Introducing: Skatman

Get to know Skatman — the Berlin-based Tunisian DJ/producer whose punchy cocktail of melodic house and indie dance has been cosigned by Laurent Garnier and Jennifer Cardini.

8 min
Skatman Introducing Beatportal
Apr 29, 2024
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By
April Clare Welsh

There’s a certain level of respect afforded to artists who continually switch up their sound and refuse to rest on their laurels. As the shapeshifting DJ and producer Aziz Haddad (aka Skatman) tells Beatportal over a video call, these big, bold or even subtle stylistic adjustments can help keep a discography fresh and more sustainable. At any rate, it’s one way of future-proofing your creativity in a bustling electronic ecosystem.

Haddad is driven by a restless desire to try out new things. Since dropping his Back in the Zukunft EP in 2018 for Scatcity — the former label he launched in 2017 — the Tunisian-born, Berlin-based multi-tasker has been building his genre-fluid outpost with a fleet of releases that traverse techno, deep house, hip-house, EBM, and more club-adjacent styles. He doesn’t have a cleverly concocted plan, he just produces because he “needs” to. Making music is a compulsion, an itch he has to scratch; even in the early days of his career, it would absorb huge chunks of his week.

Due to his father’s work, Haddad grew up between Tunis and Abu Dhabi, where the scorching desert heat meant he was forced to spend the majority of his time indoors. It was during this period that he was able to develop his computer skills in a distraction-free environment, laying the foundations for his future vocation as a software developer while ultimately facilitating his foray into DAW-based production.

His older brother served as his musical guiding star, teaching him how to play wedding-pop favourites like “Didi” by Algerian singer Khaled on guitar and an old-school Casio AT-1 keyboard. These formative experiences opened the floodgates for his teenage experiments in garage-rock and punk, and he joined a short-lived band with his school friends before eventually swapping guitars for synths and discovering his first true love: techno.

Skatman Beatportal Feature 1

Around the age of 20, he started exploring the tiny mesh of clubs in Tunis with a small group of like-minded music pals who had opened his ears to the world of electronic music. When one of these pointed him in the direction of Dixon and Âme’s Innervisions label, he was instantly hooked. “I just felt like I hadn’t heard this before. It wasn’t just beats, it had a soul, a meaning; it said something,” he recalls. He knew he needed to experience it “from the source”, so duly followed the trail of breadcrumbs to Berlin.

Getting to Berlin wasn’t easy, however. “For Tunisians to get a visa anywhere, it’s really hard. You have to have an appointment and then you wait six months and maybe you get accepted, maybe you don’t. I think in Europe in general it’s hard. Maybe it’s easier for us in France because we speak French and there are some connections between France and Tunisia, but it was not easy in Germany. I needed to have a job.”

As luck would have it, he managed to find a decent job as a software developer and arrived in the city in 2013, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed, with a seemingly endless supply of energy reserved for weekly jaunts to Panorama Bar and Berghain (he even went on a first date to Berghain with his now-wife). “Berlin is where I learned about electronic music for real,” he continues, adding that the first two years in Berlin had “the biggest influence” on him as a person, and also as a producer.

He had actually started producing in the run-up to his move in 2012/2013, trying out FL Studio before moving over to Ableton. But it all started to come together in Berlin. “I had so much time as I didn’t really know anyone; I was producing every day from 5 pm until 1 am. I mean, the music was really bad. I didn’t have the confidence to release anything or show it to people. I was influenced by techno — DVS1, Ben Klock, etc — but I couldn’t produce that kind of music. I couldn’t produce any music,” he says with a laugh. “Basically, I was trying to fiddle around with a MIDI keyboard and come up with something without really knowing where to go.”

Fast forward a decade, and all that prolific late-night tinkering has certainly paid off, with releases for labels such as Innervisions — what he describes as an “incredible full-circle moment” — Correspondant, and Sum Over Histories now in the bag. Haddad’s recent Transmission EP for Jennifer Cardini’s aforementioned Correspondant label chases a moody remit that opens with the strident Italo body music of the title track and closes with the scowling, Moroder-esque horror-drama of “Devil Run,” where ominous synth lines and a demonic voice preside over a dark dance floor kingdom. 

Skatman Beatportal Feature 3

The EP could easily fit the Venn diagram of Italo-techno-EBM if it wasn’t for the reggae-infused outlier “Let’s Skank,” which rushes in with blaring horns, dub samples, and dank vocal chops that bring the heat and raise the bar from dirgy disco to strobe-lit foam party. “I can’t think a time when I’ve played “Let’s Skank” out and people didn't start to scream,” beams Haddad. “There are some tracks that make me start to jam and dance while I’m making them. That was one of those tracks.”

Meanwhile, Haddad’s 2023 Rewarped EP for Innervisions came packaged with its own concept: remoulding old samples into new shapes. Cue sassy opener “Oldskool”, formed from a playground of hip-house bounce ‘n’ claps, and “What You Gonna Do”, with its attitude-packed vocal sample. Then there’s 2021’s eight-tracker Aromanticism, which drew from a different thematic source – the 19th-century realism movement — for a series of embryonic deep house building blocks. 

Earlier this month, he took inspiration from “the emotional, strings-driven side” of Detroit techno to add his “Tribute to a Dancefloor” contribution to [QR​]​D​.​109​.​RFL​.​24, a new digital release on Laurent Garnier and Oliver Way’s mischievous COD3 QR label. “For me, these people were legends when I first started to play so to see them support my music is an achievement in itself,” he gushes.

Skatman Beatportal Feature 2

Aside from his own releases, Haddad has been running his new Cognitive Prophecy label since 2022, which kicked off with a three-track EP from UK-based producer Jozef K and enables him to flex a different creative muscle: supporting artists he thinks “should be supported.” He says playing at London’s Fold earlier this year was a career high point, but for now, he’s turning his focus to collaboration. He has recently been working with several musicians and rappers. “The goal is that instead of using samples from other music, I want to create my own samples,” he explains. He has even tried adding his own voice to a track, aided by “a lot of Auto-Tune”, and has plans to dive into AI; “taking what AI throws at me and making something out of it,” he says.

Haddad may be inherently attracted to the idea of the novel but at the same time, he acknowledges the role of industry pressures in his endless quest for innovation. “Every time I talk with any artist or friend, they all have the same problem … Music is art; it’s not something you can switch on and off,” he muses. “However, for me, if I don’t do music, I don’t feel good. It’s just really important for me to do it … I don’t want to be remembered for just one sound; I want to be someone who keeps on surprising you.”

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