Interview Conducted By: Amber Traill
We recently had a chance to sit down with two of Toronto’s rising Trance stars, Saad Ayub and Gregory Baranov. Now nearly household names among the local Trance crowd they sit on the precipice of something great. In this extensive interview we talk to them about their humble beginnings and their near limitless talent.
The two friends share a moment at this years Digital Dreams
First off, you both recently played the Digital Dreams Festival in Toronto… tell us about that!
Saad: Absolutely amazing, first festival here in Canada and couldn’t ask for anything better than this! Crowd was amazing, the vibe was phenomenal and the trance stage is right beside the lake, how beautiful and perfect is that? Cant wait to be back next year!
Baranov: That was an incredible experience! This was the first year Digital Dreams has had a trance stage, and it was a massive success. The location and the positioning of the stage really set an amazing atmosphere. We had a view of the lake right behind the stage, and a nice cool breeze.. perfect for a hot summer day! For this gig I assembled a lot of my older originals, as well as some newly finished and unreleased material from myself and friends from Toronto. The crowd was phenomenal – there was a lot of energy in the place and it really gave me a rush of adrenaline playing for them. Aside from that I also got to meet some key people and artists in the industry.
Other than Digital Dreams, what are some of the best sets you’ve ever played?
Saad: Well I have been in the scene globally for over half a decade, Toronto is my new second home and my current home ground. Some of the best sets I have played here so far is opening for Ummet Ozcan to a packed house at Maison, Digital Dreams After party at Footwork (apparently that is considered as one of my best set of 2013) [smiles] and Headlining set at RYZE doing b2b with Baranov of course. Those ones are definitely some of the best ones.
Baranov: My top three most memorable gigs would probably be
1) Guvernment at Chroma for St. Patricks day
2) Upryzing Vol 1 at Ryze Toronto, where I went back to back with Saad Ayub
3) Opening up for Kyau and Albert at Ryze Toronto
Who are some of the biggest names you’ve opened for? And how do you adapt your set to suit the person you’re opening for?
Saad: M.I.K.E, Khomha, Ummet Ozcan, Orjan Nielsen, closed for Ashley Walbridge, closed for Super8 n Tab, Jay tech and also closed for Jerome Isma Ae.
I love my closing sets more than the opening sets to be honest [laughs] but I like to be versatile.
Baranov: Some of the biggest names I’ve opened for were Ummet Ozcan, Orjan Nilsen, Jerome Isma Ae, Myon and Shane 54, Kyau and Albert, Ronski Speed, EDX, Markus Schossow, as well as Stoneface and Terminal. I adapt my set not just based on who I am opening for, but also the venue, the type of crowd, and the atmosphere. Of course I will first take into account the artist I’m opening for, do my homework, and pick up some tracks that I see fit for an opening set for that specific artist, but after that it’s all freestyling when I’m on decks. My ultimate goal when opening is to bring the energy level of the dancefloor to a specific level before the main act comes on.
What makes or breaks an opening DJ? What are your tips and warnings for other openers?
Saad: Reason sometimes I purposely open for big DJs than closing is to show the scene that opening sets are an art. Opening set for Trance music is definitely unique, there is a misconception that, you have to play techno or tech house or house as opening DJ for headlining Trance DJs. That’s absolutely wrong, there are some amazing tracks out there which are basically produced focusing mainly for opening DJs. And that’s exactly why I choose to open in a lot of the gigs that I get booked.
What makes or breaks an opening DJ is having proper understanding of the crowd and set the mood right for the DJ who is playing after you, understand what kind of music that DJ play at what BPM, don’t go hard as if you are the headliner, in this industry we call them “Prick” who tries to steal the show.
Baranov: Here are my DOs and DONTs for opening DJs
- Research the DJ beforehand. Look up their most recent sets and see what kind of music they play.
- Organize your music. This can be done differently based on your personal preferences.
- Follow the crowd and read their cues. If you see a lot of people are standing near the walls perhaps it’s time to bring up the energy level.
- Respect the club’s bar sales. When people are just coming in they’ll want to grab some drinks and catch up with their friends. During this time you shouldn’t play anything too loud or bassy.
- Play tracks made by any of the headlining artists or tracks that you know they might use in their sets. This is why you have to do your research before the gig.
- Pre plan your set. Pre planning an opening set is like driving a car on a curvy road without a steering wheel. You will crash and burn! A club atmosphere is very dynamic – your set should be too.
Tell us about being local DJs in Toronto… What is ‘the scene’ like here? Was it hard to break into?
Saad: To be honest, I really hate the word “Local DJ” [laughs] there are no differences between me with any other up and coming DJs in the International market. Yes we haven’t got our break yet but both of us are working really hard to do so. I consider Toronto as my home ground where I am maturing myself to become more successful globally.
Saad: In terms of the scene here in Toronto, the scene is very competitive because there are many talented artists out there and clubs book different acts almost every week now.
Like I said it’s a competitive scene, you really have to have a following, productions and backings by the DJs who are already established in the scene.
I broke into the Toronto scene because of the likes of and support from none other than Mr. Mark Oliver. I can’t thank him enough!
Baranov: The trance scene in Toronto is definitely unlike any other. Even though our community here isn’t as big as some other trance communities, we are very dedicated and that’s what makes us stand out! Getting into the scene is never easy; it takes a lot of work and support from friends, family, and promoters to really get noticed. Thankfully, for me I had all of the above.
Have you ever had to overcome any obstacles in order to get into/continue working in, the music industry?
Saad: There are always small and big obstacles if you are signing yourself up as a musician, there is always a misery of trying to find a balance between your personal life to pay your bills and do what you love, play music for your fans that believes in you. Also when I first moved to Toronto just mixing music never got me anywhere but small unpaid lounge gigs, making tracks and getting your music out there is how you can overcome those musical obstacles, and I am still overcoming those by just keep producing and releasing new music! It’s a challenge more than an obstacle to be honest with you.
Baranov: There are always obstacles in the music industry. One of my biggest obstacles was the lack of motivation. There were times where there was nothing happening for me outside of my studio at home and that really made me question myself whether or not I’d ever get somewhere in this industry. All I can say is that I continued to work hard, and things eventually started to happen. You just have to learn to keep your head up, and see the end means, not the process of getting there.
When, and why, did you guys decide you wanted to be DJs?
Saad: Its kind of awkward but funny at the same time, I became DJ because I broke up with my X Girl Friend because she didn’t like me for what I was and out of anger I wanted to show her that I will be bigger as person in my life than she is or anyone I know is [Laughs]. Jokes aside the reason I seriously took this as career is because there are a lot of people who believes in me and my music it’s the reason I actually became a DJ and chose it to be my profession.
Baranov: I never intended to be a DJ when I first started producing. It’s only when my music started to take shape, my friends started to push me towards the direction of a DJ, so that I could start showcasing my work. This opened up a whole new world for me, and turned something I used to call a hobby into something more serious.
Any reason why you guys opted to use your real names, rather than opting for DJ aliases?
Saad: Aliases are overrated [Laughs]
Baranov: The reason why I opted to use my real name is because I want to be upfront with people. I don’t want to put on an act of some sort. I want people to remember me for who I am, rather than for who I am not. However, another alias for me is not out of question and could possibly be one of my future projects.
When and how did you guys get your ‘big break’?
Saad: I haven’t got my Big break yet, at least I am working hard on it to get there.
Baranov: For me there was no “big break”. Things happened overtime and over a bunch of small gigs. My first ever gig was at Lily Lounge for an event hosted by my friend Cody Blanchard (which also happened to be the first event he ever hosted) where I played as my previous alias “Papercut”.
How and when did you both first get into music? And which artists and tracks did you hear, during your formative years that influenced your musical style?
Saad: When I was 10 I used to listen to Voices of Enigma by Enigma it was so euphoric that’s how it all started, then it all came back to me when I started listening to infected mushroom and Armin and all related to Trance. I used to listen to house music and spin it too when I first started as DJ with Ministry of Sound UK in Bangladesh.
Baranov: I’ve always listened to trance music but never got into production until my yearly university years. In fact, when I started producing I wasn’t even making trance, I was fiddling around with hip hop beats. I eventually got bored with that and started making more serious music. During this time (which was around 2010) my biggest influences were Orjan Nilsen, Tritonal (earlier stuff), Leon Bolier, Armin Van Buuren, Jerome Isma Ae, Arnej, W&W (earlier stuff), etc. Tracks like Vengeance Vengeance, They Always come back for me, This world is watching me, Arena, etc., are some of the tracks that inspired my production.
For Baranov: you’ve produced some fantastic tracks… anything new currently in the works? Is there a particular track of yours, which you are most proud of or resonate with, the most?
I’m proud of everything I’ve released so far, but my best track so far, in my opinion, is the one I just finished with Australian vocalist, Amber Traill… she lives in Toronto and it’s been amazing collaborating with her.
I played it in my set at Digital Dreams and got some amazing feedback from friends and fans. The release date for this one has not been announced yet, so follow me on my social media pages and stay tuned! It’s called ‘Velocity’!
For Saad: if your Digital Dreams set list is anything to go by – you’re well-known for your wildly emotive Trance mash-ups… why do you make these and how do you decide which classic tracks to combine?
Saad: I make these mash-ups as messages to send out to people, a lot of the mash-ups reflects my mood and current status or position where I am in in my life for example, my breakthrough mash=up that Mark Oliver still plays Shana vs. Alchemy was about my ex-girlfriend who passed away and my mash-up of Nothing without me by Markus Schulz vs. Empirical Epitaph is about a girl I really liked and she liked me cause I was a DJ not outside it, so it was message I sent it to her, she probably didn’t even get it [Laughs].
I mostly make these mash-ups in my head, I listen to trance 24/7 so whenever a trance track gets stuck in my head I try to sing something on top of it, if it fits well, it works in the dance floor, funny and ironically some those track are even on key in my head too [laughs]
When you guys aren’t producing or DJing, what do you like to do in your spare time? Do you have part-time jobs or are you solely focused on your music careers?
Saad: I actually have a full time Job with Rogers as Tech Analyst and that pays my bill and living. Aside from DJing or Producing I try to give time to my friends cause I cant give them time most of the time [ sorry guys I try, smiles]
Baranov: I used to be a full time accountant until my company closed down in Canada and I got laid off, so for now all my time is focused on music. When I do find spare time, I love to keep myself physically active and go for bike trips, gym, and lane swimming sessions.
If you had to describe your musical style in 3 words…?
Saad: Energetic, Euphoric, Uplifting!
Baranov: Dark, Energetic, Memorable
Anything else you want to say to your fans?
Saad: Yes, I just finished my first EP which has two tracks, first one is called Elevation which is dedicated to my mentor Elevation from Coldhabor recordings. Second one is called Desperado and the EP is called Desperado, its something I wrote about the current scene of Toronto. It will be out soon, I haven’t decided the label to release yet.
Thank you for the interview cheers.