Aly & Fila open up: "I will only play in Zouk if a new owner buys the place"

Aly & Fila open up: "I will only play in Zouk if a new owner buys the place"

Active since 2003, Egyptian duo Aly & Fila have been dominating the trance game for well over a decade now. From their wildly praised debut single 'Eye of Horus' to their constant features on Armin Van Buuren's A State of Trance to the massive success of their very own radio show Future Sound of Egypt — acclaim from the vast trance community has never failed to follow Aly Amr Fathalah (Aly) and Fadi Wassef Naguib (Fila) in whatever venture they undertake.

As such the big name DJ-producers are in high demand when it comes to touring. Of course, ever since Aly suffered an unfortunate ear injury some time back, Fadi has steadfastly traveled solo to bring the uplifting music of Aly & Fila to their adoring fans all over the world, including Singapore.

In fact, Fadi has played in Singapore on numerous occasions due to popular demand, specifically within Zouk's hallowed main room. And for the most part, his sets have brought the club and audiences nothing but joy... except of course, for the last time he played in Zouk.

For those unaware, Fadi was suddenly booted off the decks by Zouk's new management to make room for an impromptu set by VVIP guest Norashman Najib, the son of Malaysian prime minister Najib Razak.

The now infamous incident has subsequently sparked an uproar in electronic music circles and controversy in the media. Both sides have since made very public social media statements pointing the finger at the other - with Fadi explaining that this blatant act of disrespect was unwarranted, and Zouk maintaining that they merely ended Fadi's set at the contracted-upon time.

Barely a month after the brouhaha, Aly & Fila actually returned to Singapore to play a set at St. James Power Station club MillianOrganized by The Mammoth Collaborative, last Friday's gig was set up because Fadi was eager to "come back to finish his set uninterrupted".

We met up with Fadi backstage, just before his raucous headlining set, where we had a frank and open conversation about the Zouk incident, the recent tragedy at Time Warp Argentina, the future of trance and his long-standing creative relationship with Aly.

Welcome back Fadi! Where were you before this?

Well I've been touring South America, which has been a really cool experience!

How was your reception there? 

The crowds there were amazing. South American crowds are much crazier, they're so passionate, so wild and they love their music so much. I think, in those countries, the people are faced with a lot of hardships — socially, politically and economically. So when they go out, they just forget everything and they go all out. I really appreciate the energy they give me.

That's wonderful to hear! But on the topic of South America, I'm sure you've heard about the tragedy in Time Warp Argentina and the government's extreme reaction to it. What's your opinion on that situation? 

I was so sad, man. So sad about the loss of life. And then the government banned big capacity festivals in Buenos Aires, which in my opinion, is not the correct remedy to the problem. If they were wiser or cleverer, they would know that banning festivals is not going to end drug use. People who want to drugs will just do it at private events or at home then. 

The issue is not about the music, it's a larger social problem. Instead of banning big events, let's simply implement practical safeguards. They should have more security at the venue to make sure people aren't doing this, or to at least find the people selling it. And most importantly, its up to the promoter to make sure that the capacity is correct and they do not oversell tickets. The problem of dangerous over-crowding is down to the organizer, and its not the fault of the fans or the music.

"The fans are the most important thing and I know my fans in Singapore in were not happy with what happened. We felt we owed it to our fans to come back here as soon as possible to make it up to them."

Will your new album be out this year?

No, it'll be out next year. We're still working on it. It's difficult because our schedules are so packed from touring, but we intend to put it out in 2017.

And speaking of touring, this is your second time in Singapore in less than two months. What brings you back so quickly? 

(Laughs) Well, as you know, the last time I was in Singapore... it didn't end very well. Not for me and especially not for the fans. The fans are the most important thing and I know my fans in Singapore in were not happy with what happened.

We felt we owed it to our fans to come back here as soon as possible to make it up to them. And luckily this Singapore date suited our schedule because I'll be touring Asia this whole weekend. This gig made sense and I wanted to do it very much.

On that subject, Zouk actually put out a statement contradicting your statement on Facebook. Could you clear the air for us? What was the real story behind what happened?

We actually have emails from them apologizing which I won't get into, but why would they apologize if as they say, they did nothing wrong? Everybody has a brain, and when they read my statement and when they read their statement, it's easy to figure out what really happened and who was telling the truth. Very easy. 

"I'm 100% telling you its not a misunderstanding."

You guys have obviously had a very good relationship before this. How has this incident changed your perception of the club?

I love Zouk actually! I love the club, I love all the people working there. They are great people. On the whole, my problem is with the new owner of Zouk who treat artists like he owns them. Just because he pays me a fee doesn't mean he can treat me like that. I'm there for the fans, its my night, and I'm playing for my fans for as long as I can do it. The contract says whatever it says, but every time I've played Zouk — and I've played Zouk many times — I was always allowed to finish my set.

If they apologized publicly now, would you consider playing there again?

You see if they handled this in a better way, and apologized to the fans and to me the first place, I would have accepted it. But ever since that happened, they've put out statements that shifted blame away from them when they try to say that its a "misunderstanding". I'm 100% telling you it's not a misunderstanding.

What I really don't like is that they said that they'd apologize online to the fans and to us, but they didn't do it. Now, that relationship is done. I will only play in Zouk if a new owner buys the place. I will never come back for that owner, because he insulted me.

"I do make techno tracks sometimes, but just for fun!"

You've been at the top of the trance genre for a very long time now. After already accomplishing virtually all there is to accomplish, how do you still keep yourself motivated?

It's simple, I still love this music very much.

Yes I've been listening to and making the same genre and the same style for a long time, but I really do love it a lot. That's why we are successful — we really believe in what we do. It's not a trend for us, it's not business, we're doing it because we are true believers in trance. I said it from the start, me and Aly will stop only when we are not feeling joy and passion for it anymore... but we are a long way from there.

I'm not jaded at all, I still get goose bumps when I listen to good music. And thank God, these days we have a lot of good music coming out of the trance genre. There are so many good artists coming from all parts of the world. That's what keeps it special for us. There's always fresh talent and its not always the same guys. You know a genre is dying when its the same people doing the same thing, but thankfully, you see so many new amazing acts in trance every year. Trance is still exciting for me.

It's clear that you really love trance, but have you ever considered trying to make different genres?

Oh I love techno, deep house, chill out music... I listen to a lot of soundtracks too. So it's not 24 hours trance for me. In terms of production, I do make techno tracks sometimes, but just for fun!

Wow, will you ever release them?

(Laughs) I will never release them. They're just for fun. But maybe, just maybe, I'll release it under an entirely different name... just maybe. It is fun to produce different things. Sometimes you're in the studio, stuck doing the same style all the time and you get a creative block. So I reset my head by trying to make a techno track just fun. And when that's done, I can come back refreshed and do what I do best, which is trance.

What is the writing and recording process like for you and Aly? Are you in the same studio all the time or...

Well I have my own studio back home and he also his own studio. We used to write together in the same studio long ago, but after we both got married and had kids, it's easier for us to work from home. We can come up with individual ideas and we'll send it to each other.

Then we'll work on combining our ideas and that's how the process works now. It's still a collaborative process, it's just the writing part is done in separate studios most time.

Do you prefer working that way, do you prefer how it was back in the day?

Working alone has its benefits.

For example, I get more things done quicker because I'm alone and have no distractions. I'm just focused. But of course, working with Aly in the studio is more fun — way more fun. We come up with more ideas and we can bounce them off each other immediately. Having two minds working together at the same time is better than one, as they say.

Do you miss Aly when you go on tour?

It used to be difficult. But it's been 10 years now I've been touring without Aly, so I've had to get used to it. But sometimes I think, it would be great to have him around to see what I'm seeing. To see the love for Aly & Fila all around the world. He would be so proud.

For more information on Aly & Fila, head to their official website.