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‘Music takes me around the world, but coming back to Adelaide is grounding.’
Gems in this
Iraq-born producer and composer Motez spins decks across the world; performing in spots such as Lyon, Ontario, Salt Lake City and Jakarta. Yet it’s his relationship with Adelaide and its burgeoning electronic scene that keeps him grounded. We sat down to hear his Adelaide Travel Playbook of favorite bars and venues.
Most DJs start their careers live mixing in clubs, before dipping their toes into music production. Motez flipped this norm — producing extensively while voraciously listening to everyone from Jean-Michel Jarre to Fatboy Slim. The award-winning producer and composer grew up in Baghdad and Bristol, before arriving in Adelaide in 2006, where he has since racked up an ARIA platinum-accredited single; creative collaborations with the likes of Tkay Maidza, Dom Dolla and Scrufizzer; and remixed big hits for Flume and Sam Smith. We spoke with Motez about drawing inspiration from real-life stories to make music, and his favorite places to visit when at home in Adelaide.
On growing up in Iraq and seeking asylum in Australia
I was born in Baghdad and spent a couple of years of my childhood in England, while my dad was finishing his PhD. After we returned, I grew up in Iraq until the American invasion happened and my dad decided to take the treacherous journey to Australia on a boat to seek asylum. I moved to Australia around 2006, and I’ve been living here since.
On early musical inspiration
I’ve always been a big music fan. I grew up fascinated by abstract electronic music, listening to people like Jean-Michel Jarre, Vangelis — who died recently, rest in peace — and eventually moving into more run-of-the-mill electronic music like Boards of Canada, The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim. I was very honored to tour with Fatboy Slim when he came to Australia a few years ago. It was a nice kind of full circle sort of thing.
On your start making dance music
I didn't really start making dance music until I moved to Australia. We didn't have clubs where I grew up, so I wasn't entrenched in that sort of club culture. People that make dance music start DJing, then making music — I was the other way around.
‘Having grown up in Iraq and not experienced the world because we were under sanctions for most of my life, we just didn’t get to travel. And then I'm traveling the world playing music.’
On the Australian music scene
Australia has always had a very active role in the music scene globally. When things started happening for me about 10 years ago, Australia was the hub. And people like Flume were coming out. Melbourne is at a great point musically, and I feel like something really cool is happening in Brisbane as well. The sort of doof or rave scene, in more independent venues or out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere, is the thing in Australia right now.
On incorporating real-life experiences into your music
With every song I make, even if it's purely dance music and songs you consume and hear on a dance floor, there has to be a real-life story behind it — even if it’s something mundane. From a storytelling perspective, it's very important to use something you've witnessed in your music. My biggest song, ‘The Future,’ was inspired by me going through a breakup.
‘Music and art are not a lone wolf sort of industry. You have to have community and support around you.’
On the importance of the music and arts community
Music is all about community — any art form is, really. You want to surround yourself with like-minded people. But also, on an emotional level, it's very important to have a support network, especially in music. Throughout Covid most people went through a sort of existential crisis and loss of income. Some governments around the world perceived music as nonessential, so the community was very important throughout those times. I guess the internet and technology facilitate it, but it's essential to have a community around you. You need that to keep you going because music is not a lone wolf sort of industry. You have to have support around you.
On where music has taken you
Music has taken me from Lyon to London to Ontario, Salt Lake City and Jakarta. It's incredible. Having grown up in Iraq and not experienced the world because we were under sanctions for most of my life, we just didn’t get to travel, and you didn’t get to leave. And then I'm traveling the world playing music. It's taken me everywhere. I went back to England, went back to Bristol, and played in one of the most iconic venues for me — it's called Motion in Bristol, and I played with Paul Kalkbrenner. It was an incredible show, and every time I think about it, it's like, amazing.
‘The vibe here makes me feel centered. Adelaide is just warm and happy, you know?’
On how Adelaide inspires you creatively
One of the best things about Adelaide is that it's got a very healthy bar scene. There are a lot of really cute, nice bars, because we are one of the best wine regions in the world — and the food here is incredible too. Everything that supports that in terms of restaurants and bars is incredibly good, top-notch, world-class.
On your relationship with Adelaide
Music takes me everywhere around the world, and then coming back to Adelaide is very grounding and humbling. It's nice to be familiar with your family and friends in the city. And the vibe here makes me feel centered — that’s more important for me than being somewhere busier like Los Angeles. Adelaide is just warm and happy, you know?
On your local bar in Adelaide
My local spot is a really cute bar called Nearly. It's an incredibly charming spot with a great range of drinks. It feels heartwarming and homey, which is no surprise given that it's the brainchild of several talented friends, including Stephen Roy, a furniture designer, and Cecile Gariepy, a Canadian illustrator. There's also a beautiful spot called udaberri. It's a small bar, and I know everyone there now. So every second weekend my friends and I take a corner of the bar and become really loud. I just love it! It's like a taste of the Basque region in Spain and France, but it's more than that — the music is great and it's just a really nice vibe.
On where to find creative community in the city
There are a few creative hubs based around crafts like painting, furniture, and design that are really good for connecting with people. One of them is called The Mill, which is just around the corner from my studio.
On the stop for a coffee and a catch-up
A coffee place that represents Adelaide the most is called Exchange, in the heart of the East End. It really exemplifies the city in that you sit there outside having a coffee, and you'd run into at least 10 people you know — it's a small city, and everyone knows everyone. Another favorite is Paddy Barry's; it's on the way to my studio, so I always get my morning coffee there. I love the people who work there, and it's a really nice place to sit down too.
On a favorite pub in the wine region
The Scenic Hotel is my favorite pub. It's nestled in the middle of the Adelaide Hills. It's absolutely beautiful, and the crew is very friendly. It's a warm, incredible place that I recommend anyone go to.
On where to catch a gig in town
If I wanted to go out to see a show, I'd go to Jive, a small independent venue. One of my first shows in Adelaide was there, and I supported RÜFÜS DU SOL. It was one of the first ever shows they did, and we had maybe 150 people in that room, but it was beautiful!
‘Adelaide is a small city, so people don't really look at it the same way they look at Melbourne or Sydney, but everyone who comes here understands that it's incredibly underrated.’
On a hidden gem in Adelaide
Mount Lofty Botanic Garden is underrated. You don't really get to know how beautiful it is until you're there.
On a window or aisle seat
The longer I spend traveling, the less enjoyable being on a plane is. So I choose to go aisle because it's the easiest way to get in and out. Being in an aisle, you control your own destiny.
On a song that represents Adelaide for you
One song that I remember listening to time and time again when I first moved here is a song called ‘Aerial Boundaries’ by Michael Hedges. It's a beautiful guitar instrumental piece that reminds me of when I first moved to Adelaide. Also, weirdly enough, ‘Promiscuous Girl’ — every time I hear it I remember when I first moved here, the excitement and things happening.
On Adelaide in one word
Underrated. It's a small city, so people don't really look at it the same way they look at Melbourne or Sydney, but everyone who comes here understands that it's incredibly underrated.