Azaad marks his debut for Dungeon Meat (interview)

Tristan da Cunha & Brawther’s Dungeon Meat has long been a force of good in the world of discerning house and techno. Always keen to foster new talent, the label even released the Enter the Dungeon EP a while back, which showcased their penchant for trumping new artists. Of course, none of this would matter much were it not for the fact that the music is always top notch. 

So we’re delighted to report that they’ve repeated the trick once more with their latest record. Released via up-and-coming DJ/producer Azaad, their latest features four club cuts that quite brilliantly showcase the producer’s love for original UK tech house and classic NYC dubs. Very much indicative of a man on the rise, the Sonic Boom EP is a record that slides effortlessly into the label’s discography. We caught up with the man behind the music recently to learn more…

Photo credit: Louis Nesbitt

Hey Azaad, how are you today? Where are you answering these questions from? And what’s keeping you busy outside of music right now? 

Good thank you, I’m a London boy, born and bred! So London is my HQ. I’m working from home right now, so I’m answering these questions on my break. Outside of music, I’ve recently been hooked on tennis and I’m a big fan of cooking. If you get the tunes on whilst cooking up a storm, it can be quite therapeutic. 

Let’s go back a bit and chat about your early forays into electronic music. Outside of the music itself, what made it so special and enticing for you? Was it love at first sight or did it take a while before you fell so deeply for it? 

I was blessed to have parents that listened to so many genres in the family home. Reggae, Soul, 90s RnB and UK Garage mainly. I made the transition into electronic music through Dubstep, it definitely was love at first listen/sight. Hearing the reggae samples heavily used by the likes of Coki, Skream, Mala, brought that familiarity. Then I crossed over into another genre which had dub/reggae influences which was UK Garage. I think you can have a deeper connection with music when it’s stuff you heard as a child. I’m quite nostalgic, so when I hear a track from back then it will bring back a real vivid and deep childhood memory. 

Photo credit: Louis Nesbitt

It seems like you’re on a real upward trajectory right now, but obviously none of this happened overnight. Can you tell us a bit about the hustle and sacrifices that you’ve made for the music?

Thanks. I would say that the trajectory is heading in the direction that I want, but there’s always room for improvement. I work full time in tech and I get limited time in the evenings to focus on making music. As much as that sounds like it’s hindering, there are definitely glaring positives. Supporting myself financially outside of music has given me the freedom to be creative and the limited time spent on music means I have to focus double hard during those hours. I’d say sacrificing sleep is a big one, I can get carried away in the studio, especially if I’m on a roll. Before I know it, it’s 3am and I have to wake up for work at 8am. Not pretty. 

The Sonic Boom EP
Photo credit: Louis Nesbitt

Is music a full-time thing for you right now? And does this represent a real leap of faith for you? Outside of production and DJing, do you have any other involvement in music? 

Like I said, I have a full time job outside of music, and right now I see more positives in keeping it. Even if I went full time with music, I’ll always have some sort of side hustle alongside it. Aside from DJing and producing, I tried my hand at promoting a party in aid of mental health. I don’t think I’ll be in a rush to return to promoting, it was stressful!

Photo credit: Louis Nesbitt

As a native of London and someone who plays there a lot, what’s your take on where the music scene is there right now? Obviously lots of places are closing and gentrification continues at a rapid rate, but there still seems to be so much great stuff happening…

It’s changed a fair bit to be honest. Especially since I started raving properly about 10 years ago. I think it would be narrow-minded of me to focus on the negatives. Yes, we are part of a demographic who place a lot of importance over social media presence, however, in a weird way, it’s given the lesser known artists the same platform as the bigger artists and resulted in better growth for up and comers.

I think as a scene we have room to improve on making the dancefloor a warm environment, welcoming people from all walks of life to have it off together. Club owners need to place more focus on the parties and lineups they curate, with equal effort on making sure the soundsystem is tight. The Cause, who originally started off in Tottenham, now moved HQ to East London seem to pride themselves on the lineup quality and their sound. Since their reopening I’ve only heard good things about the design of their new space. Really looking forward to playing the main room for Appetite this weekend. 

You’re as heavily influenced by house and deep house as you are by UK garage. I wanted to ask; why do you think UK garage is having a moment again right now? Or is it just natural that these things are quite cyclical do you think? 

I think popular UK Garage will be cyclical, as will most popular genres. I just missed out on the UKG raving scene in the 90s, but it seems that there were factors beyond their control which killed their clubs and raving destinations. Underground UKG never really went out to have a moment again. There are a select bunch of artists from the prime UKG era that have adapted and stood the test of time. Nowadays it’s the ‘in’ thing to sprinkle UKG into sets, but as long as the OGs are credited and benefit from it, then I think that’s sweet. 

Chat to us a bit about when you first encountered Dungeon Meat. What was it about their music that you so loved? What is it about the label’s sound, ethos and aesthetic that so resonates with you do you think?

They’ll hate me for saying this but it was The Fuck Off Track which took the UK club and festival scene by storm. The simplicity yet effectiveness of the track is what I loved at the time and even now with other releases. A strict focus on the low-end and drum programming is what makes or breaks a track in my opinion.
Then I wondered who’s behind the alias and was pleasantly surprised to discover it was Sammy (Brawther) and Tristan (Da Cunha). It made a lot of sense though, both of them pay a huge homage to Deep House, House and UKG. So the label, the Dungeon meat sound is a mesh of all of the above, which is what got me hooked! 

Photo credit: Louis Nesbitt

We’re really loving the Sonic Boom EP; really fantastic stuff! Did you write this one with Dungeon Meat in mind? Or can you tell us a bit about how it ended up getting signed there? 

Thank you, it means a lot. It’s nice that people other than myself and the DM boys can listen to the EP and soon get their hands on it. 

I entered a Dungeon Meat contest back in 2020 for a spot on a VA, but I ended up just outside the winning spots. I was high enough in the placings for them to give me some feedback however. Which I kept the recording of!

After missing out on those spots, I took some time from sending music out. Focussing on refining my sound, as I was fairly new to making music, only about a year in. That did me a world of good to be honest. It meant I didn’t rush anything and I’ve had some of the best creative flux’s I’ve ever had. Due to lockdown and not much going on, I was able to smash some of the tracks out over a few days. Now, I had a solid playlist of tracks that was a cut above the rest of my previous tracks. I blindly shared the playlist with Sammy, not expecting much back other than feedback. Sammy responded back asking if I had plans for the tracks and the rest was history. 

DJ wise, you’ve played fabric, Star Lane, 93 Feet East, The Cause, The Lion & Lamb and more and are becoming a regular face on the London DJ circuit. In this time, you’ve obviously plated alongside some really renowned names. How have you taken to playing alongside these guys? Do you look at it as a chance to impress? Or do you generally just do your own thing’?

I’ve scratched the surface when it comes to being an artist to be honest. Which is exciting because I’ve got so many more years ahead of me doing this. Being programmed before some of these bigger DJ’s, I like to show respect but at the same time ultimately show why I’ve been booked. Without getting carried away, I think I can get the crowd moving but still leave some room for the DJ after me to take the energy a notch higher.

On a similar note, what DJ have you played alongside has really impressed you? What stood out for them in your eyes?  

No Dungeon Meat bias, I promise. But it’s been a few years where I’ve had a dying urge for an encore. Dungeon Meat at Bret for Slapfunk ADE last year blew my mind. 

Laidlaw as well. I’ve had the pleasure of sharing the lineup with this guy, and I’m in awe of how he keeps his cool. His transitions between tracks are seamless! 

You regularly play at the likes of fabric, The Cause, The Lion & Lamb etc. Are you working harder now than ever before? When it comes to electronic music, does a work ethic come easy? Or is it something that still requires a lot of grind on your behalf?

Music did a huge amount of good for my mental health through a tough lockdown period. It will remain my passion forever and I don’t think my work ethic towards it will ever pander. It isn’t work, it’s therapy. 

In terms of your own agenda, can you tell us a bit about what you’ve got coming up over the next while? 

I have my Berlin debut in March, at Hoppetosse, which I’m buzzing about to be honest. That’s a big milestone for me. I’ve recently teamed up with Andre at NGE, and we’re seeing some nice results already. 

Release wise, we of course have the Sonic Boom EP. Following this keep an ear out for a release on a new label curated by my New York brother Mink. Oh and another summer EP on Dungeon Meat. 

Finally, could you introduce your music in three tracks to people who’ve not heard of you before?

Zest [Sonic Boom EP - Dungeon Meat]

Dub Analyser [Sonic Boom EP - Dungeon Meat]

Dusty Cough [Bondru]

Azaad's Sonic Boom EP is out 03/03 via Dungeon Meat. Buy/listen to the release here