March 21, 2024


BACKNBODYHERTZ, the alias of Seattle-based Syrian-American DJ Shareef Ismail, has become well known over the last several months in the Emerald City for their sets filled with raw, hybridized, techno and breaks. Despite stepping up to the decks fairly recently in Seattle, Shareef has been at it for years, playing music in Cairo before relocating to the states.

Just since their debut at Seattle party Get U Off, they've been embraced by the PNW dance music community, spinning often at other Kremwerk parties like Club Slip, Atmospherique, and Girth, as well as more underground endeavours such as Impromptu, alongside Sepehr and fellow local 'nohup'.

It was after the last installment of Bodytalk in particular that we had to reach out to share their sound and story.

Can you share a bit about the journey that's led you to your current home in Seattle?

My name is Shareef. I am 24 years old. I was born in Orange County where my parents lived until my twin sister and I were born. After spending many years in the diaspora, My parents moved back to their hometown in Homs, Syria to settle down for a permanent home. I grew up in Homs until the beginning of the Syrian Revolution in 2011. At the start of the revolution, my parents sent me and my sister off to Seattle, WA, to seek refuge from the war and temporarily stay with our relatives. I ended up living in Seattle as child for a couple of years where I went to elementary and middle school. I later moved Cairo, Egypt, reuniting with my family after years of separation due to the displacement of war. Cairo became my new home. I grew up and in Cairo where I graduated high school 2018. 

Through raving in Cairo and during my travels to Europe, I developed my love for electronic music. I started to take a DJ course in 2018. When I first started DJing, I often only played acid house and minimal techno. The first booking I got was right before the pandemic in 2020. I was booked to play a sunset slot; this is my most memorable gig ever. It was so wholesome to see people’s reaction to my music on the dancefloor and all the positive feedback was so rewarding. Unfortunately, the pandemic hit right after. The pandemic was the peak of my relationship with digging for music, and it had a key role in shaping my sound. I had plenty of time to explore my style and experiment with my sound. When I started DJing, I did not have any equipment, so I perfected DJing on rekordbox using only my laptop and a mouse. Somehow, I mastered beat matching digitally using the algorithm. Many of the mixes I recorded using my old alias were recorded using my laptop. I decided to move to Seattle in 2021 to pursue my degree in visual communication design to grow and expand my opportunities as a DJ.

What is the dance music scene like in Cairo from your experience?

In the heart of downtown Cairo, I had the pleasure of being introduced to a small inclusive community of queer ravers, artists, musicians, the most diverse raves, and of course, good-ass dance music! The electronic music scene in Cairo is quite large and there are many different musical styles and scenes. Through my experience, the underground sound of Cairo pre covid was infamous for acid house and dark alien-sounding grooves. DJs like Ahmed Samy (rest in power) played a key role in successfully bringing this sound to Cairo. Often hosting European DJs and influencing local talent.

On the other side of the coin, Cairo developed its style of rave music. Inspired by Egyptian Shaa’bi music, oriental drum patterns and heavy bass, A wave of local producers redefined the sound of Cairo and electronic music internationally. This includes some of my all-time favorite producers and DJs such as Hassan Abou Allam, Zuli, and 3phaz.

How has your experience been playing music in Seattle?

Playing music in Seattle gave me opportunities that I only dreamed of as an aspiring DJ. Seattle inspired me to take a different approach to my sound. I found my sound’s niche in Seattle’s woozy slow ambient techno, dubstep, and tempo-surfing drum and bass. Seattle gave me the space to explore darker and heavier elements on the dancefloor. Thanks to the dancer’s open minds, support from the community, and fellow DJs who shared their platform with me. I finally have the privilege of sharing my passion for music with the world.

Having lived in Syria, and considering your outspokenness in favor of a ceasefire in Palestine, I'm curious if you can share about your lived experience with Western Imperialism in the Middle East?

As someone who has been displaced and can never return to their home, The genocide in Gaza has brought back a lot of suppressed emotional trauma from my childhood experience with the war in Syria as It is all too familiar to me. Just like the current state of destruction in Gaza, my hometown, Homs, was the first city to get its infrastructure completely flattened to the ground by bombs. Homs was destroyed to the point where it is so uninhabitable that locals call it “the city of ghosts.” 

The tactics of collective punishment practiced on Palestinians in Gaza are almost identical to the ones in Syria. For example, weaponizing electricity. When my parents sent me away to the US at the age of 12, I remember spending almost two months unable to reach my parents as they did not have electricity. This was extremely scary to me as a child as I was unable to know if my parents were still alive. Just like many Palestinians and fellow Syrians, my family and I have been displaced ever since, always moving around, and starting over in search of a home. Unfortunately, not everyone has the privilege I did of escaping the war. No one should experience being robbed of their home, most certainly not children.

Throughout history, the West has attempted to colonize the Middle East. Be it the decades of the French occupation in the levant or modern-day “Israel.” Israel not only occupies Palestine but also parts of Syria and Lebanon known as the Golan Heights. Making Syrian and Lebanese people direct subjects of Zionist aggression. Recently, Israel started bombing Lebanon and Syria again in densely populated areas. 

Gaza is one of the few remaining cities of Palestine since the Nakba of 1948, most of Gaza’s inhabitants are refugees who have already been displaced by Israel. This is why we must fight for Palestinian liberation. We must resist the culture of death on all fronts by calling for a free Palestine, a permanent ceasefire in Gaza, and land back now. End the genocide,  Free Palestine, Syria, and Lebanon, and let us all live and be free.

How do you feel the dance floor can be a space for solidarity at times like this?

The dance floor has always served as a haven of empowerment and cultural resistance of marginalized communities. They have never been neutral spaces. Right now our roles as artists, people of influence, and community members, we are presented with the choice to either become puppets in this eradication process of Palestinians or use our mediums to speak out against the deliberate censorship we witness taking place in these spaces. 

At this point, minimal solidarity equals cowardice. The ability to turn a blind eye is not an excuse for turning one's head. The very least we can do to avoid contributing to the normalization of these horrors enabled by years of ignorance and silence is to speak out about Gaza, particularly in light of institutions infested with deliberate Apolitical people in a culture of good vibes.

For more from BACKNBODYHERTZ, give him a follow:




ALPI - Paeonia
Priori & Al Wootton - Seclusion
Ma Sha - Psyspi (Ehua Remix)
Jurango - Furrowed
Henzo - Iron Lighter (Mosca's Ferromagnetic Version)
TSVI - Disturbo
aya and BFTT - Beam Me Up Stotty
ALPI - Oxalis
Roza Terenzi - 1800Bounce
Aquarian - Saule Dub
Pura Pura - Merra
Seta Loto - Indistinct Chattering
Piezo - Skinner
georg-i - Cauterize
Doctor Jeep - Press F
Toumba - Eqla3
TSVI - Futuro Lontano
Aval Douar - Bless The Ribin

Feu du Camp:

Spray - Slipped
Abdul Raeva - Hyperelastic
Bliss Inc. - Get Some
ZDBT & DJ Venetta - Acid Bottom
Roza Terenzi - Gush (Byron Yeates Remix)
Eoin DJ - Total Body (Angel D'Lite Remix)
Byron Yeates - Sweat Your Prayers
Blu:sh - Miss Fonction
Tapestry of Sound - Whip It Up
ZDBT & DJ Venetta - Tie Me Up
Mabel - Double Take
Maara - Highrollerz
Explicit Joy - Uber Rush