You can hear all parts of Born Dirty’s diverse geographical background in his accent. As he speaks over the phone, the hints appear. Here, he slides briefly into a French accent with an ever-so-slight emphasis drawn on the “u” of “you know?” There, when he mentions the name of recent collaborator Diplo, he leans downwards while ending on the “o” syllable of his name, just as the British do.
Born Dirty, who was actually born Mika Abadie, is an Israeli native who spent his childhood in France, moved to London as an adult and now resides in East Los Angeles. His accent serves as an abstract map of his upbringing, and while his symphony of intonations are certainly the most noticeable evidence of his diverse upbringing, it’s the myriad influences scattered across his music that truly tell the tale.
His discography – fives years worth of singles and EPs including collabs with Cassius, Anna Lunoe and Diplo — flits from tribal bass breaks to syrupy hip-hop, pulling from across the spectrum of music he’s experienced: a percussive beat influenced by the hypnotic Middle Eastern sounds of his childhood, a booming rap overlay that evokes French hip-hop, or a darker club track straight from the illegal raves that colored his time in London.
Born Dirty’s double-sided single release from last Friday (Jan. 31) continues to defy expectation. Out via Insomniac Records, “Alpha Omega” begins with a trance-inducing vocal before unfolding into a tribal-driven, percussive beat, while “In the Shadows” billows with a much darker, cosmic feel. The producer is on tour with Wax Motif through the end of February.
Billboard Dance caught up with Born Dirty to learn more.
Let’s start with the new songs. Where do the musical influences from “Alpha Omega” and “In the Shadows” trace back to?
“Alpha Omega” is an afro tune that is a great in-between for kids who are… loving the harder music, and those who get the vibey sound. It’s a good blend. “In the Shadows” is actually a song from 2015. When I used to play [an earlier version] out to people, it went entirely over their heads. It was almost like prog house, too hypnotic for the time. The song comes from my own background raving, listening to techno and tech house in the scene I grew up with in London. With it, I’m going back to that feeling of having people dancing the whole time, rather than creating a big build up. We had such a mix of genres, but kids who grew up on EDM didn’t really know about it until recently. Now, they’ve discovered it and embraced it.
Why did it feel like the right time to return to a song you started in 2015?
Big DJs like Chris Lake and Fisher will occasionally will throw in a few tracks that make the audience question and think, “What’s that?” [People] take out their phones to Shazam it, try to figure out who it was, discover it’s some obscure or new artist and suddenly, they are researching and learning about new sounds and new people.
People are like sponges now! It feels like a time when I can release anything, and it can be welcomed. Now, people have heard tech house, techno, tribal sounds — so when a hybrid comes, they will embrace it.
You’ve talked about the difficulty artists face when they feel unable to express themselves freely because they’ve been placed into a specific lane when it comes to their sound. How has your experience been?
I’ve been told many times to “stay in my lane” when it comes to music. It’s so hard for an artist to hear that, and they are often told by the music industry that they can only succeed if they stay in that box. What if you’ve been listening to Miles Davis all week, and you head into the studio and you want to add some soulful jazz in that moment? But you only make bass house, so you’re told that’ll never work? You’re going to hit a wall eventually… I know artists who have experienced real depression when that happens.
When I was younger, I remember going to see Laurent Garnier. He’s a legend – an incredible producer and DJ – and he does these eight-to-10-hour sets. I’ve gone to several of those in my life. Do you think he only plays techno? Of course not! He goes through every genre you can think of. If it’s good, it’s good, and it’ll go into the set. I remember thinking that it was such a perfect picture. I didn’t even think there was a different way to play. My music wasn’t played for a long time because it didn’t fit into one box, but I’m so glad people are open to so much now.
How do you map out your musical influences?
I was born in Israel and moved to France when I was almost four. My mom played a lot of Israeli music in our home. It was a lot of percussive music, with Hebrew and Arabic chants. I was always drawn to the hypnotic drums and flutes. My older sister listened to a lot of funky ’80s stuff, like Prince.
When I moved to France, it was a mix of pop like Michael Jackson and hip-hop from the b-boys world. Then we moved to the South of France, and I started to play instruments, so I discovered the classics like Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd. From there, I experienced illegal raves that were thrown in the South of France. They took place in the forest and mountains – it would be generators and DJs who played everything: tribal, heavy techno, hardcore, acid core and jungle. When I went to London, I went through garage, and then house, drum ‘n’ bass, and eventually grime came. It’s hard to pinpoint what my influences are, I’ve been through all of it!
Are there any sounds you haven’t yet tried that you hope to in the future?
Yes, there are. I’ve thought about starting aliases to release different types of music, so I don’t have to worry about complicating one project. Some days, I want to make folk music and write songs! Down the line, I hope to release that music, with no worries.
What’s in store for the rest of 2020?
The goal this year is to release a track a month, or get close. The next singles are techy, a bit harder but also soulful, with big vocals. Before, I was too obsessed with the numbers and because of that, I’ve been sitting on so many tracks, waiting for the perfect label or time to release… and that’s the worst thing for your art. So this year, I decided to ignore the Spotify numbers, and my team is behind me. I’m just going to release music and some collaborations, and even if only 10 people listen to it, that’s great. I want to make music that makes people happy, and makes me happy.