Wednesday, 4 March 2015

Al ak - Falling Into Place

To me, al ak's compilation of tunes titled 'Falling Into Place' was what clearly exhibited a quantum leap in his songwriting abilities and his skill as a producer. This set of six tunes played out like the coming-of-age treatise of an erstwhile under-recognized talent who carves out a unique artistic identity for himself. While doing so, it gave listeners like me a chance to approach electronic music using a slightly different lens and appreciate its multitude of creative possibilities. Going over these tunes exposes you to a lovely mesh of sounds ranging from hints of Burial-esque 2-step and Nigel Godrich-infused IDM/electronica to ambient, glitch and deep house, all interspersed with tastefully chopped-up atmospheric vocal samples.

Al ak eventually went on to join the Karachi-based electronic music collective Forever South, and has been consistently producing tunes. His musical direction might have changed ever so slightly over the course of time, but his production quality and mastery increases exponentially. Whenever I listen to any one of his compositions, I feel that each note is meticulously placed at a specific place and serves a unique purpose in the grand scheme of things in al ak's deterministic musical universe. I'm reproducing the EP in its entirety here, for not doing so wouldn't do justice to it.

Tuesday, 29 October 2013

Slow Spin - nightfall's reverie

It happens ever so often that translating aural stimulus into words seems like a rather futile or strenuous task, primarily because of the constraints inherent within language itself. The subjectivity of the translating medium is contentious as well, and cannot be disregarded. However, if we are to believe in ‘objective’/universal human categories such as introspection, memory, nostalgia, emotion and expression, however vaguely defined, we might find traces of them resonating in creative works produced by others. The correlation established thus might be framed in different ways by different agents, but it is still something that is felt. As an ode to this vicarious revelry, whenever I listen to Slow Spin’s ‘nighfall’s reverie’, I do feel the tunes embracing the aforementioned categories with a yearning seldom heard. The whole enterprise is steeped with it; from the reverb laden vocals to the mellow acoustic picking; from the sparse field recordings interspersed within to the minimal trinket-based soundscapes. It’s a marriage between an earthy folk aesthetic and ambience, and works well most of the time.

The creator seems to exist in a self-created microcosm, and the little snippets that constitute 'nightfall's reverie' weave into one another in an episodic fashion, reminiscent of sporadic epiphanies or paint strokes that are visceral yet contemplative. At times, Slow Spin's flirtation with psychedelia leads to the dissolution of conventional structures, and gives us a glimpse into a state of being that might be schizophrenic, heightened, highly receptive and aware in ways that transcend the norm. (The reference to schizophrenia is merely metaphorical, of course). You can download the EP from, or stream it on soundcloud. (The Podhajsky-esque cover art is done by Samya Arif, and is also something that needs to be appreciated in its own right).

Favourites: 'call too', 'pace', 'aslant'.

Friday, 16 August 2013

Uncle Bunkle's Swing Orchestra: Muhammad Mudassir talks about hormones, musical 'scenes' and Lynch.

Or: A rather lengthy interview with an independent musician. 

What is the name of your band?
Uncle Bunkle Jingle Shop (and Lower Sindh! Swing Orchestra). Don't know which one we're talking about.

We can talk about both of them. Are you involved in both? What is your role in the respective bands?
Yes, yes. I am involved in both. In Lower Sindh! I play the guitar and I sing, and I also play the synth. I do pretty much the same in Uncle Bunkle. However, I think I have a bigger role in Uncle Bunkle, and more control over the sound, especially because it's just me and Sarim. Sarim plays the bass in Lower Sindh! as well, whereas in Uncle Bunkle, he plays the bass, drums and the synths. Uncle Bunkle is a collaborative project. It's more like two friends making songs together, and making them sound just the way they want.

So it's the same bunch of people working under two different psuedonyms, In many ways? Why'd you feel the need to demarcate the two?
Well yeah, you can say that, but Lower Sindh! has four members and Uncle Bunkle has two members. The reason why we started Uncle Bunkle was because it's not very likely for all four of us to be together at the same time. Secondly, we're from Karachi and the situation in the city is fucked up at least once every week. Sarim and I live very close, so we're able to meet each other and play music almost every other day. Another reason for (the formulation) of Uncle Bunkle was that I had these song ideas that sounded 'too happy' for Lower Sindh!, or let's just say were clashing with the sound of Lower Sindh! So, we thought that it'd be better to release them under some other name.

Why is there an exclamation mark after the Sindh? A momentary realization of sorts?
We thought that it'd be funny to add that: Lower Sindh! Swing Orchestra. Omer suggested it. He plays the guitar for Lower Sindh! Later, we realized that some of the other post rock bands have also done that, and that we weren't doing anything new. That made us sad, but it's okay because there's so much life has to offer, right?

So the ! has nothing to do with the clacking sound that the !Kung-Bushmen make with their mouths?
Hmmmmm it does! In fact, the whole band is about Kung-Bushmen. Our song 'My lost ship' was about a desert girl.

A 'desert girl' from Sindh?
Her father was from Africa, and her mother was from Sindh. She used to live in the desert but she just disappeared one day, and her man got really sad.

Tell me about how the bands began. Why did you feel the need to put something out there? Was it something intrinsic, something that you felt that you 'had' to do? Also, to what degree would you say that the whole venture is catalyzed by an urge to be considered a part of a certain 'scene'?
I guess I just like felt I really had to do something. The inspiration was there, but maybe the reason behind the inspiration was also a lack of satisfaction from life, and the way it already was. I started listening to music more seriously when I was around 15. I used to listen to grunge; bands like Nirvana and Led Zeppelin. Me, Sarim and Asad used to be a in a grunge band together. Then, we discovered 'experimental' sounds, and that was like a slap on our faces because it made us feel that the music we very playing was very shallow.

What was your grunge band called?
It was called 'Raging Hormones'. Seriously.

How apt.
I know it sounds very cheesy, and it is, but at that time, I had a concept in my mind about how hormones control our moods and all. Now I laugh about it.

Your concept was truly unique, I must admit.
Hahaha, thanks man. And responding to your earlier question, I don't really consider myself a part of any 'scene', because I'm not. Many of the other musicians are very good friends but I've just realized that 'scenes' might just prove to be a distraction. It's good to have some sort of a 'scene' going on (if you happen to be a part of it naturally) because it makes things easier. I think that here in Pakistan, you've got to do everything yourself because no one really cares about these things seriously. Music 'scenes' are usually serving 3-4 bands, but you can't blame them for that because they've done a lot, and have really struggled to start their 'scene'.

How/in what ways can they 'distract' musicians?
Well, I went through a short phase where I felt really demotivated to make more music, and I started searching for music labels. I sent them my songs and then I tried contacting the radio people. I just started to feel that no body is listening to what I'm making, and questioned the point of doing it at all. But, once that phase finished, I realized that I had earned nothing by doing that. I was just wasting my time getting sad over things that are completely worthless. At the end of the day, it's all about writing and recording songs and that's all that matters. And if someone has to listen to my music, then they will. I don't need to run after them.

Right, fair enough... but how would an indigenous/local music 'scene' be a deterrent for an individual musician who isn't really seeking any support network?
It won't be a deterrent at all. It will be very good for the musician. If something is happening naturally, then that's great. I just don't feel like we already have a scene that's very open to new people. There are some people out there who're very helpful and they will try to help you and promote you in any way they can, but it's limited.

Didn't you just say something about how it can 'distract' musicians?
I did, but in a different context. See, a 'scene' that's open and supportive to new musicians is a great thing that can happen for someone like us. What I was saying was that I feel like in a lot of 'scenes', it becomes a matter of who is making music. 'What's the name of the person?', 'Where does he live?', 'Does he have links?'.... rather than focusing on what his music is like...and I think that becomes a distraction/demotivation for others.

Right, right...Does that mean, every musical 'scene' is bound to be exclusive, in one way or another? Because the agents active within those circles feel that they've forged a certain 'kind' of sound, and they feel that they might want to 'own' that 'sound'?
I feel like most of them are exclusive. However, there are always some exceptions. I think that these things are really confusing. Let's say that if you have a metal 'scene' going on, and you discover a really good pop band and you try to make them a part of this 'scene', then I don't know if that's a good thing to do, for both, the band and the 'scene'. When I was talking about the exclusiveness of music scenes, I wasn't even referring to the sound aspect. I was talking more about how certain people have social links which help them a lot.

I personally love the American label Sub Pop. I feel like they have a great diversity and they've signed some artists who were unknown and who just recorded music in their homes. They picked up these people and helped them. People like Chad VanGaalen.

Yeah, Sub-Pop's doing a great job. How important do you think is performing live? As a band?
I think it's very important. It keeps things exciting and it's also very motivating when other people appreciate you.

Would you say that your bands have gotten enough chances to perform in a live setting?
Not really...We've only performed twice... which was a year ago.

And if given the chance, you'd like to perform more frequently?
Obviously! We really wanted to, many times. but there were no chances. I wish we could perform every month. But that's one of the problems of being a part of a group... someone is always busy. But personally, I will be ready to perform even if it's every week. Oh by the way, we recently recorded a 'Lussun session',
if that counts.

What influences would you cite? Things that have come to shape/influence your music?
Are we talking about musical influences?

Musical and otherwise.
Many different bands have inspired me, and I have been inspired by many different kinds of music. Like, different bands in different periods.

Let' move on in a progression, starting from your grunge phase.
Okay, my grunge phase: Nirvana, Alice in Chains, Led Zeppelin, the Beatles. Then, I discovered Radiohead
and the Karachi-based band Mole...and through, them discovered many other bands. Bands like Porcupine Tree, a number of Post-Rock bands, shoegaze bands and many folk musicians.

And where do you stand these days, in terms of influence?
I've always been very much into lyrics and songwriting, so my focus has also always been on that aspect. These days, I'm not sure... I went through an experimental phase in which I liked everything that was experimental. Which I still do. I'd say these days, it's not only experimental stuff, but also some of the people who make really simple music. People like Neil Young, who can make simple chords sound magical. And Beck! I like people who are full of surprises.

What about non-musical inspirations?
I like books and I like films, and I think that that stuff always comes through. Books like 'The Third Policeman' by Flann O'Brien. I love his weird senseless style. I'm very much into absurd stuff. Then, writers like Kafka (though I've only read one book by him). Also, 'Alice's Adventures in Wonderland'.

And what about film?
I love films by David Lynch. He's my favorite. Also, Kubrick. And some Tim Burton. Whether it's books, movies or music, I like the weirdness in things. Things that are a little awkward and short of perfection. However, things that are weird just for the shock value are a big turn-off. It needs to be based upon truth.

What about Lynch's music?
His music's really cool, but I've only heard some tracks from his album. I love Angelo Badalamenti! I don't know why I didn't mention him before. He's also a big influence now. Also, imperfections are a big influence. Nothing is perfect, and so, I think that we shouldn't try to make things look as perfect as possible. The little mistakes or some crudeness adds a very human quality to things. Apart from that, people who are honest. You can't just fake it. It takes less than a second to tell if something is genuine or not. I think Duck is very honest about his music. Even if the music is extremely simple and the lyrics are senseless, and the recording quality is shit, there's still something about his music that's more appealing than many of the other 'proper' musicians. Moreover, his lyrics are beyond amazing. I'm also influenced by artists who are not very obsessed with themselves. It's the art that matters, not the artist.

Who'd kick who's ass (In a Kubrick vs Lynch faceoff)?
I think they'd just hug each other and Lynch'd tell him how much he loves Lolita and Kubrick'd say I love Eraserhead!

Kubrick loves this guy
What's the usual song-writing/composition process like when you're with your other band-mates? How does it all come together? And how do you resolve artistic conflicts?
Most of the time, it starts from a guitar riff that either Omer or myself come up with. Then, we jam and improvise around it, and we record our jams. Then, if we feel like we have some new good parts, we jam some more. Then, there comes a point where we realize that we can make this into a song if we give it a good structure. At this point, I sit alone with the guitar and try coming up with words. I mostly work on the lyrics side by side with the jams. I arrange my words and give it a structure, and then we try playing that together.
I don't think we have many conflicts, but sometimes, we push each other to try something new... to get out of our comfort zone and come up with something different. Most of the time, everyone's okay with it. If something unpleasant happens, we just wait for it to get back to normal

Have you been working on anything new? Can we expect to listen to any more music? What's happening with LS!SO? Was that a one-song phenomenon?
Yes, lots of new music coming out very soon. We're recording an E.P for LS!SO and also for Uncle Bunkle. We should have had it finished it by now but we're lazy people. The drums and guitars have been recorded for 4 songs by LS!SO. 3 new tracks have been recorded for Uncle Bunkle... not completely, but like 70%. We'd like to have 5 to 6 songs on both the eps

When can people expect to listen to these EPs?
I hope both of these will be done within the next 2 months, including the mixing. So yeah, in like, 2 months. 2 to 3 months.

Anything insightful that you'd like to convey to other lazy people? Any message?
Don't wait for tomorrow. Do it now. It's not going to get better tomorrow, but you can make it better right now. Or, you can keep on waiting for a good tomorrow, which is not going to come because you don't want it to. By the way, that's not a message. There is no message.

What about the one in the bottle? That's bad news for Sting.
The problem is some people think that's a song by Sting. But it's not! Sting is a soft drink. Can drinks make songs?

Hormones in action

'Can drinks make songs?'

Both bands have their respective soundcloud pages, and you can check out some of the music at:

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Photoelectric Effect - Cumulonimbus

'Photoelectric Effect' surfaced from Karachi sometime ago, with the release of an EP titled 'Cumulonimbus'. It's an ambitious effort, to say the least. Whereas a little more scrutiny on the mixing/mastering processes for a couple of the tunes could've greatly enhanced the overall sound of the offering, I'm not complaining. The minimalist/orchestral/piano based Post-Rock tunes composed by Asad Hussain and Ehsn Suri are indulgent, and border on the ethereal at times. Some of them revel in the musical possibilities brought on about using samples, which is always something to be appreciated. The tune that's featured here is also called 'Cumulonimbus', and has been described by the composers to be a 'journey through a storm cloud.' Subverting the duo's overt obsession with nubulous vapours, it comes across as a symbiosis between an organic creative process and a synthetic usage of instruments. The vacsillation between the calm/urgent dichotomy perhaps reflects the theme of the tune, which still manages to present itself as firmly situated under the auspices of 'Post-Rock' (Or, the variant of the genre touched upon by the likes of the brilliant Japanese instrumental trio Mouse on the Keys, at any rate).

Thursday, 14 February 2013

6LA8 - The Future Doesn't Care for You

This blog entry is about a duo who call themselves 6LA8, and is way overdue. The rate at which these guys produce music is mind-boggling: a quick glance at their bandcamp page reveals around twelve compilations, including collaborations and recordings of improvisation sessions. I remember talking to someone once who was vehemently asserting that this band has been very 'honest' when it comes to composing music, and hasn't shied away from experimentation. That is perhaps true. With an oeuvre that might be difficult to digest for many, the band has meddled with everything from experimental drone/ambient to post-rock.

This tune is called 'The Future Doesn't Care for You', and is taken from 'Chaos/Solipsism/Self-Projection', a joint release with 'Aus Rine'. The composition is drawn out flat, and different elements make their entry one after another. The ambient keys eventually morph into a beautiful wall of sound that engulfs everything within itself.

Friday, 4 January 2013

Orangenoise - Hopeful Creatures

//orangenoise's last release, 'A Journey to the Heart of Matter' is a continuum of sorts. The entire album is woven around a uniform archetype using the same fabric. Perhaps it reflects a conscious assertion of control and an envisioned direction. It shies away from randomness, and merely oscillates around its mutually agreed-upon core. The two tunes that stood out for me upon an initial listening were 'Children' and 'Hopeful Creatures'. Perhaps both are going against the grain. Or perhaps, both exhibit a direction that might've been snubbed. 'Children', for instance traverses from the obliviously saccharine to the precariously doubtful. While doing so, it touches upon areas visited by the likes of Deerhunter or even Sonic Youth. 'Hopeful Creatures' is an impelling display of complex-time signatures. Quite a lot of math involved there, I'm sure.

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Chi.Boss - IslamabadVice

Here's something interesting. A roughly-hewn bassline. A kick-snare combo making a foundation for a basic beat. Hi-hat hits flirting and swirling against flanged electronic debris. An awkward clearing that gives way to sinister/sleazy keys. Escalation, escalation, whitenoise, whitenoise, a complementary synth-line. Slippery when it comes to immediate intuitive grasp, it took me a few listens to absorb it fully. The tune is aptly titled 'IslamabadVice', and is composed by 'Chi.Boss': yet another musician to join the roster of the collective known as 'Forever South'. (Yes, they do crop up like steroid-fed mushrooms). The last few siren-yielding minutes of the tune are constantly pulsating. The pixelated cover art featuring a fat-bellied chillar/thulla just makes things better.