Head Nodders – The Montreal dance scene duo pushing right for the top!

The duo have been Stereo residents for a while now but 2019 is soon to be the year they are just as famous for their studio expertise too…

When did you first meet and what brought you together? Did you make music immediately?

Danielle actually just reached out to Ali back in 2008 after loving the music at the bar where he was playing. We quickly became friends, jammed some, and played a few gigs together. We discovered we had a similar outlook on music and the way it should be presented. Not long after, Ali proposed joining forces into Head Nodders, initially with the intent of DJ’ing only. Production came years down the road.

Can you describe each other to us in a few words? Why does your partnership work?

Ali is OCD and Danielle is ADD haha! This has created a great balance that has stood the test of time. We’ve both come to the point of accepting who the other person really is in this relationship and we both feel like the other brings tremendous value to the partnership. It’s worked out great so far. I think another secret to our partnership is proximity. We’re neighbours and we made that happen early on. We have both committed ourselves to this family lifestyle for the purpose of making this project work. And probably because we enjoy being close friends a little bit haha! With the studio being in the same building we live in, the convenience is just a big perk.

How was 2018 for you? What was good and bad?

Lots of milestones achieved in 2018! Big year for the both of us. We bought some real estate together with plans to build a new recording studio. Our residency at Stereo Montreal is on its second year and going strong. We love playing there because it gives us the ability to do what we love as DJs on a state of the art custom sound system, for a beautiful crowd that really knows what they’re here for. This has definitely been one of the “goodies” for 2018. We could have spent more time in our current studio producing. I guess that’s one of the “bads”. Buying your first home can be quite consuming to say the least. Unfortunately studio time took a hit as a result.

Tell us about your new record ‘Sass’ on L’enfant Terrible Records. What inspired or influenced it?

The Boy is Mine by Brandy & Monica haha! No for real. It really did. If you give Sass another listen, you may be able to pick up on this. We’re both 90’s kids and have a deep love for Hip Hop and R&B. Another source of inspiration is movie scores, which we’re kind of obsessed with. Listen to Pazass and watch Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar afterwards.

What state is the Canadian scene in right now? Is it thriving, fresh, innovative?

Canada is a big place, so we’ll speak for Montreal. It’s definitely on the world map as a hot spot for our scene. Stereo is sort of a beacon in North America, for DJs and clubbers, holding down the fort for 19 years and still relevant. They’ve been doing a fantastic job curating the big international artists in the main room, while the recently added, more intimate basement room, Stereobar (where we reside), has introduced a lot of fresh talent and treats for connoisseurs. It’s a pretty magical home for what we do. Montreal also created Igloofest, which is basically 10 thousand people in snowsuits dancing outdoors, smack in the peak of winter at -20 degrees Celsius. So that’s commitment! There’s MUTEK, which is like a futuristic yearly expo for audio nerds. Come summer, sunshine dancing is religion. There’s also a constant stream of new local collectives throwing pop up parties in random locations, where many people get their scene intros. There’s plenty to talk about, but the city has that “struggling artist” reputation where it’s high on culture and low on cash. So it’s tough for business. Personally, we’ve made it this far by keeping our day jobs. The industry runs on thin margins, so a lot of hot new things flame out fast, and a lot of homegrown talent leaves here for greener pastures. On the bright side, that part means our local sound has global influence.

What scene did you come up in? What parties and labels got you into dance music?

Montreal has had a few no-alcohol clubs with license to open past last call at 3am that really made an impact, including Stereo. We made a quick transition from the more mainstream club house and trance rave era, and locked in on progressive house and the deeper darker sound of the “after-hours”. Those are the dance floors we grew up on with our fellow delinquents. Although we’ve shifted quite a bit since, you can still hear those roots in our work because it is part of our upbringing. Early Deep Dish, Danny Howells, Danny Tenaglia, Digweed, are some of the first maestros we subconsciously learned from. Let’s also say Audiofly, Steve Lawler, Timo Maas, Roger Sanchez, Angello & Ingrosso, and Lee Burridge, while keeping in mind that 10 years ago they sounded pretty different than they do today. Honourable mention to DJ Mini’s Thursday night bookings at Parking!

Who does what in the studio? Do you each have your own skills that you bring? Is it an equally shared process?

We definitely each bring different skills to the studio. But the more time passes the more cross over starts to happen because we make it a point to learn from each other. Ali does more of the technical work and Danielle does more of the musical work. A typical project starts with Ali sampling and designing all the sounds from drums to strings. He’ll start things off with a simple drum loop and a pallet of instruments, setting the direction of a project. Danielle would then jam and riff on those and pass drafts back to Ali for some selection and a mixdown. Then she gets a broad arrangement going, and finally we both record, add, delete, nitpick, and argue until it’s all done haha!

And what about in the DJ booth, do you play back to back one each or half hour each or what?

Honestly after 10 years being in the booth together, it doesn’t much matter if he’s mixing or she’s mixing. I think we stopped counting how many tracks each one of us plays. Instead we focus on not getting tangled up in each other’s headphone cables and try to keep Dani’s head away from Ali’s elbows because our 6’4” / 5’1” combo can be hazardous like that. Truth is we don’t show up as separate DJs playing back to back. We both get our say throughout the process, from early veto power going through each other’s shopping crates to in-booth conferences, to 4 hands on the decks. Only our closest fans sort of pride themselves on differentiating us without looking.

What else have you got coming up/are you working on or excited about?

We are really excited about going back to SXM Music Festival on the island of Saint-Martin. We’ve been part of that festival’s lineup and family since its inception 3 years ago. It’s the first festival of its kind in the Caribbean. We encourage anyone reading this to check it out in March. Phase 1 line up was just announced and it looks awesome once again. We are also excited about moving into our new homes and building the new studio. We are advancing in discovering our sound from a production stand point. It’s so good to finally start knowing our way around a studio environment after years of being kinda timid and unsure. We are confident DJs and looking forward to making that feeling leak into production in 2019.

Do you have hopes and goals for 2019, do you set targets and things like that?

Oh, we’re all about goals. The challenge for 2019 is two finished tracks per month. With full time days jobs, the residency, some travel, moving homes (facepalm), and maybe we each get to see our wives a little bit, it could be optimistic but things have been picking up in the studio and we’re up for more output. It’s time to stop stockpiling drafts and get some finished tracks out there. Hopefully by the end of 2019, we will have a repertoire of new material to shop around or start our own label. Who knows!


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