After Making A Life In The Undergound, The Jordan Via UK Singer Debuts With A Brooding Tribute To Dance Music
Ayah Marar has worn a few hats in the UK’s underground bass scene. She’s run a drum and bass night and a record label, been a promoter and a radio host, and worked in a record store. She’s also a classically trained musician who has done a bit of songwriting for folks like Calvin Harris and DJ Fresh. She started featuring as a vocalist on drum and bass tracks not long after finishing school.
Now she’s self-released her debut album The Real, a sometimes brooding tribute to the music that has soundtracked her life ever since she left her native Jordan to study in London. The album is as eclectic as her career, touching on drum and bass, dubstep and house, among other dance music genres, with nods to a pop sensibility. This genre-skimming is balanced by the weight of the beat and the sinister edge to certain tracks. If you listen closely, there’s a lot going on.
It all makes you want to know a little bit more about where the singer is coming from. We got her on the phone and asked her all about it.
How did you get involved with dance music when you first came to London?
I initially came here to study. So, I came with the full intention of going to university and studying, which I kind of did but it morphed into running a drum and bass night and being involved with promotion for that every week. And that turned into owning a record label, which turned into working in a record shop, which turned into running more nights. I’ve always been involved in the underground scene in one way or another.
How did you get into drum and bass? Were you studying music?
No. I used to play piano and did my grade 8 when I was nine, but that was classical and I always kind of felt like there was something else. I’d always been a huge fan of reggae and dub and when I came to England I heard this music that had all these reggae samples and had all the sounds that I loved in reggae but sped up and in a rave atmosphere. I just fell in love with it.
Have you always been a singer?
I’ve always performed in one way or another. I did ballet and piano and the odd play and musical at school, but you know what it’s like. It’s always just a bit of fun. I didn’t really know that I wanted to be a singer, at least not in underground music until I was given a track by some guys called Loxy and Ink, they’re on a label called Metalheadz. This is couple of years after I graduated from university and it kind of spiraled from there.
One thing that stands out about your debut album is that it touches on almost every aspect of UK bass music but moves on very quickly. Was that something that came about organically or was that a conscious decision?
I started writing the album with a man called Will Simms and in its original form it was, I never want to say mainstream or pop because I think pop is just music that’s popular, but it started out trying to keep it to more the four four house music genre. But as we started doing it I started going back to my drum and bass roots and started doing stuff with Camo & Krooked. And I thought, you know, I really want this to be an homage to dance music in general. I love dance music. I can’t put my finger on exactly what genres I love. If I’m out and I hear a beat, I hear a beat. I didn’t want it to be exclusive.
It’s also got a pop side to it. There are these huge hooks. Are you trying to unite the kinds of sounds that you might hear on the radio with sounds that you might here in, say, an illegal venue?
Absolutely. The album is essentially dark in topic and genre and I wanted to kind of make the verses the darker side and the choruses something that everyone can identify with. It might be a bit more radio friendly, but I never let it restrain me. There is a kind of formulaic way of writing when you write pop music and I do love writing for other people, for pop artists and stuff like that but I wanted to make sure that my sound was distinct from that. And there was an element of that but I was never shackled to it in any way, no.
Yes, the album was kind of dark. It deals with some relationships that are kind of pathological. The characters on songs like “Mind Controller” almost seem sociopathic. What drew you to those kinds of themes?
[Laughs] It’s so funny. That would be the exact word that I would use to describe the people I’m singing about in the songs. I tried not to make it to personal to people but it really is a sensationalized autobiography, the whole album. So, it’s things that have happened to me or other people, with work or love or hate. At the end of the day I can only write about what I know. I could never write about something that wasn’t me or wasn’t real. But I never wanted to make it so obvious that the people I was writing about were rumpled. But, absolutely, “Mind Controller” is about the compulsion to stay in something that you know is hurting you but you can’t really help it.
Yeah, it evokes a real sense of danger.
Yeah. He was a dangerous guy. [Laughs]
This question relates to your single “The Raver.” So, you’ve said that you were, indeed, a raver is there as difference in the way it feels when you go out now than in the past?
I have to say, I miss it. I miss going out to raves. Because, obviously, clubs are my work now. If I’m in a club, I’m onstage and if I’m not onstage I want to be onstage. It’s hard to really just go out and dance anymore. So what I’m trying to do is put that across to people who do come out raving. I miss raving, but I feel like I spent a lot of my life doing it and maybe that’s what helped me become more in tune with the people that I’m now trying to entertain. But, yeah, it’s a lost art, I think. I’m glad that dance music is coming back so strong, especially bass music. It’s giving people the chance to see how we did it all those years ago.
Okay, what is your favorite thing about the dance scene that you are a part of in London, right now?
The camaraderie of it. We’re hitting the road next week and everywhere you go it’s going to be the same faces and that same people backstage. It’s a family. It’s just being part of a big old family. That’s my favorite thing about it. Right now and forever. I think that’s what keeps me going.