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Bedouin are the bridge between deep tech and desert house

They've taken nomadic house to lands further afield than just Burning Man

  • Words: Johnny Lee | Photos: Jordi Cervera
  • 30 August 2018

Marina Botafoch. An hour before midnight. The sound of yacht halyards clanging in the Mediterranean breeze. Every second car that rips past is a Porsche or a Maserati. Welcome to Ibiza Town’s glitterati strip, home to Heart, a recently opened multi-purpose nightclub where Brooklyn-based DJ/production partnership Bedouin host a weekly party residency called Saga every Sunday night during the summer.

“I definitely feel like the island pulled us here to do this,” Rami Abousabe, 40, says with a smile when we meet him outside the venue. “We didn’t know how well we would take to Ibiza, but we really love it here.”

When Tamer Malki, 34, appears a few minutes later, we make our way up a winding staircase to a psychedelic roof terrace lined with AstroTurf and ask Rami how the duo first met.

“We were both DJing individually,” Rami explains. “Tamer was living in Boston at the time; I was living in New York. I think we were at BPM in Playa del Carmen, Mexico, when we first really started hanging out. It just kind of grew from there. We connected on so many levels – our upbringing, the music we listened to growing up and the music we discovered on our own before we met. There are so many things that make it work.”

Describing Bedouin’s first gig in Boston, Tamer equates the experience to climax of the first Back To The Future movie, where Michael J Fox jumps on stage to play rock ’n’ roll, much to the shock of an audience who have never seen or heard anything like it.

“In the long run, our heavy use of instrumentation and composition in general has definitely helped us stand out from the crowd, but at first people were a little surprised,” Tamer laughs. “Now, when we play in cities like Boston the crowd are there from the beginning, and it’s a totally different experience. As a DJ you always have to cater to the environment, but no matter what we play it has to have the musical integrity that we can stand behind.”

“I definitely think we’re learning how to play these different rooms a lot better now,” Rami adds. “A large part of understanding your role as a DJ is about going out to parties and getting on the dancefloor. We’ve spent millions of hours dancing in clubs. My time was spent in New York City. From Danny Tenaglia’s epic Friday night sets at Vinyl, when he would play for fifteen or twenty hours, to Sasha and Digweed at Twilo – I was there every single week.”

Growing up in Jordan, where top-tier clubbing opportunities were less plentiful, Tamer had to travel to London to get his four-to-the-floor fix.

“I used to go to The End and its sister bar, AKA,” Tamer recalls. “That was when everything changed for me. At AKA they always had a DJ playing on a smaller soundsystem. Then when the headliner appeared they would turn
on the Funktion-One. I’d never heard anything like it. It just blew my mind. I was really fascinated by the whole culture; the fact that you could bring people together just by playing the music you love really inspired me. So that was the start. Then it was all about trying to figure out what I needed to do to become a DJ. After all, there was no instruction manual in those days and because I hadn’t been exposed to the scene in Jordan, life became a quest for understanding.”

In 2013, Bedouin performed for Robot Heart at Burning Man. Characterised by low BPMs, tribal drums and exotic lead-lines, their avant-garde take on deep techno music was the perfect fit for a festival renowned for its mystical disposition, and the sunrise set they dropped in Nevada that morning proved to be their breakout performance.

“Robot Heart all started with Lee Burridge and a bus loaded with speakers,” Rami explains. “By the time we got to play, it was one of the most celebrated stages at the festival. We knew we were very lucky to get the chance to play there. At the same time our first EP, ‘Mirage’, was being supported by Pete Tong – but it still takes a little time for everyone to become exposed to what you’re doing. But even so, that set was definitely our first big exposure. It provided us with the momentum which has basically carried on to this day.”

Bedouin’s first airing in Ibiza came at a Flying Circus label showcase at Sankeys in 2014, where they played alongside Audiofly. After that, Tamer and Rami held a brief daytime residency at Beachouse, before regular appearances for WooMooN at Cova Santa reinforced their burgeoning reputation as a deep tech act capable of taking dancefloors on a timeless, emotional, almost spiritual journey.

“That winter Guy Laliberté who owns Heart approached us,” says Tamer. “Acid Pauli’s night was moving to Las Dalias and we were offered the opportunity to do our own Sunday night event. We knew Saga was a very strong concept and we felt like Heart was the perfect place to get it started. The timing felt right, and we knew we couldn’t pass on the opportunity.” At the time, Bedouin were still relative newcomers to the island, yet their first season residency at Heart was as well received as any in contemporary White Isle history.

Following Tamer and Rami downstairs to check out the vibe in Heart’s main room, Saga’s charm is obvious. The aesthetic is part souk, part seance. Behind us, high-resolution video images map the surface of the back wall, one projected vision after the next materialising, then fading away into a primordial blur. When the image stream finally relents, a hidden partition opens up to reveal a posse of masked dancers cloaked in bizarrely esoteric costumes. The whole production reflects the depth and esoteric eccentricity of Bedouin’s creative vision.

“I think we are very spiritual in certain ways,” Rami explains. “Personally I’ve always found it interesting to consider where we came from as a species and what else is out there. It’s difficult to guess exactly how we got here; in fact,
I more or less accept the fact that we don’t know! But I definitely think there is a much bigger picture that unfortunately we can’t see. Even if I think I’ve experienced whatever that is at certain times in my life, it’s really hard to put those kinds of experiences into words.”

Tamer agrees; moreover, he believes the electronic music scene as a whole is becoming more spiritual. “It started with the whole culture behind Burning Man: self reliance, being courteous and helpful to others, creating for the sake of creating, eating more healthily, creating less waste, recycling, taking care of the earth and being more cautious of what is happening politically. My experiences in Tulum, for instance, have definitely made me eat much better. But I also feel that a lot of people are using the so-called spiritual awakening as a business tool. All these festivals that say, ‘We’ve got a meditation tent and we’re doing yoga, too!’ Is it really necessary, or are you just jumping on the bandwagon? If you’re promoting that particular aesthetic it has to be genuine in all of its aspects and that starts with the organisers actually believing in those spiritual concepts themselves.”

“When we played in Costa Rica recently [at the Envision Festival], the whole festival was based on transformational, spiritual themes,” Rami says, “from the food they served, the drinks, the location, right down to the musical programming. But there are other parties that seem to be trying to plug those concepts into a standard dance music event in order to be perceived on the same level as other spiritually open festivals.”

By 3.30am Bedouin are taking control of the DJ booth. Underpinning the subtle intelligence of their music there’s an audible narrative that spans both continents and cultures. Zepherin Saint’s ‘Canima’ is a pure afro-house moment. Tamer’s own reworking of ‘City In Arms’ by Audioprophecy transports us to the Middle East. And then there’s Dixon’s remix of the Depeche Mode classic ‘Cover Me’, Dave Gahan’s new-wave hymn mounted aboard a lush Euro melody.

Rather than constantly building up to another in-your-face climax, Bedouin’s three-hour set is imbued with multiple plotlines, all of which slowly converge to reveal a message relevant to the listener.

“I like to think of our music as a time capsule for the future,” Rami explains post-set. “Four million years from now this music could potentially be something people listen to in order to connect with their past. Right now, as a race, we don’t have that kind of history. If such a thing were to happen then I hope this music will transcribe how we felt spiritually at this time.”

“A large part of being an artist is observing the world around you and pulling inspiration from it into your music,” Tamer adds. “Some of my favourite moments have been collecting ideas from the New York City subways. There are so many talented musicians there, and we often invite them back to the studio, which becomes the story of the record.”

In hindsight, what Bedouin have achieved since making their Burning Man debut back in 2013 is quite remarkable. More so than any other present-day DJ act, Rami and Tamer are aiding the expansion of the international dance music circuit into new and uncharted territories. In the Middle East and in particular in North Africa, where countries like Morocco and Tunisia are without a settled scene, newbie promoters are turning to Bedouin to stimulate grass-roots interest. While here in Europe and over in the US, Bedouin are now considered the bridge that links the deep tech scene to the desert house movement – the crossover point from one sub-genre to another. In addition to performing for transformational party brands such as WooMooN and DYSTOPIA here in Ibiza, Bedouin are also being booked by more traditional rave insignias like Circoloco and Paradise at DC10. And the fact that they are capable of headlining on either stage is something no other desert act, aside from Damian Lazarus, can lay claim to.

Indeed, having taken the nomad movement to the next level, Bedouin are now on the verge of transcending it. They are the first act to emerge from the dust of the Nevada desert to command equal billing alongside established deep tech big-hitters like Jamie Jones, Black Coffee and Solomun. Which is why, moving forward, it’s safe to assume that their continued evolution as artists is no longer tied to Burning Man and the ‘transformational’ scene. This pair of nomads have a lot further to go.

Bedouin presents Saga takes place every Sunday at Heart Ibiza until September 30

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