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Ali B

English DJ and producer Ali B started out at London’s The Blue Note club before moving onto a ten-year residency at Fabric. Initially known for his breakbeat sound, Ali B is now known for his legendary five hour sets which take in everything from blues and funk to rock, soul, dub, disco and more. 100% chats with the lad about his favourite private parties he’s played at, Air Recordings, the business side of the music industry and what’s in store for 2013 ahead of his appearance at Sound Lounge’s Nuit Blanche.

Ali B is always in demand at high profile events. “I get asked to play at a lot of parties like that and they can often be a lot fun,” he says down the line from Vancouver where he’s preparing to throw one of his famous Oh Shit! parties with Vinyl Ritchie. “When I played at Mick Hucknall’s 50th, I was told not to play Simply Red records and when I played at Gary Barlow’s wedding anniversary your boy Jason Donovan amongst others, got up and performed too. I was once asked to DJ on the set of Friends when they were over filming in London several years ago and this year during the Olympics I did a ton of good parties including one which was on board a super yacht called Caledonian Sky hosted by an Australian sports agency.”

 

This is pretty much the norm for Ali B who has mixed records for Fabric, Godskitchen and more, and who has handled PR for the likes of Norman Jay and Pete Tong. Having initially started out playing at London’s The Blue Note club, Ali B went onto to a ten-year residency at Fabric before kicking off his own Air parties. “In terms of helping to lay the foundations of today’s electronic music scene, The Blue Note was a hugely influential venue,” he says. “In the mid-‘90s, it suddenly became acceptable for DJs to throw down whatever they wanted, regardless of genre, which hadn’t really been happening up until then. This melting pot of styles was something that the club actively promoted through their diverse programming, which read like a who’s who of dance music at the time. Some of the scenes biggest players found their feet there, such as Ninja Tune, Goldie and The Metalheadz, Wall Of Sound, Talvin Singh and James Lavelle’s Mo Wax.

 

“It was also where I started my Air night during the period when me and a bunch of like-minded folks coined the term ‘Nuskool Breaks’. I was only 18-years-old when I started playing there and so I’ll always have fond memories of that place as it had such an influence on me. The Blue Note’s musical integrity was also one of the major influences on Fabric, which I think is partly why I was asked to be one of their resident DJs. I’ve had so many amazing nights down at Fabric; it’s hard to know where to begin. Being in control of a sound system like that on the regular was quite a privilege, more so when you consider how the club’s reputation as the spiritual home of cutting edge electronic music spread worldwide.”

 

Aside from hosting Air and playing at The Blue Note and Fabric, Ali B went on to work for Gilles Peterson’s Acid Jazz label before handling PR for legendary British DJ Norman Jay and UK DJ and BBC Radio 1 host Pete Tong. But, unlike some DJs and producers who discover the business side of the music industry and bail out, Ali B managed to balance the creativity of being an artist with business – and actually enjoyed it.

 

“Being a music publicist was a fantastic job, largely because it was based around going out and meeting a bunch of like-minded people and hyping up all the musicians and artists that you’re into, not to mention all the ridiculous stories I used to make up,” he says, chuckling. “That period was an exciting time in the UK, comparable to what’s been happening in North America over the last couple of years where electronic music has dominated the landscape of popular culture. Balancing business with creativity can be a challenge but I’ve always enjoyed both sides and have been fortunate to have been able to weave my way between the two. If I spend too much time in front of numbers and not making music I get cranky but then the same is also true the other way around.”

 

Aside from all of this, Ali B has just released his Oh Shit! (Commonwealth) mix and is currently working on a bunch of tracks and remixes due for release shortly. His label Air Recordings also continues to thrive. “We just released DJ Love’s debut album Waiting For A Revolution... the album has a great hip hop feel to it and features vocalists such as Geechi Suede from Camp Lo and Special Ed. We also just put out a new single from Mr No Hands which is doing pretty well right now.”

 

But, for now, Ali B is pumped about heading Down Under to play Melbourne’s Sound Lounge night Nuit Blanchea series dedicated to offering a cross-genre musical experience in a relaxed environment. “I’ll be taking things all over the map, playing both up-front and vintage cuts, trying my hardest to make sure everyone’s having a fun time,” he says. “I’m less about standing on stage seeking adulation and more about lurking in the shadows – but not in a creepy way – trying to build a good vibe in the room.”

 

BY ANNABEL MACLEAN

Ali B [UK] plays alongside Son of Kick [UK]  and more at Sound Lounge in the Hamer Hall Foyer on Saturday February 23.