INTERVIEW: TARIK OMAR ON REDISCOVERING THE JOY OF SHARING MUSIC
The Dubai-based DJ has left his mark on the city's music scene in a short amount of time, constantly gigging (pre-COVID) yet placing both his feet firmly on the ground. Now he's finally found his beat.
SWITCHED: Hey man. It was your birthday recently, hope you had a good one. What it been like for you these past few months? TARIK OMAR: Honestly, it’s been really weird and at times a little scary. It was a massive shock to the system to go from having a thriving music career to having all your paying gigs collapse overnight. Nobody had any answers on how long it’s going to take, what we can do to get back on track, or how to adapt. It'll mess you up if you let it. The effects of it sneak up on you too, it initially impacted my ability to write music pretty heavily.
SW: I know it’s been quite tough for everyone - especially in the music scene - to deal with the current situation. From a personal perspective, what changed?
TO: Everything changed. We couldn't approach music the same way we did before and it applies to almost every aspect of the process. Most people in the industry make the major proportion of our income through gigging. In the days of streaming, making money directly from music sales solely just isn’t an option unless you're a megastar.
So, a global pandemic hits and all of a sudden, we can’t gig anymore, what happens now? For me, the first reaction was to get back to streaming, I had planned to start a new season of LIVE FROM during the summer, but covid just moved the timetable up. During lockdown it started off as a way to blow off steam and find a healthy way to let go of a lot of the anxious energy my housemates and I had. But the second week we did it, it turned into something new, it became this fun, silly way to reconnect with people through music, it was kinda like a weekly hangout with music.
SW: Well, you’ve been busy with your streaming shows - seeing how streaming kicked off big time during the pandemic - but you’ve been at it for while before that. Do you feel this is just another trend that will eventually fade, or is genuinely the new normal?
TO: It’s totally a trend that’s already fading. Once lockdwon ended, streaming viewership plummeted everywhere. I think streaming was really treated as a really cheap replacement of something we couldn't have, rather than an interesting new medium. Overall, I don’t think DJing is conducive to streaming, at least not in its traditional or dancefloor-oriented form. With Streaming, we've got a unique way to connect with our audience in real time, I thought it was really fun to connect with them directly, so I slowed things down, focused less on technical mixing and used that extra attention to focus on the chat and throw in more interaction and banter.
"I think streaming was really treated as a really cheap replacement of something we couldn't have, rather than an interesting new medium."
SW: Your show “Live From Living Room” showcased some great talents - how did that come about? And what do you want to do with it next?
TO: Honestly, it started out as an act of consistency. Every week I was going to DJ for a full hour and share it with others, regardless of anyone watching or not, the goal was just do something every week and keep doing it. I thought it would be fun to invite others to join me. After the first few sessions, it kind of became a great outlet for everyone I invited on. We were freed from the constraints of the club or bar space that focuses so heavily on creating a vibe, the only vibe we needed to cater to was our own. Everyone started to come out and do things differently, house DJ's playing hip hop, techno DJ's dabbling in liquid drum and bass. We were having fun with it.
SW: Since your move to Dubai, you’ve really immersed yourself in the music and art scene. Did you feel more “at home” in that city?
TO: I don’t know if at home is the right word. I feel like Dubai has been a great space for me to push my capabilities. It was easy to be complacent and stop innovating in Bahrain. Dancefloors there also don’t seem to really enjoy any sounds that challenge them in any way, whereas taking music risks on the dancefloor here is rewarded. Definitely easier to find my zone here.
SW: Much has been said about the “scene” in Dubai, but what do you make of it after a few years there and how have you seen it change/evolve? TO: The Dubai scene is weird. It’s got a whole slew of unique challenges behind it. Our population is really transient, every 3 years it’s almost a brand-new city. How do you communicate to that, how do you build a following? It’s not easy and the answers to those questions are in a constant state of flux, it really keeps you on your toes. That being said, there are a TON of people here doing truly world class stuff. Musical mad scientists, wizard DJ's and a ton of incredible live performers. Honestly there are a lot of other places out there that like to throw shade that have far more undeveloped scenes.
SW: You performed at a bunch of pretty cool gigs - from Mutek Dubai to Groove on the Grass - any crazy stories to tell?
TO: Oh man, I don't know about behind the scenes shenanigans, mostly some really fond memories. Running the Digilab for MUTEK alongside A Guy Called Gerald for 5 days straight was a pleasure. Opening for Bonobo was another bucket list item. Performing a 100% live electronic set at a night exclusively for live sets with such heavy hitters as Aurora Halal, Kuniyuki Takahashi, and A Guy Called Gerald was another bucket list item. I was one of only two local guys on the whole festival program, it was really special.
SW: You were pretty active during your time in Bahrain as well. Being involved in creating a sense of down-to-earth community, bringing together not just musicians, but artists and other creatives. How important is that for you? TO: Unbelievably important! My time on the island was magical. I got to do some incredible things with people that I came to love like family. you can’t describe how special that it, words aren't enough. It's something I'd love to dip into again one day.
SW: What’s the one moment that you went through that had a fundamental impact you, both personally and musically?
TO: There's never one moment. It’s a series of them. For me, it was the entirety of 2016. That year solidly put me on the path that lead me where I am today. 2015 was the year I told myself that I was going to move away from creating events to go into music full time. 2016 was the year I chose not to look back. I smashed through one goal after the other, had a few failures, but kept pushing. It was a great year.
SW: Have you been producing any new music? Are you working on anything? What would be your next passion project? TO: Lockdown messed me up creatively. I had about two straight months where I couldn't get into anything when it came to production. I'd sit down and try a bit of sound design and just fall flat. I’d look at old project files and feel lost. So I put my energy into something I could do. I refurbished my studio. Fixed the acoustics, rewired everything in a new way, made my space homier with new lighting, created new work spaces within the studio.
My aim to make my creative space perfect for when I would be ready to create again. Inspiration finally hit a few months down the line and burst like a dam. I'm in the studio daily finishing off projects and starting new ones. I've got the beginnings of an album forming and I’m pretty excited about it. I've got a pretty sweet community project coming up that I cant really say too much about right now, and plans for a really special live show too.