Julián Mesa is unafraid to delve into the underground, mind-bending recesses of the club. A connoisseur of house and techno, his daring, trippy selections have given him a reputation across North and South America as well as Asia. The NYC-born (now based in Bahrain) DJ and producer, Julián Mesa was exposed to a wave of what are now regarded as some of the most significant records in the history of electronic music when growing up stateside in the 1990s. Within it, the producer found himself drawing inspiration from the likes of Richie Hawtin, Jeff Mills, Derrick Carter, Derrick May, Jon Rundell and John Acquaviva, to name a few.
Upon moving to Bahrain, Mesa’s desire to keep challenging himself set him on a creative path to an impressive music career in the strictest sense. Some of his most notable stage experiences include Pacha (NYC), Heart (Miami), Drais (Las Vegas), Heard From (Colombia), Urizuru (Tokyo) and Gong (Qingdao). He has seen his productions released on Fervence Records (Sweden) as well as his own Explicit Codec imprint, garnering the support of artists like Iori, Nusha, Blu9, GettoBlaster, Terry Mulan, wAFF, Davide Squillace and many others. And he founded a promotional brand OFF Global Group which strives to create stunning auditory experiences. This all feeds into his goals for the future and for expanding his visibility globally.
We caught up with Julián Mesa to talk about his career, the development of the underground culture in Bahrain and in the Middle East region in a wider sense, his favourite underground dance music venues in Bahrain, his brand OFF Global Group and his soon-to-be-seen comeback to music production.
Firstly thanks so much for the interview Julián. How are you?
Hello guys, thank you guys for having me! Doing great here in Bahrain enjoying quite some warm weather haha!
How did you get into the spirit of dance music at the very beginning and decide to build a career in music?
I decided to get into electronic music from a very young age. I remember hearing Richie Hawtin’s mix from Little Furthur Festival in Wisconsin, USA in 1999 and when I heard that sound it changed my life, it was different than everything else I heard around me and from that moment on I fell in love with techno. From that moment I started listening to all the major techno artists around that time and following the music they used to play from Detroit to Berlin, and I knew exactly that’s what I wanted to do. I studied music all around, my family had a huge influence with Disco, House, and Trance, and I started taking the evolution from all the music until what it became Techno. I had started collecting vinyl to make my own collection, and I knew that I wanted to keep on doing that for the rest of my life. At the age of 12 I started to pick up DJing, and from my first gig I knew that this had to be what I do for the rest of my life.
What were the sources of your early inspirations when you were exposed to underground dance music?
Richie Hawtin for me was my first exposure to underground music along with Jeff Mills, Derrick Carter, Derrick May, Jon Rundell and John Acquaviva. These artists started shaping my mind with electronic music, and from there I kept on seeing how underground electronic music movement started to be evolved from House in Chicago, Tech House in the UK, and Techno between Detroit and Berlin. I knew from a young age that I wanted to be able to include these influences throughout my music and blend them in a way that it would take listeners through a full journey, especially when early on DJs played for longer time.
Now what inspires you the most? How do you get inspired when creating music and when DJing in front of the crowds?
This is a tough question because everything around me inspires me haha. I have had the opportunity to live in many places through the USA (New York, Miami, Las Vegas), Colombia, South Korea, and now Bahrain along with traveling to different countries as well. Each place has their signature sound, their signature style, and all these combined experiences constantly shape my sound with producing and DJing. It is said that we are creatures of our environment, and this for me it’s very true as I grab my inspiration from what is around me.
Also, I have always said I’m a “moody” artist – meaning that my mood really shapes my creativity. Throughout my life I have gone through many different experiences that I channel along with my creativity and create music based on that. For me it’s really important that people feel connected with the music I make and play, I want people to have a good emotional experience with the music that will create memories for people to carry with them.
You have already graced many club spaces from North America to South America along with Asia. You were born in the US and now are based in Bahrain. As an artist who has had chance to observe different aspects of the clubbing culture across different locations, how do you evaluate the importance of this culture and how do you see its future in a global sense?
I believe that clubbing culture is very important around the world. From underground electronic music to even the mainstream commercial music, clubbing is a way of expression for the people, it’s a space where people can all gather, enjoy the same thing together, and come together as one for some special moments, especially within the underground scene. The electronic music movement has always been a revolution, it can be seen throughout the music history how with clubbing culture we have changed masses and used this medium to make our voices heard. Each culture has its way of expression with it, but the message is all the same no matter where on this planet.
What I see in its future in a global sense is the constant growing of this culture and making even bigger impacts in many different aspects. One concern I do have about its future, it’s the current state of everything becoming a social media trend. Clubbing just like electronic music scene has always been held up through different values, and unfortunately, I do see many of these values fading away through the social trends that have become even a necessity in current times, but I do believe that artists all together along with true music lovers and understanders of this movement and its history, we can make sure we still uphold the values within it that brought us together.
What is the story behind the decision to move to Bahrain from your hometown Brooklyn?
While living in South Korea, one of my sisters had moved from the states to Bahrain. I remember when she called me to tell me she would be relocating with her family to Bahrain, she explained that it was a in the Middle East, and probably the easiest way to explain it to me, “it’s a country just next to Saudi Arabia and near Dubai” – when she put it this way to me it was kind of easier to map it out haha!
From that moment on I went to look a lot about Bahrain and educate myself on it, and after some time had the opportunity to visit the country as my family and I decided to visit my sister. I had never been to the Middle East, and didn’t really know what to expect, all my knowledge about the Middle East was based on what I heard in the news back home. It was a big surprise for me to come to Bahrain and see that it was nothing like the news ever make the Middle East look like, especially Bahrain as this country definitely has a lot more freedom in many aspects. The biggest surprise was to find the amount of clubs and events going on here. Before visiting, my sister had done some research of her own with underground promoters here in Bahrain and had suggested for me to get in contact with some of them to see if any gigs would come out of it. Long-story short, ended up being booked as a closer for NYE party in 2019, and then for another gig at the beginning of 2020. After seeing how people had responded to my music and seeing the underground club culture in Bahrain – which had and has a lot of potential for growth – and decided that I wanted to be part of this movement. Fast-forward a couple months, and I was back in Bahrain starting a new life in a country that I only had come to vacation to, but little did I know that it would become my new home, a home where great projects have started and continue to grow. Since my arrival to Bahrain, it’s been incredible to be part of this journey, and be a contributor to the growth of the underground scene here.
Your promotional brand OFF Global Group is doing remarkable work in the country. Are you solely focused on the Bahraini scene, or do you have plans to throw parties outside Bahrain in the region?
For now, our main focus is Bahrain, this country is one with massive potential and one that has grown a lot, especially since I’ve been here and have seen it grow more and more, and I’m glad that myself and my team have been able to be contributors to it. We also focus on doing some events throughout USA both in New York and Miami as well as in Medellin, Colombia which is a city that has made electronic music a huge part of their culture. For 2023 we have amazing plans being worked on showcasing the brand more in those countries as well as in other countries in the Middle East region and Europe as well.
Alongside yourself, who also comprise the OFF Global Group team? How is the work-sharing within the team?
My team is the best I could ever ask for because together we all make things work even when we are in different countries. There are two main partners with me in this project, one is Laura Zapata who’s the person with whom OFF Global Group came to its inception back in 2019. She’s based in Miami, USA and with her we decided that we wanted to leave our imprint in the music industry. She has a passion for electronic music unlike any other, and her creativity, and push-forward mentality has helped us achieve great things with the brand. The second one is Sam Darwish, who helps with all the PR initiatives, especially here in Bahrain. Since my arrival to Bahrain and meeting him, he became an extremely important person in our expansion in Bahrain. He has a way to reach people and communicate the vision and mission of our brand to the people we work with as well with everyone who attends our events, and thanks to him we have been able to reach the GCC market. Another important person in our team is Andre Dimune, he handles with me the A&R of the newly formed OFF Global Group Records, and he also handles all of our operations in Colombia in coordination with Laura, and apart from that Andre is one of the fastest rising talents from the Colombian scene.
Together we all communicate despite the different locations and different time-zones, but we are able to all come together to make things work. We have our systems to keep everything in track, and combined we are able to make our magic happen.
You’re the founder of another imprint called Explicit Codec as well. What is the fundamental difference between OFF Global Group and Explicit Codec?
The fundamental difference between both is that Explicit Codec was meant to be just a record label – a space for up-and-coming artists to release their music, while OFF Global Group is a much more complex project as brand, event producers, and now as well as a record label. Our goal with OFF Global Group goes beyond what we even started as, we want to be a 360 space for all artists, music industry professionals, and everyone in between. As we grow and with our growth plan, we are even talking about being involved with electronic music press, help artists with publishing and much more. We are a motivated team giving 100% and setting up all the infrastructure for success in the future. With Explicit Codec our focus was just releasing music and doing some events, but the project in itself was meant to be smaller.
Your productions were released on the Sweden-based label Fervence Records as well as on your own imprint Explicit Codec. Are you planning to make a come-back to music production? Do you have new releases in the pipeline? Could we have some details?
Absolutely I am planning on making a come-back to music production, nowadays it’s more important than ever in order to reach artistic goals. I had taken some time off from it to focus on DJing and the brand, but now that we are in a great place, definitely planning on being back at the studio for longer periods of time. Currently I have a catalogue of 10 tracks that I have finished recently for different labels that are planned to come out in 2023. Can’t share yet many details as to where they are being released, but I can say that I am happy to have been able to reach labels that were a dream of mine to be able to be in, but it goes to show that with hard work and dedication, dreams can actually become true. Once I am able to share these details, you guys will be first to know haha!
What are the most important milestones in your musical journey in years that shaped the current state of Julián Mesa?
I believe that some of the biggest milestones in my career come from being able to play my music in different countries in some of the best nightclubs, at times even with some of the most prolific artists in the scene. This is what has really shaped the current state of Julian Mesa, because of these opportunities to be among so many artists, I have learned so much that I use in my everyday life within this career. I think from the moment I decided that I wanted this to be my career, I had set up different goals all the way from producing, to DJing, to setting up my own events. I have been able to do all three throughout the years of my career, and I like to think so in a successful way. I pride myself in working hard to achieve what I have achieved, especially coming from what is now maybe an “old-school mentality” of letting music speak for itself rather than the social media hype that is the current trend.
A big influence in my milestones also comes from the work I did with a previous brand I worked with – Sheik ‘n’ Beik – in NYC. This brand and label was my home for quite some time, and together we achieved so many great things. We shaped the underground scene in NYC along with other key players at the time, and back in the day we just had good events, good artists – local and from around the world, and just a freaking good time! We were doing things for the love of music and the scene, and we did it in many places across the continents. The brand was heavily involved in curating many events bringing top tier international artists in NYC, Miami, Cartagena, Ibiza, Paris, and many more places throughout the seasons and even to the point curating stages on festivals, the biggest one being Jungle51 in Okeechobee Music Festival. I really miss those days, and this was a huge source of inspiration for me and my work with OFF Global Group.
But my biggest milestones are just about to begin with some productions coming on labels that I only used to dream about, and currently event talking to some clubs and events that I’ll have the opportunity to be a part of that could have never even imagined.
How do you evaluate the status and the development of the underground culture both in Bahrain and in the Middle East region in a wider sense?
My personal believe, the current status of the underground culture in Bahrain is still very new. Yes, there were promoters who were doing great events here and bringing great artists from time to time, but still since I’ve lived here, my opinion is that it is very fresh still. Has it developed a lot in the last 2-3 years? – absolutely, we still have a long way to go but we are on the right track. The scene here is quickly growing and realizing the importance of supporting local talent as well as international talent when they come. The scene here has also gotten very exposed to different aspects of electronic music which makes it great for the artists here in being able to play and show different facets of ourselves.
As for the Middle East in a wider sense, definitely it’s a scene that has grown massively, in the right way, and it still has a lot more potential. All the different countries in the Middle Eastern region are showcasing more and more each day how electronic music scene is becoming a big part of their culture, and each country adding their own flair to it. Everyone in the region is so exposed to all the different genres and utilizing them to reach more and more people. I’m proud to be in the middle of this expansion happening and excited to see what a powerhouse it will become in the next few years, especially when this region has amazing locations for events that are simply breathtaking!
Are there country-specific major differences in the region, in terms of supply-demand conditions, the number of clubs, tendencies to specific genres and styles, etc.?
Definitely in the Middle East everything is very country specific. When we talk about Bahrain, supply-demand conditions are very limited in all aspects – so much as to clubs, tendencies, even people. This country only has a population of around 1.5 million people, and the number of locals that are into the underground scene are about 200-300, and these people are shared all throughout the different promoters. With that being the case, if all promoters we were to do an event with international artists in the same night as an example, I believe that none of us would probably reach the intended goal, therefore we all try to coordinate as much as we can amongst each other so we can all provide the best experiences – Though here in Bahrain, we are also very dependent on the Saudi market as they are well exposed as well to electronic music and many of them come on the weekends to enjoy the scene. Music-wise, when I first came to Bahrain everything revolved around Melodic House & Techno mostly, but these last few years it can be seen there’s a rise in the other genres - Techno, Minimal, House, and Deep House into the scene.
When looking at Saudi as example, they were able to host MDLBeast Soundstorm, that’s a festival that featured artists from all over the world and had an attendance of more than 150,000 people per day. Their population is massive and are able to make huge events with many people in attendance. They do count with a lot of government support for some events which make it easier for the masses. Music tendencies there are more about minimal scene which to me was surprising in a good way because consistently they are bringing incredible minimal and house acts, and even their own locals are very focused on these particular genres.
Now if we look at countries such as UAE (Dubai), Lebanon, Turkey, and Egypt – these are places with a massive scene where the supply-demand is very well balanced I believe. The number of clubs compared to the amount of people make sense, and you can even see the quality of artists that are being brought consistently. Due to the scenes in these countries being a lot more developed, they are able to see the value in paying for a top tier artist being that productions are massive and event spaces are very suitable as well, and this potential Bahrain also has it coming within the next few years as great things are developing here.
Alongside OFF Global Group, what are the other entities representing the culture in Bahrain that you have collaborated with, or that are doing impressive work even if you haven’t had opportunity to collaborate with?
In Bahrain there are a lot of brands that we work to shape the underground dance music scene here. One brand that we love to collaborate with and are doing amazing things is DISORDER. This brand is comprised of two very close friends of mine – Petar and Jellena Mladenovic - that have brought a light to quality minimal scene here in Bahrain and have brough great international talent and done major events such as hosting the official pre-parties here in Bahrain for UNUM Festival and Epizode Festival. Together we are planning major events for 2023, and we cannot wait to unveil all details as these projects will be major milestones for both our brands.
We also collaborate a lot with Techno Bahrain, which is an established Bahraini brand bringing light to techno, and it has always produced quality events whether bringing international talent or making local and regional talent shine. One brand that we haven’t collaborated with yet but has done work for the underground in Bahrain for years is Mindset Media with their Propaganda parties.
What are the major event spaces and underground clubs that dance music events take place in Bahrain where fans who happen to visit the country should absolutely experience their dance floors?
One of my favorite underground dance music venues here in Bahrain is OVER338. This space from its rooftop down to the dark room, for me personally, is one of my favorite places to play at, it really brings the underground spirit of the music we play. Calexico is another space that brings quality underground artists, and it has a cool atmosphere for us to enjoy our music. There are also spaces such as La Fontaine (historical place in Bahrain), Solymar Beach which has a beautiful atmosphere, and the ART Hotel and its inside installations which is super spacious and is where the last DISORDER event was.
What would you like to say as a final message to the dance music community in the region?
For the dance community in the region as a final message, I want to say THANK YOU! Thank you for believing in me, my team, my music, our brand, just everything. This region has given me such a warm welcome from the start, and the love only keeps on growing each day. Moving here my goal was to be able to bring my experiences from all around the world, and be able to showcase them in the region, especially Bahrain since it’s my new home. Everything we do is for the love of our movement here, and I cannot wait to keep on bringing more and more here. I love meeting people all around the places in the region that I have traveled, and have been lucky enough to meet amazing people, and looking forward to meeting many more.
And to you guys at Mixmag MENA, thank you for having me with you guys, I cannot wait to see all the amazing things to come!
Listen to Julián Mesa's fresh Influx mix below!