Born in Baghdad, Iraq, Motez saw his home country slide from cosmopolitanism into fundamentalism. Concerned about the parallels between the rising nationalist tide in Western civilisation today and that of Iraq’s 1980s decline, Motez tackles the big issues both in conversation and the DJ booth. By using his music to open up inclusive spaces, Motez is breaking down the arbitrary barriers people erect between one another.
Before getting weird with him at the House of Yes, CONVICTS got Motez’s word on the similarities between Baghdad and New York, the borderless quality of dance music, and the critical importance of education.
Hey, man. To start, can you tell us what brings you to New York?
I have been in New York for the last couple of days. I am playing at the club called House of Yes in Brooklyn. I played there earlier this year and it sold out. It was amazing, one of the best gigs I’ve ever played, I really enjoyed it.
How would you describe the House of Yes to people?
It’s fun even though it’s dark. It’s alternative and very hedonistic, you know? It’s very different to a lot of clubs I’ve played. Probably the most similar one would be Q in Seattle.
You’re based out of Adelaide. How does that compare to New York?
Adelaide is vastly different from New York. From a population perspective, Adelaide has maybe a million and a half people. It’s very square — the city itself is gridded, but it’s very cute, very nice, beautiful wine country, great food. Some people say its a town disguised as a city. There is such a cool nice warm cozy vibe to it.
So we walked around recording ambient sounds today. What were some of the coolest aspects of that experience?
It was really cool to hear the transition going between areas with different cultures. When you go from a more Jewish to a more Puerto Rican neighborhood, you can hear it along the way. When you walk around you hear traffic and then you hear the ferry and then you hear the train and you hear the buses. It’s a nice ecosystem within itself. It’s a cool example of what we can capture.
How would you describe your experience in New York overall?
To describe it to a friend who hasn’t been here? It’s busy. It’s just a cool place, as generic as that sounds. You can see that it’s an actual melting pot of different cultures. You see that when you walk around, even in the smallest neighborhoods.
How do New York, Adelaide, and Baghdad compare?
Baghdad is more similar to New York than most Australian cities are because Baghdad is very busy, it’s very hot, there are a lot of people of around. In Australia in most cities — you could say this about Melbourne, Sydney, or Adelaide — I’d say are cleaner, just because they are newer cities.
Talk about your experience as being a first generation immigrant in Australia? Have you had to deal with much racism?
Actually, I didn’t catch the brunt of it. It was more my dad because my dad moved to Australia. He came to Australia on a boat so as an asylum seeker so I think he saw more than I did. When I moved to Australia, it was more or less kind of piggy backing off what my dad had kind of built for us in the time he was there. I didn’t really experience racism first hand, thankfully, but I know it definitely does exist and it’s very evident. In Australia, people are elected to Parliament because they base their message on racism and division. So it is hard to ignore that and it is inevitable, but I have not experienced it first hand.
Can you talk more about that political situation?
So in Australia we have a senator by the name of Pauline Hanson. Her message is based on her vision that Islam is a disease and needs to be eradicated. Her message was along those lines, she was trying to hide it but she wasn’t being tactful. There is rise of that around the world. It’s a response to globalization which I guess, in a way is understandable. The solution is actually looking at the root of the problem and fixing it. This trend that is not only happening in America, it is not only happening in Australia, it has happened in England with Brexit, it’s happened in France, it nearly happened in the Netherlands. It is happening around the world.
What do you think the root of the problem is?
It’s hard to pinpoint. From my experience growing up in Iraq, the root of all of these sorts of problems come from people in little corners connected purely to poverty. Poverty leads to lack of education, or the other way around you know? When that happens people are less informed. Whoever is on the pedestal telling them ‘immigrants are coming to steal your jobs,’ they are going to follow them because they don’t know any better. The solution is education and working on poverty. I mean, I can’t say from a rooftop in Brooklyn that the cause of the problem is poverty and we just need to get rid of poverty. But living in Iraq, I saw the country transition from a place that was very, very secular in the 60s, 70s and even the 80s, to what is now. I can see that happening in a lot places around the world.
How do you see music playing a role in breaking down these cultural barriers and stereotypes?
To be quite honest because I’ve been very fortunate to play sets many places around the world. The constant is that people go to thoroughly enjoy music. They open their hearts and minds and just let themselves go. That applies to people regardless of age or sex or gender or cultural background.
Hear that man. Thanks for the chat and best of luck with your next set.