Every Friday night in State of the Union’s dark, garage
like back room, Ali “Dubfire” Shirazinia and Sharam Tayebi of the DJ/production team Deep Dish spin a powerfully hypnotic form of underground house. Instead
of relying on commercial techno formula—tinkly piano fills topped off by caterwauling soul singers—Shirazinia and Tayebi favor a more reductive approach. They are minimalists who use incessant 4/4 beats to induce a deep trance.
The duo works as puppet masters, leading their clubgoing marionettes to the floor for an evening of intense dancing and sweating. The closer you are to the speakers, the deeper the enveloping, sensual sensation the music creates. Your throat vibrates and your lungs get out of their natural rhythm, becoming slaves to the beat.
As the evening progresses, the music almost never stops. Occasional midsong breakdowns, where the beat teasingly drops out, leave the dancers stranded for what in real time is only a few seconds but on the floor feels like an eternity. But Deep Dish is quick to get back to the continuous beat-mix before anyone becomes too self-conscious. The set consists of the pair’s own music, artists from Deep Dish Records and their newer Yoshitoshi label, occasional snippets of well-known artists like Björk and Janet Jackson, and the newest records from the confusingly fast-changing 12-inch white-label scene.
The duo works like an old-time comedy team, both while DJing and in person. Shirazinia is quiet and reserved, Dean Martin to Tayebi’s loud and excitable Jerry Lewis. Both Shirazinia, 24, and Tayebi, 25, were born in Iran. Shirazinia moved to Maryland in 1978, just before the Iranian revolution, while Tayebi came to the U.S. in 1985, when his family settled in Virginia. In May 1991, the odd couple separately DJ’d the same party, but their styles, like their personalities, were completely different. Tayebi played floor-filling, HI-NRG house music; then Shirazinia took over. His style was more experimental, and Tayebi became agitated because he thought the crowd was getting lost.
“He played what the people wanted to hear,” acknowledges Shirazinia. “I played what they didn’t know and didn’t want to hear. I was like, ‘Fuck you.’ I’ve always been the type of person who educates his crowd.”
Despite their initial reservations, the two became friends, eventually even swapping musical tastes. Now, Shirazinia usually does the smooth, hypnotic mixes, and Tayebi routinely throws in the weirder stuff.
In 1992, Shirazinia and Tayebi formed Deep Dish Records and Productions and released the Moods’ “A Feeling” 12-inch. Unlike Detroit or New York, however, D.C. isn’t known for having a big-time dance scene, and it’s difficult making a splash when you’re not near the water. But persistence paid off. Deep Dish continued to give its releases to DJs and labels the duo admired and eventually signed a deal with Tribal Records. Tribal’s distribution power, coupled with the release of the compilation disc Penetrate Deeper, won Shirazinia and Tayebi widespread acclaim. Deeper was named compilation of the year by the British dance-music magazine Muzik, and Deep Dish was featured on the cover of another Brit mag, Generator. The pair’s most recent CD, In House We Trust, a compilation of artists on Yoshitoshi, was Muzik’s album of the month in January. And still not many people know the duo in D.C. But Deep Dish knows D.C., and claims that the majority of the D.C. dance scene is stagnant.
“A lot of places in D.C., you go one night and you go the next month same night and you’ll hear the same exact shit,” Tayebi says.
“Look at 18th St. Lounge…,” Shirazinia interjects.
“They’ve been playing the same records for a year now, six days a week,” claims an exasperated Tayebi. Despite listing the Lounge among the duo’s favorite local clubs, he wishes things got mixed up a bit more there—and thinks D.C.’s DJs in general are to blame.
“The DJs don’t do their jobs. That’s the trouble with D.C. and a lot of other cities, too. As a DJ, you gotta go look for the good records. They don’t come to you, you gotta go get ’em,” Tayebi says.
Eric Hilton, co-owner of the 18th St. Lounge, disagrees that his club is in a rut. “It’s ridiculous and slanderous, and I’m very hurt by [their comment],” Hilton says. “If anyone pushes the envelope in this city for playing cutting-edge music, it’s us.”
Shirazinia and Tayebi’s uncensored opinions haven’t helped them hold any DJ jobs around the city, either. But their feelings aren’t just sour grapes.
“It’s not like we’re on the outside looking in when we’re telling you about this,” Shirazinia explains. “We worked all the cheesy places. We were in the middle of all that stuff.”
“We got fired from every single club in D.C., me and him,” Tayebi says. “You name the club, we got fired from it….I got fired from Zei because somebody wanted me to play a certain track and [Ali] told them to fuck off, we’re not going to play that shit. And I got fired for it!” he laughs.
“I’m just looking out for you, eh!” jokes Shirazinia.
“I’m not pissed off that he said something like that. I would have said the same thing,” Tayebi explains. (Both Paige Davis, a representative of Zei, and Tom Wallace, Zei’s general manager, say that no one currently in the club’s management worked at Zei when Deep Dish DJ’d there.)
“You go to Zei and you hear crap from the beginning to the end of the night. Every night, crap,” concludes Tayebi. “And they have all these cheesy names for the club. ‘Paradiso,’ whatever. And the club owners are worried about the money. They don’t really care. You know they don’t give a shit who is gonna come and spin, as long as they see the cheesy people are going crazy. They just come there and flash their credit cards or whatever. Drive off in their Mercedes to the club. This city is garbage. It’s infested, man.”
Despite the duo’s reputation as Animal House-caliber partiers, Shirazinia says they rarely go out because “there’s nowhere to go. We’ll go out with a big group of friends and bowl.”
“D.C. has had DJs, but never a full scene. Right now, Buzz [at the Capitol Ballroom] is the only thing staying really true to what it’s supposed to be, and a lot of people are picking up on it….It’s better than nothing. Fifth Column closed. That’s like a big step. If they close Zei down, too, tomorrow….”
“We’ll get a celebration started,” laughs pal and handler Tony Movaffaghi.
But despite all the ill will the duo have toward D.C. clubs, they have hope for the future. At a music conference two years ago, they proclaimed they would put D.C. on the map, and with all the overseas fame they’ve racked up, they have.
“A lot of people here, they just want to do their thing and move out and go live in New York and do music,” Shirazinia says. “A lot of people are not really positive about D.C., and it has got a lot to offer. Look at Fugazi and all those bands like that I grew up with. They all come out of D.C.”
State of the Union may be small, but unlike the other clubs in town, it has given Deep Dish a chance to do whatever it want, with no pressure from the club.
“State of the Union is like our home,” says Tayebi. “Everybody believes in each other’s job over there. You don’t get the owners coming to us and saying, ‘Hey, this sucks,’ or, ‘Change it because people are not dancing,’ or whatever.”
There is a punk attitude to Deep Dish’s no-frills crib in the back of the State. “You can come from Diva or Babylon the way you’re dressed and walk into that club, and then you can get, like, a straight up b-boy walking into the club,” explains Shirazinia. “Those are the kind of places we like to play. Those are the kind of crowds we like playing to.”
“When we started at State of the Union, we had, like, maybe five people in the back room,” remembers Tayebi. “People started coming there because of the music. There was no promotion. Come here, listen to the music—that was the whole marketing thing. Come here, listen to the good music, the music that D.C. does not offer you.”
Deep Dish’s commercial success reached a peak when a remix for De’Lacy became a major hit in Britain. But the duo isn’t looking for radio success.
“We never compromise the music for it to go on radio,” Tayebi says, explaining that it’s “underground music” made “for DJs—we [don’t] make it for the public.”
“We don’t have radio mentalities. I can’t make an R&B track. It’ll sound cheesy when I’m making it. It’s physically impossible for me to do it,” claims Shirazinia.
Deep Dish recently signed to the large dance label deConstruction for a single to be released at the end of summer and an album early next year. The label is providing a ton of money, but says it won’t apply any artistic pressure.
“That was the first thing we told them. We don’t want any pressure,” Tayebi says. “If we give [them], like, two tracks that are just gonna be winds and insects then they’re gonna be just wind and insects….” Shirazinia gives Tayebi a funny look—they both crack up.
Deep Dish plans on working on the full-length the same way the two do everything else—by the seat of their pants.
“We go into the studio, we start working to see what we can come up with. There’s no plan,” says Tayebi.
“It’s all about communication,” Shirazinia explains. “Whether we’re connecting with clubbers or we’re connecting with someone listening to it on their home stereo, it’s about communicating in our way.”
“If you know how to get to the vibe of the people and get connected with them, it’s the best feeling,” Tayebi says. “You can take them anywhere you want.” CP