In Conversation with june as

Interviews
Image courtesy of Nada Zanhour

Frequent Defect is a club night, collective and social movement based in Beirut that has been running events and providing artistic platforms for local and international artists to convey and experiment with their work. Launched in late 2016, it has emerged as a centerpiece for the Lebanese underground scene in recent years.

Born out of ‘lines of flight, subversion schemas and detriments’, creating a safe space for artistic freedom and breaking censorship and tabooed subject matter is at the heart of what Frequent Defect stand for. Their club nights range from 80s post punk and new wave, grime and experimental music from Lebanon and across the Middle East.

june as is one of a number of DJs and producers involved with Frequent Defect. According to june as, the collective “uses media, be it physical or virtual, as the main channel for outreach with the emphasis on the socio-political Lebanese situation exhibited by a particular art direction.” Recently he was featured on Boiler Room which made it to our “Top 5 Streams from Isolation” piece.

june spoke to Katie Hughes over Skype from his home in Beirut to discuss the group which has shaped and grow the underground scene in the city. The interview took place in May whilst Lebanon like the rest of the world was still experiencing lockdowns due to COVID-19.

In your music, you incorporate a lot of traditional elements with experimental music. Were there any traditional Lebanese artists who inspired you?

Growing up, there was a bigger focus on foreign music but we soon realised there was so many great talents over here. There were a lot of interesting acts, particularly Osman Arabi who was the first to really know his music. You can also date back to some [Lebanese] metal bands from back in the day.

There’s also an experimental acoustic scene. There is a lot interesting stuff coming out of here and it’s forever changing. I’m really looking forward to Try Harder’s EP which should be coming out soon. He has been one of the most boundary-breaking musicians.

Yeah, I know I asked you about the edit [of Strike’s You Sure Do] he did that you played as part of your boiler room.

That one will be part of the new EP.

june as playing as part of Ma3azef takeover

Would you say there is a big experimental scene over in Beirut?

Depends what you mean by experimental, but there has always been a group of people on the other side of experimentation. There’s the Irtijal Festival that has been running every year with experimental music from across the region. It’s more one-off events or yearly festivals. 

There’s a lot of artists who are heavily experimenting and creating really interesting works, but I feel there isn’t that many outlets for experimental music. The big clubs focus on house and techno but you can find other music here and there.

I saw you run a particular club night with Frequent Defect called Grime and Punishment. Did Grime make it as big in Lebanon as it did in the UK?

It was more of an underground thing, as with so many other genres. We do another night for example called Ten Hymns for Corrosion which focuses on more new wave, post-punk, new beat kind of things. It’s the same perspective for our grime night, we feel a lot of these genres don’t get the right justice here because of many factors.

During the civil war, we didn’t have a lot of records coming here except for stuff like Pink Floyd. We missed out on post punk and new wave. Now you have collectors and selectors over here and putting on a party with that music, which is really fun. It’s become niche as people weren’t exposed the first time to the music. Maybe we are trying to catch up on lost time. 

It’s nice to have a space where people can be exposed to those genres of music.

It’s also great for people who listen to the ‘not as popular’ genres of music to play it to a crowd. It’s not always professional DJs playing at the nights.We try to push some new artists that have really good taste to get more into mixing. It breeds this environment of new people bringing ideas and exchanging them.

I’ve seen you have an event that you encourage people to bring their synthesizers to exchange ideas. Have you been doing that for a while and have a lot of collaborations come out of that?  

It started outside the venue. It was a spin off of Modular on the Spot which happens in LA normally. We did it in a bar in Beirut but as we felt there was a need for this type of thing, we moved it to our main venue for a monthly series. Now people exchange ideas and there is a synth marketplace because it’s hard in Lebanon to get equipment.

Frequent Defect Logo

You usually hold your frequent defect events in a venue called  Mkalles Warehouse. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of information about the venue online, which makes it all the more mysterious. Can you tell us about it?

It’s an old storage facility for pharmaceuticals and other things. We first started with Frequent Defect at a small club but we moved to Mkalles because it was bigger and offered us a lot more freedom. It was pretty rough and dusty at first and we were full on DIY at first as we had to build the bar. It took a bit of time to get it running.

We started on the first floor, but we have taken over the second floor for work spaces. We were meeting up every day to work on our projects, until lockdown happened.

Are there a lot of spaces like that over there or is the venue an anomaly?

It was a bit weird for people to get there because it’s pretty much in an industrial area on the outskirts of Beirut, so it was a challenge to get there at first. However, that contributed to the community organically growing, as whoever really wanted to be there went there and everyone got to know each other more and more. You feel there is a strong sense of community with this core group of people who set the tone for the place. 

I saw you participated in an event last year called Day of Action: Right to Play on the Rooftops in Qasqas.

Yeah, that was a series of event throughout the day. Yo-Yo Ma came to Lebanon to play a big festival and there was a whole day where we would play three different places, including Qasqas. At the end of the day there was the main event at Mkalles, where there was a bunch of live performances which included Yo-Yo Ma, Kinan Azmeh, Oumaima al-Khalil, and Ziad al-Ahmadieh.

It was a pretty magical night. The venue was super packed. It was a one-off experience, especially getting to see people who want to listen to classical music being in a venue in the middle of an industrial area.

Do you have any exciting projects coming up?

Mainly I’m finishing up my EP which will probably be out in the next couple of months. We’ve been working on a number of projects through Defect. Since the lockdown, we’ve had time to finish all the hanging stuff we haven’t time to finish. We’ve been planning a jump into the virtual world for a year and that has taken up a lot of my time.

Listen back to our conversation with june as on Maracuya Soundsystem:

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