Queer Arabic mainstay Club Arak celebrates its 10th anniversary on the Sydney scene this year – and on November 10, it’ll debut at a new home, the Imperial Hotel. To celebrate, Arak’s popular music man, DJ Chadi, tracks his musical milestones for the Star Online.
What’s your first musical memory?
Having grown up in the 70s in war-torn Lebanon, it was probably popular Lebanese diva, Feiruz. Radio was the main source of news and entertainment those and Fariuz was often played in between newsflashes about the latest street fights or bombing. The newsflash theme music was Isaac Hays’ theme from Shaft – if you play it to anyone that grew up during the war they would recognise it as the newsflash theme.
What’s the first record you ever bought with your own money?
I used to buy tapes and mostly record off the radio (the pause/record trick). I remember buying a locally made mixtape from a record shop in the early 80s. Music Piracy was a foreign concept back then. The mixtape had the latest from Adam Ant, Kim Wilde, The Human League and other 80s gems. In 80s Lebanon, it wasn’t cool to admit to like Arabic music, so I listened to mostly American, European and UK pop. It’s amazing what an eclectic and currebt mix of world pop music Lebanese radios played back then. Even when food was scarce, radio stations still managed to get their imports. During the war I escaped my daily reality with the new wave and synth sounds of Depeche Mode, Kate Bush, Gary Numan, New Order and other 80s icons. The only Arab music I connected to back then, was Arabic electronic pop produced by Lebanese musician Elias Rahbani, he was the Serge Gainsbourg of Lebanon. He even produced a disco 12” which I stumbled upon and bought from a Bankstown tobacconist recently.
Thinking back, people needed their music not matter what was happening and they went out nightclubbing and socialising as an escape.
When the war officially ended in 1991, I got a job at a radio station, a lifetime ambition. There, I was taught how to beat mix. I spent endless nights practising and when I felt confident enough, I started DJing at clubs which were popping up everywhere. By the mid 90s, Arabic producers were fusing house beats with Arabic melodies. This made it easier to inject my sets with the latest Arabic hits, a move which proved so popular that I started mixing hour long Arabic music sets.
In the late 90’s I got my big break in Beirut where I held residency at the infamous Club ACID in Beirut – the unofficial gay club of the Middle East. With 1000 sweaty bodies every Friday and Saturday night, it gained notoriety due to its crazy atmosphere where anything can happen, eccentric clientele, cheap alcohol and eclectic and fresh dance music. I used to play 7 hour sets every Friday and Saturday night fuelled by Vodka and Red Bull and drive home! I’ll never do that again!
The Arab music sets at ACID were the real highlight of the night. Once the first Arabic beat is dropped, every single clubber would become a bellydancing diva. It was hard to keep the people apart – the bouncers in those days (probably still) used to split people up, boy and boy, boy and girl, girl and girl. No one was allowed to have too much body contact, a bit hard with the sensual Arabic music.
In 2004, I migrated to Australia. I was introduced to Club Arak and I couldn’t believe that a club night playing only Arabic music was so popular. It’s a privilege for me to be involved in such an iconic event and seeing smiling, happy people shaking it to music that might be foreign to them is always a delight. Really excited about doing it all again on the 10 November, see you at Club Arak!