UNION Collective on Palestine's techno movement, what it means to play at fabric, and the influence of Sama' Abdulhadi
Ahead of their collective fabric debuts this Saturday 27th May in Room 3, we had the pleasure of speaking to Palestine techno crew UNION for the very first time.
Three talented members of UNION COLLECTIVE (DJ Dar, Ya Hu and YA Z AN) join us for an exclusive interview. UNION, the groundbreaking music collective hailing from Palestine, was born via the vision of influential, now global, techno star Sama’ Abdulhadi, as an underground movement, driven by a shared passion for electronic music and a deep desire to create safe spaces for creative expression. With their grassroots beginnings, UNION quickly gained momentum, attracting individuals from diverse backgrounds who contributed to the vibrant atmosphere of their events.
We delve into the unique sound that UNION specialises in, the challenges they have faced in establishing themselves, their impact on the Palestinian music scene, and their upcoming sets right here at fabric alongside other talented artists. Join us as we explore the journey and aspirations of UNION COLLECTIVE and their significant role in promoting unity, social change, and cultural awareness through the power of music.
What is the purpose of the UNION Collective? Why was it formed?
UNION started as an underground music collective in Palestine, with a focus on building the electronic music scene and creating free and safe spaces for creative expression. We began by building our own stages and taking over various spaces throughout Palestine. As we grew, Union attracted individuals from diverse backgrounds who contributed to the vibrant atmosphere of our events. Our ultimate goal is to host an electronic music festival in Palestine, where people from all around the world can come to visit, dance, and experience our culture. Through this festival, we hope to shed light on the injustices imposed on us by the Israeli occupation.
Tell us a little bit about the sound that UNION specialises in?
Eclectic, diverse and punchy. Union as collective doesn't specialise in sounds, we are focused on the community. We are Dj’s that like to work collectively taking feedback and giving feedback and all growing together. We have ambient djs, techno, hard core, house, hip hop, arabic. All kinds of music but the people are the unique thing about it.
What makes the Palestinian electronic and/or techno scene unique?
Every scene is unique in its own way. The socio-political context and intersectionality with culture creates an aware and powerful community. Despite being a small scene, each artist brings in new sounds, and every collective brings in new ways for collaboration.
Is the scene there growing? In what way?
The scene is very much affected by politics. Even though music can be political, whenever the political situation intensifies which is happening more and more often, throwing a party won't be your first thought. The general feel of the city becomes very prevalent across the streets.
At the moment the scene is a bit stagnant, it's been tough finding a venue, and at the same time creating a (safe) venue takes time. Going and coming across borders to cities such as Jerusalem, Haifa, and Jaffa is more difficult for DJs and musicians living in the West Bank, as Israeli settler aggression is growing in light of the right-wing Israeli government. So spaces in cities as such are also hard to reach.
How important is it to represent the Palestinian sound in other countries too?
It is crucial to represent the Palestinian sound in other countries as it helps to challenge stereotypes, broaden perspectives, and foster cross-cultural understanding. By sharing the unique and diverse musical expressions of Palestine, artists can counteract misrepresentations and misconceptions that often prevail in global narratives. It enables Palestinians to reclaim their cultural identity and disrupt narratives that perpetuate oppression.
What does it mean to be playing at fabric alongside the likes of Sama’, Kai Campos, Ryan Elliott and Dave Clarke?
Playing at fabric alongside Sama and other talented artists next month is a great honour and opportunity for the Palestinian electronic music scene. It means that their work and talent are being recognised and appreciated on an international level, and they have the chance to showcase their music to a wider audience.
It also comes with a sense of responsibility and pressure to deliver a great performance, but it is a chance for these artists to prove themselves and make a positive impact in the global music scene. Being alongside Sama, who is a trailblazer and advocate for the electronic music scene in the region, is a great source of pride and inspiration for Palestinian artists. It is a momentous occasion that highlights the potential and talent of Palestinian electronic music artists.
How important is community within electronic music?
The pulsating heartbeat of a strong and united community within the electronic music scene in Palestine resonates with profound significance, illuminating the path for a resilient minority seeking solace amidst the rhythmic chaos of existence. We find collective strength. A shared passion transcends societal boundaries, where self-expression, cultural preservation, and the ardent pursuit of identity and belonging is explored.
Sama’ has been instrumental in it - but how do you feel this movement towards creating space of Palestinian DJs really started?
Music has been a very integral part of the Palestinian culture and society for decades. People used to get bands to play Palestinian music at weddings, graduations and ceremonies. Naturally, as technology has advanced and our influence from the Arab and global music scene has strengthened, we started seeing DJs replacing bands and slowly it grew into a hip-hop scene, a techno scene...
The popularity of electronic music in the west bank grow in phases, with different groups of people organising events, throwing house parties all lead up to the moment where the Boiler Room brought to light the underground scene and I believe from there was start. Sama came in and set a new bar for all of us who to DJ and paved the way for the space to grow.
Can you tell us about any challenges or obstacles that you have faced in establishing and growing Union Collective, and how you have worked to overcome them?
In Palestinian society, sounds like electronic, techno, and basslines are deemed taboo due to their associations with non-conformity, underground spaces, drug culture, and Westernization. So groups and spaces associated with this kind of music are under the radar of the police, or Palestinian groups who enact a particular authority when there is a lack of police.
To make sure of people’s safety, UNION team made sure to be always present at entrances and on the dance floors. Looking out for all the Ravers and making sure the events run smoothly. This maintained a safe environment at the venue at all times. Moreover, we ensured to sustain an underground space by having an invite-per-email-only policy, all of our guests we know and they receive the invite on their emails, no marketing.
How does Union Collective work to support and promote Palestinian artists, and what opportunities do you provide for emerging musicians in the region?
UNION believes in the community and utilising the shared skill set that members of the UNION have to make great parties. From people who work with wood, building stages, lighting systems, art installations, sound installations, etc. This opened the potential for artists (whether musicians or not) to be part of the UNION. The UNION collaboration with other artists had a great impact by sharing and gaining knowledge when it comes to music, event organisation, etc.
The UNION invision a future of hosting and offering workshops to young and upcoming artists to help them shape their skill set and offering them a community. Ultimately, this would mean sustaining the musical scene in Palestine with young artists always eager to learn, teach and have a stage to share. As an example, the UNION did a collaboration with Palestine Music Expo (PMX) by opening a showcase stage for new upcoming artists to showcase their talent to PMX attendees that include booking agents, label owners, international artists, sound engineers, etc. Some of those new and upcoming artists were booked for international gigs!
After COVID it became more challenging to host big parties in Palestine, so the focus now is to reach venues such as fabric, KaterBlau, Phonox and more in order to make connections with international artists, collectives and festival crews; to have a larger outreach and an opportunity to learn from other music scenes.
How do you see the role of music in promoting unity, social change, and cultural awareness in Palestine and beyond?
At its core, music serves as a unifying force, transcending social, cultural, and political divides, bringing people together through the shared experience of sound. Through music, people can connect on a visceral level, building relationships based on mutual respect, understanding, and appreciation. In Palestine, music has played a critical role in resisting oppression and advocating for social change. Palestinian artists use their music as a means of expressing their lived experiences, addressing issues such as occupation, displacement, and the struggle for freedom and self-determination.
Through their art, they amplify the voices of the marginalised and oppressed, shedding light on the realities of life under occupation, challenging dominant narratives, and advocating for justice. It's important to note that music alone cannot create lasting social change. While it can serve as a catalyst for social and cultural awareness, it must be accompanied by sustained action and advocacy to effect meaningful change. Moreover, it is important to acknowledge the systemic barriers and power structures that contribute to social injustice and marginalisation and to work towards dismantling these structures through collective action.
What will you all be bringing to your sets at fabric in May?
The three of us play around with techno beats and elements. We will hit you with groovy and hard spots all night long.
Who else on the fabric line-up are you excited about?
YA HU: Mount Kimbie is one of my favourite producers, I listened to them growing up. It's a dream for me to be playing in the same line-up.
YA Z AN is filled with enthusiasm to be in fabric in the first place. Really excited to listen to Tapefeed again.
UNION Collective takeover Room 3 on 27th May.