dar disku are the bahrani record label celebrating music from across arabia
The UK-based duo are dedicated to building a community of young Arab creatives.
Photography Abdullah Minhas and Oscar Abdulla
It’s the morning after the night before and I’m in London's Love Vinyl looking for anything vaguely Middle Eastern. Helping me with the search are Vish Mhatre and Mazen Almaskati aka Dar Disku, both slightly hungover but buoyed by the success of their set at Dalston Superstore last night. "There was a queue around the building to get in and people were dancing on the tables by the end. I think it was our best set yet!” Vish tells me, visibly excited, as we flip through records. During their 3-hour set at LGBTQ night Homostash, the two childhood friends moved between music from the Arab world, Bollywood, Africa, Brazil, and some hip-hop; a pretty good indication of what they’re looking for today. “The guys who work here really know their stuff,” Mazen explains. “The selection might be limited but it's very well curated. You can pick any vinyl up from the world or the disco section and you know it's gonna be the best of the best.” After an hour or so of digging, Vish picks up the obscure Turkish delights of Disco Hamam 4 and an early Busta Rhymes white label we found in the basement, and I leave with a beautifully illustrated edition of Donna Summer’s Hot Stuff and a Lethal Weapon soundtrack from 2002.
Dar Disku are a DJ duo and UK-based Bahraini record label dedicated to building a community of young and – mostly but not exclusively – Arab creatives. Musically, their interests lie at the nexus of crate-digging and production. “We're taking old records you might find while digging, re-editing them but adding a lot of instrumentation on top,” says Mazen, stirring a post-dig mojito, “which I think is where our background making music together comes into play.” Mazen and Vish grew up together in Bahrain, finding each other at school through a shared love of drumming that would eventually lead to them forming a band. On top of the hours spent jamming after school, the two boys would exchange music with each other by swapping iPods: Vish offering up hip-hop, while Mazen was more into rock. In some ways this was the beginning of Dar Disku.
Both moved from Bahrain to London for university, and attribute the time spent living and studying here as a catalyst for the project. “A lot of the experience of trying to figure out what I stand for and who I am happened in between my long stretches in the UK,” muses Mazen. “Every time I’d go back home, something else would hit me that I didn't notice when I lived there. When we first moved to London, there was a lot of pressure to conform to general Western lifestyles,” notes Vish, “listening to the same music your white friends listen to, going to the same pubs or the same nights, dressing a certain way… and it gets to a point where you start questioning your own identity. I had that, wondering, 'what do I really like'? Moving here was a culture shock, but like, a reverse culture shock. It helped me connect with my own culture”.
Now, when the pair go back to Bahrain, they play tourist and do the things that they never did as kids because “we were trying to go to, like, dubstep parties,” laughs Vish. A lot of their time back home is spent eating – the music played in Indian and Arab takeaways is a big inspiration for them, and they have a monthly radio show called Radio Laziz, which translates to delicious – as well as looking for old records. “There are no real record stores in Bahrain,” explains Mazen. “So if you want to buy records, you go to a souk or old antique shop, you ask a guy if he has any old records and he pulls out an old dusty box and sees what he's got.” They hit gold, unexpectedly, on a recent trip after being tipped off by a souk shop keeper. “The place was called Music World or Music City or something... we walk in and it's a bootleg DVD shop selling things like Saw II, Fast and Furious 9,” chuckles Vish. “The other part of the shop was full of children's toys and balloons, but we asked the guy if he had any Arabic stuff and he was like ‘come with me’. He literally moved a shelf and revealed this huge wall of Arabic tapes. Stuff by Rachid Taha, all this incredible old disco, an Iranian album about dual nationality where the artwork was just the artist holding up his two passports.”
“I think our early beat making and love of hip-hop really influences the way I dig today,” reflects Vish. “It doesn't have to be a four-to-the-floor track, but rhythmically, if it gets your head nodding or a part of your body grooving, that's the main tick box.” The desire to get people dancing is, in a way, the driving force at the centre of Dar Disku – when digging, when DJing, when making music. “The thing you're trying to attain when you're putting together a song is that moment when you've crafted a beat and you find yourself dancing,” explains Mazen. “You're loving this track, not because it's yours, but because it's something you would instinctively dance to whether it's yours or someone else's. If you're not dancing, you haven't got there.”