Producer, DJ, label owner, events boss - Yousef is the epitome of a modern DJ. Touring relentlessly, dropping hot release after hot release as well as running his Circus empire, inlcuding throwing some of the biggest parties in the house and techno calendar, he is one of the strongest forces in electronic music today. This week he'll showcase his house sound to hometown through his House Nation night at this year's Liverpool International Music Festival. We caught up with him to hear what he's got in store for the event and catch up on all things Circus.
Hey Yousef, how’s it going? Good summer so far?
All great thanks. The summer is already pretty relentless, I’m in Berlin now after being in Ibiza yesterday and I’m off to Amsterdam shortly.
You’ve got a packed schedule as always, so whereabouts are you right now?
Berlin. I played Watergate last night, it was really great as usual. Just getting my wits about me now before heading to the airport again.
Let’s take it back for a second. What first sparked your love of electronic music?
I was introduced to the music by my older brother. He took me to very early raves and clubs, and passed me mix tapes and I was hooked, I was very young but I knew it was what I wanted to be involved in. I was around 15.
What impact did Cream have on you growing up?
It was profound. I’d been going to acid house raves but they become cheesy and dangerous and just not cool or cutting edge any longer. Cream opened as a fresh alternative to what had almost become mainstream when acid house hit the charts. The music they supported (in the very early years) was underground house and techno. People dressed up in the club, not down, DJs played music I’d never heard and the atmosphere was electric and inclusive. I went every week for 7 years until my DJing kicked off and the music at Cream was not to my taste any longer as it too went commercial.
You held key residencies early on in your career, how important is it that young DJs get to be residents?
It’s vital to become a proper DJ, and by that I don’t mean someone who can play “a set of tunes and rock a certain party’, I mean someone who can turn up and be ready for any eventuality and still rock the party. Gaining experience playing week in week out is invaluable, in fact essential, to becoming a seasoned pro.
You’re involved with this year’s LIMF, hosting a House Nation and Circus night – why did you want to be involved with the festival?
I worked alongside LIMF last year too and we held a Circus party (with Boiler Room) at Palm House the year before that. So this year’s party is actually a development of those parties and ideas. This year comes from a creative angle much more than just a (albeit amazing) rave up in a wonder location. This year is about connecting cities together, Liverpool connecting with Frankfurt, New York and Mexico City. All the artists involved are not only DJing but also contributing music, which I’ve collaborated with them on, to be released on my label Circus Recordings in the summer.
How did you go about selecting the line-up for the night?
For this event I asked my friends, based on them working with myself and LIMF on this project as it’s more than a gig. Dennis, Reboot, Hector and Lewis are all representing their cities so I needed people I could trust to deliver creatively, professionally and personally.
How do the crowds compare at a Liverpool Circus party and at a London Circus party?
At first I’d say nothing touches Liverpool but as time has passed I have to say Circus London feels like home now and it goes off just as much.
As Circus gets bigger and bigger, how do you balance running the show with producing and playing yourself?
I divide my day into sections, few hours on Circus, few hours on Circus Recordings, few hours in the studio and then more importantly time with my family and I tour at the weekend. It’s hardcore but I get some work done when I’m waiting in hotels and airports like now.
What’s been your all-time favourite Circus event?
That’s an impossible question. We have pulled off some almost inconceivable events. I would say being asked for host the live broadcast BBC 500th Essential Mix was special as they could of asked any club globally but they asked Circus. What people don’t know is with only three hours to go until broadcast none of the DJs were in the country as it was during the ash cloud that was causing all sorts of aviation problems… somehow we managed to get Richie Hawtin, Sasha, Pete Tong, myself and Aeroplane (ironically) all on the ground and in the club as planned with only an hour or so before opening. It was stressful but the night was literally electric and more so as it could of gone so wrong.
What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve had to deal with since Circus started?
See above!!! But other than that, just keeping fresh and interesting and not losing money, which is hard for all club promoters. It’s a challenge we have managed to navigate. We have stayed true to our original inclusive ethos and musical direction overall too, which again can be hard but we genuinely do it for the love of the party.
The Mihalis Safras remix of Marco Carola’s ‘Play It Loud!’ has had an amazing response – how did that come to be released on Circus Recordings?
Circus Recordings artist and Ibiza DJ Awards Breakthrough Artist Mihalis Safras sent me his version of Marco Carola's 'Play It Loud', which first appeared as the lead and title track to his 2008 album released on Richie Hawtin's Minus Records. After multiple plays by Carola and myself, I reached a swift agreement with Richie Hawtin to release the impressive 2016 version without delay. The dance floor reactions both Marco and myself have had from the Mihalis remix have been phenomenal. It's simply a banger and it’s the first time myself, Mihalis Safras, Marco Carola and Richie Hawtin have collaborated and contributed to a project together.
What other upcoming releases should we be looking out for?
All sorts, new music on Jamie Jones’ Hot Trax, Davide Squillace’s This & That, new 3 track EP on Circus Recordings with Hector, Reboot and Lewis Boardman, new remixes for Chaka Khan, The Glitz and David Glass. I’ve got 15 new tracks done too, a really wide range of house and techno where I like to be.
Episode #200 of your 21st Century House Music radio show got 4 million listeners worldwide, what’s the next step or next goal?
Who knows? I never really had a goal for my show, I was just doing a weekly show that reflects my touring, which has nicely snowballed. I’ll just keep going and aim for 10 million! I’m enjoying it and feel it’s part of my wider picture now.
Which one song changed your life?
Anything by Todd Terry pre-1997. I was unsure which music I truly loved, after hearing ‘A Night In The Life Of’ by Todd Terry I knew my heart was house music and it’s never changed. I do love more techno and even cinematic but always with the heartbeat of house.
What’s the worst trouble you’ve ever been in?
Not saying but it was a real crossroads in my life, which really could have taken me another way I really would never ever like to head down.
If you could fill a swimming pool with anything, what would you go for?
I would get 100 chimpanzees in tuxedos on and roller skates making jelly with kettles while they play big band instruments, obviously.
What are you most looking forward to for the rest of the year?
Sending time with my family.
LIMF takes place from 21st - 24th July. Yousef plays at the House Nation in association with CIRCUS night on 22nd July.