Aham is the first home-grown avant-garde electronic artist to come out of Dubai. The evidence is in his stunning eponymous debut album – ‘AH.AM’. Out now on all streaming platforms, the eight-track album is a sumptuous journey steeped in personal emotion. It deserves your attention.
Dubai-born and bred artist Paul Josef is the talented producer behind Aham. While Josef has released a string of tech-house and techno cuts under his own name, the album marks a breathtaking evolution of his sound. Josef deliberately ripped up the rule book. He allowed the music to steer its own course, with no rules, no expectations and no preconceptions. As a result, the album – made on an array of synths and detailed with myriad found sounds – blurs genre boundaries and doesn’t follow usual structures or time signatures.
From the moment it starts with the brain-cleansing sounds of birds chirping, ‘AH.AM’ is deeply involving. Tender chords soon glow with warmth and soul as electronic synths ripple into earshot. Elsewhere, you’re suspended amongst the clouds with distant drum tumbles moving slowly onwards. There are tracks detailed with soft acid and dog barks, heartbroken major chords next to optimistic keys. Richly layered, the album boasts moving moments of darkness next to hopeful passages of light. ‘AH.AM’ shifts as imperceptibly yet undeniably as the sand on a dune and is just as widescreen and beautiful.
DMCWORLD were keen to find out more about the artist behind the album…
Tell us your journey in music up to your Aham project?
I’ve been playing music from a young age. I learned to play the piano and drums as a child in church. As a teenager, I was drawn to metal and rock music and I eventually played with a few bands. But even then I wanted to do something as an individual artist. I found my way to electronic music and started writing tracks and DJing.
After a few years of DJing, I created a live techno show that allowed me to be more experimental. I was selected to represent the United Arab Emirates at Mutek Middle East in 2017 when the Canadian festival expanded into the region. That was fantastic and a career highlight. It give me the confidence to dive even deeper into alternative and more experimental electronic music. I feel like everything to this point has been a stepping stone and a learning experience.
Your ‘AH.AM’ album is very individual but which other artists inspire you?
I try not to be influenced by others’ styles but I’m definitely inspired by Nicholas Jaar, Trentemøller and David August.
How would you describe your album?
‘AH.AM’ is me finding my happy place in music – not defined by any genres or styles. It’s the sound of me maturing as an artist. It’s taken a while to get here but it’s not the end of the journey. If anything, it’s the beginning.
What was the trickiest part of the album process?
Creating a journey with eight tracks was quite tough. I wanted to make sure that each track was compatible with the others so that the album offers a full listening experience from start to finish.
The album is full of darkness and light. Did your surroundings in Dubai influence the music in any way?
I wasn’t influenced by my geographical surroundings but I was influenced by the pandemic. Everyone in the world has been going through a tough time. It hasn’t been easy – either physically or mentally. The good and bad I’ve been through as a result of the pandemic is definitely reflected in the album.
The final album track ‘Upheaval’ is particularly gorgeous. Were you going through upheaval in your own life when you wrote it?
I wrote ‘Upheaval’ around four years ago when some incidents completely flipped my life around. I was going through a financial crisis and in order to pay bills I had to sell all the instruments and synthesizers I’d collected over the years. That was painful. Any musician will tell you it’s painful to let go of your synths because you develop a sort of relationship with the sound. I had to do that multiple times until I had nothing to sell but my laptop. It was extremely hard and I nearly quit music all together. But in reality, I could never give it up – even if I was just left with a plate and spoon to play with. Thankfully, that time is just a memory now living through this track.
How do you want listeners to interpret the album tracks?
I went through a lot while writing this album but that’s my story. I hope listeners can weave their own stories into each track – and I hope they find the album therapeutic over all.
Why did the album take almost three years to come together?
‘AH.AM’ goes against everything I’d learned about making music. It’s not that easy to get out of your comfort zone and swim against the tide. Before diving deep into this project, I actually stepped away from making music for a full year. It was like a cleansing process, stepping away from the monotonous style I’d been falling into. Also, I wasn’t in a particular hurry to finish it. Sometimes, time can work in your favour.
How have you grown as an artist in that time?
Writing this album this album was extremely educational. It opened up my mind to sounds I wouldn’t have otherwise explored. I don’t write music in the same way as before. I used to know what track I wanted to write before even making a start. I’ve learned to write whatever I feel at that moment and just go with the flow.
I’ve grown as a person too. I see a world of possibilities; I look at things differently and have learned to ignore the bias that is so often ingrained in us as a result of our surroundings. I’ve learned to listen to my heart first and then reason with knowledge.
How will you perform the ‘AH.AM’ album live?
I’m figuring that out. Any live shows will not be an exact replica of the album – that moment is gone. Through a hybrid set with samplers and my favourite synths, I’ll reinterpret each track in the moment. My Roland TB-03, Juno, Korg Minilogue and Native Instruments Massive will definitely accompany me on the road.
Dispel a myth about Dubai.
Dubai has a very glamourous image – and there certainly is a lot of glitz. But there’s so much more to Dubai than just expensive cars and shiny tall buildings. Old Dubai, were I spent most of life, is a very different world. There is actually a lot of poverty in certain parts of Dubai but that’s very rarely covered in the media.
If we find ourselves in Dubai for the weekend, which clubs should we make a beeline for?
Clubs are open but there are still a number of Covid-related restrictions in place. The weekend runs Thursday to Saturday here. I show my face regularly at Escape, at SoBe Dubai, on Thursdays, and Duck Soup Series at Knox, on Fridays. Both are cool underground parties with good people and good music.
What can we expect from Aham in the future?
A helluva lot more experimental music. I’m exploring a few collaborations too so I’m excited for what lies ahead.