The Empire of Yousef Is a Powerful Brand
If you think you were busy—look at Yousef.
The city of Liverpool is no stranger to having millions of eyes and ears on its music scene. As a "city steeped in musical heritage," most famously by the Beatles, it's important to remember that the Merseyside town also had a part to play in UK rave culture. With that in mind, it's safe to say that Yousef has been an instrumental figure in cementing more electronic avenues of Liverpool's esteemed music history.
In fact, Yousef's story isn't so different from that of many underground fans today. "Cream arrived in Liverpool in the 90s as the antithesis of candy rave culture. Think comedy EDM in America now, that's what Cream was ironically trying to get away from," he explains. "They invited DJs like Todd Terry, Derrick Carter, Tony Humphries, and Roger S., and the quality of music was incredible. I was hooked. Eventually, I was offered a residency, playing six-hour sets in that very room."
It doesn't sound too far off from scenes around North America today. A select few venues essentially saying 'fuck the status quo' and playing quality music while most still revert to Top 40 and more mainstage tunes. Cream to Yousef is the Coda to a young Torontonian today, the Stereo to a Montrealer, and so on. The difference is just that now they actually ID at the doors.
Funnily enough, Yousef had some choice words for his last gig in Montreal. "I've only played Stereo once, but given that I've played Fabric, Womb, Space Ibiza and many of the world's best clubs, Stereo has the best system I've ever heard. It was almost silk-like. Silk wrapped around a brick in the chest! Nothing I've played on is quite as good, not even Steve Dash at my beloved Cream in Liverpool back in the day."
From "the early days of Cream" Yousef was sold on the lifestyle. "I taught myself to DJ as I've taught myself all my other vocations." Even though he's worn several hats in the music industry, he was quick to remind anyone that he's a DJ first and foremost. "All the other attributes have been developed during my almost fifteen years of DJing." Now he's truly a 360-degree figure in the music industry, but he likes it that way. In fact, he finds it a necessity. "I think a modern DJ must be skilled across the range of activities in electronic music."
Before he truly broke out in DJing, Yousef was involved primarily in events. His club night, the original Circus event, saw success in Liverpool some years before the label existed. In many ways, the development of the label was a coming of heads. The next step for Yousef was logical—come full circle with an imprint. It was then that he realized it was time to get Circus Recordings out there.
And that he did. Circus Recordings exploded upon the scene with arguably the anthem of 2013, "Bigger Than Prince" and its gargantuan remixes in 2014. The Circus event series now has residencies in Liverpool, London, Barcelona and events in Manchester, Ibiza, Miami and beyond. "When the right events come in, we do them. I invite my friends, who happen to be the world's best underground DJs, and we have fun, playing quality music."
Yousef's itself knows no bounds, encompassing the concept of 21st-century house music that his label tends to reflect as well. Instead of painting himself into a corner, Yousef will travel from deep house, to tech house, to enormous techno, always with fluidity and mastery in mixing. He's never shy with vocals, using vox as just another element in his arsenal.
Circus is very much the same, releasing tracks across the soundscape of the underground rather than restricting its sound to one particular subgenre. In many ways, it reflects Yousef's career, and the wide array of influences that helped him grow into the artist he is today. While Yousef is sure to play a lot of tracks from Circus in his sets, he'll also spread the love from labels like Innervisions and Suara to more truly underground tracks.
Throughout the journey, Yousef has honed his production skills every step of the way. For his first album, he says, "it was strictly bedroom and laptop, but it came out really well." His last album was a full studio album with recording booths, musicians, the works. This new album, In The Process Of Eight, is a bit of a combination. "I made at home, albeit in a semi-professional studio. My point is, I've learned my skill along the way and can determine what's needed from project to project with the need of a full studio."
It's easy to see why his approach has worked over the years. Longevity in this industry is everything and to earn longevity an artist needs to be in it for the right reasons. "Complacency is not for me. After DJing for so long and doing my best to be as good as I can, the least I can do is give every gig my all. I'm respectful of the paying clubber and how much gratitude they deserve."
Despite his fame, Yousef remains humble about both his colleagues and his success. He names scores of artists and labels throughout the interview that he respects deeply, regarding them more as friends than anything else. "[Techno artists have] given their working life to a musical movement, and understanding its characteristics to its core. If you love techno you'll love it for life."
It will be interesting to continue to track Yousef's career over the coming years. As a DJ, a promoter, an event designer, a producer, and a label owner, he has really done it all. The next step will be to take his brand to the next level. The tools are in place for a 'Circus' takeover of the underground. At this point, it's just about execution.