Having a degree in anthropology doesn’t necessarily make you a world music star, but in the case of Jef Stott, it seems to have helped. Stott, who helped found the bands Stellamara and Lumin, has spent 10 years in global music, including work as a producer for MC Rai, who provides vocals on two of the tracks on Stott’s debut full-length CD, “Saracen.” Stott put his academic expertise on the Middle East and his skills as a superb mix master to mesmerizing use on the 10 tracks on “Saracen.” There isn’t a bad cut on the disc, but the title song stands out for its richly layered mix of haunting vocals, crisp percussion and moaning bass line. There’s an infectious sense of freedom to Stott’s music, arising from the potent mix of native traditions from many parts of the world with contemporary electronic instrumentation.
After studying, playing, producing, and traveling the musical globe for more than ten years, Jef Stott has finally put together his first full-length solo release, and it’s long overdue. The Californian draws heavily from voices, instruments, and styles of North Africa and the Middle East, enthusiastically fusing them with electronic beats and textures. In doing so, Stott merges East and West as if they belong together, not apart — dancing on the floor, not standing in a museum. The bump and grind of “Faqir” shimmies delightfully to close with an ancient Sufi amulet rhythm, winding through interludes of mystery and mysticism on the way. Along with all-out club energy, like the four-to-the-floor propulsion of the next track, there are moments of spacious trance, peppery drum’n’bass, and various other harder-to-tag hybrids. It’s extremely mixed up, yet entirely coherent: part trance, part dance, part jam, all groove.
Jef Stott’s current address may be in California (LA/San Francisco), but his music is a global endeavor. Pulling from the instruments and sonic styles of the Middle East and North Africa, among other locales, Stott records and DJs with an international population in mind. He says there’s no excuse to keep American blinders on when creating music. From our politics to our arts and ideas, we live in a global marketplace and Stott’s output reflects that openness.
If you want to take in world music with a modern bent, check out Stott’s night, Soniq, at Madrone next Saturday, Nov. 29. But first Stott explains his thoughtful philosophy on absorbing new tracks, experimenting with the oud, and tuning into radio stations from across the continents. (Just please don’t ask the dude to spin Shakira).
Club night(s): Soniq @ Madrone (last Saturdays of the month)
Style(s) of music you spin: Globally-inspired beats and breaks, psy dub, minimal, ambient, roots
What’s a memorable piece of advice/education you received from a musician in another country? Once, when I was studying oud with Hamza el Din, he came around behind me and gently pushed my shoulders down and gestured to relax my body as I played. I have really learned to chill and let things play out. I try to follow this in my productions and my sets, let things roll a while, let the dancers fill in the blanks with their bodies. Don’t overproduce a track.
What artists have really impacted the way you DJ or create music? Well, all the fusion-istas out there — Gaudi, Cheb I Sabbah, Zeb, Makyo, DK (Goonda), Janaka, Kush Arora, David Starfire etc… We are all friends and we inform each others process quite a bit.
How would you describe your approach to DJing? Stylistically, I, like most, try to read the crowd and provide energy for them to react to, but there is also a social or anthropological aspect to being a globally-oriented artist. I seek to bring out the best, most cosmopolitan elements of a diverse range of musics from around the world, and spin it into a mix that is both familiar and captivating while being urbane and sophisticated. Sometimes it actually works.
What’s the concept behind your upcoming night at Madrone? The night is called SONIQ and it is a high energy mash up of beats and breaks from around the world. We drop all sorts of Balkan mash ups, Electro Arabic, Afro funk, Indian Breaks etc… I like to think it reflects the world we are living in now and not another retro 80’s nite. The music is forward thinking, with very high production values, but the vibe is funky and fun.
I think that we are all growing more and more familiar with what is happening in other parts of the world through travel, the Web, arts, politics, whatever, and this night reflects that perspective, in a positive way.
Also, I like to feature guest artists who are working in the genre as producers and give them a chance to drop some dub plates and share their knowledge. Last month we had Yossi Fine and this month we have Dub Gabriel, both of whom are sort of huge in their own way.
What’s the best way to stay current on interesting music cultures in other countries? Great question! Well, the best way is to travel and have primary experiences with these cultures and hear all the music pouring out of the taxi cabs, tuk tuks, and buses everywhere. That is where the flavor is.
Barring that, I would say, check in with online communities that are focused on this music. Tribe.net (long may it live) has very active world electronica forums. There are several online radio stations that feature really fresh tracks- Six Degrees Traveler, Radio Nova and Mondo Mix out of France are good sources.
Also it is good to check out other Six Degrees artists every once in a while.
National Geographic actually has a great site for music-Calabash.
And of course you can come out and hear the DJ side of things at nights like ours.
Name of a track you can’t get out of your head: “Yu” by Ishq (it is more in my body than in my head)
Favorite DJ experience: It is hard to choose just one! So far I would say my set at this year’s Shambhala Festival, playing with Nickodemus, Cheb, and Adham Shaikh was pretty great. Also our night in Tokyo last year w/ Makyo and DrumSpyder was awesome; and the psy-chill set I did on the beach at the half moon party in Thailand this summer was pretty fine.
Worst request: Shakira (lol)
Most treasured instrument score: My latest oud, that I got in Istanbul after playing dozens and dozens of them all over the city, and also the crazy circuit bent Casio SK 1 sampler that I got recently.
Best thing that’s come out of becoming a DJ or live musician: Well, it saved my life, actually. The impact that music has had on my life is huge. It is really who I am 24/7 now. It adds color and texture to everything.
The oud has really changed my whole perspective on things. It has helped me develop into a hopefully more interesting person and vastly broadened my perspective on the world and rooted me deeply in one of the oldest traditions on the planet.
Music, as we know, is one of the best ways to connect with people from around the world, and it has done that and more for me.
Now I have a thriving community around the globe of folks I work with and play for. It is awesome.
Musical mantra: Stay true to yourself and don’t give up. Keep your eyes on the prize.
Other music-related projects you’re currently hard at work on: Just finished a new track for Dakini Records in Japan, working with Gaudi on a new track. Released a couple of classical Arabic remixes for Caravan records in L.A. Just finished producing and mixing a traditional Mid East project from Eliyahu Sills that is just gorgeous.
And I am in grad school right now for a Masters in Multi Media. We are working with sensors and brian waves to control MIDI and interactive video. Crazy stuff.
Question we didn’t ask you but you often ask yourself: Where’s the money?
Next time we can see you spin: SONIQ @ Madrone Lounge on Saturday, Nov. 29 w/ Dub Gabriel.
Since founding Lumin and Stellamara, Jef Stott developed a jones for Middle Eastern sounds; then went on to degree in anthropology and pen ethnographies of Morocco and Turkey. After working with music pros in those locales, as well as in Algeria, Egypt, Iran, and Tunisia, Stott added the influence of his S.F. tribal scene presence and live performance vibes to create Saracen, his first full-length release. Instead of taking a dance/dub base and plugging in Middle Eastern traditions here and there, he reverses the mix, producing contemporary Middle Eastern music. While Stott adeptly plays a host of native instruments and is a master knob-twiddler, he surrounds himself with indigenous musicians and vocalists and the results could blare out of Cairo marketplace speakers with nary an eyebrow raise.