“Ever since I can remember, I’ve either been playing music or making music,” says producer, DJ and composer Motez Obaidi. But when the multi-hyphenate musician was growing up in Iraq, seeing live music wasn’t an option. It was only after he relocated from Baghdad to Adelaide in 2006 that he was able to immerse himself in a proper music scene.
Fast-forward to today and Obaidi has performed at Falls Festival and Splendour in the Grass, toured prolifically overseas, remixed the likes of Sam Smith and Disclosure, and even scored a platinum-selling single with 2017’s The Future featuring Antony and Cleopatra. And through all that success, he still calls Adelaide home.
When he first arrived in Adelaide in 2006, it was an exciting culture shock – with a slew of new opportunities. A job at Oxfam led to him seeing his first-ever concert that same year. It was Coldplay, whose leader Chris Martin has longstanding connections to the charity. Obaidi remembers it as “mind-blowing”, and soon enough he was working at a local music store, selling instruments, speakers and other equipment. Even after earning a master of international business from the University of Adelaide, he was more fixated on music – and what he describes as “the wow factor” of witnessing live music – than anything else.
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Thanks to some supportive folks around town, Obaidi was able to book his first headline show in the late aughts at the now-shuttered Vodka Bar. Then he scored a residency at late-night institution Electric Circus. Performing under his first name, Obaidi learnt how to develop a DJ set to complement the electronic music he was crafting at home.
“I cut my teeth there,” he says, “and started playing what I really wanted to play in front of an appreciative audience. Going into the club world was a bit of a change for me. I had to learn how to DJ to promote my [original] music.”
Hitting the city
Now firmly established both in Adelaide and around the world, Obaidi spends his workdays at his personal studio on Hutt Street in the CBD, which is a quick drive from the nearby suburb of Goodwood, where he lives. A typical day sees him embracing all that Adelaide has to offer, from his handily located studio to the diverse constellation of bars, restaurants, cafes and music venues surrounding it.
“I used to work from home for many years, and I felt overworked,” Obaidi says. “So I moved my studio into the city. I start my day at eight or nine and I’m here till about five or six. Then I come home and make dinner. I love cooking. Sometimes I do work from home when it’s really important, but most of time I do that in the studio.”
When out either by day or night, he gravitates towards places with a sense of community. That includes his favourite cafe, Paddy Barry’s on Gilles Street, and Italian diner Osteria Oggi. Further afield, he’s a regular at cosy Adelaide Hills restaurant and wine bar The Summertown Aristologist. “There are so many good restaurants in Adelaide,” he says. “It genuinely amazes me.”
Obaidi singles out the vibe-y CBD bar Udaberri, which doubles as one of his favourite dining destinations. “It’s known as a bar, but they do probably the best steak in Adelaide,” says Obaidi. “It’s inspired by foods of the Basque region.” He also loves new West End wine bar Nearly, part-founded by illustrator Cécile Gariépy and designer Stephen Roy.
As for his recommendations for live music, at the top of the list is the intimate and longstanding venue Jive. “I’ve always had a big soft spot for Jive,” he says. “Tam [Boakes] the owner is an absolute legend. I use that word seriously, because she’s been around for a very long time. And she battled it out when things were not going well. It shows – there’s a lot of heart and soul in the place.”
Obaidi once played Jive while supporting Rüfüs Du Sol. And it’s still where he sees the most live music in Adelaide. Otherwise, he enjoys catching gigs in the front bar of The Exeter and at the resurgent Lion Arts Factory. He also cites Ancient World, a savvy dive bar specialising in left-field dance music.
A sense of community
While he’s often asked why he’s stayed in Adelaide after making such a name for himself on the international stage, the answer is simple. “Touring a lot and being all over the world, I wanted a level of normalcy,” Obaidi says. “I wanted to keep my feet on the ground. You get [back] here and you’re comfortable at home. You know your coffee shop and you know your bar. If I had moved to a bigger city, going from a hectic touring schedule back to a hectic city might not have been good for my mental health.”
He also loves the spirit of collaboration that thrives in Adelaide, from his past team-up with rapper Tkay Maidza (now based in LA) to his current work with local punk band the Empty Threats and singer/rapper Elsy Wameyo. Obaidi has kept busy with other collaborations too – he’s currently working on an EP with multi-disciplinary Adelaide artist Dave Court and creating narrative-based audio-visual shows and installations under the banner Harsh Realities. To him, it’s all part of that sense of feeling grounded.
“Adelaide really exemplifies community,” he says. “Not just working on projects together but seeing people you know. That’s one thing I love about living here. So I gravitate towards places I feel like I’m at home when I walk into them.”
This article is produced by Broadsheet in partnership with South Australia – A New State of Mind.