Moving Still’s giddy takes on old gems from the SWANA (South West Asian and North African) region have turned heads over the past couple of years. His edits have charged the sets of high-profile DJs, topped the Rush Hour sales charts, and made his own Dublin Digital Radio and NTS shows a portal to untold musical riches. In conversation, Moving Still refers straight away to ferrying cassettes back and forth from “home” — which begs the immediate question: where is home?
“It’s equally shared between Saudi and Ireland,” the artist born Jamal Sul tells DJ Mag. “I love Dublin, my life is here, and the scene is so close that it’s impossible not to run into people all the time. But Jeddah is nostalgic to me; before the pandemic, I would travel two or three times a year to see family and go on cassette digs. The way society has progressed since I left age 14 is incredible. In the last five years alone there’s been an unrecognisable change in how people embrace creative arts. The movement is buzzing, everyone is connected and welcoming on WhatsApp, and it’s going to be brilliant to link up with them again in person one day.”
While shuttling back and forth across continents regularly in teenage years, he would sneak metal albums over the border for his friends. “Due to the conservatism in Saudi Arabia then , you couldn’t come across anything like Korn’s 'Follow The Leader’ or Slipknot’s 'Iowa'',” Moving Still grins while reflecting on this Satanic subversion. “My father’s side of the family was strictly religious, so I couldn’t be seen involving myself in music at all really. But skateboarding and rollerblading got big locally, imports of guitars crept up, and now it’s a different story.”
Moving Still is propelled forward today by the support of two tight-knit communities: one tangible, a node of promoters, DJs, record stores, labels and aficionados connected to the mother-brain of Dublin Digital Radio; and one distant for now, in Saudi — though that contingent keep his phone humming with notifications day and night anyway, so he never feels too detached. Yet for Moving Still, music-making was a private pursuit at first.
“It was just about trying to destress while finishing my PhD,” says the present-day immunologist, whose work on COVID testing absorbs most of the day. Speaking over Zoom with a modest collection of Roland, Korg and Yamaha synths encroaching into the screen’s perimeter, Moving Still admits his process is bent entirely around the whim of work. “I would sit at my computer with three hour gaps between lab experiments, making slow soundtrack-y type stuff to offset the mental toll of my studies. Melding it with Arabic signatures didn’t cross my mind at all. I never thought anyone would care about that Lebanese dabke on in the background.”
After gaining confidence exploring the fertile middle ground afforded by his dual nationality, the first tell that a hybridised production style might pop came at a gig in 2018. “I was supporting [reissue specialists] Habibi Funk and dropped the original of Sarya Sawa’s “Bas Asma3 Mini.” The place went mental. The only thing that appeared missing to me was modern quality – it was an absolute nightmare to mix with, so later that week I decided to put drums and a bassline on it.” That edit then found its way into the right hands in time for 2019’s festival season, receiving prominent peak time co-signs. Suddenly, the pallet of plastic-wrapped market finds stacked at home glowed with considerable potential.
These tapes are the integral DNA of Moving Still’s output. The process of listening demands patience, but if something unique catches his ear, “I know instantly that loop will be worth building a tune around, or there’s even a full song worth editing. The habit of working quickly to capture excitement stuck. I guess that’s why it all comes out sounding hi-NRG,” he laughs.
Moving Still’s Fresh Kicks mix is, by his estimation, the most flamboyantly hi-NRG mix he’s laid down to date. It’s also pointedly global in nature. The recording encompasses music from Syria, Tunisia, Switzerland, Russia, Algeria, Sweden, Morocco and one super deep cut that can only be optimistically ID’d with “North Africa?” Bookmarked by well-loved hits by The Egyptian Lover and Esa, and laced with contributions by other retro-aesthetes like Tjade, Minos and Cheb Runner, it’s the type of set that could, and perhaps soon will, light up any festival stage. In short: Pumpers O’Clock.