Liverpool legend and Circus head honcho Yousef tells us how he made it to the top and shares some very sound advice.
Hi Yousef, thanks for joining us. Your home city of Liverpool has not only been your launching point into international notoriety but it has also remained the heart of your brand ‘Circus’. Can you tell us a little about how you got started in Liverpool? What was it like back in the day? What were the hotspots? Who did you hang around with? Who are you still in touch with?
When I got hooked on DJ’ing the electronic music scene in Liverpool was in the midst of the Acid House era, or coming to the end of it at least. I first got amongst it all at a weekly Friday night party called “bonkers” in a dive bar on the dock road. It was my first taste of the acid house ethos “what’s ya name, where ya from, what ya had” uplifting anthems served up by local DJs in a pub, it was magical, the total opposite of pick up clubs, music and love, not fights and pints. I loved it and I was about 15. Later Cream arrived, the antithesis of candy rave, cool music, international DJs, a new vibe, dressed up, not down, uplifting, but tastefully done. People may forget Cream stood for underground house music in its early years, and that’s where my tastes where forged. DJs like Frankie Knuckles (RIP), Todd Terry, Roger S, Derrick Carter, now my friends, still my hero’s all crafted the sound of early cream. Along with super residents Paul Bleasdale and even Phat Phil Cooper, who is now one of my closest friends. It was an amazing time for the city, Cream arriving totally regenerated and entire part of Liverpool, both culturally and physically, and without doubt guided me to what I do today.
You won Muzik Magazine’s Bedroom Bedlam DJ competition (RIP) back in the day along with James Zabiela. Both of you have gone on to have massive careers. Can you tell us what doors that competition opened for you and why it was so important at the time?
It was (and probably still is) the only really validated DJ competition, it was taken seriously as was Muzik Mag. The readers, the editors, the contributors were all real music lovers which gave the competition real credibility and the mixes where chosen by leading artists, with each mix receiving a meticulous listen, mine by Lottie and Basement Jaxx, which at the time was big news for me. Given social media didn’t exist getting my name in hugely popular magazine really helped me. At the time I deep into my clubbing and getting hammered phase, coupled with a penchant for the silly and having a good music knowledge too, Muzik Magazine gave me a monthly column along with Carl Cox, which really elevated my profile too, James took the column over from me eventually.
How was Circus born and when did it start to start to take off? Was it a hard slog when you first started?
Circus was born in 2002, out of the ashes of my departure from my residency at cream. I had to move on from cream due to a differing opinion in music policy. In the end cream shut, and circus begun. It was hard to get the DJs on side yes, (and sometimes can still be) cream and bugged out! Had all the profile DJs on lock down in Liverpool, so I had to chip away and bring in my friends to play at first, it does help when my friends where the likes of Darren Emerson and Lottie… Given my DJ touring and my residency at Radio One I was however reasonably well connected in the dance music industry, so was able to gather interest, after only 12 months we were flying and won UK club of the year from the BBC. It still remains a slog though, its never easy to get first class line ups month after month for 12 years, and all just for fun, just for a great place to play in Liverpool. I take a weekend off a month to do it, I genuinely love it.
Circus Liverpool seems to be pulling out all the stops and hosting some heavy-duty line-ups. In fact they’re some of the best you’ll see anywhere. Is there a reason why you’re spending so much on the DJ bill? Are you trying to give something back to the local clubbing community? Or does it take a lot to get people excited and make them go out these days?
We have always had really heavy line ups really, since the first couple of parties, its always been at least around 3 headliners /guests with me and the residents. I just think the house sound we have always pushed is just a lot more popular now. The ethos is to make each event as interesting and unmissable as possible. When we begun the options for many similar style house nights didn’t exist in Liverpool, I wanted somewhere to play in the city, where its all about the music, somewhere were people can feel safe and have a laugh too. Circus has always been about offering up a great line up and a safe fun party for like-minded music lovers to enjoy themselves. 12 years deep, we just keep going, other nights come and go, but I have to say the Liverpool clubbing scene has never been better or more buoyant.
We heard you’re launching Circus NYC soon!! You must be very excited about that? Tell us more about it? What inspired you to turn Circus in to a global clubbing brand?
Yes, we begin at Verboten in New York in October. I’ve wanted to set Circus NYC up for some time but until now couldn’t seem to find the right venue that had the same ethos and care for the vibe and its customers/clubbers, but now I have the place, its an incredible space. I’m not exactly sure I’m turning Circus into a global brand, its an authentic club night, an authentic record label too, and I’m an authentic DJ, but its certainly grown further with our residencies in New York and London and full events in Amsterdam, Serbia, Barcelona and more.
Your label, Circus Recordings is regarded by many as one of the finest imprints around. Do you have a label manager? What kind of stuff are you looking for? Who is responsible for selecting the tracks?
Thank you, there are so many great labels to admire and to aspire to reach the level of so I’m working hard to turn what was small digital only label for me to release my own music into what is now a proper functioning record label that aims to releases digitally and physically with a consistent level of quality and never more than one release a month. I really take as much time as I can to nurture each release, and worry about labels at our level or release each week. I have label manager yes, he manages the back end, getting the music manufactured and on to Beatport etc, but I do all A&R, arrange artwork, remixes, artist development and mentoring and I make artist payments too. I can see the growth in Circus Recordings and it’s exciting but like my DJing, producing, running circus, I’m teaching myself as I go along!
Can you tell us about what you’re got coming up/what you’re excited about?
Personally for me, endless touring, a release on Objectivity for Dennis Ferrer and my new EP on Circus Recordings “by the way you dance” that comes with a Patrick Topping remix of my track “for the terraces” which is really about to kick off. Also coming on Circus Recordings is the next release from one of my new but key label artists “Kydus”. His track “free spirit” is kind of underground Latin techno, but I guess hooky, I’m certain its going to be one of the stand out cuts from Ibiza this summer
Would you let us know about some of the artists you’re really digging right now?
People like Acid Mondays, David Glass, Kydus, Todd Terje, Sabb, Andre Butano, Davide Squillace, everything they do is excellent.
Is the industry doing enough to promote and develop new talent? Remix and DJ competitions are ten a penny these days. You’ve already told us about how Bedroom Bedlam changed your life. The global clubbing scene is now estimated to be worth over E6.5bn. When you look at the line-ups of big clubs and festivals around the world; the same names are playing everywhere. Should we be giving up and coming guys the chance to play to play alongside their heroes at big festivals? I don’t mean giving them a slot in a new talent tent either, I mean on the same stage as you or guys like Adam Beyer. Is it time the big brands started giving something back?
I agree it’s important to develop new talent. I personally have set up a mentorship where I’m guiding new artists like Kydus and David Glass and supporting them on the label and with gigs. I say guiding because the difference between being a bedroom or bar DJ and nailing a main stage in a club or festival is vast. In my opinion taking the slow road and earning your craft and becoming a “proper” seasoned DJ is vital. Putting a new name on a main stage is gamble, for one; can they hold 10000 people playing new music? I think a new talent tent is a great way to develop the skills required. Turning up at a main stage at Tomorrowlands for example and being ready for any eventuality is a responsibility. As a DJ you need to be ready to go techno, or keep it deep in the blink of eye, and understand the difference between a club system and festival system, and all the hic ups that come with a festival throws at the DJ. 9/10 times there is always a technical hic up at a festival… Imagine, a new “talented” DJ rocking up to a major festival, for the first time, with 10000 people wanting new music, but they also want to have it, then the CDJ players wont work, or the monitors flip out, or it rains, or the DJ before you is being a pain in the ass over running, or you have 90 seconds to get ready, or you have travelled for twenty hours to get there with no sleep directly from Ibiza, these are all normal punctuations of festivals, I really advise newer DJs to get a feel for things so they are prepared for the main stages, it’s a skill in itself, then when they get to main stage they rock it!
What initiatives does Circus have in place to help new talent and can you tell us about a few of the artists you have helped?
As you mentioned, I’ve had DJ comps and remix comps over the years, I’ve had a local talent playing in room 3 since day one too. I really try to keep any eye on the people that come the club who want to cross over to DJs/label/promoting or just getting involved in the industry. I have a pretty open forum with a lot of the guys and listen to their mixes and demos all the time, and offer free advice literally daily. I have discovered some great names on the dance floors of circus and through people who come the club, like David glass, Kydus or “the angel”. The angel (Laura – who had been coming to circus for some years) sent me a vocal demo she recorded on her iPhone and I heard magic in it so I reworked, and developed it and turned it into “yousef & the angel” float away, which was signed to warner brothers for a global release. The angel is also one of the few names on my like to call “mentorship” with tom Flynn and the aforementioned,
Are there any words of advice you can give to DJs, producers and promoters that are looking to make it in this business? What are the must do’s?
Do: do it for love not money, and be honest and respectful to people, and don’t be afraid to develop your own ideas. Commit to being a lifer, it’s the only way. We all need to live so before going full time, aim to get a job that allows you the time to learn how to produce or DJ or promoter or run a label, if that’s what you want to do, then you MUST do the hours. And don’t be afraid to be skint, it takes a long time to earn a living doing something you love. Be the best you can be.
Don’t: ignore the above, don’t be an asshole to people and assume you are the first person to do anything, its all been done before, but you can do it your way, that’s the beauty.