How DATA_BYTE Conquered His Destiny & The American Bass Scene [Interview]
Few things are as imaginative as the vibrant visuals of DATA_BYTE, except the story that led to him becoming a VJ.
The artist caught up with MP3 MAG to discuss his long road to finding a home in America, and how he eventually fulfilled the music destiny laid before him by his parents.
DATA_BYTE—real name Ashraq Mohammed—grew up in Baghdad, Iraq. His family were practicing Muslims, and he would describe himself as a typical Iraqi kid. Both parents were musically inclined, as well as educators; his mom taught preschool while his father was a music professor at the University of Baghdad. Growing up, Mohammed traveled across the Middle East with his father, who performed with the Iraqi orchestra. Those experiences embedded an early sense of importance for music and community in him.
His father envisioned a prodigious destiny in music for his son, but Mohammed was never one to follow traditional means. He bucked at pushes toward violin, cello and clarinet and aside from an abrupt go at the saxophone, ‘music playing’ just never quite stuck.
“[Playing music] was never my cup of tea,” Mohammed told MP3 MAG. “I was more of a person who liked to make weird art.”
After the 2003 invasion of Iraq, his father stepped down as professor at the university. Quickly, Mohammed’s youth was plunged into war time and his family’s progressive ideals now made it unsafe to live in the country. Within a week, his family packed up and left behind everything they knew to migrate to Turkey.
From there, they applied to immigrate to the United States through the United Nations immigration service. In 2010, his family’s application was accepted and they relocated across the globe to the southern state of Louisiana.
While most children spend their time in high school socializing or playing sports, Mohammed spent most of this period learning English and American culture.
After graduating high school, he began attending classes at Baton Rouge Community College and going to local shows. For the first time, he felt connected with the accepting community the bass scene had to offer.
After shows, he’d go home late and recreate what he was hearing via abstract visualization. It started off as a hobby for the sake of creating, but eventually transformed to a full on obsession. During his free time, he began editing photos and videos on his phone and laptop. The art wasn’t necessarily ‘EDM’ related, but more so focused on different patterns and shapes.
“I didn’t look at it like, ‘I want to do that for a living. It was, ‘This looks like fun. How does all this happen.’”
As he continued to progress as an artist and simultaneously attend festivals, he began to envision a career path for himself. With the growing focus on visuals in live music settings, Mohammed saw a meaningful way of becoming involved in the industry as a visual artist.
“When I started off it was more just me wanting to be involved and make something happen,” said Mohammed. “I’ve always been into the community part of the bass music scene [but] it wasn’t until I saw what I’m making works in a live setting that this could be a career.”
The name DATA_BYTE itself wasn’t created for the explicit reason of starting a project, but just a means to host his art in one place. As he started Posting to online platforms like Twitter and Instagram, he eventually drew the attention of labels like WAKAAN, who paired his design skills for visuals on releases.
His art medium of choice was originally generative and 2-D, but in 2020, he switched over to full 3-D compositions. Utilizing a VR headset and programs like Octane, Mohammed is able to create and sculpt designs by hand in a virtual setting before bringing them to life on the big screen.
Through 3D art, he was finally able to create what he was seeing in his head, but more importantly, it gave him unprecedented freedom to be himself. Mohammed’s youth and high school years were largely spent adjusting or surviving. Rather than being a kid who explored his interests, he was burdened with trying to learn a new language and help his family recover financially.
Now, DATA_BYTE’s success is allowing him to evolve as he becomes more at home in this scene and with himself. Furthermore, he’s being embraced by the community and its artists, who have increasingly brought him out on the road to perform his visuals live.
“[Growing up], my family and I just focused on living and making a life for ourselves,” said DATA_BYTE. “I wasn’t able to be a kid, but I feel like in our scene you can be any age to feel connected.”
His artform didn’t quite meet his parents’ original expectations, but his success as a professional has surpassed their doubts. What started as unsure beginnings has taken Mohammed to places he never imagined. He’s worked with artists like Mize and Space Wizard, while projecting his visuals at historic venues like Red Rocks.
Mohammed is just scratching the surface with what he can do with his creative vision right now, but sees himself creating entire short films in 3D one day. All that stands before him is the time and dedication to make it happen.
“I spent my time in survival mode in Iraq, but then over here it was a different mode of survival,” said Mohammed. “Now I’m able to work from home, create my art and make a living out of it.
Today, Mohammed’s biggest question is an introspective one: Was he always intended to be this way? After all, different nodes of actions can lead to different experiences. His grand journey across the globe has no doubt played a part in his fantastic ingenuity, but ultimately, Mohammed sees his creativity and success today as something just finally coming to the surface.
“If not for the experiences, would I be an artist? Maybe.Would I be creating all these art pieces that have a lot to do with my emotions and what I’m feeling? No. But right now, I feel like I’m the most myself.”