“Farid is an undeniably huge fixture in our dance scene and a great friend. He’s largely responsible for house music being so successful in DC.” -Jesse Tittsworth, U Street Music Hall
In April the Eighteenth Street Lounge (ESL) celebrated its 15-year anniversary as a world-renowned music epicenter. Soft-spoken deejay/producer Farid Nouri (formerly Farid Ali), who with Eric Hilton and Yama Jewayni co-founded and renovated the former vocational school smiles, “I didn’t know it would last this long.”
ESL was where Hilton and Rob Garza met to become the powerhouse producer duo/band Thievery Corporation, and was the launchpad for ESL Music. ESL’s contributions to DC culture also include Red, Current (Dragonfly), Marvin, the Gibson, Patty Boom Boom, and U Street Music Hall.
Born in Afghanistan, Farid lived as a boy in London and New York when his father’s work as an economist took him there. After the Russian invasion, his family moved to Saudi Arabia, then in 1985 settled in Maryland where Farid attended Our Lady of Good Counsel High School and studied economics at the University of Maryland.
Farid grew up listening to Afghan pop star Ahmad Zahir, and in Saudi Arabia was exposed to tapes of New Wave, American R&B, and reggae.
“When I came here, there was so much more music. I would listen to the radio all night long — WHFS, WAVA, WKYS, Q107.” In college Farid started going to DC clubs like City where he heard underground dance music spun by DJ Christian Wolff, and the Fifth Column where he met Eric Hilton who deejayed in the basement.
Hooked, Farid started buying records at Twelve Inch and later Yoshitoshi, and taught himself to beat-match on Gemini turntables a friend gave him. His first official deejay gig was a New Year’s Eve at Perry’s. His first residency was playing downtempo, rare grooves and reggae on Wednesdays at Fifth Column; then he got Thursdays playing house.
Hearing of European warehouse parties, Farid and Eric started throwing their own early house and hip-hop events in warehouses and elsewhere drawing “a cross-section of the population — older guys in tuxedoes, young club kids, black, white, all types of people. Music not being offered in nightclubs at the time, we offered, which was much more interesting. It was raw and freer.”
Farid, Eric and Yama looked for a place of their own, and when shown a vacant historic mansion with huge windows and high ceilings, they saw potential. They signed the lease and went to work on the first venue in town opened by deejays. “Me and Eric played what we liked to hear — the whole week.” The Eighteenth Street Lounge defined avant garde and was packed from the start.
“Our model was a place we’d like to hang out in, enough energy for a party vibe but with the option of good conversation, providing something beneficial for the community — I enjoy that aspect — but also making a living at it.”
Farid had two vinyl ESL releases in 2000, a 2007 EP on Rhythm & Culture, and revived composing last year, working between home and his R&C Recordings’ partner Thomas Blondet’s studio. He brings in lots of musicians to record for live, organic textures. “Eric says my tracks have a disco feel. I don’t try for that — it just comes out of me.”
September saw the label’s exotic multi-cultural debut release, “The Sound of Rhythm & Culture,” a 14-track compilation with tracks by Zeb, Second Sky, Nickodemus, Blondet, and four by Farid (vocals by Sarah Vertino, Zeebo, Sitali).
“Reggae, dub, disco, bossa nova, hip-hop, R&B — it’s got it all, even the newer hipper sounds like the Balkan stuff. We sequenced the songs so you can listen to it at home, in the car, at a dance club, a cocktail party.” It’s enjoying radio play on KCR (Los Angeles) and college stations, and landed a “CSI: Miami” license deal.
The follow-up, “The Sound of Rhythm & Culture (Remixed)” drops on December 14 on iTunes, including an arresting vocal mix of Blondet’s “Samba Soul” featuring Sarah Vertino’s stellar voice, and remixers including All India Radio and Hippie Torrales. (New Farid single “Never Say Never” featuring Mustafa Akbar also out soon.)
Between curating the deejays and bands for ESL, focusing on new original music and the label, and working with photographer Maria “JPG” Izaurralde on a much-anticipated project, “Eighteenth Street Lounge: The Photo Book,” Farid’s deejay gigs tend to be spontaneous, but the Rhythm & Culture experience can be sampled Sunday nights at ESL with Thomas Blondet. “It’s about music bringing people together,” says Farid.
For more information on Farid and Rhythm & Culture events and releases please go to www.rhythmandculture.com. For information on the Eighteenth Street Lounge photo book, please go to www.eighteenthstreetlounge.com.