ITAI is an organic house/downtempo artist who is based in America but grew up in Israel.
He is a talented musician who blends his love of playing the saxophone with electronic sounds and sequenced beats. Already touring across many parts of the world, he dropped a debut album in 2021 on Laroz’s Camel Riders titled ‘A Trip To Idyllwild’.
Recently the album was revisited with a new set of remixes featuring versions by the likes of Just Emma, Zuma Dionys, Dandara, Alvaro Suarez, Noraj Cue and more.
We invited ITAI for this interview so we could learn more about the new remixes plus his live performances at places like Burning Man…
Hi ITAI, I’d like to start by asking about your background in music. I understand you are also a saxophone player, and I’d love to know about your journey with this instalment?
ITAI: Well, my journey with music started with the piano at the age of 4, I was never too consistent with it though and went back and forth until the age of 17 when I picked up the saxophone.
I really liked that you can travel with the saxophone, which makes jamming with other people much easier, I’d almost say that it is a more social instrument, because playing the saxophone solo is actually really hard.
Before moving to America, I grew up in Israel where I had to do 3 years of mandatory service in the Israel Defense Forces and during that time, I hardly played music at all. I took a 6 months trip to India, and actually left the saxophone at home… Soon, I realised that wasn’t going to work for me and I found a cheap Chinese made saxophone in a shop in Delhi. From there I was just jamming all the time at any opportunity on that trip. Soon as I got home, I decided to take music to a deeper level and signed up at Rimon school of music for Jazz…
Do you play any other instruments, and how did your love for the saxophone lead you to electronic music?
ITAI: I play the piano in a way that is good enough for my live set on stage, but I don’t consider myself a pianist. I’d say I can get by and be creative. I also play some hand drums including the Darbuka which has a special place in my heart.
My journey in electronic music started by just enjoying playing music alongside DJs as a jam or some sort of hobby… I was just enjoying the electronic sounds and I got lucky enough to play with some of my biggest inspirations including Be Svendsen, Acid Pauli, Goldcap, Kora, Amine k, and so many others. Eventually, I started wanting to tell my own story and have my own journey. First, in 2018 I started DJing my hybrid solo set with the live sax and went on a tour of South/Central America where I met a lot of these amazing musicians. But still I felt something was missing and I wanted a more flexible, more intuitive and more creative way to express myself in the moment. After I released my first album on October 21, I was committed to making the transition to a fully live set. I took 4 months off touring and focused just on that. This was a much more challenging and much more vulnerable journey than I could imagine, and it still is, but now after 3 months of playing it all over, I’m feeling the impact and am really happy with how it feels and how it is being received by people across the globe.
Talking just about your electronic music, could you describe your style, and some of the artists that have influenced you?
ITAI: I like to call my style Electronic World Music. But my range is really wide, I have released music from downtempo, to organic house, deep house to progressive and techno. It’s influenced by jazz, blues, even movies. In the jazz world and as sax players, I’d say Kenny Garret and Cannonball Aderly were my biggest influences.
Listing some producers, I’d say Acid Pauli, Be Svendsen and Zuma Dionys are up there, but there are so many more, Just Emma is also amazing, and I can go on and on…
When it comes to live acts, then definitely Eduardo Castillo, Viken Arman, Satori and Be Svendsen.
There are so many great DJs out there and some of my favourites are Goldcap and MoM, but I could probably name like another 50 more…
Tell me about your live performances, what’s your setup like, as I understand you play the saxophone while mixing records?
ITAI: Well, that was the 2018-2020 version. Now in 2022, my show is fully live and I don’t mix any full songs in, but use all original material that contains lots of loops and experimental ideas. I’m basically re-arranging the set every time I play it and that keeps things interesting.
I mostly play live saxophone for melodies, but also use a Nord Stage 3 synthesiser to play some other sounds, harmonies and arpeggiator and this has become a big part of my set. The Roland TR-8S drum machine is for the kick and other foundation percussion. Ableton Push 2 is a controller I mostly use it for looping, and the APC40+Ableton is the sequencer that holds all the parts together. I also use Ableton to mix and balance the sounds with the help of the controller. This setup allows me a lot of freedom to improvise, come up with ideas and respond to the crowd. But it’s also limiting, because I can only play my own music, I can’t say “oh you know what, let’s play some Be-Svendsen now” because it fits the set. It’s a much more personal and vulnerable way for me to play, which gives it more life, and that makes it much more exciting for me.
Do you only play live now or do you still play the occasional DJ gig?
ITAI: I mostly play live sets now, but vary rarely I will play as a DJ and it can often be because of technical reasons. The live set is much more demanding and takes up more space in a booth that might also have decks for the other artists. If I’m playing the same festival or town more than once, then I might also play a DJ set to make sure I’m not being repetitive, but really my preference is to do it all live and original. If you are asking about playing jazz gigs, then I don’t do those right now, as I am focused on my electronic music at the moment.
In 2021 you released your debut album ‘A Trip To Idyllwild’ and I want to learn more about that release?
ITAI: This was pretty much my first real statement as an electronic producer. I’d released music in collaboration with other artists before, but that was the first time I said: “hey everyone, this is me, and this is my sound”.
I already feel my sound has evolved since the album, but this was the first time I put myself fully out there. On the album, I tried to bring an all-round version of me, some of it is very soft and musical, some of it is faster and punchier, but it’s very personal and every track there has a story.
Recently you put out a remix version of your album featuring an impressive section of artists. Can you tell us more about this, and why you chose some of those people to rework your music?
ITAI: Mostly, I wanted to have all my favourite artists create remixes for my album, and I’m very happy with all of the reworked versions. A lot of them gave a more upbeat feel to the tracks and everyone really came through. I am a fan of everyone on this release and had input in picking all the remixes.
What else is coming up in your schedule, do you have any special gigs or other new releases?
ITAI: Well… I’m an artist that works in bulk. I can’t produce a track in 3 days, then go play 5 shows, and finish the track on the plane. I like to take my time, and need a few weeks just to get in the zone. So, when I made that album, I took everything else off the table, and just focused on that for 4 months solid. I do the same with gigs and just wrapped up a tour in the South of Europe, now I’m heading home where I’ll work for 1.5 months on new music. Part of that time will also be spent upgrading my live set for Burning Man.
I will probably head back to Europe at least once before it’s winter and also play a couple of local shows in California before/after Burning Man. I will probably want to release another album next year instead of a bunch of smaller EPs, as that’s just a better fit for me.
Thanks for talking with us, is there anything else you would like to add?
ITAI: Not much, just excited to share all the new music in a live setting. Thanks for taking the interview, and I hope to see everyone on the dance floor.
‘A Trip To Idlewild Remixes’ is out now and can be found on Beatport HERE.