Ouzo: The Prince of Pacha
Raised within the notorious Sharm El Sheikh clubbing scene, Adham El Mestakawy, AKA DJ Ouzo, has raves running through his veins. We speak to co-owner and resident of the unstoppable Pacha Sharm about the Egyptian nightlife scene...
Adham El Mestakawy strolls into the office rather quietly and unassumingly for man used to having hundreds raise their arms in ecstasy, literally at the touch of a button. His muted demeanor plausibly results from a need to find a sense of peace that parallels his partying roots, accompanied by an intense almond stare and weathered features from a lifetime of, you know, seeing some things. Ouzo, his nickname and DJ moniker was bestowed upon him by his father due to his fondness of the drink; "I loved the taste of Ouzo since I was a kid... Every time my dad used drink it, I had to take a few sips from him until one day he called me the Ouzo Kid!" And in that little biographical tid-bit you get an insight into the kind of life he grew up around. His dad, Adly El Mestekawy, is one of the premier catalysts to Sharm El Sheikh's rise as one of the most popular touristic areas in the world. First starting with the development of one of the funkiest beach-side hotels in the country, Sanafir of Naema Bay, before his love for partying it up in Europe led him to franchise the uber Pacha nightclub to Egypt via Ibizia. Pacha Sharm soon took on legendary status for Cairenes and tourists alike; the first local club to bring in the kind of massive international DJs that we take for granted every weekend now and a place that was probably the first ever rave experience for most of us. El Mestekawy Jr., now 35, was there from the beginning, reaching adulthood surrounded by fist pumping, flashing lights, and gogo dancers before taking up his throne as resident DJ of the super club with his Progressive and Tech-House edge. We sit down with Ouzo to talk partying with papa, how the DJ industry has developed in Egypt and surviving the four-day Cherry marathon...
Do you remember your first clubbing experience?
Oh yeah, of course! That was in Switzerland in ‘96 when I started getting into electronic music. I was actually a Trance listener more than House, until my father and I went to Ibiza in 2000, and that was it.
You went with your father to Ibiza?
Yeah, haha! The first time.
You were both partying together?
My father is so cool! We party together all the time.
Tell us a little bit about the history of how Pacha came about?
It was in 2000 when we went to Pacha Ibiza for the first time and we really liked it. We thought that it was very similar to Sanafir because it has the same architecture levels so we decided to bring it in. That was 2004 when we got that name.
What was happening at Sanafir before Pacha?
We started in ‘99 with the House Nation parties every Thursday. Then the idea grew up when we went to Ibiza and me and my dad were looking between Amnesia or Pacha so we did some research and landed on the latter.
Was there any big clubs in Sharm El-Sheikh before that?
There was The Cactus of Movenpick, Hilton Fayrouz discotheque and The Bus Stop. So we wanted to put Sharm on the clubbing scene. Ricardo (the owner of Pacha) came and saw the hotel and he really liked it.
Were you living in Sharm when it opened?
I was living in London. I was doing a university course and learning to be a DJ. I started my career in 2001 before we had the Pacha name and then I travelled in 2003 for about a year and a half and then I came back as Pacha resident from the day forward.
What was it like when you started, growing up around this night clubbing scene in Sharm?
Well, as you know..
We mean how are you still alive today?
Yeah, I'm still alive, thank God, haha! Sharm from 2000 to 2008 was in its peak! Or rather until 2010 but then with the revolution it went really down. I believe 2014 was a very good year for us.
How did you manage to carry on during the time of the revolution?
It was so hard on us because there were no tourists, Sharm was dead, really. There were too many Arabs so we had to find an alternative way to keep the club going because you know, we have salaries to pay and we didn’t want to shut down so, we transformed The Bus Stop into a Khaleeji room and we kept the main room so we don’t have to play Arabic music downstairs in the main room. We kept that for House and R&B. It went very well.
How do you think Pacha changed the clubbing scene?
Before Pacha, Sharm didn’t really bring any international names so, of course with the name it was easier to bring more international DJs in. John Kelly, at the time that was a big one! Eric Moreno, Roger Sanchez, David Guetta, Bob Sinclair and more, really got our name out there.
Was Pacha the first time they came to Egypt?
Yeah, yeah, yeah! It was their first time, they came to Pacha first and then they had a few gigs here in Cairo. David Guetta came three times I think; twice in Pacha and once here in Cairo in the Four Seasons. So yeah, we had the honour to bring all those DJs to Egypt for the first time.
So you’re a kid growing up and you’re having all these DJs coming over, you’re hanging out with them, learning from them. You must have some crazy stories…
Well… I don’t know. Just things like being in the car with David Guetta, talking to Peyton, having a funny conversation about doing some business together, it was crazy. Steve Lawler once told me that he hates going to Dubai because of the scene there. He didn't find what he wanted to find, if you know what I mean!
When did you start gigging in Egypt?
My first gig was in 2001 at my place in Sanafir. In Cairo I started in 2006. My first one was in Cairo Jazz Club.
How did it go?
Well, it was a little stressful. I was worried, it was my first time here in Cairo and I didn’t know if the people would like it or not. Eshta ya3ni every month since 2006 I play at CJC now.
What kind of music did you play at that time?
I was playing more Progressive and commercial stuff and of course it changed over time.
How did your music and the scene develop?
Oh it changed! It developed into underground music, Deep House, Tech House to Techno.
Do you think what was happening in Sharm affected the evolution of trends in nightlife in Egypt as a whole?
Yes, especially in the last 10 years because we had a lot of tourists from Europe and Sharm had high standards. The clubbing scene's been happening there for a long time and people like ByGanz's Ganzoury and TIU's Beltagy would go to Sharm every holiday.
Do you think its coming back?
I hope so. I mean this year, after the massive Cherry Marathon we had over Spring Break we could see the opportunity is still there. Nightlife is happening in Sharm El-Sheikh more than any other place in Egypt and of course it has the sea and the diving sites; one of the best spots in the world. I'm optimistic.
What's the most memorable gigs you had so far? One that stands out specifically...
The first one was Eric Moreno because we ended it at 9AM. Part of the marathon, four days in a row…
How do you survive four days in Pacha Sharm?
Haha, I was lucky! It's about finding the right balance. I mean, I had other ideas to go to the beach and go to Ras Mohamed but we didn’t do anything. It was all parties parties, after hours, sleep and then more partying.
What do you think of the new trend of DJs in Egypt and Electrum Records churning out DJs constantly...
They fascinate me, really!
In what way?
Everyone is good with what he does and what he mixes. For me, the recent marathon was a discovery of a lot of DJs like Aroussi, Saleh Amin, Aguizi & Fahim and of course Baher was known, he wasn’t a discovery, he’s one of the best ones in Egypt. I really discovered those guys and I really liked them! I'm looking forward to booking them again.
Are you getting into production at all?
At the moment no, but I'm looking to get into it. I did produce a few songs and remixed a few in the last few years but really after the revolution things went down but it's picking up again.
Do you still party with your dad?
Oh yeah! Haha, always!
What's that like? Partying with your dad...
He’s 60 something but he’s still into everything and at Pacha as always. He still listens to all the DJs demos before booking them and if a DJ plays like shit he kicks him off the decks!
Has he ever kicked you off before?
No! Not me but he has done it before, to international DJs too.
You play with your brother as well too right?
Yeah, Joe. He’s 19 years old. We’ve been playing together for the last year.
Did you teach him everything he knows?
Of course! He was inspired by me first and then now he’s really good at mixing techniques and the music.
What do you think the most important aspect of putting on a good set is?
It's to always read the crowd. Sometimes you play something for yourself and it doesn’t please the crowd. You have to always look at the crowd; especially the women.
If you make the women dance…
You make everyone else dance, exactly.
That means also sometimes you have to tame down your music and play something more commercial and with vocals?
That’s what I do always, especially when I play in places like Riverisde or any other commercial places. Cairo Jazz Club I wouldn’t consider so much commercial place. It became more of an underground place which is what I like; I have more freedom.
Do you think people are beginning to understand the music more when they go out?
Yeah. They understand it more than the last few years and as I told you, the new generation of DJs that came out of the all these DJ academies changed the scene and how people react to the music.
What advice would you give to up and coming DJs in Egypt?
Always improve yourself and your mixing techniques. Don’t stop at one genre, we’re in Egypt you know, we're not in Europe. You have to please the crowd all the time. If you stick to one genre it might be difficult for you to keep going because here, every year we change styles.
Where are the places you like to go and party outside of Egypt?
I just visited Amsterdam two weeks ago. It became one of my favourite places! And of Course Ibiza, Barcelona – I only went once but I will go again because it's really happening there and of course London; the clubbing scene is really good there.
Ever get tired of it?
No! Never. I guess I'm gonna be like my dad, 60-years old and partying.
Can you describe what it is about that clubbing experience that you love so much?
The music, I love music. And the vibe. People from all over the world come to Sharm. They might not talk to each other but they understand each other through the music. Its an international language that brings everyone from all over the world together.
Have you ever thought about opening up Pacha in Cairo?
We thought about it many times. We will be opening something in 2015. It will be kind of a bar or lounge, not the typical Pacha.. We want to open small first, because you know here clubs usually open and then shut down.
Is there anything else you wanna talk about? Your life? Your dreams?
Haha, no thanks, I’ll keep it to myself.
Check out Ouzo's SceneNoise profile here.
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