Interview with Jive Hive
This is an extended version of an interview recorded in January 2021 between Industry’s Toni Quadri and Jive Hive’s Phil Tomei and Christian Gateley for Episode 1 of Industry Magazine’s podcast (available on Spotify!)
Jive Hive, an Oxford-based arts collective and record label, have hosted events at Freud and the Bullingdon with artists such as Alex Rita, Afriquoi and Moving Still. Jive Hive’s first release Tafadal, a 4 track EP by Dublin-based producer and DJ Moving Still, is available for streaming now on all major platforms.
Toni: Can you tell us how Jive Hive started and how you came to work with Moving Still?
Phil: Three years ago, me and my friend Harold were at a festival called ‘Worldwide’ in Sètes in the south of France, which is run by a guy called Gilles Peterson who runs a series of labels and radio stations, he’s just very influential in the underground scene in London. We had some sort of, you know, second-hand contact with him and we were getting more involved with things and we knew that when we came to Oxford we wanted to bring to fruition all this sort of chat that had been floating around throughout that summer. And one day we went for a walk in the park, and we were very hungry and we just came up with the name Jive Hive.
Christian: It was Yom Kippur, it was the fast.
Phil: It was Yom Kippur! Yom Kippur is this sort of High Holy Day, Jewish High Holy Day, the day of the fast we were walking; you can’t use any mechanised form of transport at all. So, we were walking from one synagogue to another and across Hyde Park and on the Serpentine Bridge, we came up with the name Jive Hive. Anyways, after that we wanted to get more involved, we did an event at Freud, we really wanted to bring the underground Jazz scene in London which at the time was still sort of bubbling up, not quite the ‘British jazz renaissance’! The idea was to bring that to Oxford.
Christian: That’s where we met Yazmine Lacey, at Freud. I came in after that, for the first one with Moving Still and that’s where we met him.
Phil: Yeah, the second event we knew we wanted to do more of a party. So we talked to the Buller and they were very enthusiastic. Obviously, we wanted to keep this sort of, I don’t know, to bring artists who weren’t yet on the circuit. I mean Moving Still hadn’t done a gig in the UK at all before this and we were so interested in the fusion of Middle Eastern music. I mean I'm Brazilian and Harold has a Moroccan background and so we wanted to bring that energy to the electronic music scene.
Christian: Yeah and this was his first night as Moving Still. The first night he’d actually used the name and he killed it, it was a great night. Since then we’ve kept on with the relationship.
Phil: And he's gone on to do extremely well!
Toni: I'm sorry I just have to say, I love how you told that story, how you were super hungry and came up with the name Jive Hive on the Serpentine Bridge - what a story! Anyway, when you’re finding artists to work with, what do you look for? And what particularly drew you to working with Moving Still?
Christian: I think first of all what draws us into an artist has to be music, the quality of the music, is that music as a group, as a collective, as a label whatever, music you’re interested in? Because if it's not, it won’t be something you can sell, it’ll be a hard thing for you to go with — there’s definitely that. Also, the personality of the artist, Moving Still’s got such a great personality as well.
Phil: Yeah he has got a good working relationship, you know. When we met he was just such a lovely dude he was so cute and very approachable.
Christian: He’s joyful!
Phil: Also he’s got this wonderfully unique cultural perspective. He’s half Saudi, half Irish and he grew up in both countries. That was always a key part of the collective, and you can hear that, it's very clear in the music that this is not just a regular bedroom producer from Shoreditch making very clean and sterile beats. He’s got a kind of flavour to that.
Christian: For me it really comes through from his personality as well. With Jamal [Moving Still], there’s a joyfulness, a playfulness to him. That comes through in his music as well as his heritage.
Toni: Sure, I loved his mixtape ‘With Oud’, it was sick, like the Arabian violin, with the oontz oontz I just loved it, it was gorgeous! So how has it been working towards the release during the pandemic?
Christian: There are a lot of things to talk about here. There are different facets to this issue. One is, without going into specifics too much, in the production of the record any elements of that production can be delayed whatever it is, whether that’s the pressing, or cutting the lacquers or getting the mastering done — these are all things that during this time have been delayed. Another interesting one is, we're getting to the time where the record is coming out in a month's time, and promotion is sort of heating up. Promotion during COVID is vastly different from how it is in normal times, mainly because a large way of promoting a record is through DJs playing the music before that’s released. Yeah, that can still happen in radio shows and podcasts etc. but in the vast majority of the world, there are no parties at the moment. That’s something that’s not really happening. And so a DJ can’t go out and just play your music and that’s a promotional thing that is a surprise, it's just something that happens and then 1,000 people record it on their phones. Jamal’s had that previously, this is a guy who's had Palms Trax, Honey, Skateboard — these sorts of guys — play his edits on some of the biggest stages.: at the closing set of Dekmantel, like ridiculous stages with tonnes of people. And that is a promotional element that at the moment is tricky.
Phil: And also just release days, we’ve been playing around with release days so much, you know? Because you just never know when is the right moment, emotionally, when is it gonna make the most impact? The process of making the record was very much informed by lockdown. The overall theme is quintessentially Arabic hospitality, a welcoming. Jamal’s always talking about that.
Christian: Also something else, I think labels around Europe and around the world are just postponing their releases because no parties are happening, clubs are shut, bars are shut. This is coming out March the 12th, our hope is that the UK and Europe will start to open up: record shops, clubs, all the things that will be great promotionally for the record’s success, really. And hopefully, we can ride that wave but it really is such a fingers-crossed situation.
Phil: But the impact of radio has also increased significantly, people just listen to a lot more radio than they used to.
Christian: Yes, people are on their phones a lot.
Phil: But people are playing it, it's been played a couple of times in Europe which has been very exciting.
Christian: For Jive Hive, as a business itself, getting into the label business also through COVID has been something that, whilst doing nights hasn’t been possible, it has been something we can do and we're so excited to be doing that
Phil: Yeah, because we'd be swamped. I mean usually it's always like “when’s the next gig?”. I mean organising a gig is just a very stressful endeavour and we’ve always wanted to launch a record label and I don’t think we would’ve had the time had there not been a lockdown. We would have never gotten round to doing it because there’s always like an “okay, we’ve got to get ready for the next one” and as soon as that’s over you start preparing for the next one, there’s no break because you’ve gotta keep the momentum going and you know, in terms of cash flow. It's just a whole thing — you know, it’s like a shark, when it stops swimming it dies (laughs).
Christian: It’s a very different type of work to doing a night, it’s long, there’s an arc to it, it goes over the process of a year. Whereas a night is 30 days of calm and then on the actual night everyone's losing their minds, running about like a headless chicken because they’re freaking out. It’s been an interesting process for us as well, we’ve sort of learnt how to do this.
Toni: Is there a track on the record you’re particularly excited for listeners to hear?
Christian: I think definitely the first one, 'Batata Charmer' is going to be interesting for them to hear. ‘Batata Charmer’ — Batata means potato in Arabic. It essentially means the potato charmer so it's drawing on both sides of his heritage: Irish on his mum's side and Saudi Arabian on his dad's side — little playfulness of words there. It's a great track, it's a heater.
Toni: You’ve described the record as taking listeners ‘from the depths of Jeddah to the corners of Dublin’ - can you tell us about how Moving Still’s Irish and Saudi heritage have influenced the sounds on the record? And any other key influences present in the record, such as visual media or other musicians and artists?
Christian: Yeah, so Jamal, Moving Still, was raised in Jeddah and then when he was fifteen he moved over to Dublin. So his mum is Irish and his dad is Saudi Arabian. Growing up his mum would bring cassettes and tapes back from Dublin, sort of 90s dance Music, Prodigy, that sort of stuff. While the father was into more conservative Arabic music that was going on at the time.
Phil: Particularly a musical tradition called mizmar which is a sort of Saudi/African percussive music. I'd encourage yourself and listeners to check it out.
Christian: When you hear the sound, you’ll know exactly what it is.
Phil: You can see it in the percussion lines on the record, there’s a lot of additional percussion on the sides that is very mizmar-inspired. And then there’s all these late 90s synth lines that are clearly very Western and a lot of them are based on this movement called New Beats and on the other hand, the scale that the synths are played on are all traditional Arabic scales.
Christian: What’s interesting as well is that he had all this Arabic music from when he was living in Jeddah and then he came over to the UK and he told me that he suppressed it for a while. He listened to this music at home but this was not the music he listened to with his friends. Not because he didn’t think they’d like it but because he didn’t think they’d be into it, that that was their sort of stuff at 16,17,18. And then I think he had a reconnection with it after school, sort of 19, 20. And that all feeds back into his music. It's a beautiful marriage of all these influences and it comes through in the album a lot.
Phil: Yeah, you can see in the album art as well, it's by this wonderful artist called Dafydd who’s based in Bristol. It's very Arabic in terms of all these Arabic geometric patterns because you know in Islamic culture there’s no figurative art it's all geometric. And there are hidden Irish symbols, there’s a little three-leaf clover, the Irish national herb, you’ll see.
Christian: The interesting thing about the artwork is that it's in conversation with the music as well in the sense that we did the artwork and then from the artwork, Jamal came up with the name of the record, ‘Tafadal’, which means welcome in Arabic. So that was a nice little back and forth between the label and the producer creatively. That was interesting, I think.
Toni: What’s also really cool about Moving Still is that he doesn’t just mix geographies in his music but time as well. Like, we’ve got stuff from the 90s, and beforehand with his dad’s conservative music and right now. That is really cool to see, a real holistic mix.
Phil: Yeah, I mean the scales I was referring to are classical scales from religious music, like the 11th century. Think the period of Islamic culture on the Iberian peninsula. So it's really really ancient, I mean this is pre-Baroque in the Western timeline. Yet it's based on electro.
Christian: Even in a modern sense, this music is so expansive in terms of time and genre, we’re going from Arabic artists like Mohammed Abdu to Aphex Twin and Four Tet and other modern, ambient artists. The influences are so wide and during his childhood he was hugely into rock and that segued into electronic music in his later teens and hip hop. There a lot of influences from other genres of music as well.
Phil: It’s one of the great benefits of the availability of information that an artist like Moving Still can have. He’s able to have this confluence of inspiration in part due to the mass availability of him being able to listen to this kind of music and to receive a musical education that’s no longer constrained by Western classical paradigms or being contained by where he currently lives and what’s in the record shop next door to his house, which was previously the case for most of history.
Toni: Do you have any advice for students or young people wanting to get into the music industry?
Phil: You know, do it yourself. Nobody taught us how to launch a record label, we all got together, we got some beers and were like alright let's start a record label, then we were like “okay how do we do that?” And I was like “I don’t know!” But you’ve just gotta do it, and you’ll make mistakes and I’ll tell you one thing, we won’t name names or anything but at one point when we were doing quite well in our live events and there was someone offering us money for our name and our brand. And it was a big discussion but ultimately, we decided it was against our whole ethos to go for that. And there’ll be a lot of people who’ll try and take advantage of what you’re doing, especially if what you’re doing has some momentum. But yeah, do it yourself. Opportunities barely exist, the market is oversaturated, find something you really believe in — a niche that you think people around you want to listen to and do it yourself. Because no one's gonna give you anything really. It's harsh.
Christian: I also think, when you’re starting up, these sorts of things, whether it be running a night or a label, they can initially seem like quite a big leap, quite a big risk; you’ve always got far less to lose than you think you do. I think that sort of stands for anything. It's the single greatest, most fun, most intense, most lovely thing that I’ve done at uni, I've had so much fun and enjoyment doing it, I wouldn’t want it any other way, it's been great. The other little piece of advice I’d say is this whole thing is about strong relationships and building those strong relationships, whether it’s the guy who owns the club or the people who do the artwork, it's so key. It's all about that sort of thing.
Phil: and learn how to use Excel!
Christian: Yeah, Phil actually still doesn’t but...
Toni: What’s next for Jive Hive, any upcoming plans or projects you can share with us?
Christian: Dependent on what happens with the state of the pandemic and the next few months but fingers-crossed, we're really hoping at the end, in the summer we can do a couple events, you know really summery stuff.
Phil: Launch the record outdoors!
Christian: It'd be amazing, and this is our last year here, so it’d be great to do something like that.
Phil: I think in the grand scheme of things we're definitely going to be looking into releasing other records. Moving away from records that are wholly dance floor focused, I think we’re interested in moving towards jazz — can’t say any names — also perhaps a bit more RnB. What holds the collective together is not necessarily a genre but just an attitude so it doesn’t really matter. One of our past events pre-lockdown was a cabaret and it was largely inspired by the Dadaist cabarets that were going on during World War One in Zurich. There was a lot of performance art and drag and I'm very interested in exploring that dimension, you know, theatricality and really creating cultural events that are not necessarily limited by being purely musical. So those are the two directions we're sort of going in.
Toni: That is so exciting, I look forward to seeing what Jive Hive has to offer the world, thanks guys!
Phil and Christian: No worries, it was great, thank you!
You can find Jive Hive on Instagram @jivehiverecords and Moving Still @moving0still; Moving Still’s new record Tafadal is available for streaming now on all major platforms.