Back at the turn of the millennium, the Washington sound that seemed most likely to take over the world wasn’t punk or go-go — it was electronic dance music. One of the scene’s leading lights was Deep Dish, the duo of Sharam Tayebi and Ali “Dubfire” Shirazinia. Both were born in Iran, but grew up in the D.C. suburbs. Their styles differed — Tayebi embraced house, Shirazinia dove into darker, underground sounds — but their chemistry was undeniable, and Deep Dish’s weekly residency at U Street’s State of the Union drew crowds.
But Deep Dish found bigger acclaim overseas than in its hometown, earning praise from European music magazines and booking major gigs across the Atlantic. In 1999, the year the duo remixed the Rolling Stones, Tayebi told The Washington Post: “We’ve been fired from every single club in the city.” Still, when Deep Dish won a Grammy in 2002 for its remix of Dido’s “Thank You,” a year after earning a nomination for Madonna’s “Music,” D.C. fans took notice, and larger venues beckoned.
Tayebi and Shirazinia kept up their transatlantic partnership until splitting to pursue solo careers in 2006. They surprised fans in 2014 with a reunion that produced a new single, “Quincy” and a world tour. After going their separate ways yet again, the pair joined forces last summer for one performance at Pacha, a famed superclub on the Spanish party island of Ibiza. Their next appearances are even bigger: two consecutive Saturdays at the Coachella festival in California. We jumped on the phone to talk to the pair about their reunion — and what’s next.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Q: This is the second time you've reunited in the past 13 years. You've both talked about creative tensions with regards to your work with Deep Dish and the music you've made over your solo careers. Does working with each other get easier over time?
A: Shirazinia : I think the creative tension is always there. When we first broke away from one another, there was a lot of finger-pointing about, like, the other person not carrying their own weight, the contributions each person makes, so we were questioning all of that with one another. Going solo, among many other things, was a way for us to prove to each other what our contribution has always been to Deep Dish. There’s a lot more respect now.
Tayebi: It sounds odd, and it sounds cocky, but we’ve proved that we can work with each other, because we’re both pros, and we’re able to vibe off each other, even though we have no idea what the other guy’s going to play. We find a common ground. When we were doing Deep Dish, everybody said, “You guys have a sound,” I never understood that, and I never knew what that sound was. Because we were so in it, we weren’t able to have the objectivity to look at it that way.
Shirazinia: It’s a difficult thing. Any partnership. . . . You have bands where you have strong personalities, and everyone’s trying to assert their positions and you have to make compromises at every turn, because it’s a shared vision and not a solo vision. So, that can create bottlenecks. I think we had the best intentions. When we first got back together, there wasn’t even talk about going into the studio together, but I had some material laying around that I hadn’t finished, and so did [Sharam], so we decided to spend a week in the studio to see what happened. We came up with that single, “Quincy,” which I’m really proud of. I think it really captured what Deep Dish in 2014 is supposed to sound like.
Q: Thinking back to when Deep Dish was becoming popular in the late '90s and early 2000s, that was a really special time for D.C. nightlife and dance music. Beyond Deep Dish, the city had shops such as 12 Inch Dance Records, places such as Red, Buzz, State of the Union, and the whole Eighteenth Street Lounge scene. Was there anything about the city in that era that fostered that kind of creativity?
A: Tayebi: You know what, as you were talking about that, I got goose bumps. The scene was sort of small, but it was very strong, in terms of people who were really fanatical about it, like, “This is our music, and we want to take it to the world.” That was one of the reasons we opened Yoshitoshi, [a record label].
But when I drive around Dupont Circle, every time I go past 12 Inch [on P Street NW], it’s like visiting a shrine. It has that kind of emotional attachment for me. That paved the way for a lot of us to be able to do what we do now in music. A lot of people pay attention to Detroit techno or Chicago house, but D.C. played a very significant role in the context of world electronic music.
Shirazinia: Lately, I’ve had a lot of conversations with old friends, and I constantly talk about how amazing that period of time was. Literally every night of the week, you had incredible creative parties and nightclubs — Poseurs, Fifth Column, Kindergarten, Tracks, the Vault. I would go to the old 9:30 Club to see bands every night of the week.
I don’t know if it’s nostalgia that makes me look so fondly on that era, but I don’t feel the kind of creativity that we had back then, the kind that spawned Deep Dish, Thievery Corporation, the Basement Boys, that I do today. D.C. always felt like a transient city, but it feels even more transient today. There was something really magical that was a part of D.C. nightlife back then. People over the years have tried to re-create that, but the problem in D.C. is that you can build it, but people don’t necessarily come — these days, at least.
Q: Writers always place "Grammy -winning" in front of Deep Dish. What effect did winning that award have on your career?
A: Shirazinia: For us, initially, it was quite a proud moment in the Persian community. A lot of Persians will bring that up, especially family members from Iran, and some of the older Persians that we’ll meet, on our travels or who still follow our solo careers. Within the industry, it helped open a few doors, working with Donatella Versace on her fashion shows, or P. Diddy on his track [“Let’s Get Ill”]. It just helped get us on the radar of a lot more mainstream kind of people within the music industry. But did it drastically alter our career trajectory? I would say no.
Tayebi: I guess it gives you more legitimacy, but I never looked at it like, “Okay, we have a Grammy, now we can chill.” I’m a firm believer that yesterday’s home runs don’t win you games today. It hasn’t stopped us from working harder at our craft, becoming better DJs, better producers, adding to our portfolio.
Q: What are you looking forward to past Coachella? What's the trajectory of this reunion?
A: Shirazinia: We’re in the process of getting our back catalogue online, which is a major task. And while we do that, we’re going to be digitizing a lot of the old tapes to eventually have a big retrospective compilation that will be released as a special box set. And while all that’s taking place, we’re going to try to get back into the studio and finish the demos that we started [after getting back together in 2014], because there’s a lot of ideas there that need more focus. Gigs such as Coachella and Pacha, they remind us of how special Deep Dish was for us, and for others, and how we have to preserve the legacy.
Tayebi: One of the things that we always felt, was that we came from smaller clubs. In D.C., when we had our residency, it was at State of the Union, a 150-capacity club. It was tiny, and we became who we became because of that. One of the things we’ve been discussing is a mini-tour of smaller venues, like 500 capacity tops, helping the underground scene by going back and doing that instead of just festivals. And hopefully we’ll be able to get some new records, and sprinkle them in there, and see where it goes.
Q: Does that include a gig in D. C.?
A: Shirazinia: That almost happened before the Pacha gig. I’m sure there will be something, possibly this year, but we don’t want to do the typical clubs in D.C. I think we want to do a cool outdoor space in Union Market. I’m always playing interesting spaces as a solo artist around the world, and I’m not seeing promoters in D.C. do that sort of thing the way I’m seeing it elsewhere. We’ll see.