How can I imagine life without Mehdi? It’s a question I never thought I would have to ask myself. Mehdi was without a doubt like a brother to me, a friend well beyond our music ties, a kindred spirit and someone who played an irreplaceable and constant role in my life. In the days since his passing I’ve been reflecting a lot on our friendship and felt the need to write down my thoughts. Here goes.
Mehdi and I knew of each other well before this, but the first time we actually met was New Year’s Eve 2006-2007. This was a pivotal time in my career: it’s exactly when Nick Catchdubs and I decided to found Fool’s Gold. My brother was the matchmaker. In fact Dave first met Mehdi in 2000 when they were both hip hop producers and both worked on an album for the French rapper Rocé. They reconnected in 2005 when my brother sang on his track “I Am Somebody”, and in 2006 Dave went to spend a year in Paris for his studies. “You have to see Mehdi DJ”, he would always tell me. As New Year’s approached, a promoter friend in Montreal asked Dave to recommend a DJ. Mehdi was a natural suggestion, and with that, the encounter was set.
As soon as I met Mehdi, a bond was quickly forged. It felt like I finally met my DJ partner. Here was a guy who got his start in hip hop and rose to be very respected at a young age. Let’s not forget that Mehdi was producing some of the biggest records in French rap in the late 90’s, bringing home awards while I was winning DMC championships. By the mid-2000’s as the Ed Banger stable was taking shape, his DJ sets evolved towards house and techno, with a clear understanding of the origins of the genres that were in fact very close to hip hop, and as always with impeccable taste. Unbeknownst to each other, I was making a similar transition back in America. That was basically the context in which we met. I had been touring with Kanye for 2 years already, and Mehdi was a huge Kanye fan. I was making demos with Kid Sister and was finishing up my Dirty South Dance project, in many ways a blueprint for Fool’s Gold. He was completing his album Lucky Boy for Ed Banger, the rising powerhouse with acts like Justice and Uffie driving the enormous hype. I have vivid memories of us connecting at my apartment in Montreal, listening to and trading music for hours. He told me about his wife Fabienne (the esteemed artist Fafi) and their son Neil. I asked him for beats for Kid Sis. Before his New Year’s gig we had dinner at my parents’ house where he charmed everyone with his well-mannered wit. And just like that, Mehdi was part of the family.
Our DJ scene was exploding and it became increasingly easy to connect all around the world. I saw Mehdi again when I played Paris in the Spring. Then came Coachella, and we all went back to LA the day after the festival. I clearly remember linking up with Mehdi and his crew and playing them two brand new remixes: one for a rock band called Scanners and another one for Bumblebeez. You could say these were my first two uptempo remixes. Mehdi loved them, asked me to play them again; he was fixated. He gave very specific feedback and was more attentive than anyone. I told him I was using the name Trizzy for these remixes; he thought it was a bad idea (he was right). From that point on, we started sending each other our demos and giving constructive feedback with an open dialogue that is very hard to come by in this business. By the summer, he introduced me to his friend Kavinsky whom I wanted to release on Fool’s Gold. We discussed having him and Kavinsky come over to America in the Fall for the first Fool’s Gold tour. Mehdi and I decided we would DJ as a tag-team at these shows. I still have the email he wrote to my agent at the time, to confirm:
Subject: DJ MEHDI&A-TRAK DYNAMIC DUO SPECTACULAR REVUE
Nice to meet you Allison, I am DJ Mehdi, African cousin to your two favourite brothers in the techno business.
I am happy to confirm all those gigs, and very excited to write Rock n’ Roll History with Alain.
(And so on…)
Indeed as I got to know Mehdi, there was more than just a common taste in music that brought us together. There was a sense of humor, a love for writing, a thirst for knowledge, not to mention a passion for Seinfeld that we shared as well! The tour took place in October (including on select dates a freshly signed and virtually unknown Kid Cudi) and was an overwhelming success for the label. I will always be grateful to him for helping us kick-start our operation in America. Shortly after, Mehdi and I embarked on a European DJ run which we dubbed the Walkie-Talkie Tour. Playing in Europe with him was a great learning experience because those audiences are so much more educated when it comes to dance music. Mehdi helped me get a sense of what was tasteful and what was played out. In America you could play pretty much anything at the time and people would jump, but in London for instance you couldn’t go to Fabric and play five Daft Punk records. Mehdi was mindful of these sensibilities and I’m thankful I didn’t have to go through that crash-course by myself. He used to tease me for using Serato and lugging around all these cables and boxes while he showed up with a simple CD wallet. But at the same time he encouraged me to keep turntablism as an integral part of my sets. He clearly saw what was different about me as a DJ.
As 2008 rolled around, we continued to do shows together. Most notably, we tag-teamed at Sonar festival in Barcelona which I remember as my favorite gig of that year. On the personal side, we decided to do a house swap in the Fall. I wanted to spend time in Paris, while he and Fabienne yearned to set up shop in New York. So for two months, we exchanged homes. I still have their kid’s baby spoons in my kitchen drawers to this day. (I never use my kitchen.)
I could go on detailing the various times we linked up but I think the point I’m trying to make is clear now: Mehdi was more than a DJ partner, he was family, he was my best friend.
Mehdi was an exceptional DJ. If you heard a song you didn’t know in his set, you could try to track it down and play it yourself but half the time it wouldn’t have the same effect. There’s something about his groove that actually enhanced the music he was playing. Anyone who’s ever seen Mehdi perform remembers the same things: his smile and his dancing. His energy on stage was so contagious, it was impossible not to be captivated by him. He was radiant. I always saw these character traits as an on-stage manifestation of his generosity: he gave you everything. He’s the only DJ who could stand on a table (or a speaker, or anything for that matter) and not look self-indulgent. It wasn’t “look at me”, it was “share this with me.” In fact, the only times I ever saw Mehdi get upset was when his set got interrupted by a technical failure; he was in the middle of taking you somewhere and needed full concentration. Mehdi was very much in control during his sets and his technique was always spot-on. He was sometimes hard on himself, too. DJing was his craft, his passion, and he invested himself fully into it.
Even if you never met him personally I’m sure you can guess what he was like off-stage. The most generous and kind man I know. Mehdi had a very strong team spirit (he often referred to “l’équipe” – the team, in French) and it was always important to spend time together. If we were booked at the same show in any given city, it was inconceivable to wait until the gig to link up. He called as soon as he got in town, and more often than not he would show up at my hotel room to post up with a set of travel speakers and his iPhone full of music. He rapped along to every Jay-Z song (or in recent years, Drake) while we caught up on whatever was going on in our lives, professional or not. The same thing happened after the gigs, although that time was more about storytelling. Mehdi loved to spin a narrative and was great at it. Long-winded, full of details but always enthralling. I have memories of time spent with him on literally every continent. How many times did I call him upon landing, always greeted by the same reply: “Viens, on est tous là, on t’attend.” (“Come join us, we’re all here, expecting you.”)
The same hospitality extended well beyond the realm of DJ gigs. He often invited me on vacations with his family and friends, and I went many times. Mehdi and Fabienne were my only friends who actually knew how to help me relax and stop working. Fafi would make me put my phone down. He loved to cook for a group. His calamari a la plancha in Biarritz was legendary. Whenever I showed up, whether it be on one of these trips or simply at his Paris apartment, the first thing he would say was: “T’es chez toi.” (“You’re at home here.”)
Mehdi was truly the glue to countless friendships. He brought people together and rejoiced in doing so. I can’t even count the number of people he introduced me to. Last week, as we were all mourning in Paris, my man Lucien said it best: “He created a family.” But he wasn’t just a social butterfly. What was beautiful was how Mehdi had a unique relationship with each person he met. He greeted them with his usual “Ça va? À l’aise?” but remembered everyone by name and made each of them feel like they knew him, even if it was just a casual acquaintance. Find me one person out there who didn’t like Mehdi. It’s impossible.
There’s a lot we can learn from that, which might in fact answer my initial question. What is life without Mehdi? There’s no such thing. Mehdi’s light lives on in all the wonderful friendships he created. I see certain faces and I see Mehdi. I close my eyes and I see Mehdi. I hear certain songs and I see Mehdi. And of course I hear his own music and I see Mehdi.
Although I already miss you more than words can express, I have enough memories to last me a lifetime.
♥ ∞ M.