- The Washington Times - Thursday, December 11, 2003

I moved to Washington from Manhattan in 1992 expecting the D.C. club/music scene to be tame by comparison..Then I was tipped off to a club called Exodus. . Open every weekend in a basement restaurant on Connecticut Avenue near Dupont Circle, Exodus was a revelation: The vibe and decor were loungey and intimate in a manner that is now fairly standard, but was unusual for the time. Even better, the club played a wide-ranging mix of danceable reggae, house, funk and hip-hop, a potent blend that had a rainbow crowd packing the dance floor.

The club’s promoter was Eric Hilton, a Washington native who would go on to found Thievery Corporation, the influential electronica group. Mr. Hilton is also the force behind a string of clubs and restaurants in Washington that includes Dragonfly and the 18th Street Lounge.

The DJ manning the decks at Exodus was an Iranian-American, 21-year-old Ali Shirazinia, who went by the moniker Dubfire. A decade later, Dubfire recalls the atmosphere at Exodus: “I haven’t experienced that feeling again, this environment of all races and backgrounds.”

By 1993 I was DJ-ing on Friday nights at State of the Union, a grungy bar with a back room dance floor that was one of the first clubs to open on the slowly gentrifying U Street corridor. The DJ the following night was Dubfire, by now aided by his partner Sharam Tayebi, also an Iranian-American. They collectively went by the name of Deep Dish, a nod to the deep, lush house music that is their signature.

Jump to 2003, and Deep Dish are now probably the most influential DJ team in the world, and instead of playing U Street they spin for crowds that number in the thousands at mega-clubs across the planet. Last year they won the ultimate accolade, a Grammy, for their throbbing remix of Dido’s “Thank You,” and in recent years they have worked their production magic for everyone from Justin Timberlake to Depeche Mode to Madonna and the artist formerly known as Puff Daddy. (Me, I DJ at home now).

From their Georgetown headquarters Deep Dish preside over a music empire with a staff of two dozen people who manage their various businesses, including: the potent Deep Dish brand itself; three record labels that churn out dozens of releases a year, an online record store and a booking agency for DJs.

I caught up with them last month in their recording studio, reached via a nondescript 19th century alley off Wisconsin Avenue. Mr. Shirazinia and Mr. Tayebi, both in their early 30s, appeared thoughtful, focused, and disciplined. Mr. Tayebi explained matter-of-factly, “It’s called the music business; we were less focused on the business side before.”

With their tour schedule, the two had better be focused on business.

As of mid-November, they had already performed an astonishing 117 gigs around the world this year. At a reported average of $7,000 to $10,000 a gig, that quickly gets to be some serious change.

Over the Christmas holidays they will embark on a dizzying world tour that includes stops in Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, Montreal, Milan and Naples. (Asked to name the world’s top clubs, they agreed without much hesitation on the following A-list: Pasha in Ibiza off the coast of Spain; Yellow in Tokyo, and back home in the States, Space in Miami.)

When they aren’t touring, Deep Dish is busy remixing tracks from established artists looking to bring a little dance music pizzazz to their repertoire. Madonna sought out Deep Dish in 2000 to remix “Music” and even asked them to open for her when she played Roseland in New York. Deep Dish spent some time hanging out with Madonna, but that’s the exception rather than the rule with the artists they remix: “95percent of the time we don’t meet them” says Mr. Shirazinia.

Another star they spent time in the studio with was rap mogul, P. Diddy. “He’s doing a dance project, and he asked us to do a couple of tracks,” explains Mr. Shirazinia.

In time for the holidays the Global Underground label is bringing out a boxed set of Deep Dish CDs, “#025: TORONTO,” which includes their previously unreleased mix of the P. Diddy track “Let’s Get Ill.”

Both Mr. Shirazinia and Mr. Tayebi looked like they hadn’t seen much sun recently, which is not surprising, as they had been spending 10 to 12 hours a day in their studio packed with mixing boards, computers and Technics record decks. The one concession to conventional musical instrumentation is a black guitar off to one side.

The music that emerges from the Deep Dish studio is a unique blend: the spacey darkness of dub reggae underpinned by a relentlessly funky house groove, interspersed with ethereal vocals and effects that dip in and out of the hypnotic mix. (An excellent sample of their work can be found on Deep Dish’s compilation “Global Underground #021: MOSCOW.”)

Right now, Deep Dish are working on the first album consisting entirely of their own material since their 1998 debut “Junk Science,” a house music album that featured a particularly compelling appearance by Tracey Thorn, the vocalist of Everything But the Girl. While cagey about possible collaborators on their next project (they want to keep some surprises for the release), they do divulge the name of one: D.C.-based vocalist Richard Morel, who released a fine album of rock-inflected house tracks, “Queen of the Highway,” on one of Deep Dish’s labels last year.

Mr. Tayebi and Mr. Shirazinia often complete each other’s sentences like couples who have been together for a long time. Asked which other musicians they hoped to collaborate with in the future, they offered this composite reply: “We’d love to work with Bjork, and Bono, and Roger Waters [formerly of Pink Floyd].” One has the sense it is only a matter of time before they will.

Mr. Tayebi and Mr. Shirazinia live in Alexandria and Arlington respectively, just across the Potomac from their Georgetown headquarters. With all their international success, Deep Dish could be living the rock star life in Los Angeles or Manhattan. They chose to remain here, they say, because of family and friends, and also because there are “less distractions” to prevent them getting serious work done.

Recognized around the world as two of the most influential figures in dance music, they have long remained virtually unknown in their hometown. “It used to be ridiculous,” Mr. Shirazinia says. “In the last two to three years it’s shifted, and now we are more known here.”

About time, too.

Peter Bergen, a former DJ, is author of “Holy War, Inc.: Inside the Secret World of Osama bin Laden.”

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