While electronic music in Egypt still has its haters, there’s no denying that the pool of DJing talent in the country is growing deeper, wider and more eclectic, with new faces appearing at breakneck speed. Not all go onto fulfill their promise or potential, but one relative newbie looks set to – the one they call kidmims;.
Having made an impact as one of the contestants in the last edition of Electrum Records’ Student DJ Competition, Maie El Sabi has been slowly but surely climbing the ladder and finding a strong following on the music scene. Cairo Gossip’s Mahmoud Hussein caught up with Sabi to talk about SDJ, semi-colons and why she doesn’t like being called a ‘female DJ’.
Let’s start off with the obvious: what on earth does kidmims; mean? And what’s up with the semi-colon?
Well, I promise it’s not a cheesy name that I came up with – there is actually a story behind it. My last name is El Sabi, which means ‘kid’. My friends call me Mimz, Mimi, or bunch of things that come from maie, so put them together, and ‘kidmims;’ happened. I was originally going to call myself little-monkey-boy, because someone told me that Maie is little monkey in Arabic. I guess I was trying too hard with the little-monkey-boy, so I decided to choose ‘kidmims;’.
There’s a story behind the semi-colon, too – it’s kind of personal. I actually have a semi-colon tattoo, and had it way before the movement was trending. A semi-colon gives you time to stop, reflect, then move on. Usually, that’s where I like to be. I always like to pause and reflect to whatever’s been happening in my life.
Hmm, that actually makes a lot of sense. So, when was it that you woke up and decided to cross to the dark side that is DJing?
I was always passionate about music. I’m constantly listening to music all day. If I’m not listening to music, I’m humming or singing in my head, but I sucked at playing instruments, though; I tried playing the guitar in high-school, but it was an epic failure. In order for me to pass, I had to, literally, sing my way out. After I sang in the school carnival, I decided to explore what my voice was capable off. I enrolled in a vocal class in university, but unfortunately, I got too busy. It just needed a lot of practice and I had a lot of studying to pay attention to – I couldn’t keep up. I had one credit hour left at university, so I decided to take a one credit hour course – drums. After many tries, and walking around with “Drumming for Dummies”, I didn’t feel it was the right instrument for me.
After a while, I started dating a DJ, and was introduced to the world of DJing. I fell in love in the way he controls the music and the crowd. It’s amazing to see him move people, whether in the physical form or from the inside. I was always fascinated with DJing, but I never had the time. Then, Student DJ happened!
It certainly did – how was the experience? You went in with minor experience, right?
I had no DJing experience whatsoever before Student DJ, actually, but I decided to give it a shot anyway. I knew that, whatever happened, I would learn something new and so I had nothing to lose. They called me in for an interview and I was honest about having no experience. I wasn’t expecting them to call me back, but someone dropped out and they had an empty spot. That was a day before we had to travel to El Gouna so [Tamer] Auf, took me to the studio the night before we headed to Gouna and showed me the very basics, so I wouldn’t be totally lost.
It was pretty stressful, because I felt everyone had much more experience than I did. I kept switching partners, so any experience would be rubbed on me and even the fact that everyone has their own way of mixing surprised me.
Classes would normally finish at 6PM, but I used to sit and work on my DJing skills. I’d end up going back to the hotel at 4am on some nights. At that point my mentality changed from wanting to learn the basics, to actually winning the whole thing.
When it came down to battles, I didn’t want to waste time going to a studio, so I rented CDJ’s so I could practice at home. I made up my mind on what to include on my set, but I kept changing it whenever I listened to something new! But three days before the battle, I locked down my set and everyone gave me great feedback.
I was still nowhere near the DJs who had their technical game together, which worked against me – anyone who played with no sync on CDJ’s, automatically scored more points, for example and i was too scared to. I didn’t use many effects because I was afraid that I might mess up; I played it safe, just to show people I can play. But you can’t win something like Student DJ playing it safe. I was heartbroken when I got knocked out. I made it to the top 10, but that wasn’t good enough for me.
Sounds tough. Do you still struggle being one of the few female DJs in Egypt?
A lot of people are stressing on the point of “I’m one of the very few female DJs in Egypt”. Yes, Student DJ 2014 was mostly dominated by guys, but I didn’t feel ‘different’. I didn’t care to be honest. It was just about the music and the skills I wanted to learn in order to win the competition.
When it comes to promoting myself, a lot of people have told me that being a female DJ in Egypt will work in my advantage. But a lot of venues seem to only want to book me for that reason – which I’m not ok with. I want people to come to my gig for my music, not because I’m a girl. But I’ve had support from other DJs; of course, Auf tops the list, but Tarek Abou El Fetouh (Minus T) was also very supportive and I made a lot of friends during Student DJ.
It’s funny that you mention that, because your music has tended to switch – I’ve heard you play everything from tech house, to hip-hop, to indie rock. Is this a deliberate approach?
Here’s the thing; I was quite baffled when it came to finding my style and still am. It differs from one place to another because I don’t have the luxury to play what I want, where I want. It’s quite difficult for me to play in some places, because the crowd won’t love it and I’ll end up not getting booked again.
To me, though, I still haven’t proven myself. I still don’t have the freedom to play the music that I’m truly passionate about. I need to feel challenged and the only way to do that is to put myself out there.
Being a DJ is sounding more and more stressful – what was your first post-SDJ gig like?
My first gig ever was at Cairo Jazz Club, which was a big deal for me. It didn’t go completely smoothly, though. You have a sync button on the CDJs at jazz club and i was expecting to play with with the sync button, and, when I arrived, the CDJ was broken and they had an old one, with no sync button.
I had a word with Abaza, the event manager at CJC, to see if I would be able to use my s4 controller (traktor) which I had in my car outside. “So you’re a DJ and don’t know how to play without a sync button?” he said, which gave me the push I needed to beat-match. I messed up the first and third mixes, but it was all perfect from the third mix till the very end. At first I had a mini heart attack, but because, I felt myself challenged, I didn’t hesitate.
Alright, let’s go for something a bit lighter – top 5 Egyptian DJs, GO!
Auf, Auf, Auf, Auf and Auf! No, I’m kidding. Seriously though, Auf , Aly Goede, Ahmed Samy, Hatem El Chiati and Hisham Zahran – but if I had one more pick it’d be Hassan Abou Alam.
We’ve talked a lot about kidmims; - now let’s talk about Maie. What other passions do you have outside of DJing.
Art. That was my major. I had dreams of becoming a big artist but I became sort-of uninspired because of all the problems in Egypt. I decided to be more goal-oriented and actually tried to focus on graphic design. I would still definitely like to do more with my art. Actually, thinking about it now, I kind-of want to create logos and artwork for other DJs, although I personally don’t want a logo. I also have a passion for cooking and I was actually offered a scholarship to a cooking school in San Francisco, but I had to choose between it and Student DJ.
Hobbies and passions aside, do you have any guilty pleasures? I won’t tell anyone, I promise...
Wine – red wine to be specific! Any time of day. I can have red wine for breakfast, lunch and dinner. I can give up food and survive solely on red wine.
Amen to that. Let’s end on a cliché – what does the future hold for kidmims; and her music?
I want to create music to inspire people; like the way I’m inspired when I listen to one of my favourite bands, Foals. The music really moves me. I want to make music that people feel a certain way about. Sad, melancholic music inspires me in a weird way – a little bit like Bon Iver – and that’s an emotion or state of mind I want to explore. I feel like the music I’m going to produce is going to be completely different from the music I play as a DJ.
Stay up to date with all things kidmims; on her official Facebook page.
By Mahmoud Hussein