Now with free music downloads! When elsewhere met Diwon… (and good music was heard by all.)
Andrew Harris from Melbourne’s elsewhere promotions spoke to Brooklyn-based DJ Diwon about his two new records, Serene Poetic and The Sabra Sessions. Diwon is the dynamo behind Shemspeed (a very hip, diverse website dedicated to the propagation of hip, Jewish music), Modular Moods and the Sephardic Music Festival. (Whew.) He toured Australia with Y-Love in June 2009, courtesy of the kind folk at elsewhere and Limmud Oz. Anyway, herewith the lowdown:
After his stellar Australian debut with Y-Love earlier this year, Diwon’s been a busy, busy boy. Apart from his unenviable, gruelling tour schedule, and keeping up with Y-Love and his roster of Shemspeed artists, the DJ of diverse influences has been working on two very different projects – the cinematic Serene Poetic as Dreams in Static, with guitarist co-conspirator Dugans, and the super-cool Sabra Sessions, the sort of mixtape that plays in Diwon’s head.
ELSEWHERE: Serene Poetic is a major departure from your previous work – it’s more loungey, it’s relaxed and ethereal – but it still retains an essential Diwon sort of a beat: what have you and Dugans achieved with the record?
DIWON: The Diwon element is the consistency of layered drums and percussion, which finds its way through most of my work. The idea was to compose instrumental music that stands strong without sung melody lines, and release that as its own cinematic instrumental masterpiece and get the music placed in movies and such, but all along we wanted to also record the songs, reconstructed or as is, depending on which song, with various singers that we love and have this great melodic song with music underneath that is more layered and complex than what would normally be played with a singer, but also have the music be catchy and not too experimental…
ELSEWHERE: Could you tell us a bit about Dugans, like where you know him from, what else he does apart from Dreams in Static?
DIWON: Dugans is an amazing guitarist who comes from Austin, Texas, where the rock scene is really big. He played there for ten years, mostly every night in different groups. He also had a band called ‘Raliss’, which he was making some noise with in the rock scene. Now he lives down the block from me in Crown Heights, New York. We have a production team called ‘Dreams in Static’, we also produced Shir HaShirim, mixing heartfelt Moroccan song with hypnotic hip-hop, rock, and Middle Eastern beats, and next up is a project called ‘Levi Mordechai’, which is reminiscent of early Israeli records such as Shalom Chanoch and is very live, but also has some beat elements to it.
ELSEWHERE: What pushed you in the direction of Dreams in Static?
DIWON: I had started making these really cinematic beats, playin’ keys and synths over beats I was putting together and thought it would be great to send to Dugans to lay some guitar, and cut that up as if it were sampled and just keep cutting it up and rearranging it so that it would be a mix of a live band, a hip-hop producer, but beyond the loop-driven hip-hop that’s played on the radio. Something that big music enthusiasts could really listen to on repeat and find new elements with each listen…
ELSEWHERE: How did you arrive at the duo name and the album name?
DIWON: ‘Dreams in Static’ just came to me. It sounded cool and seemed the perfect name for such a project. The album name, ‘Serene Poetic’ came from back in college when I was really into poetry and spoken word, I was going to put together my work and call it ‘Serene Poetic Cacophony’ I remember telling [poet, hip-hop artist and actor] Saul Williams about it and he seemed stoked on the name – fast forward a slew of years and I just cut off the cacophonous part, even the music, at times, probably warrants the adjective.
ELSEWHERE: Most people might not know, but you do a lot of your own artwork – what’s the story behind the two latest covers in your catalogue?
DIWON: I direct everything for my label [Shemspeed] and I do seventy-five percent of the designing. The Dreams cover was something I always had in my head, and then, once, stumbled on this French artist who was creating work similar to what I had in mind. Just very surreal situations, scenes that look real and could be possible, but at the same time visually don’t make sense. I collaborated on the cover with a designer who does work for the ultra-ortho[dox] labels in Brooklyn. He is great at extraction, something I am really bad at. Anyway, we finally got all the elements and he layered ’em in as per what I saw in my head. It was pretty fun. The Sabra Sessions is basically a play on designs I have been messing with for a while. Sort of the collage, cut and paste; retro, but new-school, fresh style; I wanted it to look like it could be a record cover from the 60s or from right now. I put the cover in a Polaroid-simulator-type thing to get the edges to look like that, and bam!
ELSEWHERE: What other side projects are you working on?
DIWON: my Others album which is a bunch of my different style songs with singers from around the world as well as this Diwon Riddim, record which is where singers in all languages get down to one of my Riddims, making club music in French, Jamaican English, Hebrew, German, Russian, English and so on. On the side of that, I am producing for a bunch of the Shemspeed artists, including Y-Love and DeScribe.
ELSEWHERE: Can we look forward to more Yemenite action from Diwon?
DIWON: The Yemeniteness will always be in some of my music. I still haven’t found a Yemenite singer or rapper to fit what I am going for, but I will always sneak Arabic and Yemenite styles into my hip hop beats.
ELSEWHERE: Are you and Dugans going to tour Serene Poetic?
DIWON: I doubt it. I want to be home in case Tarantino calls us to score his next film! We are workin’ on the vocal version next and a kids’ album as well, with [singer-songwriter] Jill Sobule.
ELSEWHERE: The Sabra Sessions is a little closer to what most listeners would know you for – it sounds like a funky Tel Aviv rooftop party – how did you end up putting it together?
DIWON: It’s sort of music that I have been enjoying, but the mix is how it’s always been played in my head, remixed, chopped, sped up. Sort of the style of Baltimore and Miami club music, which I haven’t found in Israel, so I tried my best to mix it up in a way that the Hebrew songs fit the style and tempo. I threw in some throwback tunes like ‘Funky Town’ because no-one ever DJs that in a hi- hop set for some reason, but it’s the most amazing track!
ELSEWHERE: What’s the next big thing in Jewish music – what’s turning you on right now?
DIWON: Middle Eastern Hip Hop in English, like Benyamin Brody (who features on Shir HaShirim) and Ephryme.
ELSEWHERE: Any parting words?
DIWON: It was such a blessing touring with you all in Melbourne, looking forward to the next thing!
This interview was first published here.
Andrew Harris is a freelance scribbler and snapper and is one third of the three-headed beast that is elsewhere promotions, who brought Diwon and multilingual rapper Y-Love to Melbourne’s East Brunswick Club in June.