Namito: “If Iran Was a Free Country, You Would Have Some of the
Best Events Worldwide There”
Namito: “If Iran Was a Free Country, You Would Have Some of the
January 21, 2022
Best Events Worldwide There”
From the early days of Berlin’s techno scene to the explosion of dance music worldwide, DJ/producer Ali Khalaj (aka Namito) has been there for it all. But Namito’s journey has been anything but ordinary. Hailing from the Iranian capital of Tehran, he left his war-torn home to escape the draft. He landed in West Berlin, eventually joining the Rajneesh movement to live in an Osho commune where he first learned how to spin records as the resident DJ at the commune’s on-site club, Far Out. But after the Berlin Wall came down, Namito engulfed himself in the city’s nascent techno scene and has spent the past two decades performing worldwide while releasing on labels like Yoshitoshi, Kling Klong, Sol Selectas, and much more.
Now Namito is celebrating his time behind the decks with a three-part remix EP series on his Ubersee Music label titled 25 Years Nam — each coinciding with the elements Air, Earth, and Fire. Featuring acts like Pan-Pot, Eric Volta, Sabo, and talented Iranian artists like Nesa Azadikhah, Borella, Niki Sadeki, and Guila Loy, the EPs will traverse pummeling, big room techno, Italo disco, blissed-out electronica, and more.
We caught up with Namito to look back on his storied career, and to learn more about his thoughts on Iran’s current electronic music landscape, and what other projects he’s got on the horizon.
How did your interest in music first shift when leaving your war-torn home of Tehran and arriving in West Berlin in the ’80s? What was some of the music that first caught your interest?
The first thing totalitarian regimes do is crack down on culture. The reason behind this is that the more access you have to culture, the less you are willing to accept limitations. After the revolution in Iran, music was basically banned, especially western music. So as a kid I hardly had any encounters with music other than ABBA, BeeGees and Michael Jackson.
I remember the first tune I heard in Germany in 1985 was Depeche Mode’s “Shake The Disease” and I was totally hooked by the fresh and unheard electronic sounds. Till today I love their sound aesthetics.
How did you first learn to DJ back in the day during your time living at the Osho commune’s German headquarters? What were those parties like, and what was it about the burgeoning techno scene in Berlin that stole you away from the Rajneesh movement?
The Osho commune used to run a disco called ‘Far Out’ at West Berlin’s nightlife epicenter. I first went there when I was 16 and was right away fascinated by the aura of the DJ booth. The more time I spent there, the less I enjoyed the music as they had a pretty predictable repertoire, and as if that was not bad enough, most of the DJs played them in the same order. At first, I tried to ask for more diversity in the music, but they told me, ‘This is what the people want and this is what we give them.’ Stubborn as I am, I kept asking them to show me how to mix vinyl. At one point my dear friend Sonam had enough and agreed to show me the basics. After that I went for eight months straight to the club and practiced mixing records and listening to different stuff. Once I was 18 there was no more stopping and I started DJing.
And that happened to be exactly the time when electronic music started to pick up. I grew more and more into house and techno and didn’t want to play any — as they called it — ABBA to Zappa. In 1993 I left the commune and started my own career in the techno scene.
After 25 years as a DJ/producer, what would you say are some of your proudest moments in giving back to the electronic music scene?
I have throughout my career supported newcomers, especially Iranian artists, as I felt that I had to share my fortunate situation with them. Probably the proudest moment that I can think of was when my friend Sam Farsio remixed my track “Minou” and suddenly high profile DJ’s around the world like Sasha and John Digweed started playing his remix, his first release ever.
Since then I have been supporting youngsters whenever I could, even though some of them turned around to bite me.
How did you choose which artists would remix which songs from your extensive discography for the 25 Years Nam EP series?
I made a Spotify playlist and sent it out to a list of artists I really wanted to involve and let them choose which track they feel the most. The selection was not easy for me, as I since day one tried to release only stuff I loved.
You’ve involved several Iranian female acts to work with you on this project. We’d love to know more about their sound and how you got them involved.
For me, it was absolutely clear that I don’t want to just get the biggest names together in this special release that I prepared celebrating 25 years of music production, but people who also inspired me. It was also important to me that I have female artists on board, who are still pretty underrepresented in my eyes.
I had met Nesa Azadikhah, who runs Deep House Tehran in Iran and she right away agreed when I asked her. What I really love about her is that she manages to combine different styles of music seamlessly in her sets.
Then there were two Iranian-Canadian artists that had captured my attention: Borella, who I met in Toronto right before the pandemic, and I could see in her eyes the will and appetite to achieve all the goals she has in her mind. It was so impressive that I asked her to have her first release ever by doing a remix for me. And when you listen to her remix, you can tell I was right.
And Niki Sadeki, who has been playing all over North America. I followed her on Instagram and knew that she would deliver a special remix. Her take on “Anakeys” was so respectful to the original and yet it carries her very own sound signature.
And then there is Guila Loy, the Munich-based Iranian-German newcomer that I personally mentored during the pandemic. Being an engineer, she had no difficulties at all with complex music software theories and within one year she managed to finish complete tracks on her own. As if this was not enough, she started to learn DJing at the same time. It took me years to discover my own sound and I was surprised how fast she determined her sound. So it came all-natural for me to involve so much talent in my remix project. And I love her take on “Blank Check,” a track from my 2018 album Letting Go.
Involving these wonderful artists is my way of changing the narrative in the Iranian society that does suppress female artists heavily.
What is the situation like for female artists in Tehran these days?
Not good. Iran is such a difficult place for all DJs as there is no real way to legally party. All events you might hear of are illegal. If not, then people have to be seated, if lyrics are involved, the moral authorities have to give their permission, which is a joke, if you think about it. On top of all these problems, there is the issue of conservatism and traditions, which has many unwritten rules in place, especially for females. That is why I find Nesa Azadikhah’s efforts to break these rules so valuable.
What are your thoughts on Tehran’s electronic music scene?
I think if Iran was a free country, then you would have some of the best events worldwide there. There is so much talent despite all the difficulties, and the warm-hearted Iranian people just love to party — it’s very similar to the scene in Beirut, which for me is the best place in the world to go clubbing after Berlin. At least it was until corruption and incompetence ruined the entire country. Which is also unfortunately the case in Iran.
Are you hopeful that the global dance music scene will pull through the covid crisis?
I personally am hopeful that after the pandemic slowly fades aways, we will see an unseen series of events celebrating life. After the Spanish flu in the beginning of the 20th century there was the era called the “roaring twenties” and I am pretty sure we are heading towards some wild party times. I just wish that promoters would get more creative with their lineups and especially stop basing their selections on social media numbers. Stop booking fucking influencers but true artists.
And finally, what’s next for you?
Musically, I will finalise the series of releases celebrating my 25th anniversary of my music production with a final release containing 25 remixes of my tracks of the past 25 years. Compiling this I realised how lucky I was with the remixes I got. They are all still relevant and timeless, be it the mind-blowing Etienne DeCrecy remix of “Quipa”, Martin Landsky’s state-of-the-art remix of “Joujou” or the astounding Chaim remix of “Wait Till The End”.
Then there is another track with my sisters, who also sang “Stone Flower.” It is called “Mad Heart” and will be released on Sol Selctas’ Global Entry compilation. And finally, a remix I made for my dear friend Ali Farahani for his already legendary track “Mr. Hekaiati” which will be released soon on Pipe & Pochet.
But I am also very much involved in the web 3.0 revolution. Blockchain, NFTs and decentralisation remind me of the time when techno started and I knew there was something big happening but I had no idea how big it would become. I was lucky to get involved in the Berlin-based fashion start-up JMES Fashion as head of technology, where we embrace the latest developments and technologies and have the vision to redefine the future of fashion. Exciting times, despite COVID-19!
Buy 25 Years Nam – Fire on Beatport here.
Buy 25 Years Nam – Earth on Beatport here.
Buy 25 Years Nam – Air on Beatport here.
Cameron Holbrook is Beatportal’s North American editor. Find him on Twitter.