Born in the San-Francisco bay area and now based in New York, Sepehr has proven to be one of the most exciting talents to emerge from a refreshed vision of electronic music across the United States. With releases on a number of international labels, he’s now launching his own, ‘Shaytoon’, which was also the title of his recent debut LP on Dark Entries. Promising to “focus on broadcasting the sounds of the Iranian/Middle Eastern underground”, it debuted in late 2020 with Sepehr’s own Crown Jewel EP, a distinctive introductory mix of acid techno and EBM shot through with real personality and songwriting nous.
This mixture of abrasiveness and playfulness perhaps characterises the sonics at the centre of Sepher’s music, a seemingly endless stream of electronic ideas stalking the edge of the dancefloor before losing themselves front-and-centre of the speaker stacks. In the interview below, Sepehr says that as well as curating his new label, his upcoming plan is to “focus on quality, not quantity.” Judging by the strength and diversity of his productions so far, expect Sepehr to emerge from a year of enforced pandemic with a discography that will seem like the soundtrack of those long, winding raves we’re beginning to taste the possibility of once more.
Touching on Armenian fashion, workflow and psychedelia, Sepehr spoke to John Loveless about the foundations for this fantastic contribution to #PHANTASYMIX.
Hi Sepehr. First off, I really love the artwork for your last album, ‘Shaytoon’. Where did you get that amazing looking suit you're wearing on the cover?
This suit is actually my old roommates from San Francisco, who is an amazing DJ called M4CRO, originally from Montreal. He was given that as a hand-me-down from his wild Armenian cousin (Stefan) who we would have lots of equally wild nights with. Honestly, his Middle Eastern energy radiates through the clothing so it was a no brainer to wear on the cover.
You’ve released on a number of labels - SP:EC, Klakson and of course, Dark Entries - but have still found the time to begin your own, also called ‘Shaytoon’. You’ve said that you plan for this to be “a platform for Iranian and Middle Eastern electronic artists”, as well as your own work. What has building these connections been like so far? A natural progression or something that requires some outreach to break down certain barriers?
So far, it has been an amazing experience but it is in its infancy so there's still a lot of logistical growth and relationship building going on right now. I have so many Iranian DJs and artists on board to contribute in different ways (especially when we can throw parties again) and I am hoping to create one large collective of artists and contributors. I have been gathering music, beginning a mix CD series, and the next release will be by me again this Spring before I pass the baton to other artists! The communication has been fluid and natural, but there also has been a lot of outreach in order to band together artists in Iran and all over the rest of the globe to mobilize. It is going to be a slow burn but amazing project.
You’ve been DJing since your teens and have developed a style that’s very characteristic, despite the diversity of your own music. Over that time, what’s changed, and what’s stayed the same?
I think over time, my skill at building better and keeping a storyline together and really controlling mood is the biggest change. Being more patient. What hasn't changed is the fact that most of my selections feel like music that feels really physical and all have a very potent feeling, always an element of some weird nostalgic melancholy or freaky nature...if that makes any sense? I think my big influence from my heroes of the SF scene have definitely had a big impact on my DJ style and sound. People like Solar, Carlos Souffront, Tyrel Williams, Mozhgan, Honey Soundsystem, Sohrab and Skander, Sunset and too many others to name.
Past mixes of yours have been exclusively constructed from your own material. You have always been prolific, something I can only imagine has become even more the case over the past year. Do you keep a schedule when it comes to recording? What’s your process, and how often and what methods do you use to shake things up?
It's nice to be recognized as prolific. I make a lot of music. Like an obscene amount of time spent on it, because it is the one thing that keeps me grounded in the chaos and non stop ephemera of life. I think my archive of unreleased stuff is up to 630-something tracks now. I follow no schedule but it's just a given that I'm constantly working either in the studio or on my laptop.
As far as methods. I feel such a push and pull in inspiration at all times to every corner of electronic music that inspires me, and at any given moment I pivot from the sound that I am doing. For instance, in the midst of working on some late 90's influenced darkside drum‘n’bass, I'll listen to some Coil or Current 93 tracks and immediately want to make an entire album of something with those flavors. It changes like the weather. This constant back and forth makes it so that I constantly feel inspiration but it can be overwhelming. So I try to stick to finishing one type of sound at a time, until i get tired of it. These days I want to start focusing on quality output versus quantity so I am working more on concept records for the future. And always having a sense of fearlessness and boundary pushing going on.
Prior to 2020, it felt like the US club scene had really found a new identity and popularity, and many of the DJs and producers central to that have kept just as busy with the recent restrictions. San Francisco, from where you hail and where you are based, is known for a scene very different to that on the East Coast. If possible, how would you define it, and what were the parties that had an influence on you personally?
Oh man, this question brings such a rich and robust amount of nostalgia and memory it's hard to answer. I'm actually based in NYC, but spent my whole life in the San Francisco/Bay Area. San Francisco has always been a little beautiful gem, picturesque as they come and always had a very punk rock and psychedelic feel to it. People come to San Francisco to be unique and weird and want to live in a place that represents fearless artistic expression, and it always has been. The tech boom really put a huge taint on it, but the sentiment remains. The first parties that really left the biggest mark on me was at The Compound, a now defunct warehouse space with 360 degree sound and the DJ booth right in the middle of the room that had parties going on for the entire weekend, full freedom, safe space with intense energy. I would go every weekend from ages 18-25 before it shut down. People from all over the globe would show up just from word of mouth hearing about it.
Besides that, before the tech boom ruined the culture of the city, every single loft party, underground, local show had a vivid california-styled punk energy to it. My cousin (Sohrab Harooni, amazing DJ, artist and label head) along with his partner Whitney Smith (bad-ass strategist and label head) were probably the only ones who threw a highly influential revival of SF's warehouse culture with their Lokad parties during the post-tech SF music landscape. Tickets only, electric energy, the type of party that you immediately stop talking and start dancing the moment you step in.
The text for Shaytoon stresses ‘psychedelic realms’. The term ‘psychedelic’ is one we have at the heart of Phantasy, too, although there’s no specific definition, it feels like it’s an attitude that’s consistently evolving… Right now, beginning the label adventure, what does it mean to you personally?
As you can see from the interview so far I love the term! I think that the word, every year, becomes more and more all encompassing to everything that I enjoy in art and music. Just a sense of setting strange moods that rock the essence of reality and reflecting the absurdism of it all, activating primal states, experiencing full blown intense kaleidoscopic love, and above all being UNIQUE (especially in the dance music landscape) is what I use it for and the goal for the label.
Finally, what can you tell us about this mix?
This mix was recorded in one take here in New York, just blending a variety of things that have been catching my ear recently as well some personal classics. I wanted to reflect this psychedelia and tribal atmosphere I’ve been into while still showcasing a slice of my own musical mind. Hope you enjoy it and thanks for having me!
John Loveless, February 2021.