artist spotlight old city_trendland_interview

Artist Spotlight: Old City [Interview]

Interview with Amer and Hassan, two best friends behind Old City, the DJ duo that was founded at Burning Man, nourished in New York City and inspired by the Middle East. 

They opened for notable artists such as Guy Gerber, Unders and Birds of Mind, played on the iconic Maxa Xaman Artcar at Burning Man as well as numerous clubs in New York City and started hosting their own event series Majlis.

The duo speaks about their shared love for music, their collaborative process and how they plan to grow in the future.


artist spotlight old city_trendland_interview

What’s the story behind Old City ? What has it been like working together ?

Amer: Old City was basically born in Burning Man in 2018. A year and a half prior to that, I was walking back home after one of my most difficult weeks at work and passed by Sam Ash music store. I entered the electronic music section and was in love – so I impulsively bought a whole setup of equipment and speakers and spent the next year obsessed and learning as much as possible. Hassan then got on board and we started playing just for fun at home with no real intention behind it. We were already beginning to build our library of music – sounds that we felt captured our moods and feels and something that we wanted to begin sharing with others.

Hassan: When we went to Burning Man in 2018, we actually had no idea what to expect – we never really performed live before, just two best friends who loved music and were excited for their first burn. We were told by our friends that we should be open to the idea that anything can happen at Burning Man, so we prepared a USB with some music just in case.

The journey first really began in a van driving from Reno to BlackRock City – it was a 15 hour car ride during a sandstorm with two of our fellow camp mates that we just met. Throughout the entire car ride we were in charge of curating the music. We were virtually bumper to bumper for hours so we opened the van door, blasted the music and started dancing outside. Everyone around us came out from their RVs and joined us – it became a mobile party. Once we arrived, our camp mates had told the founders of our camp about that experience and so we ended up getting invited to play a slot opening for Birds of Mind at La Grange. We had no idea what to expect really and were quite nervous. We started our set at around 4:30pm to a virtually empty audience and just began playing our collection of music – next thing we knew it was almost 9pm and we had hundreds of people in front of us dancing with us – it’s hard to describe the sensation but something happened that night, the feeling of playing was both terrifying and ecstatic at the same time and we both knew we were at the very beginnings of something that was very special to us – and so Old City was born.

‘At the end of the day we are a team and we got into this journey because we have the time of our lives doing it – sometimes we need to gently remind each other of that fact… or maybe not so gently. I have to smack Amer occasionally. He likes it.’

Tell me a bit about your background. Where are you originally from and what has brought you to where you are today?

Hassan: We both lived our whole lives in Saudi Arabia, although we are not fully Saudi, we grew up as 3rd culture kids living in Riyadh while still maintaining ties to our Lebanese and Palestinian roots. We have been best friends since Amer first bribed me with candy to invite him to my house party in the 4th grade. We continued to be virtually inseparable with our group of friends until everyone dispersed for university around the world – Hassan ended up in Washington DC and Amer in Canada. We continued to be separated for a few years until we both graduated and coincidentally moved to New York at the same time for work – Amer as a full-time Investment Banker, Hassan as a Trader and then Venture Capitalist. We reconnected properly over the incredible vibrancy of NYC – from the motivation and incredible talent of so many people that we met to the amazing food and nightlife experiences – we were hooked.

artist spotlight old city_trendland_interview

What brought you into music in the first place? Tell me about your first experience.

This story is a little different for the both of us.

Hassan: I always had a love for music growing up- whether it was listening to my mother play Sade or Nina Simone on repeat in the house to Akon and Lil Wayne with my friends there was always a different genre that added a new color or layer to my mood that I enjoyed. I went through multiple phases including rock where I really loved listening to bands like the Foo Fighters and Red Hot Chili Peppers until I eventually landed on electronic music when I got to New York and I first tasted the Brooklyn underground scene. What was really the turning point for me was listening to Bedouin live in this massive warehouse – it was my first real experience with this genre of electronic music- I was so taken by it because it felt like the perfect blend of old and new sounds – the ability to play and evoke the emotions of instrumental music, overlaid with a beat that can keep you going for hours – I felt like I had finally discovered music I can never get tired of.

Amer: Growing up, I really loved listening to all styles of music. I used to spend my summers in Jordan where my family would take me to this traditional local outdoor spot set in the ruins, where old local Jordanian artists would play the Oud instrument and sing classical Arabic songs – specifically it was the sounds of Fairuz and Umm Kulthum that really stuck with me and inspired me. Fast forward to when I started my job as an investment banker, my hours were brutal – I found myself working alone until the early morning on a consistent basis with no sleep and music was really the only thing that got me through that. I probably listened to 16-20 hours of music a day. That’s when my love and knowledge of the underground deep house scene emerged and I was discovering artists on SoundCloud that were unknown at the time and have become prominent producers in the scene today. I think those years of music discovery are what really shaped my core taste, which is something that continues to evolve week by week depending on my mood, travel, and inspiring artists that I meet.

How would you describe your styles? How do you complement and differ from each other ?

Amer: I am very analytical and pay a lot of attention to detail in most things that I do – a blessing and a consequence from my full-time job. I have found that to actually be quite helpful so far with music as it’s the smallest details that really make a difference.

Hassan: I love to take risks and throw us in situations we may not be fully mentally ready for. We both hold the personal belief that the best growth comes when we are constantly exploring the uncomfortable and the unknown- that is something I apply as a general life philosophy as well. Amer is one of the most serious and hardworking people I know, and I try to layer on top of that stylistically and in delivering our performances.

What is the ethos behind Old city? Where does the origin of your music stem from? What are you trying to communicate and to who?

Amer: We grew up in a very international environment, being exposed to a lot of various cultures – our friends were from all around the world and so we always found strength in the power of diverse backgrounds and connecting with different cultures, religions and beliefs and how you can find similarities between them. Similarly, we see music as a very powerful medium to connect people all around the world and so we believe that is at the center of all of this – it is often hard to describe our style as our sets include music that transcends various genres, cultures and languages and so we never really dive too deep into a specific style or niche – rather we find a way to curate our sets by bringing together all these different influences in one story.

artist spotlight old city_trendland_interview

Have you ever had a moment of tension? If so, how do you deal with it?

Hassan: Haha you can say that – we have been best friends for a very long time so that’s natural, but never when we play. There is always a build up of nerves before a set, where we are balancing anticipation and expectations- we never know what we are really walking into and we treat each set like it is the most important one. Once the music starts though and we feel the crowd’s energy we naturally find our rhythm and forget all our worries. Even if one of us makes a mistake, we are constantly looking out for each other and have full trust that each one is going to deliver their absolute best for Old City. At the end of the day we are a team and we got into this journey because we have the time of our lives doing it – sometimes we need to gently remind each other of that fact… or maybe not so gently. I have to smack Amer occasionally. He likes it.

Amer: He’s right. I do like it.

One of the best moments playing so far ?

It is different for both of us.

Hassan: My favorite moment truly was at Burning Man 2019 – we were invited to play at a wedding in Camp Kantenah. It was a last-minute invite and not part of our official programming but we did it for our friends and as a gift to the bride and groom. There was a moment in the middle of our set where they turned off all the lights and brought out this incredible fire dancer from Turkey called Sinem Mei – she moved in perfect sync with the music and I just felt so completely elevated in that moment surrounded by my best friends. I even remember turning to Amer and yelling “this is f*cking Awesome!!!!!” and he told me to calm down I was getting over excited.

Amer: I loved that performance as well – but my personal favourite was actually a performance that came 2 hours afterwards on the Maxa Art Car in the middle of the playa. It was my favourite art car the previous year and it was such a dream come true to be playing there so soon in our career and to be playing right before Guy Gerber. We felt so honoured to be given that opportunity and so in preparation, we really dug deep creatively to create a story through our set that we felt was really special to us.

How does NY inspire your music and your process? Would there be anywhere else in the world that you would hope to get inspiration from or that has already inspired you?

The energy in this city is unlike anywhere we have been – we are inspired by the diversity of unique personalities we interact with here and how they influence our growth in every aspect. The fast pace and high standards of the city also force us to bring the best version of ourselves in every situation we are in, whether it be at our full-time jobs, or when performing live. Also, the music scene here is incredible – from all the electronic music artists that perform every weekend, or the diversity of options to discover new artists showcasing sounds from their cultures – it’s an endless stream of inspiration. There are also definitely a lot of challenges associated with living in such a hectic city with lots of ups and downs, but there is beauty in that as well and we often find ourselves able to reflect those moods and release all that tension through our performances.

artist spotlight old city_trendland_interview

Do you have any plans for the future? Where do you expect to go with your music ?

Yes indeed! When we discuss this- it is always in the context of making music a larger and larger extension of our lives. We both have crazy busy careers but we are allocating more and more time to this passion. Quarantine has been a blessing for us in the sense that we are really buckling down and focusing on production – that is the next step.

Has the pandemic affected your DJing for the worse or for the best?

I feel like the answer to this question applies a little differently in our case. As DJs who don’t rely on this as our sole income, the pandemic has actually been helpful for our music. It has given us time to focus on production, we did our first livestream set with MBR Radio from Sao Paulo, which was a really great experience – for the first time ever our best friends and family from back home got to watch us play and it was really special connecting with so many people around the world from our couch. The support we got from everyone during that moment was really amazing and that’s what continues to push us forward.

If you could have a residency in one club in the whole entire word where would it be?

Very tough question. I think Garten in Beirut would be incredible – the energy of the crowd there is so powerful and the sound system and production is insane.

Who are you listening to right now?

Hassan: Right now, I’m obsessed with Blues. I can’t stop listening to Gary B.B. Coleman and Daniel Castro. From an electronic standpoint – current favorites are Nhii and Alvaro Suarez.

Amer: Since the beginning I have been a huge fan of the duo Madota. The storytelling in their sets inspired me from day one and their music production is amazing. Everything they touch is gold in my opinion.

Any artists you would love to collaborate with / play with / inspire you?

It would be pretty amazing to collaborate with Bedouin eventually, bringing this whole story full circle.

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