and how quickly I can do that. But I do have a soft spot for synths and sometimes I feel like I’m the video that came out a few years ago with Legowelt where he says the word “synthesisers” like a million times hahah! I’d say my go to synths at the moment are the Yamaha Oriental A350, Juno 106 Boutique clone, Roland JX3P and Roland D50. I have all my synths cabled up to a mixing desk and have the Big Sky reverb going in as “sends” to all the channels. I am running out of room at this point! I’ve heard Behringer are making a LinnDrum clone - I have to say that is something I am dying to get my hands on!
How do you find a balance between VSTs and Hardware?
It all depends on what I am making, whether it's an original or an edit. For originals I usually try not to overly complicate things and I stick with one or two synths for a song, and then use VSTs to layer on top of it. Especially if you have a crackly/shit sounding synth, you can make it sound incredible with a bit of processing. I like that grit from a terrible sounding synth adds character and warmth to your mix. I do love VSTs in combination with hardware as you can create really fun layers. It helps make hardware pop when I want to get a certain sound and create more movement. Hardware for me is great to get the initial jam out and get all the loops recorded, and then once I am done I use lots of different VSTs to layer on top of it. Then I try to get any sort of arrangement done so it's easier to jump back in once I come back to it. Or sometimes, If I am just lazy and want to de-stress, I write and jam out quickly on the laptop.
Any dream collaborations floating around your head?
Uffff this is such a hard one because there are too many!! If I had to pick someone off the top of my head it would be Bas Bron aka Fatima Yamaha. I met him a couple of years ago in Dublin when he played and he was so humble, super sound and gas! He said I was like his doppleganger! He even got me to walk out from backstage to confuse people into thinking that it was him. I think he would bring so much energy in the studio and I can already see the type of song we would write together if it ever happened.
What is the scene like in Dublin?
The scene in Dublin is pretty small and because it's small everyone knows everyone. Put it this way, you couldn’t go to Dublin City Centre without running into someone you know! There is a lot of respect for each person's individuality and style, and you can see that everyone is pushing and encouraging each other. The scene here isn’t pretentious which suits me.
Unfortunately, many cultural spaces and hubs have been taken away from us due to getting royally screwed by gentrification. We make the most of it though with the spots we have left and you can almost guarantee to have an incredible night every time you are out. There is just always a buzz no matter where you end up. The friendliness is very welcoming, I always love showing someone around Dublin as I am very proud of my city.
It's just unfortunate that Dublin's nightlife is at a standstill because of COVID and the restrictions. Understandable to an extent, but frustrating! It's devastating that another summer has passed by and it doesn't seem like we are any closer to a live events roadmap.
Is it a multicultural space?
It’s a very tough question. I can only speak from my perspective as an Arab man that is also Irish and straight, as this might be an entirely different experience for someone else within the LGBTQ and/or wider POC community.
From my experience I think the Dublin scene is definitely on the right track in terms of being a multicultural space. I do think there is so much more that can be done to bring change and bring more inclusivity to it. Representation within the scene is very important and it gives younger people reassurance that there is a place for them when they have a role model. I can only think back to the Habibi Funk gig in Dublin of how nervous I was and probably cynical of how that might turn out. Bringing your culture and heritage into your music is a super personal thing so it's not surprising to be worried in a predominantly white country how people might react to it. It honestly opened my eyes a bit and I was pleasantly surprised at how multicultural it actually was - both the audience and the artists that played that night. I definitely didn’t think anyone in Ireland would be interested in hearing full blown Arabic edits or originals, that's for sure. I think It's refreshing to hear such diverse music in Ireland these days and that's what I miss so much from pre-COVID. I just hope we can get back to what we all do best super soon because it’s being in those spaces that helps fuel creativity.
We see you doing a lot of radio, what is the importance of radio to you?
Yes, radio is so important - especially these days. When you don't have gigs or spaces to hear music together I think radio gives the connection that a lot of us are craving at the moment. It's a safe space where you can share your digs with everyone. For me it's family! I do two main radio shows: my Khalas show on Dublin Digital Radio which is an afternoon of favourite bangers, and my Sabah ll Noor show on Radio Al Hara which is my Sunday morning breakfast show of slower jams. Both of them are so important to me because they give me something to look forward to each month. Doing radio gives me hope and keeps me sane and I only hope it helps anyone who tunes in.
David Vunk is a big supporter of your records, who else is spinning Moving Still records out here?
I’ve been quite lucky that my music has been played by the heavies and I am always so blessed to have their support! My music has been played out by Palms Trax, Hunee, Skatebard, Nabihah Iqbal, CC Disco, Barbara Boeing, Charlie Bones and Esa Williams. I am not going to lie, every time a video emerges I get goosebumps that they are playing an edit or an original of mine. I am forever grateful for their support and it really is a wonderful feeling to see thousands of people dance to something I made in my home. It definitely has got me teared up many times.
What can we expect from you in the future?
I have a couple of releases due before the end of the year, one with LA based label Discostan where they have invited me to edit two songs from their recent repress of synth pop masterpiece “Disco Se Aagay”. Working with Nermin, Feisal and Discostan has been such a wonderful experience and I can't wait for everyone to hear them. If all goes smoothly it should be out by the end of September. I have also finished an EP which should be coming out with No Bad Days very soon. I don't want to give too much away but the EP is a love letter to my home town Jeddah. Working with Jake and Gabriel has been really lovely and they are so supportive. All I can say is the EP will have you screwfaced from start to finish. The last thing that I have coming up is something I’ve put my heart and soul into, and it’s going to be a freebie to thank everyone who has supported me since I started. It’s three edits from the “all stars” of Egyptian Jeel music - the songs are super personal to me for various reasons and I hope they become special to anyone who hears them. It’s my first real self-release so things are up in the air on dates, but stay tuned to my Instagram, I have some really exciting artwork and visuals (courtesy of Lebanese artists Tracy Chahwan and Carla Aouad) to accompany it!