All the reasons why Beirut is the “best place to party in the Middle East”
Heineken. Open your city.
We’ve teamed up with Heineken to introduce you to some men and women who have chosen to go beyond their borders, challenge the status quo, say ‘why not?’ instead of ‘it can’t be done’ – and as a result have made the world a more interesting place for the rest of us. For more people worth watching, head here.
Jade is the godfather of dance music in Beirut. Although he left the city of his birth for Montreal after he finished university and his downtempo band Blend were signed by EMI – the first band from the Middle East to be signed to a major label – he came back, and stayed.
Though Blend didn’t last, his love of music did; he founded a formative nightclub called The Basement that ran from 2005 to 2011, DJed constantly, had a residency at the city’s biggest club BO18, began the C U NXT SAT parties in 2012, and recently opened a new venue called The Grand Factory. He did all of this while his city survived the 2006 bombing of Beirut, and the violence that came before and after it. Jade now has his own production studio, Riverside Studios in Berlin, and splits his time between the two cities; we got him on the line to talk about what it is that makes Beirut such a special place to party.
I wanted to start off by asking you about Beirut. What was it like as a place to grow up in?
When I was young I always wanted to leave because I was always connecting to things that were not available in Beirut. When I was young in the ‘80s, ‘90s, I was always watching MTV – and MTV was actually pretty good at that time – so I was really into music. My aim was to leave Beirut. I was never happy to be in Beirut honestly, but the thing that Beirut taught me is to be tough, and you get a pretty good education here, you learn three languages. The family values are great, the friendship, the human connections are great, but aside from that Beirut was quite messy. And now I’m in a downer. That’s my feeling now towards the country because I’m trying to be more and more present in Berlin. It’s tough times now.
When you moved away from Beirut for three years and came back, what was it that made you come back? After wanting to move away as a kid and then achieving that?
I always wanted to leave so actually what I did was study engineering because it would help me leave. Like, I would have a university diploma to leave. That’s what I did after my graduation. I left, I even shipped my guitar, all my CDs and everything. And while I was in Montreal working, my band got a record deal here because of a song we had recorded. I came for 10 days during Christmas and we recorded a track and six months later got signed to EMI. So my band got a record deal and I thought “This is the chance for me to come back and do what I always wanted to do.” Because I always dreamt of doing music or living for music. I had to study engineering because there was no such possibility of living from music.
So I came back and I told my company “I’ll be away for like six months” but when I came back in 2003 I started DJing because I had a big record collection. I was working in the studio the whole day so I needed to make some money, and then 2003 and 2004 were the golden years. I saw another Beirut. I saw hope. A lot of places opening, a lot of music venues opening, a lot of tourists coming. Peace. The Israelis had left. For me it was the golden years of Beirut, 2003-2004. After four months I thought, “I’m living my dream. I’m living here, I’m making my living from music so I don’t think I want to go back to my engineering job.” And this is when I took the decision to stay and then one thing led to another.
My DJing in some bars, I was playing a different sound and the bars got full every time I DJed so I was overbooked and then I thought, “Why not open my own place?” It was a very silly decision because I always wanted to do music. I suggest this to a bar owner who used to trust me a lot and I told him, “Listen, I got a plan. We do this, this, and that, there is a need in the market. I’m playing it in bars.” I used to throw parties, underground parties, and I told him all my parties are full, the people are looking for clubs, rather than bars, where they can experience a dancefloor, a nicer sound, a club sound. There was no proper club experience at that time. The guy liked it, I made a quick plan and we opened The Basement.
That was in 2005 you opened The Basement, and it was unique in Beirut. You mentioned the music you were playing was unique too, what kind of music was it when you started?
When I came back I was only playing vinyl. Back then there was no digital, the digital thing was not big, so it was always special to get stuff on vinyl that people didn’t have. My sound back then, I used to always start playing world music, some interesting downtempo beats – very diverse at the start. I used to play five-hour sets or six-hour sets and then two hours later start picking it up.
At that time the dance music was more electroclash and the start of the Berlin sound, the minimal sound. Minimal house like Tiefschwarz, like M.A.N.D.Y, and when I said electroclash it was like Miss Kittin, Felix Da Housecat. Those were the dancey tunes, that was the dancey sound.
When you started The Basement what kind of expectations did you have for it? How long did you expect it to last?
Everything I do I think long-term about it. Everything I do I try to build from the start to give it a classic feeling so that people wouldn’t get bored of it. In terms of design, I think about that, and then in terms of entertainment I don’t follow the hype, so we actually were ahead of the hype and we kept renewing so The Basement could have gone on for quite long.
But then two years after The Basement I saw myself exposed to the dark side of the industry, which is taking care of the business, taking care of the employees, the people, all of this, and I saw that I’m not making music. My aim was to make music. And you know how it goes – parties, girls, all these things. I was 27, 28, I thought, “I don’t want to end up like the other club owners I know.” This is not what I want to be. I want to be in my studio making music, so I started focusing again on production.
I toned down events at The Basement, I made them two nights a week, and when my rent was finished I thought “this is where I don’t want to renew, I want to take this to another level.” I thought, “what would I want to change in The Basement first?” I don’t want to run a club, I want to focus more on music so let me throw one event a week. I don’t have to take care of employees, they work once a week so we don’t have to go through the whole salaries and all this system and I don’t need to think about making any place work twice or three times a week. This is where I started a party every Saturday and I called it C U NXT SAT.
The Basement could have gone much longer if I wanted it, but now with C U NXT there’s less stress with running a venue and renting a venue and all of this – and the second reason was to go overground. I didn’t want to stay underground, I wanted a happier vibe, I wanted something more open, more groovy, and that was the specialty of C U NXT SAT. C U NXT SAT got three times as big as The Basement.