New Jersey native turned Boston DJ extraordinaire Ali Berger has become a staple of a growing electronic dance music scene. Immersing himself into the party and feeding off the communal vibes, he creates music so the crowd never has to stop moving. I got a chance to talk to Ali before his show this Friday @ Deep Thoughts where he’ll be releasing his new tape.
What attracted you to make music in the style that you do?
Going to parties was probably the biggest thing. I lived in Brooklyn in the summer of 2012 and that was where I really got exposed to house and disco music in a compelling way. The most important experience was going to a party at Dope Jams (a record store that used to be in Brooklyn, now located in the Catskills) . . . you know how you read all that stuff about house/disco/good dance music making you feel close with strangers, helping you be at peace with yourself and the world, that emotional release? I thought that was all kinda bullshit until that party, which proved to me that it was possible for dance music to be so much more than just a fun time. So combine that with a very introspective personality and a love of improvisation and I think that results in the aiming-at-spiritual loose leftfield dance music I’m trying to do.
With electronic/EDM/party music a lot of it seems to reflect off the atmosphere of where a DJ is, particularly the crowd, does that kind of audience relationship effect how you create music?
It definitely does. All my live sets lately are fully improvised (no prewritten material) and the reason for that is that I’m trying to create a connection with the audience. It’s not directly playing off the audience like “oh, they liked that drum sound, I’ll give them some more of that,” but more that the whole point of the set is to open myself up to people and let them see what’s going on inside. When I DJ it’s more like the first example, where I see what people respond to and let that guide my decisions. Another way I like to think about it is I’m trying to find some common ground with the audience and then play stuff that will gradually get people to be open to each other.
Can you describe your favorite show you’ve ever played?
I did a party called Focus at the Lilypad last summer. It was just me DJing the whole time, a bunch of friends (mostly from outside the dance music scene) came and everyone got down in a very genuine way. It’s the only party I’ve ever thrown and it was awesome to be able to create the vibe I wanted. Being your own opener means when you get to the peak of the party the tracks that are big for you are big for everyone else too — you’ve created the right expectation.
Did you have a set vision/concept for your new tape?
Not really actually! The tape was kind of a casual thing, Scott hit me up asking for studio outtakes, live versions, B-sides, etc., and I sent him a bunch of jams. He picked the ones he thought would make a good statement and we went ahead with it. What came out was kind of a glimpse at some of the experiments I do when I’m figuring out new gear, practicing for live sets, or working with unusual prompts.
Where do you want to bring people with your music?
When I think about it abstractly I guess there are two main goals. One is to give people the strength to be themselves. That’s something I’ve struggled with for my whole conscious life, and music has helped me get better at it. The other idea is more vague, I guess I’d describe it as trying to create or enhance some emotional state. I feel something, I try to make a piece of music that feels that way so that when someone else is having that feeling or wants to have it then the piece of music I made can be helpful to them somehow. Honestly though, I don’t really look at music from this angle when I’m making it. It’s usually a very personal thing, and then once it’s made, the next step is to figure out what it might do for someone else.
If you were to give instructions on how people should listen to your music, what would they be?
This question is kind of blowing my mind because it’s making me realize that I don’t think very much about what it’s like for other people to listen to my music. The place my mind goes next is “THAT’s the thing that’s wrong with my music” but probably there’s no right and wrong, it’s just how I do it right now. I would like people to treat my music with respect, which is how I’d like people to treat all music.
What are your biggest influences that aren’t music?
Probably experiences I have with other people. For me, music is less a thing in itself and more a reflection of life, a different way of communicating or reckoning with events and feelings and people. I like reading about psychology too, and watching movies that are sort of psychologically deep. People can check out the book The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker and the movie Detachment for good examples of what I’m talking about.
Electronic/EDM/party music has seen a surge of popularity into the mainstream in the last ten years. Do you have any thoughts on where it’s going?
Not really. I try not to pay attention to trends, just keep my head down and focus on the stuff that’s inspiring to me. Most of the artists I like (Jeff Mills, Hieroglyphic Being, D’Marc Cantu, Slow To Speak . . . ) are exploring ideas and chasing goals that are timeless and independent of what’s popular at the moment. I’m still at the beginning of a really long process to find those ideas for myself, but I’m optimistic that I’ll get there eventually.
Where do you want to go with your music?
Producing and DJing full time would be the ideal. There was a time when I thought I could be content with a 9 to 5 and doing music in my spare time but I’ve since realized that to get as good as I want to be I’m gonna need to put that level of time and energy into it.