In the early 1990s, at the end of the Lebanese Civil War, a young Rabih Hamad broke into a vacant music studio with his friends. The kids weren’t planning to vandalize or steal; they just wanted to play music. After their first illicit jam session, the group returned to the studio often. They even managed to befriend the studio’s staff, who would leave the windows cracked open just enough for the boys to scramble through. Their secret musical rendezvous continued this way for nearly two years. But aside from the studio’s staff, no one knew about the talent burgeoning behind closed doors.
Twenty-some years later, Hamad is no longer unknown. Better recognized by the moniker, Soapbass, he is at the forefront of the Lebanese dance music scene. His resume boasts bonafide producer status symbols, like his own record label, Polite as Fck, event management company, Lucidwave, and an enviable roster of performances at venues like the famed KitKatClub in Berlin.
His techno-driven beats weave together elements from each phase of his life, creating a sonic tapestry that pays homage to rock, blues, jazz, and his Lebanese heritage. Although he’s clearly on his way, Soapbass’s path to producerdom was far from linear.
After picking up the drums during those jam sessions in the vacant studio, Hamad moved on to bass guitar when he was 16. He quickly became fascinated by everything to do with music and began to study in earnest, taking classes in everything from jazz to blues, funk to rock. He dreamed of making music his life. Each day, he saved up the pocket money his father gave him. And after a long two years, he finally had enough to buy a bass guitar.
New bass in hand, Hamad formed his own rock band, Soul Active, with a group of musicians he met online. Gigs picked up quickly for the group, and soon, Hamad said, they were making good money playing all over the country. The group’s accomplishments came to a crescendo with a big win: first place in Pick FM’s Best Rock Song contest. Their triumph resulted in national media coverage as well as an album deal sponsored by Radio One.
The band members parted ways in 2007, but Hamad wasn’t done with music yet.
There was always something about dance music that struck a chord with Hamad. He first became interested in the genre as a teenager through listening to bands who incorporated electronic music into their songs, like Radiohead. When the dance and electronic wave hit Lebanon, the young musician was practically swept off his feet.
“I was standing in front of the DJ booth and I was just amazed by everything happening,” Hamad says. “I started imagining myself, with the crowd moving, the sounds, the beat… I wanted to make the crowd feel how I was feeling in that moment.”
Hamad's musical acumen translated producing just as it had to the bass and drums. When he made his first EP, Charlie, he was still in the learning stage of music production. DJ LION, a friend, and more experienced producer coached him during the creation of the seven-track project.
“He saw something in me and insisted on teaching me to produce,” Hamad says. “He stayed with me for months, doing production training. After two months on my own, I came back to him with six tracks. He was shocked and told me he believed my music deserved to be released on his label.”
Charlie was released on DJ LION’s Patent Skillz in 2021. Soapbass released another EP, Mary F*Cking Poppins, just over a month later, setting a precedent for a prolific career to come. And the producer appears to be maintaining his momentum, with three more EPs on the way within the month.
Although he’s built up his skills and discography quickly, Hamad has kept a learner’s mindset, developing an artistic process that is somewhat improvisational. Not one for prescribed beats or predictable melodies, the musician doesn’t enter a production session with any preconceived notions.
“I start on the spot. I listen and pay attention to what my ears catch,” Hamad says. “I’m risking a bit with my sound. The way I create it, the way I do it, it’s different.”
As eclectic as his process and background are, so are his inspirations. Charlie was written in memory of his late dog, and Mary F*Cking Poppins came as an homage to the timeless movies he loved as a child. And of course, behind everything are the rock influences that shaped his early career and Lebanese culture that honed his musical ear.
“My sound comes from my country,” Hamad says. “The country here is full of a mix of nationalities, religions, and cultures. Growing up here, I’ve always been inspired to use a mixture of sounds. The nightlife and the parties here are really impressive. Music means joy in our community.”
Words by Sophie Bress. Follow her on Twitter
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