It’s a warm weekday lunchtime in May when I meet Hassan Redif (aka Hass or J Junior) and Bekir Remzi (aka Ramsey) in the bar of Trent Park Country Club, located at the far end of the Piccadilly Line in Oakwood. The pair are relaxed and in casual attire, with Ramsey tapping at his watch and tutting about my lateness by some 25 minutes (I had texted in advance).
The ‘Turkish late gene’ seems to have skipped our renowned DJ friend, but sadly for him the interviewer has a severe strain of it. So we quickly get down to business.
I ask how long the two have been friends: “twenty-five years” is the reply. Hass, a successful promoter and DJ, who’s added modelling and acting to his repertoire, explains, “We’re originally from the same social circle”, as Ramsey adds that “the Turkish Youth Association” (based in Harringay in the 1990s) was the original meeting point.
“DJing for centuries”, Ramsey was initially friends with Hass’s older brother Arkin (aka Mr Jones) through their common love of UK Garage music. Ramsey and his DJ partner Fen are one of the pioneers of the scene, while Mr Jones launched one of London’s biggest Garage nights: Numb Nums.
The conversation flows fast and furious, with Ramsey and Hass regularly interjecting to offer more details. In the end the younger Hass gives way to Ramsey to explain the birth of their iconic night.
“I’m from Famagusta and have been playing [Ayia] Napa with Fen since the late 1990s. After a few years, we weren’t getting booked as much. The [Napa] clubs found British DJs too expensive and decided to use local people instead. So we thought, ‘let’s go and have a look at our side’. Napa is really close to where I live and I’d go right up to the border and could see the flags on our side, but the borders were closed. I thought, ‘I wish they opened these borders’ and a year later [in 2003], they did.”
We peel off into our family roots. Ramsey’s origins are in Yeni Boğaziçi, while Hass’s mum is from Pile and dad is from Paphos. Ramsey explains his family had moved to Cyprus when he was 13. They moved back to East London a few years later, after his dad had a stroke. The boys do banter about how Ramsey’s life could have turned out had he remained in Cyprus with “donkeys”. Instead, his DJing career has seen him release seminal Garage track Love Bug with Fen, sign for Virgin Records, be a radio presenter on mainstream radio stations Capital and Choice FM, and DJ all over the world.
Cyprus also played a part in Hass’s life: his family would holiday there every summer. As a teenager, him and brother Arkin would play music in the clubs of hotels such as Mare Monte and Jasmine Court, giving him an early insight into the primitive nature of North Cyprus clubbing, but also valuable contacts for later.
In 2004, the Mid Summer Ball Organisation was born in North Cyprus, although neither Hass or Ramsey were involved at the time. A year later, they bought the name off the owner, dropped ‘Organisation’ and set out to hold the first Mid Summer Ball (MSB) in August 2005.
Listening to the pair go through their experiences of trying to run a British-style club night in the TRNC is both hilarious and painful: if they weren’t of Turkish Cypriot origin, it’s hard to imagine them sticking the course, given the ignorance, apathy and red tape they faced. Ramsey’s flyer story is a great illustration of how frustrating doing business in North Cyprus can be:
“They didn’t do flyers and posters [in the TRNC] back in the day, so we got them printed up in London. It would have cost me about sixty quid and taken a few days to receive from the South. But we sent them to North Cyprus. It took weeks [to arrive] and ended up costing us hundreds, as they wanted me to pay tax on top of freight. I turned up at Customs. It took hours to sort the paperwork and payment. When I finally went to collect the flyers, I was told to ‘come back after Bayram as the man who runs the warehouse had gone home and wouldn’t be back for a week.”
Undeterred, the pair kept calm and carried on, pulling together a phenomenal line-up for their first event at Lion’s Garden, then the club venue in Mağusa. Forty artists were on the bill, including headliners Artful Dodger, Ras Kwame, Pied Piper, Rampage, and Norris ‘Da Boss’ Windross, ensuring the event attracted major attention on both sides of the Green Line. Their plans were aided by good friend and fellow Napa DJ Jason Kaye.
Hass underlines the significance of the night: “Fourteen years ago, in northern Cyprus, we’re bringing the equivalent to what a festival in the UK was bringing to an island that’s never seen [this calibre of line-up] before.”
Politics drives everything on the island, and for many Greek Cypriots supporting anything in North Cyprus is anathema. As word got out about this new club night, politicians and clergy went on national TV to urge Greek Cypriot youth not to attend.
“We couldn’t have asked for better publicity,” said Ramsey. “After that, everyone wanted to come. People were planning to take the day off, closing bars and clubs in Napa to come and party with us because of that line-up.
“The roads to the North were completely roadblocked that night. A [Greek Cypriot] friend called me to say, ‘I’m in a convoy of 2,000 cars and we can’t get through [the border].”
As for the event itself, Hass described it as “organised chaos”. Officially they had 4,500 people through the door, but with lax security, many more came over the walls or through a secret tunnel. The night took on legendary status.
With reputations forged, The MSB returned to Lion’s Garden the following year. In 2007, they moved to Girne and Club Vogue became their new home for the next two summers. They had two arenas: one catering to the Old School (House and Garage) crowd, and another spinning urban flavours for the millennials.
“We added pre-parties at places like Night Park. We had initially wanted our main event at Escape [Beach Club in Girne], but they didn’t have a licence. But when we arrived [in Cyprus] in 2009 and found Vogue in a bad state – toilets not working, everything was grim – we knew we had to move, because we couldn’t charge people £10-£15 for that. A week before our night, Escape came to the rescue and that became our home for the next five years,” recalls Ramsey.
When I ask how profitable the night was, the pair laugh: “A free holiday, with a little on top. The taxman took everything else,” says Hass.
Bureaucracy, growing costs, and a lack of local sponsors made the event unsustainable, prompting the pair to hit the pause button and stop holding events in the TRNC in recent years.
“Functioning in that country is hard. They [government and people] made it impossible for us to do our night,” said Hass. “And the one time we did get good sponsorship – 16 flights from Cyprus Turkish Airlines – the airline went bust.”
Ramsey jumps in to explain about how a man with a house on the main roundabout at the entrance into Girne was approached in their first year to put up a banner. “He let us do it for nothing. Go there now and he’s got billboards that he’s renting out.”
Hass interjects, “Yes, at the beginning he’d let us put the banner up and say, ‘tamam’dir koyunuz [it’s ok, put them up]. When we came back the next year, we could see other people had been asking him to put up banners too. He’d got himself two poles and was charging. Now, he’s got a digital screen and wants hundreds of pounds [for advertisements].”
Back to Ramsey: “So we’ve set it up for him, and now he’s got a little business. That’s just one scenario of how The MSB has changed things.”
When I ask them to take a trip down memory lane and recall one incident that always puts a smile on their faces, they both respond instantly with the same thing: “Every time we ate food, and Hass squeezed a lemon it would always get him in the eye.” The pair fall about in hysterics at the thought, their laughter infectious.
A final question on their involvement at this year’s Turkish Cypriot Cultural Festival at Enfield Playing Fields on Sunday 30 June. As The MSB has always put on nights with artists from different ethnic backgrounds, what made them get involved in this event?
“It’s us doing our bit for the community”, Hass states, while Ramsey adds, “I’d gone to the festival last year and saw the potential, so when Hass called me up about doing a stage there, it was a no brainer”.
The two have pulled together a Who’s Who of Turkish Cypriot talent for the occasion: DJs, MCs and live PAs, with several, such as Texsta and Cutting Edge, involved from the very first MSB back in 2005. On 20 July, the night returns to North London and the Trent Park Country Club for fourteen hours of continuous partying.
From North Cyprus to North London takeover, the Mid Summer Ball has come full circle. And the guys are not done yet. For more details about the night, visit facebook.com/themidsummerball.
Main photo, top, Hass ‘J Junior’ Redif and DJ Ramsey, photo © Leyla Guler