Beyond all the hype, there's a reason the UK's Crosstown Rebels is currently the most lauded underground electronic dance music label in the world -- number one on Resident Advisor's prestigious poll. The label takes chances on artists of substance, with authentic voices and stories to tell -- timeless music destined to outlast the ephemeral dancefloor fillers.
Case in point: Iranian-Canadian producer Amirali Shahrestani. Last year he was a relative unknown, but his debut album In Time -- released on Crosstown this past spring -- has catapulted him to the forefront of the international scene. And his success is riding on the strength of the music itself: delicately-crafted modern house numbers imbued with a melancholic vocal soul all his own.
Crossfade caught up with the new star ahead of his debut headlining performance at the Electric Pickle on Friday to talk about his musical influences, the new album, and his live show.
Crossfade: How did you first get drawn to electronic dance music and when did you begin producing? Are you a classically trained musician?
Amirali: Well, I've been into music my whole life. I started taking piano lessons when I was about five, playing classical pieces, and gradually improved. In my early teens I was exposed to the raw electronic sounds of Depeche Mode, Portishead, Massive Attack, Chemical Brothers and Radiohead, and I was kind of captivated by their music. I was about sixteen when I moved to Toronto, and that's where I began to taste the excitement of nighttime clubbing culture and where my passion for making electornic music and DJing started.
Toronto has a budding electronic dance music scene -- home to hotly-tipped artists like Art Department, Azari & III and James Teej. Were you influenced musically at all by the time you spent living there?
Yes, of course. Toronto is where I grew up in my formative years, so it definitely had a great impact on me musically. I started going out clubbing in Toronto when I was really young and I was always excited to go and see the international acts that were coming to town. Toronto is where I first got into producing electronic music and it was quite amazing what I experienced in those early days.
Does your Iranian cultural background inform your style or sound in a way? Is there anything about Iranian music or culture that permeates your music?
I think my background has influenced my musical taste to some extent, but I can't really say that I've got Middle-Eastern roots in my musical style. I come from a musical family -- my dad is an architect, but he also plays the piano. As an avid music fan himself, he always had a wide variety of music in the house, from classical and jazz to blues and rock 'n' roll. As a kid, I grew up listening to his collection and was extremely influenced by it. So in essence, there are many different styles and genres of music that have influenced my taste.
So how has living and working in London impacted you as an artist? Do you find the abundance of electronic music artists and scenes there creatively stimulating?
When I first moved to London two years ago, I became very isolated and lived in my own little world. I wasn't socializing like I had before and it was a phase that was totally different than the life I had in Toronto. In return, this turned out to be a very positive thing for me and allowed me to focus more on my music and studies. My move to London really opened up my eyes and changed my perspective to a whole new level. Making my first album In Time touched so many aspects in my life -- the way I see and feel things now are so different than what it used to be.
I think Europe is the key spot for electronic dance music, but it's not the only place with top-notch talent. There are so many great class acts coming out from North America, and have already made huge waves in the scene. I think the first key to being creatively stimulated is your own mentality. If you really have a passion for making something different then you will push yourself towards that goal, with that kind of thinking it really doesn't matter whether you are in North America or Europe, as they both have their own pools of great talent.
Most newcomers to the international EDM scene tend to release a few singles and EPs before they move to the LP album format. Why did you decide to release a full-length artist album so early on? Was there a story that you wanted to tell through In Time?
I never really decided to release a full-length album until I sent Damian [Lazarus] two of my very first tracks that I produced in London. As soon as Damian heard those tracks, he told me to start working on an album on Crosstown Rebels which took me a year and a half to finish. And I'm very happy with the result.
So how did you approach the songwriting and creative process on the album?
My move to London felt like a new fresh start for me and I tried to use the same feeling in the approach to my album -- thinking outside the box, stepping out of my comfort zone and pushing myself towards a new direction musically. Making this album was a period of self-discovery in which I got to know myself on a deeper level. Each track has a different story to tell and is a reflection of my past. I'm letting the listener take a peek at my soul. The album making process was easy and smooth. There were no obstacles really -- I had enough time to complete it because we didn't have any set deadlines. I wanted to give it enough time, until I completely felt satisfied with it.
So how you did first hook up with Damian Lazarus and the Crosstown Rebels label?
When I first moved to London in 2010, I got introduced to my current management team through a very dear friend of mine. I had a couple of tracks completed and we started sending those tracks to very few labels that we had in mind. And, of course, Crosstown was one of the top priorities. That's basically how I met Damian. Coincidentally, he was also looking for something "more alternative" for his label when we met each other.
Besides the LP release, what have been some of the highlights for you this year? Any favorite moments as a globetrotting performer?
There have been so many great and magical moments since I started my tour earlier this year, but playing in Fabric Room 1 as a live act and Panorama Bar in Berlin really made my year special. I've also played in a few great festivals in the UK this summer, such as LoveBox in London and Love Saves The Day in Bristol, both of which were quite amazing. Although every gig I have played so far has had its own unique vibe and crowd and I have enjoyed every bit of it.
What does the future have in store for Amirali? Any new projects or releases in the horizon?
Well, I've got a couple of remixes in the pipeline which will be out on Bpitch Control and My Favorite Robot Records, and I'm very proud of them both. I've also got another single coming out on Crosstown Rebels later this year, and I've already been thinking about my next album which I am planning to gather a band for.
What can Miami expect during your performance at the Electric Pickle? What will your live M.O. be for this gig?
I'm super excited about this gig. Expect a journey full of emotions and great vibes. I want to provide deep, thrilling emotional experiences in the human mind. There's also going to be live keys and vocals.
Amirali. Friday, July 20. Electric Pickle, 2826 N. Miami Ave., Miami. Doors open at 10 p.m. Call 305-456-5613 or visit electricpicklemiami.com.