Artist of the Month: Spain’s Fatima Hajji has Become one of Techno’s Leading Lights
Artist of the Month: Spain’s Fatima Hajji has Become one of Techno’s Leading LightsJanuary 18, 2021
For 20 years, Spain’s Fatima Hajji has been steadily making a name for herself on a global level — though her path to success has been anything but usual. Chandler Shortlidge hears her story.
It’s no secret that 2020 was difficult for many. Though few have been hit harder by the pandemic than musicians — specifically live performers, whose main income source and way of life evaporated as lockdowns became the norm. Spain’s Fatima Hajji seems to have this in mind when we talk about how she spent the holidays.
“I can’t call this past month a holiday, as it was a dystopian and strange situation,” she remarks. Despite playing a pre-recorded stream with the biggest DJs in Spain, New Year’s Eve marked the first time in 21 years she wasn’t out playing a show, which capped off a year that was “absolutely hard, psychologically,” she says. “I love what I do; some people say I am a workaholic, but for me, [my job] is not a work. What this is for me is passion, a big one that helps me be happy and express myself. I feel it’s part of who I am, so the abrupt stop wasn’t easy to assimilate.”
Early on in the pandemic, Hajji was constantly checking the news in the hopes that maybe she could figure out when things would return to normal. Eventually, however, she realised it would take “a good while for the situation to improve, and it was better to go into the studio and use the time to focus on my music and try to improve myself as a producer.”
Which is to say that 2020 wasn’t all bad for Hajji, who over the past 20 years has steadily risen to become one of the biggest Spanish techno DJs on the international circuit. And she knows she’s lucky. Though she calls Madrid home, having arrived there 15 years ago, she lives outside the city, which was one of the worst-hit urban centers in Spain by the coronavirus.
“Throughout lockdown, I’ve been in the mountains surrounded by trees and very few people. Sometimes it was a bit creepy with the absence of noise: no cars, no planes…just nothing. Sometimes even the birds were quiet; it was surreal, but also nice.” She said she noticed animals returning as human activity decreased. “New birds, more eagles, several foxes, many deer, even a mother [deer] who had two bambis, wild pigs, and rabbits. Normally you can see some of them walking around the area, but never this [many],” she says.
And despite the end-of-times vibe of her December, she was in “a comfortable place,” doing plenty of cooking — something she’s passionate about — whipping up a cheesecake she promises was divine. “I can also recommend the good priced and quality range [wine] from Ramon Bilbao,” she adds.
In some ways, Hajji may have been more emotionally prepared than most for last year’s hardships. The daughter of a small grocery store owner mother and a truck driver father, Hajji (whose father emigrated to Spain from Morocco) didn’t have a typical childhood. Mom needed help around the store, so “unfortunately school was not my main occupation in my childhood,” Fatima says. But it gave her experience, which helped keep money in her pocket as she got older. “I moved to live on my own at 16 and worked as a cashier in a supermarket, and on the weekends I started to DJ around my city.
“Then when I moved to Madrid I worked in offices as receptionist, selling shit by phone, and also in a bank giving phone support for companies for credit facilities. But, the best work I had, apart from the music, was when I learned how to train dogs,” she says. Along with her love of nature, Fatima is a devoted animal lover, with two dogs and two cats of her own. She even sports a tattoo of a very happy-looking dog on her right shoulder. “My beloved Nuska,” Fatima says. “She passed away two years ago after being with me for 16 years. She was an important part of my family.” Despite her success working with animals, Fatima’s work ethic and discipline bled into her hobby as a DJ, which was fast becoming her main job. And by the time she was 18-years-old, she was playing DJ gigs around the city, and madly in love with techno.
Fatima was always passionate about music. When her father returned home from life on the road, he was listening to Arabic music “all the time” around the house, Fatima says. “And when I travelled with him in the truck, he listened to the same music.” Songs like “Yeke Yeke” by Mory Kante and “Abdelkhader” by Cheb Khaled made a huge impression on her as a youngster. (She eventually remixed the latter song, which became one of her most popular tracks). But it was her older brothers who turned her on to techno. “First I was listening on loop to techno sets recorded from the international DJs who visited my local clubs. I was too young to attend but my brothers recorded them and [brought them home]. I got hooked [on] the energy of the bass.”
Music connected her to people — she sometimes created choreographed dances with her friends as a kid — but it also offered an escape and a creative outlet. She began spending hours at home mixing by cassette tape, recording radio songs and then blending them together before eventually learning how to mix with vinyl. “This changed everything,” she says.
It almost happened by accident. Fatima was walking around Madrid when she stumbled upon an advertisement in a vinyl shop for mixing lessons. After two months she’d learned how to mix properly with vinyl, “and this made my addiction to techno unstoppable.”
“My teacher told me that I have skills, and I had confidence in myself, so he signed me up for a local DJ contest in a club in my city,” she continues. At the time, no one in her family knew about her new addiction. But when some friends of Fatima’s older brothers saw her name on a party flyer, her secret was out. “They couldn’t believe it, as I was 16 and never attended a party,” she remembers. Back then she was playing groovy techno, which she says was the main sound happening around the turn of the century in central Spain. On the night of the contest, she arrived to a packed club and many familiar faces — none of whom expected Fatima would be capable behind the decks, she says.
“It was a magical night when they heard that I could mix — and that I mixed techno. I ended up winning the competition with massive support of the people there. It was the first time I felt the power of taking control of the peoples minds while DJing. I decided this was what I wanted to do for the rest of my life.”
Nowadays we’ve become used to stories like this from women like Fatima. But back then, men by and large dominated the stage. “When I started, I had no role models,” she says. Fatima forged ahead anyway, eventually discovering artists like Germany’s Monika Kruse and the Dutch hard techno legend Miss Djax, who in 2012 featured on the Fatima’s Standbite imprint with the 7.0 EP. “It was a big honour for me,” Fatima says. “She is one of the ladies that made the difference, creating her own sound and managing [all aspects of] her career.”
Fatima has massive respect for many of my colleagues, saying she’s thrilled at the level of success they’ve been able to achieve. “Women like Monika Kruse, Nina Kraviz, and lately Amelie Lens or Charlotte de Witte among others, because they are breaking boundaries that are making it easier to have more equality and opportunity for the next generations of DJs.”
That’s not to say Fatima thinks we’ve made it in terms of inclusivity, either as an industry or as a society. But she does believe the techno scene is “more advanced than the rest of the society overall, even than other musical genres.”
“In techno, most of the audience goes to dance and hear what they like without thinking which genre, race or ideology the DJ is or has. Of course, not all is done, but much more than in many other areas. So we can keep showing the path to be different, respecting each other and celebrating life together despite our differences.”
But with gigs on hold and nowhere to go, Fatima’s energy has turned toward production, putting in around five hours everyday after lunch in the studio. This, along with spending more time with friends she was rarely able to see due to her tour schedule, has helped Fatima stay mentally healthy during lockdowns.
“Once I decided to stop watching the news and I focused myself in the studio, everything was much better for me and many new ideas came. I finished some EPs that will appear on some very cool labels that I love, like Octopus, Odd, IAMT and Set About. Also, I have completed half of my debut album, so I am really happy with what I have achieved so far. Now I need to test all this new music in a proper club with the energy of the crowd.”
With encouraging news of the COVID vaccine circulating the world, she may yet get her chance, with gigs at Verknipt and SoundWaves tentatively booked this summer. But after a year of disappointment, Fatima isn’t giving that too much thought yet, and is instead continuing to push her DJ skills forward, even after 20 years behind the decks. “The great thing about it is that the tools are evolving constantly and we DJs are able to learn and discover new ways to do the things.” She mentions the new Denon CDJs, which were given to her by the company a few months back. “I can say they are very intuitive and they totally rock with the LINK connection to Beatport. This is so helpful to have in your hand, all the music that you want instantly. It’s a new era for DJ tools.”
She’s also continuing to drop new material, like her Kua EP on Octopus Recordings, which of course is named after one of her dogs. (It’s also the name of a system of numerology used in feng shui, which Fatima believes influences our lives). The title track features a remix from US-based producer Rinzen, while the second tune, “Freedom,” is centered around a “stunning melody that makes people dance hard and be happy — exactly what I’m looking for!” Fatima exclaims. Then there’s her debut album, which will be released on Fatima’s Silver M label some time soon, with EPs from some exciting newcomers due first.
As we wrap things up, Fatima brings up the recent freak blizzard that covered Madrid in more than a foot and a half of snow and caused nearly 2 billion euros in damages. It was the most snow the city has seen in nearly 30 years. But according to Spanish lore, it may portend good things on the horizon. “There is a proverb in Spain that says ‘year of snow, year of goods.’ So I’m expecting to recover our ‘normal’ life, starting to tour again, and bringing happiness and joy to the people everywhere. And I hope to recover the missed kisses and hugs when we’ll once again meet our beloved fans.”