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Aida Arko Interview - In The Studio

Originally from Iran, and now hailing from Vienna, Aida Arko is becoming a significant presence in the techno community. 

Celebrated for her unique blend of powerful big-room techno with hypnotic and experimental sounds, she has developed a distinct and captivating style.

Aida Arko's journey has been marked by her inventive techniques and impactful collaborations, drawing the attention of listeners around the globe.

Aida Arko's Must-Hear Tracks:

  • Hedonistic Society EP - Aida Arko [Techno Germany]

  • Just One Dream - Aida Arko [Soma Records]

  • Unholy EP - Aida Arko [Suara Music]

  • Ghost Stories by Rebekah - Aida Arko Remix [Elements Records]

Aida Arko Live at Boiler Room Frankfurt 2024

Aida Arko’s set at Boiler Room Frankfurt 2024 is essential viewing. This harder techno Boiler Room provided a perfect platform for Aida to display her expertise in the genre. Her performance, filled with dynamic rhythms and captivating soundscapes, mesmerized the audience and left a lasting impression.

Watch the performance here:

We discussed her evolution as an artist, the significance of patience and perseverance in the music industry, and her advice for emerging DJs and producers. Aida emphasized the importance of building a local community, developing a unique sound, and staying passionate about your craft.

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Hi Aida, how are you doing today?#

Last week was very busy, with traveling almost every day becoming a bit too much. After two weeks of flying, I felt like I needed a day off. But it's good, a lot of exciting things happened. I love doing this.

That sounds tiring…#

Yes, it can be really challenging, especially now during the summer season with all the delays and cancellations. At one point I even ended up staying 12 hours in an airport due to flight issues.

Ouch! So for starters, how did you get into DJing? #

I started getting into the entertainment industry when I was really young, via the circus. I was a circus performer, and at some point, we toured a lot. When you tour with a big circus, you learn to do all sorts of things, from costumes to lights to stage design to choreography. 

I always enjoyed creating this world, making connections, having fun, and creating art that is interesting and inspiring.

With the circus, I always knew how important lighting and sound were in a show. 

Light and sound made a bracket for the performers. 

I began to develop a passion for these elements and was always passionate about music, collecting records, and DJing for the crew after shows. That's how everything started.

With the first money I saved, I bought myself a full DJ setup - an early Pioneer mixer with tiny jog wheels and everything. I enjoyed DJing for the crew after shows. In the circus, we had a big mixer for all the performers, with channels and cueing, and I enjoyed using it for the crew as well. I always asked the sound guy if I could chip in.

At some point, my passion for music grew so strong that I needed to decide whether to continue my career with the circus or spend more time on music. I chose music because it felt natural. 

About eight or nine years ago, I decided to settle in Vienna, Austria, dedicating all my time, focus, and energy to see where music would take me. That's how I got into everything.

I don’t know any other DJs with a circus origin story!#

Yeah, it was a dream of mine since I was a kid. I wanted to have my own circus. 

In a way, I still have that dream, and it feels fulfilled because I've achieved it, just in a different form - in a sonic territory.

So when you decided to pursue music fully, what did you do to make it happen? #

To be honest, the first two or three years were quite a struggle, both financially and in terms of finding my sound and learning the craft. 

I grabbed any article or learning material I could find to discover my place in the broad umbrella of electronic music. Those early years were all about searching and learning, and they were the most difficult because I doubted myself a lot, both technically and regarding the direction I wanted to take.

Eventually, by not giving up and continuing despite many failures, I found my own way to pursue my vision. 

During those years, I made a lot of music, much of it wasn't great, but it laid the foundation for understanding my style and the technical aspects of executing it. I kept educating myself, taking any online classes I could and saving up to buy gear. Having access to a studio with a good sound system was crucial.

I dedicated my life to music, and slowly, as I pursued my passion, people began to notice. 

Since no one wanted to book me initially, I started organizing my own events with friends in Vienna about five years ago. Things picked up from there. Some local clubs took an interest and asked me to become a resident at Grelle Forelle, a great club in Vienna. I'm very grateful for them. They're my family. They were the first ones to say, "Hey, you're doing great; we would like you to join the club."

Everything started to pick up from there, taking my career to another level. Working with such a professional team and international DJs who came to the club helped me develop a community, share music, and continue creating. 

The more I understood, the better I became at my craft. I realized the importance of experimentation and stepping out of my comfort zone. The more you understand, the more you realize there is no limit.

From that club, everything really started to take off, leading to the next level in my career.

I love that message - the importance of realizing you have limitless potential. #

Absolutely. Every time I go to gigs, I get to meet interesting people. Traveling to other cities allows me to meet people from different backgrounds and cultures who are all doing something with techno. It's fascinating how much techno has to offer; it's such a broad genre.

Traveling and meeting new people at shows has given me the opportunity to make lifelong friends and gain immense inspiration from their passion and energy. Every single time I go somewhere, I'm curious and continuously learn how limitless the possibilities are.

It’s a great message, especially for artists just starting out. #

Definitely! One thing I wish I had known when I started is the importance of patience. 

I'm quite an impatient person, and it can be very frustrating because you keep trying and failing. There's a lot of frustration with the technical aspects and making connections, and it all takes time. 

Patience is what really brings everything together. Give yourself time, allow yourself to fail, and learn from those failures. Analyze what went wrong and what you could do better. It's important to always keep yourself in check. This approach helps your personality and style to grow. 

Focus on checking in with yourself, not comparing yourself to others. 

There are a billion ways to do things, and everyone has their own path and story. Your story is yours. Use your heroes as reference points, but develop your own methods and approach to how things should be done.

It's important to stay true to yourself, not to trends or what others think is cool or uncool. People might tell you what you should do, but you always know what's best for you, and you need to trust that. 

So you've had some big shows recently like Boiler Room - what have been some highlights? And what did you learn? #

It was such a dream. I will also play at the first-ever Boiler Room Festival in London in August, on the Teletech stage. If you had asked me five years ago if I would have multiple Boiler Room sets in a year, I would have been amazed. Passion and consistency really pay off.

Boiler Room was incredible, super nice, and quite wild. It was so crazy that I was really stressed until about 10 minutes before the show. There were issues with monitoring because there were so many people around. Despite all the chaos, it was super fun, and everything turned out perfectly in the end.

There were also some great shows in Spain. I really love the Spanish crowd; they always have this fire going on. 

What kind of DJ techniques do you like to use in your sets? #

I have no gimmicks when it comes to DJing; I'm plain and simple. I don't use a lot of crazy features on CDJs. My approach is straightforward. 

One topic I can discuss is how to sort the tracklist and prepare, which I think many DJs and people on the dance floor are curious about.

I usually choose tracks based on their breakdowns. The fundamental idea of music production is creating tension and release. You set the expectation for your audience, make them wait a bit, and then fulfill that expectation. This approach always works for a good DJ performance. It's also important to know the context of your set, whether it's a one-hour set or a two-hour set. With a longer set, you can experiment more, taking the audience through different territories - harder, softer, more melodic.

For me, the breakdown is crucial. When I hear a good breakdown, I know the track will work. 

I prepare my music in three separate categories: softer, hypnotic tracks with a driven, heavy lower end and synth; prime-time techno with bigger sounds, bigger drops, sharper cuts, and a harder edge; and closing tracks with rougher sound design, a bit distorted, and influenced by old-school hardcore music.

Knowing your music, style, and the energy of the tracks is super important. I constantly update these three categories every few weeks. Some DJs prefer to play the same safe set, but I like to experiment. When you let go of extra control and overthink about the track order, and allow things to be more fluid, the audience feels it. I have the most fun when I stop overthinking and just let the tracks flow.

So are you planning your sets or improvising and going with the energy at the time? #

It's a bit of both. I’ll prepare for important sets, and especially when you're just starting to DJ, it's important to be over-prepared. When I have something important coming up and I'm nervous or unsure where to start, I rely on my toolbox, which is to be over-prepared. Know your music, know your tracks, and have a plan, but be ready to adapt and let things be spontaneous if needed.

Sometimes things don't go as expected in terms of the club, sound system, or crowd. As a DJ, it's your job to adapt. Be prepared for those adjustments. I don't go in super spontaneously, but I am ready to adapt and let things flow if necessary. 

This is the delicate art of DJing: knowing your music, having separate preparations, and feeling the dance floor.

If you don't want to be stressed and want to be more relaxed, that's fair enough, but always have alternatives. Don't rely on just one prepared set; have backups and be ready to switch things up if needed.

It’s useful having your tracks split into different vibes so you can easily find the kind of energy the room needs. #

Absolutely. When I was a resident DJ, playing a lot of residency shows at Grelle Forelle in Vienna, I often played before or after the headliners. This was a great learning experience because it allowed me to study the sound of the DJs who played before and after me and to ensure the audience had a great time.

It's important not to be selfish and insist on playing your sound regardless of the context. Knowing the DJ after you, especially if they play a slower or different sound, is crucial. You need to study the lineup and understand the event. Is it a late-night harder techno event or a softer, melodic techno night? Bringing your best means contributing to the overall experience.

Everyone works hard - the promoters, the club staff, the sound and light technicians, the DJs, and the crew - all to give the audience a great experience. 

It's important to be part of this effort and manage your performance to enhance the whole night's potential.

Exactly, it’s very important to be a team player, and not think of yourself as a solo machine. #

Exactly. Put yourself in the audience's shoes. Imagine going to a club at 11 PM or midnight and hearing a DJ playing 165 BPM hard techno right away. Where do you go from there? 

It's important to build the night gradually, considering the energy and progression of the event. Starting with something too intense too early can make it difficult to maintain or elevate the vibe later on. 

Balancing the tempo and energy to suit the time and context is key to creating a memorable experience for everyone.

That's a good lesson to have learned from having a residency and doing the ‘job’ of pro DJing. #

Here's some advice that I think is important for young DJs starting out.

Start building your community locally. Find out who in your area is doing great work that you admire and reach out to them. Send them your music, communicate, and start networking. It's good to want to be a DJ, but with the amount of noise in the market today, having your signature sound is crucial. It helps you stand out from the crowd and gives you a unique identity.

Producing your own music allows people to see, hear, and feel your unique style. This personal touch is what makes you stand out. Start with creating and sharing your own sound, and see how it evolves. It will take time, but persistence is key.

How would you advise people to find their own sound and develop their own signature identity as a DJ and producer?#

Staying curious is essential. One thing I know for sure, and what 95% of the great DJs and producers I know have done, is that in the first two or three years, you'll likely reference your hero's sound, trying to create something similar. This is more than enough and super important. Having two or three reference tracks for every production helps you match sound quality and production vibes.

However, it's crucial to find your own version of that sound. Just because your hero or a popular producer makes something with an acid sound or a specific stabby sound doesn't mean you need to do the same. Keep trying and experimenting until you find your own style. Sometimes, stepping out of your comfort zone and doing weird stuff leads to beautiful results. These mistakes can create a unique sound palette.

So, while it's important to have reference tracks, it's equally important to experiment and make the sound your own. Stay curious, and keep pushing the boundaries of your creativity.

I think that's good advice. Listen to the things you like and then try and emulate, but put your own twist on it.#

Yes, reference tracks are great and everyone uses them. I still do as well. For mixing, if you know a producer who has super clean mixes, use their work as a reference. Pay attention to how they mix down the hi-hats, the percussion, and the levels of different elements. Spend some time analyzing these aspects.

You can also use plugins like iZotope's Visual Mixer, for example, to compare your mix to the reference. Look at how the reference track's mix looks and compare it to yours. Try to adapt your mix if you want to achieve that clean sound. This approach can help you improve your mixing skills and achieve a professional sound quality.

Are you using much analog gear, or are you mostly working digitally? #

I'm mostly digital because when I started, I didn't have a lot of money to invest in analog gear. I had a very good sound system and invested any money I saved into VSTs because they're fast, quick, and portable. You can make music anywhere with them. I still follow this approach, though I've experimented with hardware as well. I'm about 85-90% digital.

Native Instruments offers great bundles, and I made my first EP for Soma using a lot of modular elements from Reaktor 7, specifically the Bento Box modular rack. It's a digital modular setup that's really fun to work with and lets you patch digitally.

There are many great plugins out there. I use a lot of Native Instruments and Arturia products. Serum is an excellent synthesizer for any genre, especially electronic dance music at any BPM. It's a versatile and powerful VST. Acid V is another straightforward and user-friendly plugin that I highly recommend for creating cool patterns.

If you don't have much money but still want to experiment with VSTs, there are many open-source options available. For example, Surge is a fantastic open-source plugin. It's super fun and offers a wide range of funky, crazy sounds, and it's free to use. So, if you're passionate and love what you do, you don't need a lot of money - just a willingness to search and explore.

Agreed, yeah I gave up on hardware a while ago because I found the logistics of using it annoying. It always breaks and then you have to fix it…#

Yeah, and with the new features in Ableton 11, it's even better. I love the new key tuning feature; it's super nice and makes the whole process much easier. Ableton 11 offers so many functionalities that you can't go wrong, even if you try. It's really fun and helps you avoid frustration.

I have a lot of respect for colleagues who still travel with gear - hands down, it's a lot of work. But if you want a quicker, easier, and less frustrating process, there are many ways to achieve this with just your computer.

Tell me more about your recent EP Hedonistic Society. I listened to it the other week and it sounded great!#

Thank you - I wanted this EP to represent my new sound, something unique but good enough to be included as prime-time techno for the dance floor. Working with four amazing artists, almost my heroes, who did remixes for the EP was a dream come true. I'm really grateful for that.

What were some of the production techniques you used? And what were some challenges you encountered? #

A controlled low end is key to a solid overall production. 

For example, I often spend weeks just working on a kick drum. It's important to get multiple layers working together to bring dynamic punch and liveliness to a techno track. A good techno track typically has a strong lower end, a punchy, driven kick drum, nice vocals, and dynamic elements. These elements can come from modern technology, old-school modular vibes, or something more emotional.

Make sure your lower end is in key and spend a lot of time on it. Good EQing is also crucial. Simple EQ techniques often work best. Ensure the overall mix is balanced. I receive many demos where the production and ideas are great, but the mixing is off, making it difficult for DJs to play those records.

Don’t be shy about sharing your tracks with others and asking for feedback, especially regarding mixing. It's always good to get second opinions. Key tips are to get your kick drum right, maintain clean mixing, and use good EQing. You won't go wrong with this approach.

I could really hear that in the tracks, the low end was very tight and visceral and just cut through. #

It's everything because the rest are details - effects and the artistic aspect of the production. But getting the technicality of the low-end right is crucial. Once you nail that, you can build anything on top of it. That's where the creative part comes in.

How do you think your sound has evolved over time? What new sonic avenues are you exploring? #

My sound has definitely developed over the last few years. I used to produce more hypnotic, experimental, and droney sounds. Now, I want to focus on creating big room sounds for larger stages and festivals. I'm aiming for more dance floor techno. 

I don't know what the future holds, and I don't want to. Right now, this direction ignites my passion, and as long as that fire is there, that's good news. My current passion is creating bigger, more impressive sounds that grab your attention.

What are your current goals as an artist? What is motivating your future direction?#

At the moment, I'm working on multiple EPs. I'm focused on my solo EP and collaborating with a very talented young English producer, PRYDIE Music. He used to send me music over the past years, and I was always impressed. So, I reached out and asked if he wanted to collaborate, and he was super enthusiastic about it. Now we're working on an EP together.

I just finished another EP with a Dutch artist, Vera Grace. She has a very specific sound - melancholic, but super driven and hypnotic, which I really like. This collaboration allowed me to challenge myself and work on something more hypnotic. I'm excited for this EP to be released soon.

For my own project, I'm working on a bigger sound. My plan is to release as much music as possible this year. I want 2024 to be the year I release the most music. With Beatport's support, I'm aiming to be the Beatport Next artist for 2024. I also plan to open my own record label in the future. I hope to collaborate with more festivals, host showcases, and bring in artists I believe in to spread good music.

As for my personal vision, I remember the first time I saw Armin Van Buuren play at Tomorrowland's Mainstage many years ago. It was magical, and the music was incredible. My dream is to have a slot at night on the Tomorrowland Mainstage. That would be a moment that would make me cry for sure.

What shows have you got coming up, and how can people stay up to date with your work and schedule? #

We have a lot of exciting shows and festivals coming up during the European summer season. 

We also have many great shows and festivals during the European summer season, including Utopia Festival and other fantastic events. Additionally, there's another Boiler Room in the UK, in London, which is special because it's the homecoming of Boiler Room and their first-ever festival... I'm really looking forward to that event, as it has a great lineup.

There are more events coming up, but I can't talk about them yet as they haven't been officially announced. Stay tuned. I’m most active on Instagram, where I regularly update everything. All the dates, events, releases, and announcements are mostly shared there.

Follow Aida on Instagram

It sounds like you have a lot going on. So how do you balance your personal life with the busy life of a DJ?#

Yesterday, when I read that question, I immediately thought of an Austrian chef. There's a vegan chef in Vienna I really like; he runs the most successful fine-dining vegan restaurant in Vienna, called Terrae. He's the sweetest, most intelligent, and coolest chef I've ever met. We follow each other - I love good food, and he loves music. In an interview, he was asked about work, and his answer resonated with me. He said, "There is no work for me; it's passion." I feel the same way about what I'm doing.

There is no separation between work and fun for me - it's all passion.

Of course, traveling can be the least fun, especially with delays and boredom, but the passion and love make it all worth it. If it feels like work, I'd rather check out and do something else. There are better jobs I could do just for money. But I do this out of love, and I can work around the clock because I don't even call it work. It's what I love to do, what I dreamed of doing.

When I need a break to get in tune with myself, I go to nature, take a walk with my dog, or go swimming. It's important to stay mindful of our capacities as humans. Sometimes it's good to decompress so you can come back stronger. I go to the gym to decompress, take walks, and spend time with plants. I studied biology in university before joining the circus, and I love growing plants. These activities take me out of the musical world for a bit, and when I return, the energy and passion for music are still there.

Yeah I’ve been talking to some other DJs and artists, they all state the importance of rest, because it’s basically a 24/7 job. #

That's absolutely true. You have to work 24/7. This isn't for everyone, which is why I emphasize that it has to be something you're deeply passionate about. 

You need to have love, respect, and understanding for yourself and for what you're creating. Without that passion, it will eventually collapse because it is demanding. But passion makes it feel like you're doing something you love regardless of the money. It's something you would do anyway, with or without financial reward.

Thanks for talking to us today!#

Thanks for having me!

Noah Feasey-Kemp
DJ/Producer
I started DJing when I was 15. Started a record label, residency by a club in Bristol. I’ve played at all the biggest clubs in Bristol (and the small ones) and have entertained thousands of dancers! I love writing about music, DJing, and technology. I've been blogging for DJ.Studio since the start of the project, and am always happy to answer questions and help fellow DJs out!

Excited to start mixing?