Get to know Mahmoud Zidan, a driving force behind the booming Egyptian scene
“Having a passion for delivering an experience for both your audience and your artists is the only sure way to make it”
Egypt has experienced a growth in all areas underground music, particularly since the early 2010s. The key players shaping the scene’s direction unlock different ways to the represent the clubbing culture and dance music by intertwining the country’s vast potential with various international projects. One of the most outstanding entrepreneurs in Egypt that lead impactful efforts is Mahmoud Zidan. Mixmag MENA spoke with him about his career, his recent and future projects along with how the scene in this full-of-promise transcontinental country spanning the northeast corner of Africa and southwest corner of Asia continues to flourish.
Your music journey has started with trance genres. Khaled Hawasli was the one to shape your musical knowledge and culture. How did your path begin in the electronic music scene? How did your roads cross with Hawasli; what are some memorable experiences you would like to share with us?
I first met Khaled Hawasli as an 18-year-old vacationing in Sharm El Sheikh. I was introduced to him while attending the opening of Space Sharm -he was managing the club at the time. Khaled was the person responsible for turning Sharm El Sheikh into a hub for trance music fans, hosting many editions of the legendary “Future Sound of Egypt” with Egyptian trance icons Ali & Fila which are some of my fondest memories from that time. He went on to manage German veteran DJ Hosh, and his label “fryhide”. I made sure to learn as much as I could about event organising and artist management from Khaled in the early stages of my career.
You are not only a producer but also a successful entrepreneur. Your first preneur was Theatre of Dreams which you laid the seeds of with a bunch of friends. We would like to get your comments on the evolution of electronic music and industry in the Middle East, and specifically Egypt as a producer and an entrepreneur.
Theatre of Dreams was my debut project as an event organiser and promoter back in 2015. It was a first-of-its-kind concept in the Egyptian scene back then, a three-day festival in Sinai -Nuewba specifically- with many of the local scene’s headliners. As time went by, the electronic music scene exploded, and Egypt became a hotspot for a lot of international bookings. That was when I decided to start my agency Playground, which led to successful mega projects headlined by Tale of Us, Monolink, Innellea, Mathame, and many others.
One of your responsibilities as an organiser is to put together events that shed light on the creativity of artists. What are the aspects that you give importance to in trying to amplify the creativity of the artists that you work with both on and off the stage?
As an organiser, understanding the artists’ creative vision and how to execute said vision is a particularly important part of your job. Creating a truly successful project has more to it than just landing big-name bookings, you must adapt your methods and work with the artists to ensure you deliver the best possible experience for your audience. Which exactly what was done to execute many of the concept-focused projects we successfully executed in Egypt like; the Sound Garden label showcase with Nick Warren, the Diynamic label showcase with Solomun, and most recently, the Klassified label showcase with Parallells.
It is impossible to not touch upon Cercle Music which brings together cultural heritage and natural landscapes with electronic music. How did your roads cross with Cercle?
First contact with Phillipe Tuchmann happened thanks to a mutual friend by the name of Gayath Dakroub -the owner of Form record label-, and it led to Kord Agency being responsible for bringing Cercle to the MENA region for the first time at the Great Pyramids of Giza with Sebastian Leger. In addition to another edition at the glorious Temple of Abu Simbel with WhoMadeWho. Collaborating with Cercle is most certainly the highlight of my career, so I cannot forget to mention the Egyptian Ministry of Tourism & Antiquities which was very welcoming to the idea and gave us all the needed support to make these projects happen.
Well-versed in staying ahead of the curve, Kord Agency is an independent and creative boutique agency focusing on solutions structured around the client's core business needs. What is the story of Kord, how did it start?
The idea for Kord Agency came about when I met Bassel Enab and Moustafa Sheta. Bassel had his hands on the pulse, thanks to his experience in label marketing from working in SONY records, and Hosh’s fryhide record label. While Moustafa aka Misty is one the biggest DJ in the local scene, he also had marketing knowledge stemming from his educational background and work experience. Kord is a creative digital and media production agency. We specialise in delivering a 360-suite of services to a select list of clients starting from conceptualization to on-ground production, and post-production services.
Playstream is a platform that incorporates gaming with streaming. Besides creating a dialogue between the viewers and streamers, what is in it for creators?
Playstream came to life because we wanted to get 2 birds with 1 stone, showcasing the best talents in the local scene while highlighting Egypt's innate beauty and serene landscapes. The result was an immersive audio-visual experience that came with each edition. The artists get a platform to be heard and seen, which is the best kind of support you can give to any artist. Playstream also proved that the Egyptian scene has the ability to execute a high-production project that offers an aesthetic point of view, which helped us bring Cercle to Egypt as they had the trust that their concept can be perfectly executed in the MENA region.
We'd like to learn more about your label. What kind of projects and artists do you look for in Freedom Music?
Freedom Music Egypt currently mainly focuses on the local rap scene which has been booming for the past few years. We aim to be this scene’s strongest supporter, we do that by giving artists a platform to be heard, through interviews, creative entertainment concepts, and sponsorships, in addition to having the biggest rap competition in the MENA region.
Early May in the heart of Sinai’s well-kept desert, Rwala Festival’s debut edition took place. A 2-day festival conceptualised, planned, and executed by Kord Agency. The festival took place at Seyal Desert Hub, amid Dahab’s Towailat Mountain, which gave a sense of disconnect from the outside world. Can you share your experiences; how did it elevate the electronic music scene in Egypt?
When we wanted to create Rwala Festival with Karim Shatawy –owner of Seyal Desert Hub-, we set out to deliver an artistic –almost spiritual- experience. Dahab was our 1st choice to host the event, one of Egypt’s well-kept gems that has an unmatched atmosphere; coupled with a meticulously curated line-up and a full itinerary of artistic & wellness activities. The event was launched this year and is planned to take place annually, we are already preparing for the 2023 edition. We think this helps elevate the electronic music scene in Egypt by offering the audience a variety of experiences, as diversity in any scene is always needed.
What was the best location that you organised for; a dream location you would like to organise an event at? Are there any artists you would wish to work with / promote in the near future?
Organising the Cercle event at the ancient Temple of Abu Simbel was an unreal experience, truly a dream come true. As for the location on the top of my bucket list, that will have to be Salah El-din Citadel in Taba, Egypt. The mixture of history with the breathtaking landscape surrounding the venue would be something for the book. For the artist I would like to work with in the future, my eyes are on Rüfüs Du Sol and Tame Impala, hopefully, we can make it happen soon.
What are your plans for the near future and 2023? Are there any new projects that you can share with us?
Honestly, I cannot wait for 2023, we have major plans with Cercle in the pipeline, including the MENA region's first Cercle event with a crowd. Big plans for the Egyptian rap scene as well, as we are working on bringing a lot of the biggest international rap stars to perform in Egypt. I cannot share more information at the moment but stay tuned for the announcement.
Do you have any advice for future organisers and entrepreneurs?
My advice for people striving to make their way in the field of event organising is to try not to follow trends, instead always for the gap that needs to be filled. Having a passion for delivering an experience for both your audience and your artists is the only sure way to make it. Finally, operate with the highest level of professionalism possible with your artists, and be as transparent as possible with the audience, it goes a long way.