Name: Fatima Hajji
Occupation: DJ, producer
Recommendations: A book I read lately that made me think about many things was Sapiens - Yuval Noah Harari.
If you enjoyed this interview with Fatima Hajji, visit her personal website. Or check out her profiles on Facebook, Instagram, Soundcloud and Twitter.
When did you start DJing - and what or who were your early passions and influences? What was it about music and/or sound that drew you to it?
I was influenced by a lot of different styles. My father used to listen Arabic songs, from traditional Moroccan music to Algerian Raï and even Indian songs from Bollywood movies. He was always playing music. I also listened to radio quite often, already at an early age.
One day my brothers started bringing home tapes with sets recorded at the parties celebrated in our area. Those that I was too young to attend at that time ... but I was instantly seduced by the the hard groove sounds that were predominant on those techno sets.
Music makes me feel better; it is my whole life, my passion. Music needs to be felt and once you feel it inside of you, you need to take it out to share it with others. I had that feeling from very early on and I just sought for the best way of sharing it with the world.
For most artists, originality is preceded by a phase of learning and, often, emulating others. What was this like for you: How would you describe your own development as an artist and the transition towards your own voice?
My phase of learning never ends.
I mixed tapes with radio songs at 12. At 16 I sought and found a place to learn how to mix vinyl. At 18 I moved from my small city (Salamanca) to Madrid with the target of learning musical production and till today I am learning every day; this is one of the magic things of being involved with music daily: You'll never stop learning. My path with all (many) good things and some (few) not so good things made me who I am today as an artist and also as a person.
I always tried to have my own sound, and doing my thing was always more important than imitating anyone. I respect many colleagues for what they do or did. But I never want to reflect what they did with what I do.
How do you feel your sense of identity influences your creativity?
I think it influences it a lot. I like to mix a huge variety of sounds, everything that I like without any prejudices. I like some of these sounds because they remind me of good moments in my life.
What were your main creative challenges when starting out as a DJ and how have they changed over time?
The first one was being able to mix properly. Then, improving my skills by learning new ways of mixing and introducing effects while playing and practising at home. Also, trying to get the maximum out of the gear I had.
What's so motivating for me is that you can instantly apply and test all the stuff you've learned every weekend while playing in front of the people. This means I can check their reaction, which mostly is so cool.
Next stage was musical production. That path was much harder as I had to move from my city to Madrid and the first years were hard. It had to combine different jobs outside of music to survive, since Madrid is a more expensive city to live. Also, taking lessons after a long day of work made me really tired at times due to a lack of sleep. But when I think about it now, I enjoyed every minute of it.
The thing is that producing music developed slowest in terms of getting the results I was looking for. In fact, even after many years I couldn´t say that I was totally happy with my work – there is so much knowledge to gain, and finding your ideal sound looks like a chimera ... but, ultimately, the more you work on it, the more satisfied you'll be. Well, at least almost satisfied in my case (laughs).
As creative goals and technical abilities change, so does the need for different tools of expression, be it instruments, software tools or recording equipment. Can you describe this path for you, starting from your first studio/first instrument? What motivated some of the choices you made in terms of instruments/tools/equipment over the years?
Frist I would focus on playing with vinyl and I really loved it; then, gradually, finding vinyl records for my style became really difficult. So I opted for CDJs and I got used to them, too. But I was always mixing manually as that was what I really enjoyed doing. I added some effects, then along came USB, which allowed me to carry more music. Lately, I've incorporated the RMX-1000. Once I did, I found that I was able to play with many more options and have more fun.
When it comes to production, I started with Cubase, then moved on to Logic and finally arrived at Ableton. To experiment and learn their different modalities was so enriching. Now I'm very happy with Ableton as the audio engine is better and it is a very intuitive tool.
Have there been technologies or instruments which have profoundly changed or even questioned the way you perform?
Yes the transition from vinyl to digital was a drastic change; the feeling of vinyl is quite different. But once you get used to it, there are more options to work with and a huge range of sounds. But vinyl has something inimitable and very special. It was a pity that it slowly became more difficult to find enough records. What's more, it became increasingly harder to play in many clubs. The equalization would be wrong and too many vibrations made it very difficult to play if the place was not properly laid out for it.
DJing is a unique discipline at the border between presenting great music and creating something new with it, between composition and improvisation. How would you describe your approach to it? What do you start with, how do you develop a set, how does a form gradually manifest itself, what are good transitions between different tracks etc …
The idea is to mix tracks with concordance between them and prevent notes from lying on top of one another. As an example, if I have a track with a rhythmic bass I will mix it with another one without a similar rhythmic bass or with a synth with specific sounds, so the notes don't interfere with each other and they can all bloom and come to the fore.
To start a set, I choose a track with a good intro (usually one of my own productions, as I can choose the intro that really fits how I want to start.)
How would you describe the relationship between your choices and goals as a DJ and the expectations, desires and feedback of the audience? Is there a sense of collaboration between you and the dancers?
Totally, I always play only music that I love and which also feels right to drop at a specific time. But above all, the target is to make the people dance and feel happy, so there is a combination that I think is very organic and natural. Sometimes I like a track but when I tested it on a dancefloor, the result was not what I though it would be. If that is the case, even if I really enjoy that piece, I probably won't play it again on my next gigs ...
In a song or classical composition, the building blocks are notes, but in a DJ set the building blocks are entire songs and their combinatory potential. Can you tell me a bit about how your work as a DJ has influenced your view of music, your way of listening and perhaps also, if applicable, your work as a producer?
Of course. When I'm listening to music (any style) I can not avoid focusing on the mix, the sounds and what I will change about them or how I will use this to mix it.
When mixing, the tracks are the pieces but they can be divided into many fragments, loops, effects, or even simple notes in some specific moments. So I think the base is quite similar but the tools are even more so. The possibilities are huge.
Take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work, please. Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Sure, in a sense, I like to be too (much) organized ... In the mornings I take care of my personal stuff, mails, checking social networks messages, and I do a bit of fitness every day.
After lunch I get into the studio. At the end of the day I love to have a big walk with my dogs (sometimes even the cats come) in the forest place I'm lucky to live. The timing can be different, depending on the season of the year and the sunlight or if I am focused on a project or it's a near deadline. Some days I just spend the whole day in the studio.
Can you talk about a breakthrough DJ set or performance in your career?
In fact there were several. I can remember clearly my first time at Florida 135, an epic club. That night, it was totally packed and of course I tried to do my best and it was magic. Also my firsts Monegros Festival in Spain - it was a point that made a huge difference, because it marked the moment that I started to play in bigger clubs. And of course I have to mention here my first time at Awakenings Festival, an impressive party that is a must for for any techno lover. After I attended it, I started to play more in other European countries. Then Tomorrowland came and the rest of the continent would open itself up for me step by step.
More recently, one of my top memories over the last 2 years was playing in New York on a boat while watching the Manhattan skyline, crossing the famous bridges and taking a stop near the iconic statue of liberty. But these are a few special moments among many others, all of which I'm very grateful for.
Music and sounds can heal, but they can also hurt. Do you personally have experiences with either or both of these? Where do you personally see the biggest need and potential for music as a tool for healing?
I'm sure it can heal. Sea sounds are great for your ears. Especially after a night of listening to high volume music, you can feel how your ears get relaxed while listening to the sea.
I also listen to some healing frequencies like Tibetan bowls and I read that the 528 GHz frequency is also is good for healing. But what I can say for sure is that when you're listening to music your mental state changes according to the music you're listening to. If it's energetic, melancholic or happy, your brain reproduces those feelings inside of you.
There is a fine line between cultural exchange and appropriation. What are your thoughts on the limits of copying, using cultural signs and symbols and the cultural/social/gender specificity of art?
It's a kind of of philosophical debate that I think I haven't thought about enough. In electronic music, it is quite common to remix non electronic epic tracks. But the idea is (almost in my case) to make it clear that this is just a totally different track - the original can't be copied.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
I think that we all have our artistic side. Some people just explore it more, others less. We express what we are reflecting in a specific moment. I mean the energy we get from the ambience and the things we focus on, are those that we speak about. If you have a certain amount of people following you on social networks, it would seem normal that as an artists you want to contribute to a better world.
In my case, my target is to make music to make people happy. This, I think, is what's most important, and it's also what makes me happy. My energy feeds off the people's energy, if they are having fun while I'm playing (you can see it on their faces) I gain more energy and happiness to keep doing my best. It's like a circuit where music really connects us on a party - and it can also provide you with more energy in life.
What can music express about life and death which words alone may not?
Music expresses life itself, as music can be made not just by humans, but also by birds or even forests. Music also has an impact on those living beings who listen to it - even plants.