AISSA RECORDS is the Montreal boutique sub-label of SULEIMAN RECORDS. Established by DJ/producer Darem Aissa, the name of the imprint celebrates Syrian poet Suleiman Al-Aissa, one of the most prominent contemporary Arab poets. AISSA RECORDS’ intent is a fairly straight-forward one, and aims to promote quality, discerning underground music.
Taking influences from both house and techno, the sub-label’s first release came via Dubfound including a Lee Burton remix and the second pressing coming from Pauli which features a killer remix by Ion Ludwig. With no lack of subjects to tackle, we decided to pass some questions by Darem recently, touching on everything from his early motivations to the team behind the label, their work with DeWalta as well as their future plans…
How are you, what’s good, what’s bad right now? What’s happening for you outside of music at the moment?
Thanks for having me and I’m well, thanks for asking. Life has been very different amidst worldly circumstances but thankfully I’ve been utilizing my time efficiently and have been tending to matters that I’ve always set aside due to a lack of time, naps included.
A bit of an obvious Q, but what motivated you to start a label in the first place?
Media representation has been a focal point of conversation for decades and having grown up in the Occident/West as a minority due to being half Syrian, I am no exemption from the topic. I am what would be labeled as a non-visible minority, who would therefore blend in but am still left with a glass ceiling. As a minority, a heightened tendency to read and examine the world likely develops, and without having access to mainstream avenues to make a change, naturally art has become my vehicle of expression. With all the one-sided information that has come as a result of the past 20 years of turmoil, I grew up without seeing enough people like myself in the media and wanted to create a balance. Electronic music has always been a welcoming point for all walks of life; I found a home in it and the opportunity to have my voice heard.
I believe there’s a team of you guys involved — can you run through who does what at the label?
I am the sole operator of both my labels however, I outsource various aspects of the work to the same people, aka familiar faces and usual suspects. Tania Filipa, the founder of Mid Studio, has been our graphic designer and branding expert from the very onset. Her sophisticated eye, sharp taste, elegant vision, and incredible talent have been a privilege to work with. Every time Tania sets a standard, the next design completely exceeds the previous, and over the years she has also become a good friend!
I have also been working with Jean-Patrice ‘Pheek‘ Rémillard on mixing and mastering projects since 2014. The knowledge and experience behind Pheek’s extensive career permeate through his work and I would highly recommend him to everyone! It’s no surprise as a result, that Pheek has handled almost all sound engineering work in relation to both labels. The advantage of working with someone so knowledgeable has been Pheek’s ability to shed light on areas that have helped me shape my decisions across a variety of matters. Pheek’s execution of audio quality is one of the highest out there and I recommend anyone to sign up to his coaching classes!
How do you ultimately decide on what gets signed? And how do you source it?
I discover artists through the music I enjoy. I like to see an artist do what they do for some time before making a decision. I observe a lot of pigeonholing in our industry regarding genre and style but I find artists to be more diverse than some give them credit for. Trusting the eclectic range of where an artist takes their music when it comes from the heart will determine who I approach. It’s impossible to know exactly what an artist will make ahead of time and even less reasonable to ask it from them, so it’s important to trust where the artist wants to take their career with every release. Artists generally provide several track options to put towards the final package and selection of the EP, but not always, so you have to trust the process. Some artists don’t want to be reached and others have a contact e-mail that is either direct or handled by a manager and that’s how I reach out to them as well as getting in touch with old contacts!
Tell us about Suleiman – your main label. How does it differ from your sub-label’s operation?
SULEIMAN RECORDS is the digital main parent label, whereas AISSA RECORDS is the vinyl-only sublabel but they very much function on the same principles. The rise in popularity of vinyl is great but one does not replace the other and both are equally vital to the music itself.
Are you particular about sticking to one sound? What are you looking for in a track before you sign it?
Neither of the labels releases often, however, both are very selective [with music]. SULEIMAN has eight releases to date after five years of being in operation while AISSA has only put out two records in the last three years! Rather than sticking to a particular sound, the main thing I try to focus on is quality and underground integrity, regardless of style. There is a certain common denominator and standard that all artists we work with adhere to but they add their own unique touch, and in my opinion, that is what makes our releases so special.
Have you enjoyed the last year having extra time at home, to discover new things, learn things about yourself, pick up new hobbies, or have you just missed the club too much?
This year I have accomplished many of my goals outside the realm of music such as completing a university degree. On a personal level, I married the love of my life, just to mention a few!
Can you tell us a bit about working with DeWalta on ISA002? How did he end up coming on board?
It was an organic process that led to DeWalta’s involvement with Pauli’s ‘Solara’ EP. Pauli and I have worked together for many years including bringing him to play at Montreal’s Salon Daome a couple of times over the years. Since then, Pauli had started taking DeWalta’s classes and lessons prior to this record and that’s where the connection came from. Building on that relationship is what led me to the idea of having DeWalta mixing Pauli’s original tracks. Pauli is certainly a rising talent and delivered on this release. We carefully went through a selection of his latest tracks and each of them was dazzling in its own way! Once we made our decision on which three tracks would go on the record, having DeWalta on board added greatly! DeWalta’s audio engineering techniques are superior in sound and were a key asset to this release.
The mastering stage was then taken over by Pheek, like most things SULEIMAN & AISSA! Pheek is very diligent and attained the high standards which he is known for.
Did you learn much from working with DeWalta? And can you tell us a bit about the process?
Pauli would be the better person to answer this. DeWalta would mix and then debrief and dissect with Pauli one on one during their following session. DeWalta’s mentorship and professionalism were most definitely not an opportunity to be missed.
Your latest record featured Pauli and was remixed by none other than Ion Ludwig. Did you give Ion free reign to do as he wanted with the remix? Or did you try and steer him down a certain path?
While Ion Ludwig did ask for preferences at the beginning of the project, I naturally tried not to interfere and let him do what he thought was best. In due course, he came back with a stellar remix and a few different options that made it difficult to choose which one to include on the record!
Have you kept on buying new music this last year? Will you play lots when you start touring again or will you be digging out the classics for good time vibes or what?
There has been cool music released in the last year and I’ve been quick to grab my copies. However, my focus is on my labels with the occasional self-released podcast. I mainly play personal favourites that heavily consist of older music that mean something to me. The touring lifestyle is just not for me and I actually haven’t accepted a gig in years.
What else have you got coming up/are you working on?
I have no plans of putting out another record in the immediate future as my focus will be on SULEIMAN. There are a few releases lining up for next year, one of which is of my own productions!