Habs Akram – Visual Artist – Exclusive Interview

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Interview: Victoria Ball

Habs Akram… It’s all about the goodness!

I met Habs Akram almost 2 years ago now at a festival with friends. With his witty humour and jokes and such a lovely bubbly personality I knew we were going to hit it off as friends.

In that time I have found the ‘Goodness’ with him and have experience some of the amazing work he does, his visuals are not to be missed in person. I was also very touched when I found out that all the money from ‘Goodness’ T-shirts & Vests etc all go to charity, what an amazing man and such a big heart!

So was more than excited when I asked to interview him and got a personal invite to his home and some superb home-made cooking. After finishing everything on my plate and cheesecake, I grabbed another glass of wine and sat down for a nice cosy chat with ‘Mr Goodness’ himself and to start with asking about his amazing app he has brought out called DJVJ.

Victoria: So DJVJ, tell us about it?

Habs Akram: DJVJ is a concept of mine for over 10 years. At the time I first came up with the idea obviously mobile phones weren’t as up to scratch with their technology, but over the last two years they’ve caught up dramatically with their memory and that, so we thought it was the right time to start developing this unique program. DJVJ itself is the world’s first real time visual App, where you can upload content like videos and still images and basically get them to dance in real time, or respond in real time to music or any kind of audio. The other great thing about the App is that it works directly with iTunes.. So basically if you’ve got iTunes music built in your mobile device, whether it be an iPhone or iPad you can get DJVJ to respond to your choice of music.

Victoria: That’s so awesome!

Habs: In the future, developments are with the additional library that we are adding to the actual App itself, we are going to be adding small other areas like a record button, where you can record the audio and the video together and then upload it to Facebook or Youtube straight from the App, which I feel is going to be very useful to DJs and artists to upload their music.. They can actually have some visual element which brings their music to life in a visual form… Very, very powerful product for the future, and it’s so early.. I mean we have been developing it now for over 2 years and there is still nothing out there that matches it.. So yeah, very exciting times!

Victoria: That’s fantastic, I didn’t know about the iTunes thing… Cool support and everyone uses it!

Habs: Like I say, the main reason for DJVJ is to support up and coming DJ’s. DJ’s that can’t afford visual artists, like myself to travel with them, whereas if they’ve got their mobile device all they need to do is plug it in, and they can plug it into any screen in the world and put it next to them while they’re playing and it’ll respond to whatever set they are playing in real time. It’s amazing, it looks fantastic on the big screens. I have used it a number of times at Ultra in Miami and it looks amazing!

Victoria:Talking about Miami, are you going again next year?

Habs: I hope to be going, I’ve been going for 10 years now. It’s the beginning of the year and it starts everyone’s year off with the WMC and Ultra Music Festival… Very proud to be part of Ultra,

as you know I started with Ultra with Carl Cox 10 years ago where I used to run the Megastructure..

Then I moved on from there, where they have basically given me my own stage, which is the bay side stage.. A lovely little stage that I work on every year and enjoy my week in Miami. I also do a few pool parties in Downtown Miami in some of the big hotels.

Victoria: Wow!… Sounds fabulous!

Habs: It is good fun.. And it’s great way of networking, as well as finding who are the new and upcoming talent for the future within dance music, because everybody from the industry is there. You should go!

Victoria: It’s on my list to go promise…. Obviously for those who may not know. You worked with Carl Cox for 10 years..

Habs: Yeah.. It was the best 10 years of my life, flying around the world with a legend like Carl.. It was a real pleasure and something I will treasure for the rest of my life! Prior to that, before I actually joined Carl.. I was basically running visuals for most of the big dance events in the UK. Global Gathering, Creamfields with various artists, Homelands, so many.. I was also running the main stage at Glastonbury, the Pyramid stage as well as the other stage and the dance arena. It was hectic but I had a nice team working for me, so we could spread our wings and take of care of the 3 stages.

Victoria: That’s outrageous, working Glastonbury and on that scale the mind boggles.

Habs: Yeah, it was amazing to have that opportunity and while I was doing it I was approached by Carl Cox’s management to come and work with Carl.. I remember the first gig I did with him in Paris at Le Zenith.. I had actually played with him 6 years prior to that at a slinky event at the Westpoint Arena in Exeter.. He did one one of his famous 6 hour sets and I video mixed 6 hours with him as well. It was funny, I met a guy called Nick Coles who works for Trackitdown on the weekend, he remembers that event and he remembers my visual from that event as well.. But, basically on that specific night, after Carl had finished playing his set his driver came up and told me Carl wanted to speak with me.

I went backstage to Carl’s dressing room and he asked me “Are you the guy who did the visuals.. I just want to tell you, you were f****** amazing!”

He shook my hand, and then I didn’t see him for 6 years after that, until I walked into Lin Cosgrove’s office and he was there, he said “I recognise you” I said “yeah I met you 6 years ago at Slinky in Exeter” he said “you know what, I’ve always wondered what happened to you, now you’re here, we’re taking it to the next level with what we are doing” which was Le Zenith, it was the first one then we went on from there to play Stade de France for 80,000 people.. It was Carl Cox, Tiesto, David Guetta.. It was actually Guetta’s event but it was incredible, the production was out of this world! One of the real special moments for me with Carl was when we went to Japan after the tsunami and we did a charity event to raise money for the survivors of the tsunami with Fatboy Slim and a few other artists. We wanted to go and represent, so we went and had an amazing fundraiser, raised a lot of money.. Yeah, It was an amazing event! Then from there we went on to Australia, did Stereo Sonic with Carl, did that for four years running the techno arena, also spent a lot of time at his home in Melbourne, which was incredible to be part of that family!

Victoria: I can only dream.. {Laugh}

Habs: Yeah, you know.. The benefits of working with Carl, not only working with the latest technology.. Carl loves his technology, but he is also a very humble person, he appreciates people that work with him and he recognises them for the work that they do with him. Also working with him gave me a lot of credit and confidence and I met some amazing people along the way over the years working with. Where I am now, every time I have a new idea, people will listen to me because of what I’ve achieved..

Victoria: So it’s 20 years you have been doing the visual artistry then?

Habs: It’s 20 years now.. I remember the first gig I did, it was called ‘It’s a London Thing’, a garage night in Kingston upon Thames with Scott Garcia and a few other guys. I launched a product called ‘Dancer DNA’ which was way ahead of itself, I only posted something about it on Facebook the other day because I found some of the old discs, I’d love to bring it back to life. It was called Dancer DNA, making life dance… I really want to use that catchphrase myself now because

that is what we’re all about in this business, making life dance!

Victoria: What got you into visuals in the very first place?

Habs: I was headhunted by a company called Notting Hill, who were around at the same time as that movie with Hugh Grant, it was owned by the British film censor at the time called Andreas Whittam Smith, who’s also the gentleman that set up the Independent newspaper. They had this company called Notting Hill, where they were developing this program called ‘Dancer DNA’. Unfortunately for them, even though it was an amazing product, it is was way ahead of its time because people’s home computers weren’t up to it. They were stuck, they had spent all this money, had this great design team creating some cool stuff for this software program, and what were they going do? So I suggested that they keep the team, keep the product but use the product and design team to create content for bands to take out on tour. They thought it was a bit of a risk but they went with it and it paid off! The first tour that we nailed was Nine Inch Nails world tour..

It was through a contact of mine, Mark Brickman who was a lighting director for Pink Floyd, he came to see us and said look “what you guys are doing is perfect for Nine Inch Nails to take on tour”, so we ended up doing a world tour with him and then while we were in New York doing the visuals for this tour Stephen Spielberg was in the audience, he’s a big Nine Inch Nails fan! So he came backstage to see us and tell us he really liked the visuals, and about a project he was working on.. A movie called AI, Artificial Intelligence.. But to cut a long story short, he basically invited us to LA.. Hired the hanger where they were keeping the Howard Hughes plane, the Spruce Goose.. They took the plane out and turned the hanger into a big studio and used our visuals for a part of the movie called the ‘Flesh Fair’, where Jude Law meets the little kid where they are firing these little robots through these big industrial fans, and we ended up doing 20 minutes of that movie.. It was amazing!

Then from there we went on to other bands like the Pet Shop Boys, The Orb, Leftfield.. Various other things, and then started running main stage at Glastonbury, something they’d never seen before! It just went on from there really.. I went out on my own and developed this other program called Virtual VJ, which was incredible.. We never actually got to launch it as a product, so we used it as our own tool, which gave us our identity wherever we went around the world as visual artists, because they were totally different to what anyone else was doing, and they still are to this day!

That’s the key to this industry, whether you’re a DJ or an artist of any description, you have to create your own identity, to get recognised and to be remembered.. That’s the hardest part, but once you’ve achieved that the world is your oyster!

Victoria: It’s all about the goodness! {Laugh}

Habs: We love the goodness! {Laugh} I truly believe in the goodness, because the world is lacking a lot of that right now, especially with whats going on in America and the rest of the world, like the Middle East.. There is not enough goodness around, and I feel it’s a very prominent time for us to be pushing that concept, about goodness within the world.. Especially at this time of year as well, Christmas is an important time of year for people to share goodness, it’s a shame they only do that once a year.. Christmas, where everyone feels a bit humble about everything, I want it to be a year round thing rather than just a annual thing. I’ve always kept it as a niche to myself, on my online Facebook page, everyone knows me as Mr. Goodness.. It’s all about goodness, I want to spread that love around for everyone to feel, that if you really want to achieve something, you can achieve it with goodness rather than being a bit harsh..

Victoria: It’s nice to be nice..

Habs: Yeah, and there is really not enough niceness around.. I am a true believer in that, I am fortunate in that the friends I have around me right now are full of that, full of goodness.. They understand that, they get that, and that’s why we’re all good friends… we all sing from the same hymn sheet.. It’s all about the goodness!

Victoria:  There has been some logos with the “Goodness” and 2017 going through Facebook I’ve seen and shared but have no idea what its about..…but excited to find out!

Habs: That’s right.. It’s from working with my friend Mark Finch who has taken the concept further.. It was just my idea but he feels that there is a lot more to it and he has taken it on board for himself to start developing it in a way of doing goodness events. The first of which is with diabetes campaign which is the only the disease that is not recognised enough we feel.. Especially in the UK and a lot of people suffer with it. It’s big in the Asian community but it’s also big in various other communities, as we know.. But, we feel we want to make more people aware of diabetes and what they can do about it. Personally I suffer from diabetes myself, so it is something that is close to my heart. I feel in life everything happens for a reason and my other friend Dano who is actually the guy who brought it to life for us originally, it was his idea to do this event and then Mark got involved with him as well and together they have developed something really cool! I am so pleased for them and if I can support them in any way, I will because I am true believer in that.

Victoria: Well Iconic will definitely get on board with that! What a wonderful project and such a good cause. So tell me with so much done already and traveled is there still places you want to see and events to do?

Habs: Of course there is, I’d love to do Rio Carnival and I’d also like to do Burning Man. I was invited by Carl to go to Burning Man a few years ago but unfortunately it’s always on my birthday week in September, so I have never had an opportunity to go.. But that’s one thing I am looking forward to going to at some point in the near future.. Also I’d like to go, even if I don’t get to play at Rio, I’d like to experience it because I think it would be incredible. I have a few friends there that would love me to go and do it with them, so I just need to work it out with them and see how we can make it work. I loved South America, I went there with Ferry Corsten for the first time, we did a tour of Argentina, Brazil and Bolivia.. It was fantastic, still to this day I still have all those friends that I made there, 8 or 9 years ago. I was flown back by the promoter in Bolivia and I did a big event there with Armin Van Buuren.. Who was really surprised to see me, all the way from London! {Laugh} As a visual artist in Bolivia, the maddest place! It was incredible though, such lovely people! One of the biggest events I’ve done, apart from Glastonbury, I played the main stage at EDC in Vegas at the Speedway with Carl for over a 100,000 people.. They had 300,000sq metres of LED, it was just incredible! The place was something else.. Americans do everything to the next level, they’ve got the space, and they’ve got the money. It’s all showbiz to them.

Victoria: What’s that amazing place called with the hangover and you’ve got all the visuals in the ceiling?

Habs: That’s Carl Cox Megastructure, that’s in Miami… I am really proud to have my name on that, I did that for four years.

Victoria: Yeah, I’ve seen videos of that, it looks phenomenal!!

Habs: I nailed that a few times and even after I stopped working on that I was invited back by the artists that were playing on that stage to actually visual mix their sets. I closed it two years ago, I was honoured by Paul Van Dyke, he gave me the honour of closing the Megastructure for the last set of that weekend, it was great! I got a personal message from Carl wishing me luck, which was nice. I had to shoot back to the Bayside arena after that and then close that down and then get back to my hotel and get ready to go to the after party because I never miss a Carl Cox after party.. The Carl Cox after party is always the best party, especially in Miami! It’s just my kind of music, it’s funk, it’s soul.. everyone is happy, everyone is there and it is just a nice way to end the weekend. Actually it is one of the first clubs I have ever been to where they have an ice rink and a bowling alley in the club.. It’s absolutely nuts, only in America!

Victoria: You have worked with so many people any stories there? I know you have worked with Norman Jay who is one of my favourite DJ’s since I was young..

Habs: Yeah I worked with Norman.. Worked with Carl and Lisa.. There is loads, I mean when I look at the main stage of Glastonbury it is just funny because I was at Glastonbury a particular year when the brothers from Oasis had a fight before they went on stage, I was the only one that witnessed the fight backstage.. It was a time before we had phones with cameras on them, I was telling them to stop fighting.. All I could hear was “I want to kill him, he always thinks he’s better than me” It was just the most surreal thing to see

Victoria: (laughs) Is there anyone out there you can still get star struck by? When you have seen and worked with so many, is there anyone out there that when you see them get a little bit of….. starstruck!

Habs: I did get star struck by James Brown.. That was pretty special! To be honest, I’m quite a grounded person. I don’t really get excited because it is just a job for me to go there.. I wouldn’t say I get excited,

I get nervous, I get butterflies. I always promise myself the day I stop getting butterflies when I do an event, that’s the day i’ll stop doing what I do because then it doesn’t mean anything to me anymore.

Every event I do I treat it exactly the same mentally and physically.

Victoria: That’s the best attitude to have, I think you should feel nervous when you’re doing gigs like that.. its only natural.. plus its a good feeling to push you and keep you on your toes…

Habs: I always do, even with Carl and anyone I have played with over the years, Pet Shop Boys or Busta Rhymes, when you play with a legend like him! I was nervous but like I say, afterwards they have always appreciated what I’ve done for them and that to me is enough really. To be thanked for doing a good job. Luckily for me, touch wood I’ve never really had any cock-ups.

Victoria: I was just going to ask, have you had any bad experiences out there?

Habs: Honestly, Victoria if I did I would be really happy to tell you! I am only human, and we are all judged by each event that we do and we work in an industry where everybody knows each other, so if you do f*** up everyone will know about it. Luckily for me, I have never had a f*** up.. I am quite pleased about that!

Victoria: Clean record, I like it!…. not many people can say that..

Habs: Yeah, totally clean record, over 20 years having a clean record means a lot to me.. Otherwise I probably wouldn’t still be here.

Victoria: So for 2017 … What the Plans?

Habs: I am just excited about 2017 because  I am looking at a new horizon and a new beginning for myself.. I am excited about certain artists that I am looking forward to working with like Lenny Fontana who is a legend.. Looking forward to doing stuff with the Goodness and diabetes as a campaign to make more people aware of it as a disease and for people to take it more seriously. Also Working with DJVJ and developing it further and giving it the recognition it deserves as an App, as I said there is nothing else out there like it and there are people out there crying for it.. The way technology is going right now, everywhere you go there is screens.. But people just don’t have the content to run on them and if they do want content it costs them an arm and a leg, whereas the price point for DJVJ is fantastic, you’re getting digital quality visual content for a fraction of a price. Also, we are developing the online shop for people to download more content into DJVJ.

Artists and people that own businesses can approach us directly and we can work out a decent price for them to actually download their content off the online shop into the App. Basically they can’t do it directly right now, what I always said was that until I get to a quarter of a million downloads, you’re going to have to buy the content and buy what we produce from the shop. But once we get a quarter of a million downloads we are going to give the people the opportunity to upgrade the App for 10 pounds where they get an option to actually upload their own content into the App.. Then it basically becomes their own. So for 15 quid you have an amazing program that you own yourself where you can just download your own graphics and then run them on your screen, but until I get that specific number I am holding on.. I am looking at giving it away for free next year as well, and then just making money from the downloads.

Victoria: Thank you so much for taking the time out to talk to Iconic Underground and your wonderful hospitality and homemade cooking, wish all my Interviews could be like this …

Habs: My pleasure darling, thank you for coming down to see me.

You can find out more about Habs2ci & DJVJ on his Facebook pages.

https://www.facebook.com/Habs2ci

https://www.facebook.com/djvjapp

 

Interview: Victoria Ball

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Mike Moggi Mannix is the CEO founder Publisher and Editor of Iconic Underground magazine

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