Abdul Raeva are a pair of Estonian-based producers who have been making quite a name for themselves in a relatively short amount of time. Having only released their first tracks in February of 2020, the young upstarts are already garnering features on underground labels such as Gestalt Records, Mint Tea, Neptune Discs and Dance All Day Records.
Already building a reputation with their emotionally-driven dub techno melodies, Abdul Raeva seem primed for a big year – reaching more audiences than ever before. In this month’s edition of MixedBy, we catch up with Abdul Raeva to learn more about the little-known duo.
Understanding that you both have solo projects of your own (Rashida Prime and 1309ESO), can you share with our readers what the impetus behind the two of you joining forces was?
S: Hey and thanks for reading!
J: We met a few times at my workplace (Sveta Baar) and always ended up talking about music. I don’t remember how it went down but in my head it was like, I asked Steffan if he likes dance music and told him I’ll send some tunes. At that point I hadn’t really produced any proper dance music so my first tries weren’t that great, but it got the ball rolling. After some back and forth demo sharing we decided to just do something together and that’s basically how we got here.
S: From the start we just got along really well and took an interest in each other’s music, probably because it was so different. So from the demo sharing we started noticing things that the other one wasn’t so good at and just began giving each other feedback. Eventually we realised it would be easier to do stuff together instead of just talking about it. At first it was purely musical, but over the years it’s certainly grown into much more than that and we’re very close now. We’re very different but also share a lot of values, so in a sense we kinda compliment each other too. I think Abdul has also really benefited our individual projects, which is actually what’s been the most rewarding thing about it.
What would you say are the differences between the music you produce on your own versus the tunes you make together? Do you take a different approach as a group?
J: My solo music is more based on themes or stories that I try to relay to the listener and leans more on the ambient side of electronic music. Sometimes it can be really tiring and frustrating when the inspiration doesn’t kick in. But with Abdul it’s all about having fun, so it’s really a perfect escape from all the serious ideas and feelings. From the first kick sample to the last gloss of reverb it’s just pure ecstasy and overall good vibes.
S: Yeah, our individual projects have a certain ethos behind them which Abdul Raeva let’s us get away from. It’s basically just a sandbox for us to fool around with all the things we’re too pretentious to do on our own. A good example is Phantasya which we both thought was quite a mainstream track and probably not the ‘Reava sound’ that people had gotten used to. But we really liked it and just thought “if we dig it so will others and if they don’t that’s also cool”. There’s just no filter and that’s what’s kept us going I think.
J: I actually remember that the first demo of Laser Beam Funk made me think that this is the dumbest fun I’ve ever had producing a song, which sums it up very well.
Although launching a new project always comes with difficulties, I bet doing it in 2020 – the year of the pandemic – probably came with its own unique challenges. Were there any in particular that you remember and how did you overcome them?
S: Well I also run a few labels which can sometimes make you feel a bit ‘corporate’, like you’re working within a framework or set of routines. That made me quite restless so Abdul in many ways helped me through that first shitty phase of the pandemic by being on the other (and often more creative) side of the fence.
J: Right when the pandemic started I went to buy toilet paper as a joke (but in a post-ironic way, because it was popular to do at the time) and then I watched Contagion. After that I realised how serious all this stuff is and confusion really set in. I started worrying about everyday-problems and it really stressed me out. But Abdul really helped me stay positive and my friendship with Steffan, even though it was mostly virtual for some time, reached new heights. Since my work was also shut down because of the lockdown, I just decided to focus on the music time rather than to worry about all things you can’t control anyway.
S: To be honest, if it hadn’t been for lockdown I doubt Abdul would’ve become a thing.
What’s on the horizon for Abdul Raeva in 2022? Any major projects you’d like to share?
S: Behind the scenes 2022 has been so insanely busy. So far we’ve finished four solo records, plus another four VA tracks. The only thing we’re allowed to say is that some of it will be released on Love On The Rocks, Duality Trax and Echocentric Records.
J: I probably need a haircut and shave. It would also be great to make more songs for people to dance to. And the prospects of travelling a bit more and having some gigs is also very exciting!
S: This might also be a cool time to announce that we’re playing at DAAD Gathering (the techno edition of Ozora) this summer. A lot of our heroes like Erol Alkan, DJ Tennis and Maayan Nidam are also playing so that’s definitely going to be a highlight for us!
If we are being honest, there isn’t a lot we know of the Estonian, electronic scene. What is it like coming up as artists in the country? What are some of the major clubs and artists of Estonia we should know about?
J: Estonia is pretty big on the harder sounding vibe right now, like techno and electro. Bible Club and Keetai represent that sound quite well for me. Nikolajev and Kadajane have some solid records with proper electro vibe too. And the people from Smoke Break add a bit of phonk to the table with their label and parties. I also recommend checking out San Hani who has a nice and glossy production.
We also have a curated radio station called IDA. Most of the local DJs have a show there. Error! Error! is one of my top picks from their program, if you’re into post-rock and obscure sounds (the hosts are lovely people too). Another one is Propel, which is hosted by my good friend Köster. The metal/punk scene is also pretty huge here, if that’s your kind of vibe then definitely check out dreamkrusher!, Zahir and Kannabinõid.
S: It’s also worth mentioning Raadio 2 who host some great shows too. There’s Parkla which mostly focuses on softer house and Hard Feeler that taps into just about everything from techno to jungle to dnb. On IDA I really enjoy listening to klmn, who’s one of the city’s best selectors in my opinion.
J: I started playing as DJ Mannekeen at Helikopter, which is sadly closed now. The same people who ran that opened Sveta Baar, where I work now. Basically I learned how to DJ there.
S: Sveta is the main place for me. When I first moved to Estonia I lived like 5 minutes away. The first couple of months I was unemployed and kept going there, nagging them to let me play some lowkey tunes in the daytime. Luckily they said yes and that’s basically how I met Joonas. It’s also the hotspot for the city’s alternative crowd (queers, transgenders etc.) so obviously it’s closely connected to all things house. If you’re looking for more underground and techno vibes then you have to head down to Hall, which is kinda Berghain-inspired. They also have a killer pizzeria which works in the daytime.
J: S/o fakedj, Jaan Pavliuk, astraal_fekaal, CT Venom, rii, Temo, Local Deejays, my mom/close ones, Steffans cat and all the others my bad brain forgot right now. P.S. Burger Box has the best food.
S: Big up Kevin Park, Ken Kuusk, Katja Viltsenko, Karel Leht, Endamisi Salamisi, Mari-Anna Miller, Sanel Mittal and Mati from Upsetter Barbershop
Where do you guys draw most of your inspiration from? Any artists in particular? And what other mediums do you look to to get the creative juices flowing?
J: Well I grew up listening to Prodigy and Chemical Brothers. But now I surf on Soundcloud and Bandcamp to find inspiration. It depends on the mood as well and favourites can change quickly. Right now I’m on a huge New Members vibe. Amazing production and overall good taste in sound selection. With Abdul we mainly focus on the danceability though. If the track makes you move then you’re on the right path. Like that moment when you start pumping your fist in the air.
S: For me it was always The Chemical Brothers if we’re talking about electronic music. It was just a sound you could get lost in, without ever feeling lost. But my background is mostly in blues and jazz, so I draw a lot of emotion and ambiance from there.
Both Joonas and I dabble in design too, which helps me a lot when I hit a creative block. It’s nice to be able to explore different creative processes. And just like we help each other with music, we do the same with design. Here are a few sketches that we did, while struggling with making good tunes.
When you guys hit the studio or have sessions in your bedrooms, what’s some of your favorite gear you use to produce your sound?
J: Main work is still done in Ableton. It has all the flexible functions to produce quick or jam with. I guess it’s pretty obvious too that we enjoy the 303 sound? That’s why we got the TD-3. It’s cheap but sounds amazing in my opinion. For the rhythms we have an Elektron Model:Samples. A perfect tool to get things going fast. Lots of the synth riffs and effects are done with a TAL Bassline 101. Maybe one day we will get a real one because you can make some of the fattest bass sounds that I know of. Drums are mainly sample based. I really enjoy surfing the web for sounds. Some old databases or self made packs are always a gold mine.
S: I always loved the Minibrute. That’s about it. It’s the only piece of gear I ever felt 100 percent comfortable with to be honest. I really love sampling though and spend hours recording weird stuff off my records. None of the samples have ever made their way into a track though. One thing I’d like to bring into our music is the use of actual instruments, like jam out an extra fat bassline on a Thunderbird or go record a proper drum fill, then put it into a totally dumb acid techno track. But I’ll lean on Joonas here, 99% of everything is Ableton.
Can you describe what our readers have to look forward to in your MixedBy? Anything you’d like to point out?
J+S: We spend a lot of effort in recording mixes and trying to make sure each track contributes to the overall flow. For the most part these are all tunes that really inspire us right now though. Hope you enjoy and don’t hesitate asking for IDs in the comments :’)
Interview by/ Yassin