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How Dinamo Azari Went from Leading Toronto's Most Popular Dance Group to Making Gospel Techno

Check out exclusive photos from the former Azari & III member's sweaty, basement solo debut release party.
Andrew Williamson

Toronto deep house group Azari & III broke up in late 2013, just as they were polishing off the sequel to their hit self-titled 2011 debut album. The various members have since all split off in different directions. Vocalist Fritz Helder is coming out with his own solo material; Alixander III put together a rock band and cranking out weird, psychedelic techno; meanwhile, singer Starving Yet Full is collaborating with a variety of producers.

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Now Dinamo Azari is getting his chance to spread his wings. His new album, the gritty, darker Estranged, was released in February on The Vinyl Factory. This past weekend, he celebrated by throwing a semi-private Toronto warehouse party featuring him playing live alongside vocalists James Ken Bailey and Sylvermayne, and support from Prison Garde and Jacques Greene.

We spoke to the man of the hour, and sent photographer Andrew Williamson to capture the late night, which also included a performance from vogue dancers Snoopy Icon, Twysted Miyake-Mugler, and Kitana Monroe.

THUMP: There's a pretty dark theme to the song titles, was that intentional?

Dinamo Azari: I realized later on that there's a bit of a dark tinge to it. "Estranged" is kind of a negative thing—becoming estranged from a person or a moment. There's also "Psychosis," which is about Marilyn Monroe. My sister and my mom really liked her, so I watched all her movies when I was a kid. She was a very intelligent woman, and so I took a group of her interviews for that song, just her talking and sharing her wisdom.

"Victim" is another negative kind of word. What else do we have? "Break Me," which is about corporate greed and a few other things. It's about that greed that's accepted nowadays. You walk in, take what you want, just rip out all the nutrients until it's dead. It's also about human interactions though too. I like some double entendres in my music.

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I was surprised that there ended up being so many vocal tracks on the album. Did you know that you were going to go in that direction when you started working on it?
Yeah, I did. It was something I'd been focussing on earlier in my career, and I was lucky enough to meet this young gentleman [motions to James Ken Bailey], who just inspired me to really get back into it. Not really demented pop, because that was more an Azari & III thing. This is more like a sophisticated vocal techno record, in a way. Kind of like gospel techno.

James comes from a bit of a gospel background, a church background. I met him through his uncle, who's an old, old friend of mine. I've known him for 20 or 25 years. He calls me up and says he's got this nephew who'd just heard our music at Pride, and he just absolutely loves it. His uncle is actually a notable gay pastor in Toronto, and he was marrying people at Pride that year. He asked if he could introduce us, and I just had a good feeling. It was just too good to be true, to get an out-of-the-blue phone call like that.

Were those the first tracks you worked on for the album?
I'd already been working with Cedric [aka Starving Yet Full] and Fritz before that. The album has taken me about two years, from recording to the actual vinyl release. The album evolved as I kept going and growing, and you can hear which songs are a little later. I started taking out drums a lot, and really focussing on the ambience of the songs and the textures, rather than being so tough guy with all the the 808s and 303s.

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I stripped everything back and really got into the emotions of it more. I wanted to expose that, and started taking out some of the drive, although there's still lots of drive there. I really love my drums, but I just started fooling around with taking them out and not making them the focus.

What's been the biggest challenge in rebranding yourself as a solo artist?
The hardest part was finding a new team, finding a new manager, and going fresh. Figuring out how to put the pieces back together. I felt like I was onto something with Azari & III, and I wasn't just going to stop. So I just kept going and trying to do it on my terms. There was a huge drop though. You were the big thing, and then it's like you're back to zero. I found a new team though, but it took a little while. It was a huge challenge, but something that I really wanted to do.

How did the Carl Craig remix come about?
He's my fucking idol. I look up to him as pretty much my favourite artist in electronic music. How it happened was that we heard that he liked the track, I talked to my label, and told them I thought we had a chance to get him to do a remix. Sure enough, he came in and was completely down.

The Severino remix is also unbelievable, but a nine-minute remix from Carl Craig? It's already being played in Ibiza, it's on BBC Radio 1. It's like back in the Paradise Garage and [Chicago's] Warehouse days, you could put out an album and nobody would notice. But if you got someone like Larry or Frankie [Knuckles] to do a remix on the single, all of a sudden people are like 'damn, that album is pretty good.' All you needed was that great remix. I feel like that's still alive now too in some ways. To be working with Carl and talking with him, it's just un-fucking-real.

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Dinamo Azari is on Facebook // Twitter // SoundCloud

Andrew Williamson is on Twitter.

Benjamin Boles is on Twitter.