Interview: Borzoo reflects on Cabal, state of DJing; talks future plans and more

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By Kaivan Adjedani, Senior Editor. Photos by Ded Pixel & Marko Kovacevic, taken from Ded Agency.

On August 19th, Toronto’s electronic music community said goodbye to Cabal Social in the only way that seemed fitting; three nights of parties in a closing trilogy finale. Despite possessing one of the most forward thinking musical ideologies, Cabal, like many other unique concepts with a niche in the city, fell victim to Toronto’s incessant need to pressure out anything good to make place for a potential condo lot. While it was certainly sad to see it go, Cabal gave the city one last soirée featuring some of the nearest and dearest DJs to the venue over the past five years.

Closing the weekend ceremonies out was club founder, owner, mastermind, architect, promoter, manager, and resident DJ; Borzoo Mehrzad. From the minute Cabal launched, Borzoo dedicated blood, sweat, tears, and a definite lack of sleep to ensuring the smooth operation of the King West haven. Even on finale night in a club packed from wall to wall with patrons anxious to see him hit the decks, Borzoo spent the first three hours of the night giving back up to the bar staff. We had the pleasure to sit down with the man behind the magic shortly after the weekend trilogy to talk Cabal, music, and his take on the industry throughout a lengthy career behind the booth, and the curtains as well.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself. Who is Borzoo as an artist?

I’m not sure if I consider myself an artist. I consider DJing a skill not so much an art and I’m a much better DJ than a musician. I’ve been a DJ for over fifteen years, but I’ve been making music even longer than that. I actually have a couple of original tracks and remixes coming out in the next couple of months on good labels, but the production has always been more of a hobby. I actually had to force myself to play by the rules and structures of dance music to make something more dance floor friendly rather than the weird music I’m so comfortable making that no one wants to sign! I mean, I finished a 45 minute long Electonica album 3 years ago and it’s just sitting there. I’m hoping to spend more time making music now that I have my life back!

Was there a significant party or event that got you into electronic music and/or the industry as a whole? 

I can’t really put my finger on anything specific; I didn’t have a Eureka moment at some legendary 90s rave that made me fall in love with electronic music and made me want to become a DJ. The first memory I have is from when I was about 16 at a club at some vacation resort in Europe when the DJ was mixing a bunch of tracks together. I was fascinated with how the whole process of beat matching and making different records blend together worked, probably more so than what music the DJ was playing. My guess is it was some cheesy Euro-Trance or Pop House; after all this was in the late 90’s.

I got more serious about DJing when I was living and studying in Dubai. I was throwing after hours parties in my university years and I took a job at this pocket size nightlife magazine/party guide called Infusion that’s still around. I took photos, did DJ interviews and wrote short reviews; but it was mostly an excuse and opportunity for an introverted guy like me to be at and network at every party that mattered. The scene in Dubai was booming at the time and we were hanging out with world’s most celebrated DJs on a weekly basis. I learned so much about the industry, the culture, and all the behind the scene politics. I started my own club night and some of the bigger promoters saw something in me, and soon I was playing the opening slots in some of the major clubs.

Can you name us a go to track or artist that is a regular play among Borzoo sets? 

There are so many amazing artists that I idolize, the list is very long. I try to keep my sets as fresh as possible so unless it’s a gig that I need to dig into some of the oldies, say like  Cabal’s closing, I don’t have many “go to” tracks. Producers come and go all the time. If I did have to drop a few names, I really dug Habersham and John Tejada’s work from a few years back and I still play some of their tracks. I’ve also been abusing Andre Lodemann’s stuff in my sets as well as Solee and some of the music that comes off of his label Parquet. I also have a strong bond with any tracks that used to make it to the Global Underground compilation albums, they get me nostalgic.

As a DJ, your sound is very different and niche from most out there currently. What inspires your sound?  

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I believe every DJ should have a sound that is unique and different from others, but I see your point. Technology has made access a lot easier but it’s also made us a lot lazier. Ten years ago I could walk into a gig with a bag full of records and I’d be very confident that the crowd, and even my peers, had not heard 90% of the music before, because I would spend hours going though piles of records in some record store. Beatport, Soundcloud and Youtube were still at their early stages. There wasn’t this craze among the crowd to Shazam and find out every record the DJ is playing, they were there to dance and have a good time. Times have changed and a lot of people using shortcuts like Shazam and charts, end up playing the same tracks and sounding the same by default.

Another thing with most DJs these days is they don’t have range. I’m not a purist, I don’t bound myself to one genre. Genres are so blended these days anyway that you can easily transition smoothly between them and still keep things exciting rather than playing 3 hours of the same style. It becomes very monotonous and boring. I also play different music, within “my sound”, if that’s even a thing, based on a variety of factors. The timeslot I’m playing, the crowd size, acoustics and other characteristics of the room like brightness and of course other DJs on the lineup all play a role. Do your homework; don’t shy away from asking questions about the party if you’re not familiar with the venue and the lineup. Preparation is key! You can’t always wing it and get away with it. What I play at 4PM on a beach is very different from what I play in a dark big room club at 4AM. I often see DJs playing the same sound everywhere they go, that’s just lazy!

Did already having a fairly successful architecture business, as you put it, have any effect on your artistry and work within the industry? Did it make it easier or harder? 

Easier I’d say. They’re very similar in many ways. You have a vision or goal, a set of problems, and you need to come up with solutions with what you have in your arsenal. Whether it’s a structure or arranging a piece of music, a DJ set or a poster, sometimes you have to create new elements that didn’t exist before or be creative. How you put those elements together in a way that hasn’t already been done is expressing your artistic side and exploring your innovative nature. The process is the same, the medium is different.

Looking back on opening night five years ago as well as this past Saturday’s closing party at Cabal, what is one thing that you noticed that stood out as very different and one thing that was very similar about the parties?

Many things were different, from the look of the place, the sound system, to the number of people who were there, to our attitude and the crowd’s. There was a sense of community; it felt like people were finally united in understanding and appreciating what Cabal stands for as opposed to confusion and curiosity in the beginning. The one thing that remained constant was the music, we were particular and picky about it from day one and we remain that way to this day.

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Both the crowd and DJs at Cabal on the closing weekend seemed to be quite a tight knit group. Can we expect another party with the Cabal community?

The word Cabal has this negative connotation of exclusivity, and interestingly enough the tight knit crowd and DJs you’re referring to, strengthens that suggestion. We were actually quite inclusive and we welcomed everyone to join us. However we didn’t adjust and adapt to what the norm was in the city. The big family you saw during the closing parties were mostly the people who chose us, rather than the other way round. As for DJs, most local Toronto DJs have played there at some point. Some of them were more in line with our vision and flourished and grew stronger with us. We saw great potential in them and we all supported each other.

Cabal will stay active as a music collective and community and once I’m rested and have some new fresh ideas we will be back with new events and conceptsI can’t tell you where we will end up playing collectively and individually, but I consider them family and they will be my go-to roster for future projects simply because they’ve proved time and time again, they are very capable DJs and will rise to the occasion. This is not to say I don’t have my ear to the ground for young and fresh talent however.

Looking back as an artist, and as the owner of Cabal, what is one or a few of your proudest moments to date?

Cabal has been an emotional roller coaster and a labor of love, there were a lot of ups and downs and many moments where I was ready to threw in the towel, but the satisfaction I got every time from seeing a smile on the dance floor, a nod, a new connection and friendship kept me going and I’m very proud of what Cabal is today. We weren’t popular, it was quite strange and overwhelming when I met so many people at the closing parties who told me it’s their first time there and they were upset they discovered us too late but that’s life. We did things differently in one of North America’s most uptight, stubborn and unadventurous cities and I’m very proud of that.

Lastly, what’s up next for Borzoo?

I don’t really have a definitive answer for you. I’m taking a break from the day-to-day hustle and bustle and reassessing things in my life. I’m going to take my time before jumping on a major new project, but there are few things I’ve been working on, that are slowly moving forward. I’ve been doing consultation, event production and management on the side, and I’ll probably continue doing that for my clients. I’m also helping a friend with artist management on a more international level, mostly behind the curtain and with the music side of things so we’ll see how that pans out. There is a destination micro-festival in the works that is still in the conceptual phase and I can’t really discuss it much, but it will be very much in line with Cabal’s ideology.

And of course my music… I was able to play out more often in the past year since things were running smoother with the business. It wasn’t as demanding as before which made me rediscover how much I love DJing and making music. Music is my number one passion so I’m going to make sure I pursue what satisfies me the most, more frequently.

Thank you for taking the time to chat with us Borzoo, good luck on your next ventures!

Cheers, thank you!

This interview was edited and revised for clarity. 
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