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Hasan Ghazi [Interview]

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Hasan Ghazi is a talented producer and DJ based in Toronto. The founder of Reckoning Records, Hasan has been making waves in the electronic music scene with his unique blend of techno and house. His recent productions have climbed the Beatport Top 100 Charts and have received support from some of the biggest names in the industry. This week sees Hasan return to his Reckoning imprint with a two-track showcase entitled 'Singularity'.

Progressive Astronaut caught up with Hasan to learn more about the release of ‘Singularity’, his studio process, future plans, and more. Enjoy.

Hi Hasan, thanks for joining us. What is your current mood and what was the last piece of music you listened to?

Hi guys thanks for having me. At the moment, I am feeling positive about the year ahead. The latest musical piece that I had the pleasure of listening to was a fantastic underground rendition of Insomnia by CRBRVS.

How’s your year start to the year been so far? And what are your plans for the coming week?

The beginning of this year has been fantastic so far, as I have already released a solid collaboration track with Madness Factory, along with a personal passion project that pays homage to a childhood video game. I am excited to share that I have an amazing remix coming out on Sound of Meow for the UK-based producer Katoff. Additionally, I am thrilled to announce the release of my new EP 'Singularity' on my own imprint Reckoning Records, which is bound to make a statement. Looking ahead, I have more incredible releases and collaborations in the works that will continue to bring positive vibes to dance floors around the world.

Do you consider yourself a DJ or producer first? And which do you enjoy more and why?

Years ago, I began my musical journey by creating beats on Fruity Loops, which is why I primarily identify as a producer. My introduction to DJing happened much later, when a friend introduced me to Traktor and invited me to play at a small house party. I consider music production to be an integral part of my personality, and I feel a sense of emptiness when I don't work on something new for a week; prompting me to return to the studio as soon as possible. Nonetheless, nothing can compare to the sensation of DJing at a packed venue that is reacting to your every gesture.

What are some of your best memories from first going to clubs? Were there specific nights or sets that really made you feel you wanted to pursue electronic music?

There used to be a legendary club in Toronto called the Guvernment. My introduction to the world of electronic music was witnessing Armin perform one of his epic ASOT sets there, which sparked my infatuation with every aspect of this genre. Likewise, my fondest memories are spending many nights there attending legendary parties until the break of dawn with one of my closest friends and now label manager, SiDD.

You’ve spent time living between China, Pakistan and Canada, tell us about each of these places and how they affected your career path into music.

During my time in high school in Toronto, I was introduced to the world of MIDI music when it was in its infancy. With my love for music (having learned piano from my dad) and my passion for computers, it was a perfect match. After taking a semester of MIDI music in school, I set up a small studio in my room with a MIDI keyboard and a PC with Cubase. Later, I discovered Fruity Loops and used it for several years before switching to Ableton. Canada provided me with the tools and exposure to the world of electronic music, laying the groundwork for my music career path.

My trips to Pakistan left a lasting impression on me. During my gap year after high school, I visited cultural places where people would dress in big outfits and spin round and round to the beat of the drums for hours. The power of drums to create such energy mesmerized me, combined with traditional instruments like the sitar, creating deep and moving melodies. Over the years, I visited Pakistan frequently, witnessing the house music scene grow from non-existent to a nice underground vibe. I learned how to DJ during one of these trips, throwing house parties with friends.

It wasn't until my time in China in 2014 that I delved into the world of professional DJing. By then, my production skills had improved, and I was feeling confident in my sound. I introduced myself to the local underground scene and after a small demo, I started receiving frequent invites to play at the coolest venues in Shanghai and Beijing.

How would you compare the nightlife between the three countries?

In my opinion, Toronto had the best nightlife from the early 2000s to 2010s, mainly due to the popularity of Guvernment, a super club that could accommodate up to 3000 people every weekend, and its thriving afterhours scene, which made it a mecca for electronic music. Additionally, Toronto was a hub for big trance sounds, and it was during this period that the now-famous Deadmau5 got his start. Pakistan's nightlife was different, with large house parties and secret farm gatherings being the norm. Although these events were exclusive and fun to attend, they were often disorganized, particularly in the early days. However, the scene has evolved significantly in recent years, hosting some incredible large-scale events. In contrast, China's nightlife had a fantastic afterhours scene, particularly in Shanghai and Beijing, with Mansion in Shanghai and The Lantern in Beijing being the two standout clubs. The music was primarily minimal and techno. Between 2014 and 2020, China was an excellent destination for partygoers due to its diverse mix of foreign visitors, particularly from Germany, France, Australia, and the UK.

What have been some of your favourite venues to perform or attend events at in China, Pakistan and Canada?

I have had the pleasure of performing at some exceptional venues, including the iconic club 'The Mansion' in Shanghai, 'The Lantern' in Beijing, and the breathtaking 'Great Wall of China' at the Yin Yang Music Festival. In Pakistan, our party destinations were beach huts, and we had incredible parties that lasted until sunrise, where the combination of good music, good vibes, and the water beneath our feet made for an unforgettable experience. Although Toronto, Canada, is home to numerous fantastic venues, my current favorite spot is the outdoor pool club, Cabana.

When you were first getting started in production did you have someone help you or are you completely self-taught? And what would you recommend new producers do to help with the learning curve of production?

Growing up in a family of musicians, I received my initial musical education from my father, who taught me how to play the piano. However, my first exposure to music production came during my high school years when I enrolled in a midi music production course. The course covered the fundamentals of music production using an OG version of Cubase. I soon switched to Fruity Loops due to its user-friendliness and eventually upgraded to Ableton. My learning process has been primarily through experimentation and trial and error since the internet was almost non-existent when I started producing music.

My advise to new producers is to just make music because you enjoy it. If you start making music and think you will be able to sound like the pro’s in a week or a month you are going to be disappointed and give up. However, if you simply have fun with the software you will enjoy using it as a fun tool and will eventually end up mastering it.

You have a new EP ‘Singularity’ out this week on your Reckoning imprint. Tell us about the release and how the tracks showcase your sound.

The idea behind this release had been lingering in my thoughts for some time. Being deeply intrigued by computers and the latest developments in AI, I began envisioning situations where humans would ultimately integrate with AI and transform into a novel form of existence. This two-track EP thus explores the concept of singularity, which is a hypothetical future event in which artificial intelligence surpasses human intelligence, through a unique blend of futuristic soundscapes and emotive melodies.

The first track, “Transcendence,” delves into the merger of AI and humanity, featuring a prominent heartbeat in the breakdown to emphasize the organic nature of this union. The second track, “Unity,” paints a hopeful picture of a future where humans and AI coexist in harmony, using nostalgically retro synths to create a sense of unity.

Singularity is an exploration of the potential future of humanity and technology, I wanted to create a sound that reflects both the excitement and the uncertainty that surrounds this idea, and I hope that listeners will find something to connect with in these tracks.

What does your set-up like? Do you favor physical gear over digital? And what studio tools featured heavily in the writing of the ‘Singularity’ EP?

Despite being on a tight budget for years, I managed to perfect my music production skills on a laptop with a pair of high-quality Sennheiser headphones, resulting in a minimalistic studio setup. Nowadays, my hardware includes a DELL Precision 5540 workstation, Pioneer Studio Monitors, and an Akai MPK mini, with everything else being digital or "in the box." My preferred DAW is Ableton, supplemented with VSTs such as Serum and Ozone. Serum is my go-to plugin for sound design, utilized in 90 percent of my synths and is my favorite plugin overall. I have recently started using Nicky Romero's Kickstarter, which streamlines the production process by creating a groove instantly, without having to set up a side-chain channel. The production of Singularity involved extensive automation and layering, and thus, mastery of Ableton's automation functions played a critical role in achieving the desired sound.

Looking closer at the A-side ‘Transcendence’, walk us through the production process on the track, and if applicable was there anything in particular which inspired the track?

Transcendence began with a straightforward bass and kick groove. When producing dance tracks, I always focus on perfecting the low-end first because it gives the music its power. Next, I experimented with the lead synth, creating an electric guitar-like sound. The track really took off after the main drop when I opened up and automated the decay and sustain controls on the lead synth to create a really cool and unexpected effect. I was also inspired by a friend of mine from Shanghai, now known as Final Request, who had just released a track called Fallen Soldiers on Solomun’s label. I loved the way he used vocals, and I wanted to incorporate a similar style. I searched for interesting vocals on loopcloud and eventually found some that worked well with the track. Finally, I wrote a complementary melody to go with the vocals, resulting in the creation of Transcendence.

Do you have certain rituals to get you into the right mindset for creating? What role do certain foods or stimulants like coffee, lighting, scents or exercise play in the process?

Typically, I find that working in a quiet environment free from distractions is most effective for me. This allows me to establish a productive flow and get into a creative mindset. I've noticed that approaching my work with a positive and carefree mindset also helps me tap into my creativity effortlessly. If my day is particularly busy, I may take a few moments to meditate and clear my head before embarking on a new project. However, once I start working and the project begins to take shape, I become completely engrossed in my creative zone and remain focused on the music until the project is completed. This approach typically enables me to complete tracks within a week, at the most.

Once a piece is finished, how important is it for you to let it lie and evaluate it later on? How much improvement and refinement do you personally allow until you’re satisfied with a piece? What does this process look like in practice? And who is someone you share your new music with first for feedback?

After completing a track, I take a break for a few days before returning to it with a fresh perspective. At this stage, I assess whether the track is fit for release or requires further adjustments. When I'm content with a track, I typically send it to my label manager, SiDD, who has played a crucial role in my growth as an artist. If SiDD approves the track, I consider it ready for release and determine whether to distribute it to other labels or publish it on my imprint, Reckoning Records.

What is the task you enjoy the most when producing and what would you prefer someone else to do?

My passion for music production lies in the sound design aspect of the process, where I experiment with various sounds and create unique ones. Crafting new melodies is also a natural process for me and one that I find enjoyable. During the arrangement stage, I have fun creatively shaping the track, particularly during the breakdown stage; I find these to be the parts that can really tap into the emotion of the audience. In contrast, I find sourcing the appropriate samples and fine-tuning everything to the correct key (including drum samples) to be the most tedious and time-consuming task. Additionally, EQ'ing and setting the proper sound levels for each sound can also be quite tedious.

What would be a musical extravagance for your studio you would pay for, if you were very wealthy?

I am actually quite content with my music studio setup, but I wouldn't mind having more space to record live vocals and instruments. This extra room would be a valuable asset, as it would enable me to explore new creative avenues and engage in collaborative projects with other artists… of course having an ultra-music lair like Deadmau5 does wouldn’t hurt as well…lol.

Now let’s talk about DJing for a moment, it’s a unique discipline at the border between presenting great music and creating something new with it, between composition and improvisation to an extent. How would you describe your approach to it?

As a music producer, I have always approached DJing with a different perspective. I find it dull to merely press play and let a track run its course. Therefore, early in my DJing career, I became proficient at using four decks simultaneously. This approach provides me with ample creative freedom, such as blending the bassline from one track, high hats from another, vocals from a third, and incorporating the lead or unconventional FX sounds from the fourth channel. I also enjoy manipulating FX in the Traktor software as it adds more creativity to my sets and delivers a unique experience for the audience every time. Occasionally, for my special sets, I'll craft custom edits featuring my own intros.

Can you tell me a bit about how your work as a DJ has influenced your view of music, your way of listening to tracks and perhaps also, your work as a producer?

During my time as a DJ in China, I was lucky enough to secure prime time slots at afterhours clubs. Typically, my sets would start around 2 or 3 am and conclude at either 6 am or when the venue closed (and occasionally extended till sunrise). This was the ideal time to gauge the audience's receptiveness, and I utilized the opportunity to experiment with various sounds, beats, and melodies. With the knowledge and insights gained from these experiences, I developed my current melodic techno sound, featuring my signature build-up and breakdowns. The club atmosphere helped me master the pacing of my tracks and the arrangement of their elements, such as when to introduce new sounds and how to maintain tension throughout a song.

If you could set up an event with a line-up of five artists of your choice, who would you book and what set times would you ascribe to the artists?

My ideal line-up of five artists would consist of the following DJs:

  1. Miss Monique set time 10:00 – 12:00
  2. Space Motion set time 12:00 - 1:30
  3. Anyma set time 1:30 – 3:00
  4. Final Request set time 3:00 - 4:30
  5. Victor Ruiz 4:30 - Close

What’s a book you’ve read or film you watched that has left an impact on you, and why?

Among the various films I have watched, 'The Pursuit of Happiness' has made a lasting impact on me. This movie serves as a touching reminder that regardless of the challenges and obstacles life throws at you, one must persevere and push through. As a new father, this film particularly resonates with me, as I can empathize with Will Smith's character and his relentless pursuit to become a better man for his son. Ofcourse, a special mention must be made to ‘It’s all gone Pete Tong’; a cult classic amongst DJs and Producers worldwide though.

What’s a superpower you wish you had and how would you use it?

I’ve always wanted to be able to fly like Superman. If I had this power, I would use it to travel all over the world and attend every single party… obviously.

If you could travel anywhere for one day, all laws and limitations void, where would it be?

I’ve yet to go party in Ibiza and it’s been on the top of my list for a while. So it’s safe to say if I could travel anywhere it be to this legendary Island to soak up the good vibes and great music.

Apart from music, what makes you happiest?

Apart from music I love spending time with my son, being a father and a friend to him is a true blessing. Children really do bring a lot of joy and he is definitely a source of great happiness for me.

What does the remainder of 2023 hold for you? Anything you can share with us?

Although it seems like the year has just begun, I already have exciting plans in motion for this summer. We're organizing fantastic parties to feature not only my music but also the talented artists who have honored me by selecting Reckoning Records as their platform to express their music. Additionally, I'm creating some amazing tracks, which I prefer to keep secret for now, but I can assure you that this year is going to be epic.

'Singularity' is available now via Reckoning Records: https://bit.ly/3kWr4ni

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