BOOM catches up with fila of aly & fila as he hops on a plane to prague’s biggest party, trancefusion.
Kindergarten was where Aly and Fila first met and some 30 years later they are still best friends. Born Aly Amr Fathalah (Aly) and Fadi Wassef Naguib (Fila), the two Egyptians fell in love with dance music at an early age and have never looked back. “We’ve known each other since we were kids,” explains Fila, “Very close friends, in fact best friends. And we were listening to the same music, and one day we just asked ourselves, why don’t we start making it?” Of course, getting hold of the right equipment back in the late 90s was not the easiest thing. “Back when we started it was very tough. The only thing we could use was a hardware sequencer, there were no computer sequencers. So we had to buy our first Roland Groovebox. They weren’t available in Egypt at the time although we had Roland representatives. But underground stuff like the Groovebox wasn’t available so we had to buy everything from abroad. We were just saving money, saving money and eventually we built our studio.”
Their first release ‘Eye of Horus’ was a huge success and put them on the international trance radar, with Paul Van Dyk, Armin Van Buuren and Tiësto giving the track massive airplay. It ended up reaching No. 4 on the Dutch Dance charts. Since then, further releases such as ‘Spirit of Ka’ and ‘Quiet Storm’ have cemented their reputation as some of trance most important producers. DJing has of course always been part of the Aly & Fila brand, but Aly had to give that up when he suffered an ear infection which resulted in his doctor advising him to stay away from loud music or risk losing his hearing altogether in that ear. These days, Fila travels the world, DJing alone. When asked if Aly is jealous of his jet-set lifestyle, Fila says diplomatically that he wishes Aly were together with him everywhere.
Aside from their production and DJ work, Aly & Fila are huge stars in Egypt both for their phenomenal parties as well as for their radio show ‘Future Sound of Egypt’. Of course, Egypt is currently undergoing huge political turmoil, but it seems that when the chips are down, the people need some kind of release because, according to Fila, ‘there is really something happening [in parties]’ in the region. “[The Middle East] is definitely changing. Look at Dubai, the Emirates and Lebanon. Look at Sharm El Sheikh which could be the next Ibiza. They have all the big brand names both the clubs and the DJs. I think the whole of the Middle East and the Mediterranean countries are growing. Just for myself, I get more bookings in the Middle East these days and the crowd is really good.”
Perhaps one of the reasons is that social media is massive in the Middle East. One of Twitter’s biggest markets is Saudi Arabia, and throughout the Arab Spring protests Twitter and Facebook were instrumental in mobilising the area. It’s no surprise then that Aly & Fila take social media very seriously. “Social media has done so much to promote artists,” admits Fila, “Aly & I, we plan all our social media and we also do a lot of personal tweets. Facebook is still the biggest though and it’s probably the most important, together with Soundcloud.” There’s of course a strong negative side to social media but Fila remains positive even about the critics. “The good thing is that these days with social media, people know your music before they come to the party. I’ve met a lot of people who’ve said that to me, that they checked us out first before coming. For me it’s hugely useful.”
The duo have released a string of hits and they will have a new compilation album coming out at the end of May as part of the Ministry of Sound Trance Nation series. Finding material for the album was no problem as their Future Sound of Egypt show has enabled them to have access to the brightest sparks in dance music. “We have this great privilege where we get new promos and new material every week. So for the Trance Nation compilation we reached out to a few people and asked for exclusive tracks.” Of course, releasing an album under a brand as over-reaching as Ministry of Sound can have its pitfalls in terms of creative control, but Fila is adamant that the process was hugely enjoyable. “I’m proud to be working for Ministry of Sound. It’s honestly one of the compilations we’ve always dreamed of doing. And to be honest, they didn’t try to change my direction at all. They said ‘do the compilation the way you want’ and we stuck by their word. That’s why the track list is mostly composed of upcoming artists and new faces to the dance scene. There aren’t any big tracks, it’s music that we like to play ourselves.”
Of course, Aly & Fila are masters of trance, but, like all DJs around the world, they have been keeping track of the rise of EDM with interest. “In America, EDM rose two to three years ago and it became so big. But people only got into the more commercial side. But at least they got into it. Now I see that people are checking into a lot of different sounds and EDM has helped them to find the way to proper music. Trance, for instance, is going crazy now. The venues are bigger and the shows are sold out. For me this is a good sign.”
Fila has played many times to hugely appreciative crowds in Asia. That said, Tokyo has been tantalizingly out of reach and he cannot wait to be able to play ageHa. However, he is keen to point out that his audience in Asia is excellent, although he isn’t unaware that clubbers in Asia sometimes are not too interested in the music. “It really depends on where you are in Asia, I feel. Last week I was in Jakarta and Singapore and the crowd was really good and really knew the music. And in fact in Guangzhou, it was totally off the hook. But I do understand that other clubs, like VIP clubs, well people are really just coming to drink and socialise, not for the music.” But like a true entertainer, Fila isn’t dismayed by this. “You know, when the crowd doesn’t appreciate the music, I take it as a challenge. If you’re just coming to drink, let me see if I can get you dancing on the dance floor. That’s a challenge I enjoy.”