Circus will celebrate its tenth anniversary on September 29th at The Masque.
Circus has become a UK institution over the past decade, thanks largely to the efforts of Yousef, the Liverpool native who's promoted and DJed the party since its first edition in 2002. Over the years the monthly series has bought dozens of international DJs and live acts to Liverpool, from American heavyweights like DJ Sneak and Doc Martin to European favorites like Loco Dice and Ricardo Villalobos. For the tenth anniversary party, Yousef is joined by UK icon Sasha, plus Seth Troxler, Maceo Plex and Davide Squillace. Circus regulars Lewis Boardman and Scott Lewis round off the bill.
Chatting via email earlier this week, Yousef gave us his perspective on the past ten years of Circus, plus a few words about his recently announced album, A Product Of Your Environment:
What was your life like before Circus, living in Liverpool and being into music?
In 2002 when Circus begun it was an addition to my DJing, producing, remixing and shows on Radio 1. I'd recently won "Best New DJ" in the Muzik Magazine awards and was resident for Ministry of Sound, Renaissance and most notably Cream, brought in as an as an antidote to their big room sound. I used to play six hours in the legendary Annexe, inviting some of the world’s best authentic house DJs to play along side me, bringing people like Hfoundation to the UK for the first time for example. I'd released music as 10000BC with Paul Woolford on labels like Junior Boys Own but was still a fairly fledgling producer. Even then I was relentlessly touring the globe as a DJ and having a good time, albeit young, single and pretty crazy. I lived in Liverpool up until about five years ago, so the Liverpool club scene for me was always pretty exciting. When I first got hooked on electronic music when I was 15, we had illegal all night raves all over the northwest, midweek parties where the likes of Top Buzz and Carl Cox would play for £4 in ritzy discos, so access to early acid house was possible. When rave became a dirty word Cream opened, which was originally a Chicago-style house club, real music not glow sticks. People like Tony Humphries, young new DJs like DJ Sneak, Derrick Carter, Roger Sanchez and Doc Martin ruled the dance floors. It was a special time and it’s where I truly fell in love with the blackness of the authentic house sound.
Tell me about the early days of Circus. How did it start? What was the first party like? What kind of problems came up, what big challenges did you face?
Circus was set for me to play in Liverpool as I left Cream as the music policy was way too far away from what I was trying to achieve in the Annexe. Richard McGinnis, a close friend of mine (now the booker for The Warehouse Project / Global Gathering / Chibuku) suggested I do Circus at the Masque in Liverpool, and it seemed like a good idea. We eased into the idea of Circus hoping for 200-300 people and instead we got 600; then a month later it was 900, then a month after that a full house! It’s been pretty much like that since day one. It was hard establishing a new night in the city as Cream obviously had long standing relationships with the agents, so booking DJs was very hard at first. Fortunately I'd been touring as a DJ for about eight years and new many of the DJs and agents personally too so I was able to get some guys to play for us. I chipped away and booked whom I could. We started very much on the Chicago/east coast tip, booking DJ Sneak, Derrick Carter, Onionz, Lottie and Doc Martin. A year later things finally changed when we booked Carl Cox and Laurent Garnier in the same four-week period (we are a monthly event), and it was kind of next level for us. The buzz then was incredible, and we really shifted up a gear. Both of them said it was their gig of the year, and since then we have had really good relationships with the agents. I think there is literally no quality electronic music we have not booked now!
It's a lot of work to promote a night and be the resident DJ. How did you balance that with producing and touring as a DJ?
It’s a lot of work yes, but you don’t get any further working less. There are now four of us at Circus so we share the day-to-day. I don’t really party or drink and I eat well, and I don’t watch TV. Although DJing is and has always been my primary work, focusing on my activities gives me time to make a lot of music, book DJs, remix acts, run a record label (Circus Recordings) and do a weekly radio show which now goes to about 20 stations globally. And I'm now doing degree in psychology and sociology (just for fun!) so I'm very committed. But as clichéd as it might sound, what we do as DJs is a very privileged position to be in and I get to see the world and earn a living playing some the world’s best clubs. I enjoy all my other activities and they progressively stimulate each other, and you have to be more than only a DJ in 2012. I do enjoy everything I do though, in particular Circus Recordings. I love finding new artists and breaking them, it’s as much fun as releasing music by living legends like DJ Sneak and Sven Väth.
What other parties around the world do you admire most?
I really admire clubs that take sound, lights and professionalism seriously. Womb in Tokyo and Space in Ibiza above all fit that description. They are not only two of the most incredible places to play, but also their attention to detail is second to none. When you arrive to play everything is perfect, you can get the most out of the music you play and I have the opportunity to be the best DJ I can. From a fun point of view, Elrow in Barcelona is incredible. It’s not as high tech as the aforementioned clubs but it’s so much fun, really silly stuff and has kind of after-party-in-someone’s-house feel. I like Elrow, as it’s the only club I've been to that’s about serious music and having fun, which is exactly what Circus has been about in its ten years so far. Festival-wise, Ultra Music Festival for their high levels of production. I played at their Seoul Korea event last week and the quality of sound and lights is only surpassed by the energy of the crowd; I genuinely think Korea is the best festival crowd there is to play at.
Your new LP, A Product Of Your Environment, shows a different side of your sound, with plenty of vocals and appearances from jazz pianists, classical guitarists and the like. What made you want to take a different tack on this one?
After my last album, which was fairly beat-led, and my recent releases on Cocoon, Cecile, Saved and Intec, I wanted to tackle a second album with a more dynamic approach. I listened to a lot of DJ long players and even though they were enjoyable as a series of tracks, I never felt like I’d listened to album. I didn’t feel like a story was being told. With this in mind I decided I would push myself as far and as hard as I could to make the best piece of actual music I could. It took longer to write, play, record, and manage, and especially to mix down, but I felt strongly about being put out of my comfort zone, that’s partly what I wanted.
I mixed the album down with a lot of dynamic range so the music could be listened to or appreciated at home or in the car, but it’s equally as powerful for clubs. Using unheard musicians to realise or add to my ideas happened accidentally. I would write a demo, then search through the lyrics I’d wrote and see if they fitted and develop the song. Inviting the right singer or musician to add their part became important to the process. I was totally cool using a jazz pianist to add a whole new dimension to the music I was trying to do (as I did with Mercury prize Nominee Gwilyam Simcock). That said, it is still a DJ album; the club cuts are getting plays from Loco Dice, Magda, Nic Fanciulli, Carl Cox, Richie Hawtin and more. I just wanted to see what I could achieve and wanted to tell my own very personal story along the way.
Tickets to Circus' Tenth Birthday are available here on RA.