Now in its 3rd year, the Phoenix House Fest is looking to be its biggest and brightest yet, with lots of excitement and anticipation building up. Started by Rani Gharfeh and Chicago transplant Dawaine Yokley, what was once a one day affair has now bloomed into a 3 day fest guaranteed to blow you away. This year’s guest headliners are New York’s Victor Simonelli and from Chicago Mike Dunn and Czboogie.
I spoke with Rani to get the lowdown on the events and reading this is proof that if you really want to make something happen, you can.
How long have you been doing the House Fest and what inspired you to create this?
This will be our 3rd year. To keep the story short, it all started when my boy Dawaine Yokley approached me and mentioned how much he loved the Chosen Few Picnic. Being a Chicago transplant in Phoenix at the time, he wanted to do something similar (obviously not on the same scale as CF) but we had to start somewhere. We’d known each other for about 5 years from the Phoenix scene and eventually started collaborating by bringing out some Chicago guests to Retro Hi-Fi (a Sunday weekly at the time which I co-founded with two other DJ friends in Phoenix).
We started out simple at first. Dawaine picked and secured the park, permits and some of the vendors/sponsors, other partnerships and worked on the promo materials. I handled logistics for the event from sound/stage setup and management at the park, bringing together a diverse line-up of local support for the picnic and the afterparty, as well as liaison with venues for the night parties and whatever else needed to be done. Dawaine also recruited his friend Lady Alicia to help spread the word about our work and promote HF in Chicago. She assumed the role of co-host in Phoenix and she flies out to MC the picnic, help host our special guest DJs as well as pitch in where needed during the events.
Fast forward two years later…I’ve stepped up my role by working on elevating the brand and message about the purpose of Phoenix House Fest. Naturally I also saw fit to brainstorm some additions so we can tailor it for the Phoenix scene. This year we added Yoga, House aerobics and some more unique vendors.
Give us a snapshot of the scene over there in Phoenix. Are you originally from there?
The Phoenix events scene is truly diverse, amazing and ever-changing. From when I first moved here from Cyprus, I was exposed to so many different events and crowds. As time passed I got to experience and befriend many local DJs, promoters, artists, musicians and venue owners. We have such a thriving scene that has evolved so much since 2000 (the year I moved to Phoenix). We have a great Hip-Hop, House, Dance/Electronic + EDM/Commercial, Indie and live music scene. More live music/hybrid venues have popped up.
How long have you yourself been DJing? I understand you support yourself 100% by doing this, which is these days a commendable thing!
I got really fascinated by DJing when an older middle school mate of mine would tell me about programming music on his radio show. His name was Mario Takoushis. He’s now an accomplished pianist based in the UK. After many conversations on our bus rides to and from school, I started dabbling more with cassette tapes at the time and actually jumped at the first opportunity to provide the music or DJ for our middle school dance. I think I was about 10 years old. It wasn’t easy cueing and playing music off cassette tape decks seamlessly but I had a lot of fun. I didn’t get into professional DJ gear until 1996, when I started going to one of the best clubs in Nicosia (CY’s capital).
I’ve been DJing on “professional” gear for over 20 years, but I didn’t start really collecting vinyl till I moved to the U.S. I had about 5-10 records from Cyprus, all Two-step and my dad’s classical and varied Rock/Folk singles too. I’ve taken my love for good music (mostly House, Disco, Classic Hip-Hop, Global Soul and more genres,) fused them to build my signature style and sound, and exposing that to many scenes from the corporate, fashion, cultural/community, art, culinary as well as club and restaurant scenes. I left the corporate world not too long after I graduated University and started DJing and built my name and brand gradually.
What events have inspired you as good blueprints for your House Fest and what is the end goal?
As I mentioned, House Fest came about when D came to me and wanted to start something as a tribute to Chosen Few Picnic but also add his and my touch to it. He wanted to celebrate the Chi-style picnic vibe by introducing as well as unite the Chicago transplants that live here. I’ve always loved day events… some inspirations include Body & Soul (never been to NYC one), but the diverse crowd I’ve experienced first hand at Marques Wyatt’s Deep. Also, the Do-Over in terms of day parties on a mid-size feel and diverse soundtrack. I also wish that we could do a HouseFest maybe once, by a pool or the sea as I’ve always had a deep love for the Mediterranean (being born and spent 20 years on the island of Cyprus and having partied proper at Ayia Napa which used to be called the 2nd Ibiza circa 1998-2000.)
The end goal of HF is to create a family friendly day event that fuses many elements. To build community and more awareness for good music, to celebrate House Music, Disco, and other genres, but on another more important note to me personally is to expose children from a young age to better music. The House music way of life… positivity, love unity. Nowadays the radio plays the same 20 or so songs over and over and you’re surrounded by commercial/repetitive music anywhere you go. I think it’s important to help expose our children and show them the roots of better music and many times playing the original songs that have been sampled tastelessly sometimes for some EDM/commercial rap songs.
Do you see yourself expanding this in the near future?
Right now our goal is to keep the picnic free but find ways to get more sponsorship as it’s mostly funded by my partner Dawaine and myself. We put in a lot work, time, stress etc. That’s why we started to do more night parties, in order to help us recoup some of our money. The goal is to make a busier weekender out of it, attracting more tourists and out of state friends to our scene. Maybe in the future, I’m thinking we could collaborate with other friends of ours in other cities to do a House Fest LA or Philly, Boston, Chicago, etc. The aim is to spread the good word of House music, love, community and showcase the people doing things locally.
This year’s welcome party for the Phoenix House Fest will be at a new Gallery Space called the Vault, After Party @ Monarch Theatre, Farewell Party @ Bar Smith. The Picnic will be during the day and is all ages and is free. Pre-sales are at $15 for all 3 parties. Each night party will have a cover ranging from $10-25 and is 21+ w/ valid ID. People can bring coolers, chairs, tents and their own beverages to the party as well as a good attitude. For tickets visit relentlessbeats.com.