Checking in while on his debut North American tour, British-Pakistani DJ Ahadadream talks ‘TAKA’, being Skrillex’s bestie and shutting down the Do LaB stage at this year's Coachella.

 “When we made the track, I wasn’t doing music full time. But he said to me, “You’ve got to do this, you’ve got a gift,” says Ahadadream – real name Ahad Elley – recalling the belief Skrillex instilled in him while recording their collaboration, ‘TAKA’. Featuring Swiss-Tamil singer Priya Ragu and her brother Japhna Gold, the single was teased prolifically across clubland before releasing on Major Recordings in March. Four Tet, Daphni (Caribou) and Chris Lake are just a few superstar DJs who’ve been hammering the hit in their sets, lighting up scuzzy raves and breezy festival stages with its polyrhythmic madness and child-like chopped-up vocals.  


Nearly two years in the making, Ahad and Skrillex first met at a club in east London before linking up over Zoom. The brostep pioneer asked if the British-Pakistani DJ had been making any beats. At that point, ‘TAKA’ was a work in progress; he considered deleting the file before Skrillex picked it out and asked him to send it over. Adding emotion to its ferocious dance-focused skeleton, the single was created during the pandemic in reaction to club closures and the artists’ craving for live experience. “We were all imagining quite a euphoric moment on the dancefloor,” he admits, reminiscing about a time when music careers were in serious doubt for a lot of people. 


Any questions about pursuing music full-time were completely eradicated after that viral debut Boiler Room. Surrounded by his best friends, packed inside a typically dingy space in London, Ahadadream put on one of the rowdiest sessions of 2023, powering through his arsenal of dubs that traverse jagged funky house, stomping two-step and brash broken beat. ELIZA showed face to perform their remix of her track ‘Abandon The Rule’ and Sam Interface’s edit of ‘Dong Dong’ by Ravers Gas sent everyone swaying like an earthquake had descended on the capital.  When Skrillex emerged from the crowd to show his appreciation for ‘TAKA’, it confirmed that this would be a set people talked about in many years to come. “Often my role in the UK scene is putting other people on. When I started working with Skrillex, it felt like that was getting reciprocated,” he asserts. “Skrillex taught me that nothing happens by chance, it’s the amount of hours you put in. Hanging out with him, you don’t really see him off his laptop. He’ll be chilling at the pub on Ableton.” 

Ahadadream and I are catching up via Zoom a week after his Notion shoot. In person, he oozes cool, speaking in hushed tones about the photos that have just been taken. You can tell he hasn’t quite wrapped his head around the growing fame and is openly cautious about a couple of the looks he’s put in. Taking time away from his debut North American tour, which will see him play in Houston, El Paso, Dallas, Washington, Montreal and Toronto this month, he answers my call on an a-typically overcast LA morning. He hadn’t been to the city before December but has found himself there three times since. His show in New York six days prior was completely sold out, playing at Elsewhere alongside fellow forward-thinking South Asian London DJ, Freshta. “You know when you go on stage and you’re like, ‘Ok, I can already tell this is going to be great because you can just feel people’s excitement,” he ponders before entering one of his considered thoughts, “I think people are excited to hear sounds that they don’t usually hear in the States. And I’m glad that they’re open-minded to it.” 


Moving from Pakistan to London at the age of 13, it wasn’t long before Ahadadream himself was exposed to the nuances of UK bass music and its cosmopolitan influences. He started going to underage raves in Stevenage a year later, mind-blown by the sounds of jungle, garage and ‘21 Seconds’ by So Solid Crew, as he began to figure out his identity and where he belonged in the ways of British life. Venturing to Surrey for university coincided with a compulsion to start his own club night, booking the likes of DJ Q, Barely Legal (now Chloé Robinson) and other heavyweights who continue to push the boundaries of electronic music. Ever since, he’s been one of the cornerstones of UK nightlife, devoted to promoting British South Asian artists while releasing his own playfully percussive productions.  


It’s taken over a decade for Ahad’s impact on dance music to be truly appreciated. Earlier on in the North American tour, though, he played at Coachella for the first time, shutting down the Do LaB stage before a surprise appearance from Billie Eilish. Warming up the world’s biggest popstar with blends of elongated bongos, metallic baile funk and progressive polyrhythms may sound like a fever dream, or a parallel universe far removed from the one we live in, but under the stage’s sprawling rainbow constructions, arms flailed, and gun fingers slung into action as the bass of the drops kicked in. And who did he see after his set? “A little bit of Ice Spice,” he laughs. “I caught some of Doja Cat too. It was nice to see some friends from the UK, like SICARIA, and others from my scene who played as well.” 

Coachella was just the beginning of what will be a naturally relentless summer schedule for Ahadadream. Perhaps his most poignant date comes next month at Glastonbury, where he’s booked for several sets across the weekend. As well as playing Lonely Hearts Club on Thursday with Nikki Nair, he’ll take to the iconic Block 9 area, but above all else, he’s most excited to see the inaugural Arrivals: the festival’s first dedicated South Asian space, located in Shangri-La. A collaboration between Dialled In, Going South and Daytimers, visitors will be, “Transported through a portal to an alien jungle planet, immersed by an audiovisual world coded in solar punk, carnivorous plants, cyborg beasts and space pirates,” according to Glastonbury’s website.


Anish Kumar and other emerging stars are booked alongside pop trailblazers like Nabihah Iqbal, but Ahad informs me there are plenty of surprises for anyone who peeps inside the sci-fi inspired area. Culturally, it’s a step in the right direction, seeing a festival of Glastonbury’s stature actively prioritise the British South Asian community. In 2019, 63% of music festival attendees in the UK identified as white while 23% identified as Black, Asian and minority ethnic, according to Gitnux. Head to any major music event and you’ll see such a statistic firsthand; the likelihood of Arrivals’ acts looking up to a predominantly white crowd is incredibly high. Change won’t happen overnight. And the lack of inclusivity is indicative of wider social issues, but the stage’s existence will hopefully inspire other events to follow suit. 


“When Glastonbury tickets go on sale, you don’t see the line-up beforehand. So, if they do put a bunch of South Asian talent on there, no one will know until it sells out. Hopefully this year people will see that there are areas they can engage in, or they feel is a space for them. Next year they might be like, ‘Oh, I’m going to get a ticket, because that looks amazing’”. 

A festival that’s always empowered Britain’s ascendant South Asian scene is Dialled In, which started in 2021 and Ahadadream has been a director for since. Returning this year, the event will be held in Manchester: the first time it has branched outside of London. It aims to build self-sustainable spaces that evolve and facilitate cross-cultural collaboration. Taking place in July, Ahad admits that he hasn’t been so involved in this one but, “It’s cool to give ownership and creative control to another team,” he says, crediting the crew, who have helped to make it feel like a more authentic experience to the Northern region.


As bookings become more frequent and the music continues on an upward trajectory, Ahad has had to take a step back from many of the openings he has built for his community. “I trust in all the amazing teams that I work with,” he says appreciatively. It’s not feasible for me to be as present, but cultivating the culture in London is always going to be a part of what I do. I’m not always there, but I’m still linking up with people while on the road. I’m just playing a different role now, I guess.” 


Bringing the globally rooted sounds of UK bass music to the world is, in Lamen’s terms, the new responsibility Ahad alludes to here. Alongside Sam Interface, for years he’s released flavoursome transnational audities to the masses on their More Time Records imprint, bridging the gaps between drum-heavy genres from South America, Africa, Asia and the UK. A master of maximalism, through full-bodied grooves, swinging basslines and thrumming tablas, the polymath has released many an earworm that’s lingered in the crates of DJs and rattled the brains of ravers. Take ‘Piano Skank’ for example, a single from 2022 that he still plays today, its rumbling percussion and misty melodies feel like you’ve just stumbled across a rave in Karachi, Mumbai or any other South Asian city with a bustling underground music scene.   

Ahad and Sam started More Time to release their own music, but they’ve since used the platform to spotlight a roster of artists. Ghanaian rapper Bryte regularly pops up with his looping Afrohouse jams while Daytimers member Darama blends traditional Punjabi instrumentation with grime and garage. Is there anything they’re excited to share with us soon? “The Mxshi Mi album is coming out, he’s based in South Africa and Pietermaritzburg. There’s going to be an accompanying documentary about his life because he’s got a really interesting story,” explains Ahad, invigorated by the possibility of where his music could go. “He’s visually impaired and when he found out that he was going blind, he memorised the whole manual for fruity loops before he lost his sight. I’m just really excited to be able to tell people’s story, utilising the privilege we’ve got in the UK to try and platform people.” 


Asked what’s inspiring Ahadadream beyond his creative endeavours, he shows me the Instagram account, @deba_shis_07. Spotlighting West Bengali soundsystem culture, a click on the page will open you up to a world of toppling speaker stacks, which tower over onlookers and blow them away like they are cartoon characters being beaten up by slapstick violence. This insatiable urge to discover what’s new, Ahad thinks is down to the UK’s hyperfixation on what’s next: where can underground music go that it hasn’t already? “When you collaborate with people here in the States, you realise that what we think is done in the UK, is really new here. It gives me a different lens and perspective,” he says. “In London, you’re always watching what others are doing, but I’m enjoying zooming in and zooming out. I think that can lead to the best art.” On either side of his show at Sound in LA, he plans to hit the studio and live life as he would back home, making music with the same feverishness as those early releases on More Time and Soundcloud. 


With such an unequivocal contribution to dance music, from working at Boiler Room to being at the coalface of the UK scene and becoming Skrillex’s bestie, I wonder if Ahad feels the role of a DJ has changed since he started. His answer, in a calculated and calm London drawl, suggests that it will only ever be the same. “It’s always just been about making people experience joy, which can be a rare feeling. If I can help to facilitate that, then I feel like that’s my job done.”

Listen to 'TAKA' now: