Join Los Angeles-based music director and podcast host Arman Naféei on a journey around the world through his 2-hour mixtape for FF.
How did you become interested in music when you were younger?
I never thought about music as a kid, it was just there: Michael Jackson, Ace of Base, Haddaway … But let’s be real, the stuff you listen to as a kid might not be the most interesting or significant, whereas the music from your teens is. I remember copying and making mix-tapes for my friends when I was 8 or 9. Later, I was downloading Kazaa and Limewire, making CDs and handing them out in the school yard. I picked up the turntables at 15, when I had a friend who had turntables and a mixer in his basement. He wouldn’t let me touch them, but I was hooked. It was a visceral moment.
The idea came in 2019, before the lockdown. I was the music director for the Chateau, in the process of building a private club, still DJing for events and doing sound design for brands. I wanted to take my work more seriously and stop being so distracted, so I went into a bit of a tunnel vision. But then I realised I was searching for something that was there the whole time: my music and network, something that doesn’t require an outside investment, or a team of people. Something that allows me to start today with what I have. One day my friend and I were chatting as we were parked at the Grove in Los Angeles, and the idea popped into my head. I said, ‘let’s move away from only doing playlists and sound design, and begin recording what I’m already doing—meeting and chatting with all of these fantastic famous people at the Chateau lobby or bar.’
“From your local baker to the pope, if you like music or not—you have a soundtrack.”
What do you think the music that people listen to, or the soundtrack to their lives, reveals about them?
It exposes a lot, but not in a negative way. With my first episode, many were surprised to hear that Patti Smith got into music because of opera. We know her for rock & roll, punk and for a certain era and poetry, and the connection to opera was such a ‘wow’ factor for many. After over 40 episodes, I see that everyone has a soundtrack to their life. From your local baker to the pope, if you like music or not—you have a soundtrack. Music and sounds are just like scents. They take you right back to a certain moment, person or feeling. You can hear a particular sound or song and—boom—it takes you right back to something that was outside your conscious.
Why do you think music as an art form is so universally loved and connected to?
It’s visceral. You don’t have to intellectualise or think about it. But I do think it’s less about the actual content of music and more about the power of sound. I mean, we are made out of water and go with certain vibrations. We go into unnatural environments like nightclubs because we are after those vibrations, that out-of-body experience.
“We go into unnatural environments like nightclubs because we are after those vibrations, that out-of-body experience.”
Your podcast has two series. Are there any differences and what did you learn from doing the first series that you applied moving forward?
For me, the main difference between season one and two is that the latter is more female-focused. My relationship with women is sometimes better than with men, and season one was very male heavy, due to availability. I still keep it as colourful as possible, and feature music from all over. Being Persian, I am interested in people’s heritage and sharing stories from different continents. That’s what I am really after. It’s also become more poppy, featuring big names in pop music like Dua Lipa and David LaChapelle. That’s cool, because I want to reach a wider audience and I don’t want the podcast to be too intellectual.
People might be introduced to your podcast through the Dua Lipa episode, but then they’ll be exposed to different people.
Exactly. I want to share knowledge and expose people to a different view. Maybe I draw a younger audience in because of Dua, but I can then expose them to someone like Elim Chan, a fantastic 32-year-old conductor from Hong Kong, in the next episode. She’s the head conductor at the Antwerp Symphony. You don’t see someone from my age group, also a woman, who is a head conductor everyday. She’s a rising star but, outside the classical world, she’s unknown. To put her next to Marina Abramović or Dua Lipa in the same context is interesting.
Do you have any ambitions or dreams for the podcast?
The podcast is just the entry—I want to make the brand a household name. After less than a year, we are doing our first physical form of the podcast. I did a two week pop-up in Berlin, and the plan after that is to do a pop-up in LA, or even something more long-term. Then maybe Paris, London, Tokyo. The world is our oyster! I don’t know what the brand is going to turn into, but there’s definitely going to be a physical form of it. It’s a library of knowledge and taste.
Final question — how did you select the tracks for this mixtape?
I went through my other playlists and picked pieces that jumped at me, that I really liked and are a big part of my story. I also wanted to show the broad spectrum of sounds and music that I am interested in. With every playlist that I do, I build it so that it starts mellow, goes up and peaks, then fades out again, tempo-wise. That’s how I approach most of my things, and that’s how the playlist is built. We have Maria Callas to set the tone, and then some Italian references that I love. Then it features some slight African influences and slow beats, some disco and house. Then it goes a bit more Arabic and Persian, more sexy. Finally, some French and a beautiful piano to end with.
Arman Naféei is a Los Angeles-based music director behind the sound identity of many luxury hotels and brands. To find out more about his work, check out his Instagram and Podcast. This interview was produced as part of our Mixtape series, where we ask international creatives to curate playlists of music that inspires them. Head over to the Mixtape section to find out more.