BEIRUT: When describing their experience at the Five Islands Festival, almost every artist used the word “community,” indicating the friendly vibe brought forth by The Grand Factory.
Last weekend, The Grand Factory, one of Beirut’s most prominent nightlife establishments, in collaboration with Mzaar Ski Resort, successfully brought together international and local artists and various music scenes, as they presented their first edition of The Five Islands Festival, at the Warde Ski Slopes at Mzaar-Kfardebian.
The event featured five islands; Solar Island, which featured headliners; Soul Island, which radiated with Afro-funk, techno, house, and world music; Native Island, which was a spot for local artists to play back to back; Reunion Island, which acted as a techno sanctuary; and Paradise Island where attendees could relax, lay down, and have a break from walking across the enormous landscape.
Known by his stage name, Lio, the Lebanese sound engineer, and DJ has been making music since he was 16. Ranging from deep techno to minimal house, Aoun works as an acoustic consultant, he also produces his own panels and acoustics simulations.
“Sound Engineering taught me to look at music from a different approach, even mixing. As a sound engineer and mixing engineer, you look at DJing in a more scientific way. You have to add your artistic touch and all, but what it gave me is structure,” he told Annahar.
The young artist is no stranger to the sound quality and spirit of The Grand Factory, as he worked on the acoustics of almost every venue in Lebanon and was stage-managing the Native Island at the festival.
As for the experience and chance to play at the festival, said: “First, I’m proud. This is the start of something new. Before we just had Forest Frequencies as a festival in Lebanon and it was a bit limited to Psytrance.”
DJs Leo, Rolbac, 3LIAS, and Whoisbibz backstage joined for a picture
Jixo & Danz:
The iconic duo was the former resident DJs of one of the biggest nightclubs in the world, Blue Marlin Ibiza UAE and now resident DJs of the Code, Soho Garden & Soho Beach. Unfortunately, Danz couldn’t attend the festival, and so Jixo represented the duo.
“The management of Grand Factory means family and friends, and they’re extremely professional. You don’t feel like it’s a job, everyone is in a good mood, everybody is positive, that’s what I love about them, I’ve known them for ages and it always gets better,” he told Annahar.
Jixo has been playing music for almost 15 years as a Dubai based DJ, but he always comes back to Lebanon and its underground music scene, which he finds as one of the best in the world.
“The scene is going in the right direction, it was always in the right direction, but now it’s getting bigger. Now it’s on the international map next to Berlin, Ibiza, and Mykonos. It’s getting bigger than any other place in the world, for the last six to seven years it just gets better,” Jixo added.
DJ Jixo, of Jixo & Danz, backstage at the Five Islands Festival
One of the youngest and most prominent up and coming DJs of Beirut is 21-year-old Habib Elie Chaoul, who's had an eclectic talent since he was 13.
“I used to play average and commercial music, then I went toward R&B. I was 13-years-old when I started, and now I have become more popular with electronic music. It’s cool, they loved me after seeing me play at after parties when I was 17-18, and that's how it escalated,” he told Annahar.
With a lot of struggle to get to where he is currently, and making a name for himself in a fast-growing scene, Bibz explained how grateful he is to be a part of a festival that is on a big scale.
DJ WhoisBibz, backstage at the Five Islands Festival
Christian Legno, known by his stage name Soul Button, was one of the international headlining artists of the festival. Although he played in Lebanon only once six years ago, Legno didn't lose his love for the music scene in Beirut.
“The people are cultured, they know the music, they know the artist, they know the single tracks, they ask for specific tracks, it’s nice,” he told Annahar, adding: “There are so many countries that you’d expect to have more music culture and knowledge of the artists, especially in European countries, but compared to Lebanon, they don’t know that much surprisingly.”
Describing Lebanon and Montreal as his favorite stages and crowds, the Italian artist started his journey in music at the age of 16 in a small town in Italy.
His labels Steyoyoke, Steyoyoke Black, and Inner Symphony became one of the most prominent and recognized labels in the underground electronic music scene.
International DJ and producer Soul Button at the Five Islands Festival
“I've been around the world, I’ve been everywhere, but Beirut is crazy. It’s so different out here, there’s something so unique about it; there’s a certain vibe about this place that is different from anything else around the world," Henry Wu told Annahar.
Wu is also known as Kamaal Williams and is one of Britain’s most established artists and record producers.
Impressed and influenced by Feirouz and the Middle Eastern scales and melodies, Wu explained how performing in Lebanon once embedded a Middle Eastern type of flow in his music.
“It seems like Beirut always has more creativity coming out around than other countries,” he said.
Currently working on his own festival in Marrakesh, Atlas Electronic, Wu spoke highly of The Grand Factory, he said: “It’s a real honor to be here. I always looked forward to come back, I felt like there’s more to build here.”
Wu at the festival
The underground group, which usually consists of five members, played life African dance music combined with UK electronic elements.
Having played at the well known UK Glastonbury festival five times, the group has been only growing bigger since their early start in the UK, touring Europe, Australia, and all the way to the Middle East’s Five Island Festival.
“It is a beautiful thing to be part of Lebanon’s first steps into the festival culture. It’s really nice to be here and experience it. We grew up on festivals, and that is how our project started. I find it beautiful that you can bring that here. Massive shout-out to Soul Kitchen for bringing us here,” Nico Bentley and Jallykebba Susso, members of the group, told Annahar.
British and African group Afriquoi members Nico Bentley and Jallykebba Susso
Karl Afif and his childhood best friend Bahjat Hindi are known by their stage name 2THIRD, who slowly became known for their outstanding opening acts, as they've warmed up for Berlin’s iconic electronic acts, Tale of Us, during their performance earlier this year at The Grand Factory.
The duo started out as an Oriental House act, but they always adapt and change their style according to the artist following their act, and they described the warming up as “the most crucial and important part because you set the mood and you get people to come.”
Excited to perform at the festival, the duo opened for the Reunion Island.
As for their experience with The Grand Factory, they said: “It’s a family, we play in other places but in Grand Factory you just have the family vibe from everyone, the crew, the staff, the management, the sound, the setup, and how professional they are. No one can be that.”
Bahjat Hindi and Karl Afif of 2THIRD at the Five Islands Festival
Ranging from minimal techno to Romanian techno, Azar started producing music at the age of 14 and has not stopped producing since.
“I started playing in Spain during the summer. I met some local DJs here like Nesta and Stamina, and they took me in, as they saw the potential in me,” he told Annahar.
Already playing at events in Barcelona, Amsterdam, and many venues in Lebanon, he described the Lebanese music scene to have two sides; a conservative one, where resident DJs are careful with the music they choose to play, and then there is an evolution of the music scene in Beirut where more genres are appearing publicly.
Enthusiastic about the festival, Azar was impressed with the crowd attending the festival, as he told Annahar: “It is an amazing venue, it is in the mountains. You have people who come from different religions, and backgrounds that do not know each other and just want to party and listen to good music. I would never say no to a gig here, I do it for the love of music!”
Elias Merheb, formerly known as DJ Stamina, is one of the pioneers of the Lebanese electronic scene, as he has been performing for almost 25 years. He has been making his own music for the past 10 years, and he now plays along with his brother.
Coming from a musical background, the brothers told Annahar that their parents, who were folk music artists, influenced them. Although they were told to stray away from music, they pursued it anyway.
“You have to start somewhere to get somewhere, it really started in the mid-90s when we used to DJ in bedrooms and invite friends or host parties in underground venues. Then I studied abroad, and when I came back it really started booming in 2003. Of course, B018 played a huge part in the scene. We have a unique scene in my opinion,” Merheb told Annahar.
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