Ahmad Qatramiz is one of Paris’s rising house music producers with a dream-inspired style entirely his own. Performing as Quatri — a moniker he initially earned while running a meme account — he’s already signed and released music on All Day I Dream, Sag & Tre, Nie Wieder Schlafen, and Oleeva Records. It’s quite a respectable line-up of support, considering he’s still in his early-20s.
When Quatri’s not in the studio or touring as a DJ, he’s a full-time dentistry student and a pro Syrian and Lebanese activist, attending demonstrations across the city. It’s no doubt been a wild year of protests in France, and the night we spoke, Quatri had just returned from a demonstration where he’d been tear gassed and almost hit with a water cannon. Despite one eye being half closed from the gas, he was still plenty happy to answer a few questions and record an initmate set for our latest Gigue Radio mix.
Soft Punk: Can you describe your selections for this mix? What mood are you bringing across?
Quatri: The tracklist is based on a few of tracks I really wanted in the set. More live music and world music, with two or three jazzy tracks. I definitely enjoyed getting flexible with my everyday crate digging to find what I really want to express as a musical form.
So I just thought about my mood today. I don't want to force myself to go into our house music format. That's what I really appreciated about this mix. I don't want to have to go into SoundCloud or dig through all the new releases with the mentality that I have a set to do and I need new tracks. So this mix is really based on what I'm listening to right now, picking sounds that reflect our world and what's going on. It's more music for chilling out.
In a backwards kind of way, you only recently started mixing tunes after being a music producer for years. Has your production experience helped your ear as a selector?
That's an interesting question... because it's a question I'm still trying to answer for myself. As I've discovered new genres it's opened up the way that I look at my selection process. I didn't grow up listening to jazz, or even house music. But I was really into trance when I was younger. I'm 24 now, and ever since I started producing music around nine years ago, I was a fan of trance and those energetic, big trance beats. That's what I first started producing, trancey stuff.
So I was always a fan of electronic music, but for the rhythmic leads and for the overwhelming sensation of it. Trance is all big pads and big leads... stuff like that. And I've changed slowly. I still find myself liking dreamy tracks – dreamy in all its forms, from house to jazz to techno. In every genre there's this sense of phasing, or going into a trance kind of mindstate. This is where music gets interesting to me, when it gets you lost in this loop. And the sensations can be almost identical, but each loop somehow tells you something different. So this is how I pick my music today. If I look at my tracks, either it's calm or it's hyped, but each of them provide an escape.
It's an everyday quest, both producing and selecting, to wonder how I came to really appreciate a particular sound — be it from an instrument or a synth. I ask myself the question of what about that sound plays to my mind and body. Is it something that I loved in childhood or is it something I've been unconsciously listening for all my life? I now realize these sounds just come to me because I've trained my ears to listen for them.
What is your earliest memory falling in love with music?
Haha, man, I suppose it's a childhood memory: from when I was seven years old and I heard a religious song about Medina, the Prophet's City. It's the song that we played to young people in Damascus, in Syria. The song talks about the story of a little girl who has adventures in her life with an uplifting conclusion describing the quest to find true peace within religion. Like, a nice conclusion to carry with you in your life.
It's also a funny song, because when we grew up, everybody still talked about it. Someone will say, "Do you remember listening to that song!" and everybody cracks up because the song is kind of cheesy with its melodies and a bit sad, but we all know it.
So I got really emotional listening to this song in my first grade classroom. I got so emotional that I started crying! I had to leave class and my teacher was like, "What's going on? Why are you crying?" Haha... I keep remembering this moment, so now I'm like, "Okay, fuck, maybe I've had this sensitive thing with music since since I was a little boy." Then it got confirmed even more when I remember asking my dad in the car, like every day, how they made the music on the radio. It was a recurring, redundant question that I always brought up.
What was your childhood like in Damascus?
It was peaceful... it was really nice. It was really home. I'm gonna keep those memories with me. It's the phase of my life where peace was always present. I lived with my family; not just my parents and my brothers and sisters, but all my aunts, and my grandfathers, and my cousins. Most of my best friends came from that time, but now most of them live in Montreal. I moved to Paris 10 years ago, so I was 13 going on 14 when I left.
But overall, it was really a time of peace, being Syrian and someone from Damascus. I still have love for the old charm that Damascus had. Unfortunately, things have changed so much. I still feel these memories, they're gonna stay with me. I'm always going to go back to these memories, and I hope to live to live new memories there as well.
So you really grew up between both Damascus and Paris, which are two fairly different places. In your original productions, you have a very specific mood that you bring through in your music. How has your heritage informed the tone and style of your music?
All these oriental references from growing up in Syria, that I almost stopped listening to, have inspired some of the ways I produce music. I'll go back to really old songs, where the essence of the oriental melodies really came from, to learn and expand. From this experience what I realized is that I love progressive music and I think this comes from the oriental side of my heritage. But it's hard to pin down, exactly.
One thing I know is that really old music, like stuff by Abdel Halim Hafez or Oum Kahltoum, was instrumental for my ear. These legacy Arabic artists greatly informed the way I look at structure. Because what you see in oriental music is this building lead. I mean, music back then was really long. So one track would be almost an hour long and recorded live. Just one song!
So a loop in a track builds up for almost 20 minutes, and then the singer comes in and sings for nearly 45 minutes, and that's followed by another five minutes or so of instrumentals at the end. It's this loop character that has always been present in my ear and preferences. This definitely influenced my taste and shaped some of how I produce music today.
But there's this side of Paris, and of France — the side of simplicity. For me, France has been a simple place. Everything here is simpler than it was in Syria. It got pretty hectic as I got older. But in France, I had the space to really learn everything... science, biology, critical thinking, and being simple in my life. This western side of my life, this occidental side, I think, shaped up the way I approach music somehow as well. Yea, it's hard to answer this question haha.
Hah, totally. An easier question might be what the influence of Burning Man has had on your sound?
Oh! That’s easy. Dreaminess. Movement. Touching the untouchable, things you can't even imagine. Putting someone in an atmosphere that feels really out of this world... or condensing everything in the world together into a tight composition, so you feel a lot of different trips.
Or finding some utopian or different universe kind of vibe. Burning Man expands creativity. It pushes you. I mean, at least for me, it pushed me to find the sounds of something that is hidden, something that doesn't really add up. Especially going somewhere beyond what's seemingly possible. You're living somewhere that is really out of reality, on the playa. So you want to want to find the future sounds to match the setting.
So after a bunch of singles, remixes, and EPs, you recently released Left Undone — your first full length album — with German label Nie Wieder Schlafen. How are you feeling about the record, now that it's out into the world?
I was really happy to release this set of 10 tracks. They’re projects that I know I would have never finished and most of them were from a project that I almost lost. I switched to Ableton a year ago and these tracks were all produced on FL Studio, and I know I'm not going to go back to FL Studio.
So I love these tracks because I lived many moments with them, and I felt happy to release them, but I wasn't the happiest about the music because I was so critical of myself and my sound when I was producing them. It was back when I was really thinking a lot about what I'm going to do with my music. Am I gonna release stuff? Does it need to be signed..? So I decided it should just be released, and to do it for free.
When I think of it today, I'm really happy I released this record because it showed me that we can be too harsh on ourselves in the moment and be so persuaded and so sure that you're right to be harsh for yourself in that moment. But when I thought about it... after waiting nearly five years... I realized that I made the right choice putting them out there. It's taking the time and letting things go; looking at things in the long term and not being too closed minded.
What's been the response that you've gotten from people who listened to the album?
We got amazing support from the beginning. It was really heartwarming to see nice messages from people instantly and especially getting positive feedback from other artists as well. People still bought the album, even though it's free!
I even got messages from people that listen to the tracks daily. Them sharing this with me reminded me that this is why I do music. I feel like I got into music production so that people would actually listen to what came out. So knowing these songs helped ease their lives, maybe reduced stress, or just made their moments better and their memories better... this is why I do music.
If I had one goal, I would say it's to create a nice memory for people, provide them with an escape, whether it's when they’re going to work, or on the bus, or if they’re at a party.
With a growing global following, do you think that you're gonna be a Parisian for life? Or do you think that there might be another city in your future?
In the long term, I really want to move at some point and experience something new. Maybe I'll try to go to Montreal, which can be easier for my work as a dentist. At least to try something new. I certainly want to travel if it's in the dentistry field, as a musician, or as a humanitarian.
But I honestly don't know. It's something I hope to make happen. So if it happens, I'd love to travel with it. But in the long term, I feel like I'm gonna stay in France, probably around Paris, but I might change places. Paris is a very interesting city.
As far as the music industry goes, has the pandemic made you reevaluate your career as a musician? Are you putting more of your focus towards dentistry?
COVID hasn't really played a role in my decision to become a dentist. I always thought of music as something I would do on the side. Even though I respect the music industry and people that do it full time, I have my point of view about it. There's a lot of compromise that has to happen with music, when it becomes your profession. At some point you gotta live from it, so I've seen people compromise and sacrifice what they would really choose to do and be organic about. Sometimes you have to make hard decisions to live, and I don’t want to have to do that with music.
Music has always been my escape. If it becomes something that I do every day, I cannot escape anymore. I always wanted to do dentistry. I love medicine, I love treating people, and doing something directly good for people. I will try to do my best as a dentist and as a medical professional to live up to that. So I love this thing, even though it adds a lot of stress as well in my daily life, and music remains the perfect way to express myself in the most organic and purest form possible. So hopefully I'll be able to balance both of these passions and be able to manifest more good things with music and medicine in the future.
I mean, you definitely have the chompers for it. If you're a dentist, you gotta have a really sexy smile to wow your patients, which you most certainly do ;]