DJ Plead: Beat Connection
Jarred Beeler has just arrived in Beirut for the very first time.
It’s still early on a damp, late autumn morning, but Beeler’s excitement is transmissible even over an unstable phone line (the power cuts out three times during our call). Despite his Lebanese heritage, the DJ and producer, known to many as DJ Plead, is making his first visit to the country. Animatedly, Beeler flips the phone camera to reveal the pixelated view from his balcony: a medley of pale apartment buildings, with passersby running errands on the streets below.
Beeler is in Beirut to play a gig at beloved underground club Ballroom Blitz. It’s the last show of a six-month tour that has spanned Europe, Asia and the US; the last club shift before he returns to his native Australia to spend some long-awaited time with his family. But finishing in Lebanon feels particularly special. “There’s something poetic about being asked to come here to play and wrap up the tour in this way,” he says sincerely. “It’s a big honour for me and it just feels right.”
Alongside his enthusiasm and readiness to explore the city, Beeler is also a little nervous. The confession is surprising, if a little endearing, considering he’s an artist with years of gigging under his belt, has released over ten projects and co-runs the label SUMAC. “I feel a bit embarrassed to play here,” he admits, smiling. “My music has a lot of Lebanese sounds and influences in it, but it’s come from a very naive diasporic take on it, right? There is this sort of awkward distance between me and [Lebanon], I feel. My fear is the crowd might just be like, ‘What? This is stupid!’” he laughs. “Or, ‘We just want to hear some techno!’”
Beeler’s music is characterised by heady percussion and winding, dancefloor-ready rhythms inspired by the family celebrations he attended as a kid, as well as CDs his auntie would rip for his mother. Meanwhile, his DJ sets are compelling excursions through steely drum patterns and scintillating melodies: techno, bass and oddball downtempo numbers roll into Lebanese wedding music with finesse. Though the latter sounds may seem incompatible with a club setting to some, the pairing made sense to him: “A wedding is like a club because everyone’s dancing. It’s actually more than a club, in a way; it’s what a club used to be back in the disco days, when people were facing each other, looking each other in the eyes and dancing,” he says. “It’s a marriage of the two things I was interested in. I was listening to a lot of club music and a lot of Lebanese stuff, and just trying to squish them together.”
Beyond the familiarity factor, Beeler is fascinated by the stirring quality of the music he grew up with. “There’s a certain emotion to [this music] that I hadn’t experienced before, possibly because I was listening to these songs at weddings,” he explains. “With a lot of these songs, there’s an incredible rhythm that is quite infectious, but there’s also this combination of emotions; sad yet celebratory.” He suspects the bittersweetness is partly due to the Arabic Maqam scale – melodic phrases Beeler references in his own music, most notably on 2021’s Relentless Trills, an album which is both atmospheric and hardy.
The DJ Plead alias materialised in his 20s in order to help him reconnect with this part of his heritage. Growing up in Australia and attending a German school had blurred his sense of identity. “I felt like I couldn’t really be Lebanese in that space, or understand what it was to be Lebanese. Also, being half [Lebanese], I never really felt like I fit in. There’s a very complicated mix of identity issues. But making this music has given me a bit more of that feeling. It’s a way to prove to myself that I am Lebanese.”
It was around this time that Beeler began to fully explore the rich musicality of his lineage. Growing up, there was a darbuka drum that floated around family parties; Beeler, only a child then, “convinced mum to buy us one from the Lebanese baker down the road”. Though he is adamant that he never developed a real skill for playing the hand drum, its tangible physicality instilled the deft sense of rhythm that has come to define his career. Beeler’s uncle, sensing his musical impulses, encouraged him to pick up an acoustic guitar instead. Beeler recalls the exact moment he locked into a groove for the first time. “My uncle was trying to explain to me that eventually it just clicks and you [can] play without concentrating on strumming. That it just sort of happens, you can feel it,” he emphasises. “I think about that moment a lot. If I hadn’t had those two instruments around, my music would definitely sound different.” The familial tie is clearly still strong – and it’s a two-way thing: Beeler’s auntie plays his music in her Lebanese restaurant, while his parents keep up to date with his work via Spotify.
After finishing school, Beeler went to university to study engineering. Though he no longer works in this field, the methodological approach he picked up during his studies spills into everything he does. “Sometimes, when I’m producing music, my nerdy, analytical side comes out and I treat it like a problem-solving exercise. There’s a lot of mincing: taking things apart and thinking about how different sounds can be fitted in,” he explains. “I’ve noticed that more and more the older I get, because I’m now making music in a more considered way. I’m thinking about my output more; it’s less rash and spontaneous.”
“Being half [Lebanese],I never really felt like I fit in. But making this music has given me a bit more of that feeling. It’s a way to prove to myself that I am Lebanese”
Beeler’s heavily textured tracks and sharp production signposts these wide-ranging influences, which include “Timbaland, Mala, Shackleton, Darkchild and DJ Haram”. But, with themes of identity inevitably feeding into his music, does he worry that he’s at risk of being pigeonholed by listeners and critics, in the way that many underrepresented musicians and DJs have?
“Inevitably, you fall into that trap with whatever you do,” he asserts. “But I think I’ve been pretty lucky because it doesn’t really bother me that much.” He pauses to think before continuing. “Maybe I’ve made a conscious choice to move away from a very direct Arabic sound to avoid being permanently pigeonholed. I don’t want to be stuck there forever. But maybe I will, who knows – it’s not the worst place to be,” he says with a playful sigh.
His latest EP, released at the end of October 2022 via Bristol’s Livity Sound, marked a change in direction. Ironically titled Quick, the record wound things down with a collection of low-slung chuggers that slink around the 100 bpm mark. The hypnotic percussion is still there – El Es’ slick reggaeton sensibility makes for an instant earworm – but the tempo and energy is noticeably different. The tracks were made during a lockdown spent in Sydney; he pegs the uplifting tone, leisurely pace and occasional silly sound to that context. “I don’t remember exactly how I was feeling but I wager I was quite depressed. Maybe [the songs] are quite joyous because I wanted to break free from my house,” he says, only half joking. Ongoing issues with vinyl pressing plants delayed the release, creating a gap that Beeler found both strange and affirming. “They’re already in the past, in a way,” he says of the tunes. “But it’s nice to revisit, or even rediscover them now through other people.”
With that separation in mind, I ask what he thinks of the record now. “I find it kind of freaky. Every time I listen to it, I laugh, it’s so ridiculous. It’s almost like circus music somehow,” he says with a grin. “But I really like it, I’m proud of it,” he adds earnestly. “It’s refreshing to not make dancefloor weapons for a change.”
The concept of evolution is deliberately woven into the fabric of Quick: after teaching a beginner’s music production course back in Sydney, Beeler picked up new arpeggio techniques via Ableton’s Arpeggiator and tips from his friend, Australian producer Big Ever, laying the foundations for his own tracks. “It’s important to me that each new record has its own new little trick,” he says. After not making music for six months – what he believes is the longest stretch since he started producing – Beeler is “itching” to start again. “I don’t know where to go next after this,” he says in a tone that suggests optimism rather than bewilderment. “I’m not opposed to doing the same sort of thing again, but it all depends on how I’m feeling when I get home, clear the dust from my laptop, and see what I come up with.”
A collection of hard-hitting, club-ready bangers would make sense. After all, Beeler has spent several nights a week in party settings for the last six months. But, as always, a mischievous look emerges on his face: “Perhaps I’ll just make some sort of ambient record to get out of that,” he laughs. “Perhaps I’m a bit sick of techno.”
Quick is out now via Livity Sound