Crackling static fused with soft ’90s lounge music resonated through the receiver as I lingered for a greeting from one of Australia’s most pre-eminent producers – Motez Obaidi. Then, finally a soft, yet distinctly ocker “Hullooo” rang through from the other end.
I was momentarily surprised by his accent – I had forgotten that Obaidi has called Adelaide home now for over a decade. Motez’s career success is undergirded by his migrant history of oppression and fear; growing up in Baghdad, Iraq, which saw his father undertake a perilous journey in search of a better life for his family, ultimately fostering their 2006 settlement in Adelaide.
Knowing Obaidi’s love for coffee, I quickly quipped a reply – “My man! How is your morning? Had your daily dose of caffeine yet?” – “Ahhh, my machine at home is busted so I had to grab one from my local, a joint called First Port. It’s delicious though so I’m ready for this interview.”
Chatting 48 hours before his departure on yet another North American tour, one that will tally nearly a dozen in only a few years, his unmistakable enthusiasm, though palpable, was bound by a calm and collected tone. “I’m so excited man, [the] last gig I played in Whistler earlier this year was the biggest show I think I’ve ever played! It was sold out and over capacity. I got everyone on stage ‘cause I really don’t like playing on those raised platforms; I like being amongst the people… It was just so wild they asked me to come back this year, and so that’s where I’m starting my current tour!
“One thing that does always suck about touring the States though, is the coffee. I almost have to go for weeks without one, and that is near impossible with a habit like mine.” Though a gripe at odds with the harsh experience of his past, Obaidi is right – American coffee does suck.
Pushed from his native Iraq a lifetime ago, yet seemingly ever-fresh in his mind, Obaidi cites his earlier life in a different world as a reckoning force for his appreciation of the freedom found in Australia. “Under Saddam no one had real freedom. From a young age I had played piano and listened to the radio – which was almost exclusively Iraqi music – but when Western music began gathering an audience it was banned, and those found to be playing it met harsh punishment. Such was daily life under Hussein, if he or his regime didn’t like something, it was gone.”
When internal tensions began to flare between ethnically different factions of Muslims within Iraq, Obaidi’s father knew it was time to flee. “My family had lived for almost 16 generations in a relatively secluded part of South-Eastern Iraq. We were an ethnic minority but a minority nonetheless; so when civil unrest and war between ethnically different Muslim factions broke out, unfortunately our minority alongside all the other smaller ethnic identities became cannon fodder.”
Following a year of detention in Woomera after arriving as a refugee by boat, Obaidi’s father brought him and the rest of his family to Australia. Obaidi’s earlier days in Adelaide were very challenging, yet also quite exploratory – this new chapter allowed him to start afresh and explore not only his new home but also his own deep seeded interests. “I almost immediately started working as a volunteer for Oxfam. I saw it as an opportunity to not only assimilate quite quickly but also as a means to contribute something back to my new foster country – something I was intent on doing following our arrival here,” he explains.
Far from being ill equipped upon arrival, Obaidi had studied computer engineering back in Iraq, but admits that it wasn’t entirely what he wanted to do. “Computer engineering is one of those things that people study cause it’s a buzz occupation, its trendy – like, IT or computer science. Yet after being here for a while and realising all the employment freedom available I took a step back and got a full-time job in a music store.”
Despite his future career in music being very much still in its infancy, Obaidi admits his time there did bring on a flurry of ideas. “It was both good and bad. Good because I was constantly surrounded by all these incredible sounds, talent and instruments; but bad because you’d see these amazing musicians coming through the door, and they were barely making it, you know? Still playing cover bands. So I thought, ‘What hope do I have?'”
Fast-forward a few years and Obaidi was on the final stretch of a Masters Degree in International Business at Adelaide Uni. Shunning the job search almost immediately upon graduation, Obaidi, now armed with a robust appreciation for success in business, honed in on music.
Following a string of wildly successful remixes, EPs and original singles, 2016 was the year that saw Motez release his most vibrant and eclectic work to date, The Vibe.
One year later and the EP is still as potent as it was in youth. Down Like This featuring Tkay Maidza is a club anthem while The Vibe is so widespread, yet not overplayed, its ability to hype crowds is still unsurpassed.
Going from strength to strength, Motez’s 2017 Praise single is certainly no decaf blend either – flawless production and sampling intermingle to a point of creative perfection, it’s difficult to believe anyone could sound so much like their own genre while still challenging the rest of the competition to keep up.
While his latest release, The Future – a collaboration between Motez and Antony & Cleopatra is still awash with very distinct, groovy production, it presents as a departure from the tried and true club dub, but not from the soul of his music per se. “This track is indicative of a certain period of my life, and though I guess people wouldn’t normally equate it with my sound, it shows a side of me that is perhaps more ‘me’ than a lot of other stuff I’ve released – whether it’s a new direction? I’m not sure. Maybe it’s just exposing a little facet that people don’t know so well.”
Though maybe not a new direction, this latest single certainly makes audiences privy to Motez’s true instrumental talent beyond the laptop. “I wrote the chords for it three years ago while I was going through a rough break-up. My friend Alex Burnett, who is one-half of Antony & Cleopatra, helped me focus my energy into this track. After he wrote the lyrics, I remember thinking that they fit perfectly.”
How has the reception been so far? “Well with new tracks like this its always very daunting, you have no idea how your audience will react, but so far it’s been overwhelming – much more than any track I’ve put out before. I was looking at the Spotify plays yesterday and within the first month of it being out it’s already amassed over 600,000 … For me that’s just crazy.”
Described as “honest” and “personal” The Future draws influence from the end of a four and a half year relationship. “Sometimes these things run their course, and you’ve got to be able to stand back and think ‘Okay this is an important period of my life that has changed me I need to learn to cherish that.’
“Fortunately, in the last six months, I’ve reconnected with her. She knows the song was about her so she expressed how flattered and proud she was of me – it was kinda nice to see the whole story come full circle in the end.”
Following an expectedly wild show in Whistler, Motez’s tour (one marred by “terrible, burnt percolator coffee”) will see him descend the western seaboard of the US before traversing to New York and finally finishing in Toronto on 12 August.
Back home, his Aussie tour kicks off on 1 September at the Metro Theatre in Sydney and circumnavigates the country by month’s end. Beyond this, more shows have been announced that will see him stay busy through October and early November while New Years is anyone’s guess. Tickets are still on sale through all the usual outlets – get ‘em while the getting’s good.
1 September, Metro Theatre, Sydney
2 September, Warehouse Party, 157 Franklin St, Adelaide
8 September, HOOCH Presents, Mandurah
9 September, The Villa, Perth
15 September, The Triffid, Brisbane
16 September, The Corner, Melbourne
22 September, The Beery, Terrigal
23 September, Deja Vu, Wollongong
27 September 27, Spring Break Whitsundays, Airlie Beach
30 September, UNO Danceclub, Geelong
1 October, Byron Bay Brewery, Byron Bay
7 October, Elsewhere, Gold Coast
4 November, This That Festival, Newcastle