Towards the end of 2020, I took a bit of an Electronic Music hiatus…
There were no events. DJs were being exposed as predators, pedophiles, and spineless profiteers at an alarming rate. Nothing coming out felt all that exciting. For the most part, I had no reason to listen and I stopped caring.
and then Ardalan’s PR reached out to me. I figured that chatting with an artist who I respected within the very scene that I had lost respect for would prove interesting.
Three months later, I am no longer mad. Thank you Ardalan; together we resurrected Electronic Music, if only for you and me.
As the Zoom call connects, Ardalan asks me, “Is your name Iranian by any chance?”
“I’m Irish, so it’s pronounced ‘Key-in’,” I explain, “I know ‘Key-on’ is a very popular name in Iran with an identical spelling though!” This isn’t the first time I’ve had this conversation. I’ve had to explain that I’m Irish, not Iranian, more times than I can count. So often, that when this conversation plays out, I routinely say “Irish” in a bit of a made up accent and then study the inquirer’s facial expression.
Without fault, wide eyes and a smirk that reads, “hindsight is 2020,” follows as they scan my dramatically fair complexion.
When Ardalan asks me this all too familiar question, something interrupts my scheduled programming of thought. I pause for a moment, feeling fraudulent. “Am I Irish? I haven’t even been.” Weird. I write this off as a flash of Imposter Syndrome. I can’t help but continue to ruminate, “How funny though. It means so much less when I say I’m Irish than when someone from Ireland says it.”
You see, Ardalan is Iranian and he is from Iran...
He was born in the capital, Tehran (pictured above). He is 7 years my senior and for the bulk of his life he traveled back and forth between Iran and California. He spent some of his high school years in California but also attended international school in Iran. Back and forth until 2007 when he finally settled in the Bay Area for good. This is the story that I thought I would tell in this piece, but only a few anecdotes felt pertinent to the conversation at large. The first thing that took me aback was finding that…
Music has been banned on television and the radio in Iran since 1979 (Wire).
Ardalan is a music professional, a music nerd, a musician! I can’t imagine the experience of returning to a country where your passion is all but prohibited after having unrestricted access in another country for an extended period of time. Of course, if you love something then you’ll find a way to access it. In Ardalan’s case, “bootlegged cassette tapes and satellite televisions from Europe (DA).” The same ban still exists in Iran today. A quick Google search puts things in perspective…only 57% of the world has internet access (oberlo).
“It’s been interesting to have, you know, an experience of both worlds,” Ardalan notes.
I suppose there are infinite worlds in this context.
Iran. The Bay Area. Ireland. Wherever.
Our own little worlds.
Ultimately, where you are from matters much less than what you do. Whether you like it or not, you wake up each day and what you do is your decided reality. Have you ever met a guy who works in finance and is in their 20s? Bet your ass he comes alive when he’s talking stocks. As the conversation turns to Ardalan’s creative process and music production, same same but different.
“It’s just like the Nirvana, I guess… like that feeling of making it and you know, [it’s] really hitting you… synesthesia … a memory. It’s weird. I don’t know how to describe it really. It’s like a place, it’s therapy for me…”
Ardalan is an impressive producer. I recognized this for the first time on his “Hello Clouds” remix that dropped in 2017. On the track, he is playful with percussion and crafts a spectacular build that leads into the iconic Femme vocal. When the drop that follows hits, with the right speaker stack, you could move mountains. “I’m still learning a lot more. And for me, just going through uncharted territories is like the most fun thing, you know, sometimes on a walk, you don’t want to follow the trail… You know, different paths in the forest or whatever.”
In 2019, “I Can’t Wait” dropped as a single which immediately leveled up his indie allure and aura of cool in my eyes. “I can’t waiiiit any longer” commanded 1 gigabyte of my memory in my head for weeks. Shortly thereafter, Ardalan released his first full length album: Mr. Good. It is somewhat spectacular, a concept album, the whole package. Listen for yourself…
Mr. Good was released roughly a decade after Ardalan recorded his first demo, Mr. Spock, at 19. His debut was a flip of Snoop Dogg’s “Drop It Like It’s Hot” that ended up being released in collaboration with Justin Martin. I can’t help but think how different his reality would be had Ardalan not moved to the Bay Area, specifically. The Bay Area is weird, diverse, easy going, and fun, which must have opened up so many of the doors that led Ardalan to find success in his preferred niche of music. Admittedly, I say this having grown up in The Bay myself.
“I was going to those parties when I was 18, 19 with my buddies from high school [in the Bay Area]. I was very, very, very lucky to get exposed to that.” Me too. “If I had a shitty week, you know, I was going on Resident Advisor and being like, who is going to have the craziest fucking production sound design, and lighting that I can go lose myself in and find a new understanding of the world around me through that experience.” Me too, me too, me too. “I was like imagining myself in my room going through Villalobos videos from 2007. I was listening to like minimal house and techno… when I was 17. And, and I’m like, this is like my dream.” Me too.
We’re in agreement on most things until he says,
“The whole reason we make house music or electronic music, it always comes from that foundation of equality.”
While this is undoubtedly true of Ardalan, I can’t help but question whether this statement rings true for others. I tirade him with questions about booking biases, one of many is pictured above, before moving onto the rampant predatory accounts that came to light in the Electronic Music scene in 2020. “Whether it came to you as a shock, or if this is something that you feel has kind of always been there, it’s good that there’s [an] awareness [now where there wasn’t before]. Without, um, you know, saying it too directly, ultimately a lot of this comes from the way the industry was [commercialized].”
When we talk about the scene or the industry, there is a hint of melancholy in his tone that isn’t present when Ardalan speaks about himself. Gratitude is one of the most powerful emotions and practices in life and he has relied on it for both success and sanity. “I know that there’s millions of other young people in Iran that would wish to be in my position. Just knowing that makes me feel like I have this opportunity to do something really good. And make people happy. I want to focus on that.” For the most part as we chat, he does focus on that.
At times, Ardalan and I pause in between recorded takes to break down some of the touchier subjects. I can tell he wants me to believe he is genuine and I want him to think the same of me. “Like, there’s going to be bad. There’s already a lot of bad times. We all go through a lot… just keep yourself who you are in the beginning [of your career], [be] a better person to the world, you know, to the environment, to others…”
“Be emotionally aware. I think that’s what we need right now.”
As we wrap out, we sit for a second and laugh at how many subjects were touched on over the course of the interview. My plans to write a long form piece on our cultural differences or an expose on the shitty state of Electronic Music were shot. None of that seemed to matter by the end of the call. What mattered was the shared excitement that came of just talking about Electronic Music and why we loved it to begin with.
If you put your heart in the hands of the industry, focus only on that which blows up, and listen to what other people say is cool, Electronic Music isn’t all that great. What’s great is finding that dark space or obscure subgenre that makes you feel. So as events come back, remember that there are plenty of incredible humans out there within the Electronic universe and if you claim there’s nothing good coming out, you’re just not looking hard enough.
“It [has] honestly like therapeutic to talk about this time… it’s good. It’s honestly like so good to mentally talk about this. Shit is crazy. Shit is crazy right now and I’m looking forward to when it’s not. So we can get that show back on the books and have a proper night on the town. We’ll have the first Michelada on me if you would like.”