August last year, we were lucky enough to witness the historic Pettah Interchange gig in Colombo. What follows here has been extracted from a feature we did in collaboration with Pettah’s masterminds Border Movement, as part of its groundbreaking coverage of the simmering electronic music landscape of South Asia.
Even before Christopher Columbus slid into America, the Map has been a wide one.
But ever since Les Paul devised the 4-track recorder, Charanjit Singh picked up the 303 and Al Gore invented the internet, the Map has been contracting—in a glistening 3-d maze—on the palm of our hands. From Rio De Jinero to Limpopo, and Cologne to Senegal, the luminous allure of technology has opened exciting new doors for dance music, connected the disconnected dots, and violently humiliated its ethos at times.
Within this backdrop, there have been a handful of musicians busy building a tiny pin for Sri Lanka on this map, as examined and unearthed here. Still hung-over from the historic romp ofPettah Interchange, the morning after never quite carries all the romantic possibilities that seemed so real the night before. But luckily, it carries some of them. The success of these young producers, whose music straddle the spectrum from middling to great, will depend on a few factors: their work ethic, their capacity to soak up, explore, and their ear for music.
“Young people don’t know anything, especially that they’re young.”—If you read between the lines, Don Draper’s scathing observation is also a testimony to the pure, ´blank-slate` power held in being young and full of promise. As Paul Woolford puts it in the prologue to his Resident Advisor mix, “feel the push and pull of someone playing, rather than clinical perfection”. His thoughts are aimed at a different demographic, but if there’s a proverb of encouragement for these emerging producers, may it be this: Stay young—Leave your mistakes in.
I have fond memories of Kurunegala, the capital of the North Western Province of Sri Lanka and a prominent agricultural town 60 miles from Colombo: My first Technics MK5s were found and bought there (note: it’s near impossible to find MK5s in the country), in the basement of a starry-eyed 17-year old, his bedroom adorned with vintage Korg mixers and empty cardboard boxes of second-hand decks, as he spoke passionately about the complete disregard Customs officials have for handling high-end gear. Surely, there was something about Kurunegala and electronic music.
Hailing from the same town, ThriconA is a dark horse: Although hardly distinctive, his sound and aesthetic are quite fully-formed, falling somewhere in between the intertwining rhythms ofChymera, the skydiving propel of the Field and Ideas from the Pond. His soundcloud simply reads “sound | silence | space”, with minimally-patterned artwork (ThriconA stands for ‘triangle’ in Sinhalese) and suitably epic song titles which somehow sound strangely secular (“System of Asia”, “United Tribes”). There is space inside his tracks: the second or third layers of wall of sound engulfing you upon closer inspection. ‘The Avatar’ contains what sounds like a Pavarotti vocal sample. On “United Tribes”, arguably his best track, he treads that fine line between chocolaty bliss and over-production like a seasoned hand, as dreamy, Crydamoure-esque arpeggios and forever gliding bells float in and out of the mix.
Yet the line is a fine one: Ancient wisdom holds that Trance maybe one of the easiest genres to do, but one of the hardest genres to do right. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that the sound has been making a comeback (or rather, creeping in as an influence) within the more critically-acclaimed avenues of dance music, from Todd Terje’s keyboard-blitz “Inspector Norse” and KiNK’s swirling “Hand Made“, to the oceanic DJ sets of Peter Dundov and Donato Dozzy. Fortunately, ThriconA’s music connects not with Ferry Corsten White Parties, but those marathon warehouse gatherings of the late 90s: the discovery of the uninhibited rave—with none of the bullshit politics or door policies to ruin your night— just old brick-buildings, over-friendly punters and spacious music (and golden-era Mitsubishis). ThriconA may be some distance away from reaching those heights, but if Sri Lanka were to make a regional star out of a similarly untainted aesthetic, it could just be him: Open up the stadiums.
It feels like we are moving towards the cold parts, the abstract. Yet Isuru’s music is immediate, confronting: “A person and a bench” carries the impending sound of a distant yet not-so-distant Tsunami. The track which has a field-recoded quality to it, packs enough muscle to disturb a Funktion One rig. “Bipolar” is equally engulfing but more measured, existing somewhere between the fever of Bee Mask and the burning cinema of Fennesz. “Archetype reflection” pushes his Bee Mask towards Antarctica, plinking into a Heroic siege.
Isuru deals with subject matter revered by man: Nature, the circle of life, big oceanic slabs of noise. There are also bleepy, NSI-like experiments: in the backdrop of “Linguistic Formation”, you can hear suburban crows and three- wheeler horns conversing like an overlapping dream. It’s debatable whether he succeeds at storytelling, but his defining moment, undeniably does—Infinite and alive, “Chakra” is a throbbing, breathing journey through the pond. Eerie and heaven-bound, like Eluvium gazing into Emeralds, it’s the music you want to hear from light poles at night, blazing down, like a burning reminder about what we know about life and love.
Yet you can’t but help feel there is scope here for more: Encountering a forest bonfire where exotic drums are being played, Isuru could still be wondering along the coastline, too lost in the sound of the waves to take a peek at the woods. But if Demidike Stare’s evolution in crate digging or the sonically enamoring work of Pan Sonic is proof, the interplay between noise and rhythm is a worthwhile one—And one that could hold the key to another reverberating hallway within the growing sound collage of Isuru Kumarasinge. Unchain the drums, set the controls to the heart of the sun.
Daffy Maestro, or Stro as they call him, is a bit of an enigma: Seemingly more prolific than his Sri Lankan counterparts, there is free flow to his music, an almost analog warmth that overawes the tinny 1-0-1-0 of the digital revolution. He has range too, from lo-fi noodling and ambient to (what our ancestors used to call) trip-hop.
“Jester of the House” sounds like Moby channeling Boards of Canada and the Microphones, a little short of either’s finesse. “Smile” is a basket of strings, horns and sliding synths that tries to create a budding tapestry similar to the eternal knot (pictured above). It’s accompanied by lightweight snares that make it sound like an unfinished live take. Like many of his tracks, it’s not mixed to perfection, but that’s part of the charm. “Chair” contains warm double-bass combined with somewhat overstated strings. If one is unsighted, the border between Bonoboand Café del Mar can be a murky one, and Daffy should do well to stay closer to the former.
￼￼￼￼In an ideal world, Stro should be headlining artsy evenings at Colombo’s Barefoot (or at least playing the Side Room). But he seems a bit removed from the scene, instead quietly and independently making music since the last decade. Kandy, the country’s multi-layered hill capital where he hails from, seems to influence his similarly layered music. Then there’s the disarming honesty too: “I finished my first track called “Greatness” (it wasn’t great), 8 minutes long trip hop song which was mixed and mastered using computer 4.1 speakers…”
”… I realized how cool is it to make your own music like Dr Dre, Moby, or 9th wonder… those guys are super heroes. Then the journey began. I started off with FL Studio 2.0, the most versatile DAW I’ve ever seen in my life.” Daffy encompasses everything expected from a budding producer: his aim true, his infatuation with the craft sincere, and his head sincerely in-the-clouds.
Bristol, where Will Henley is part-based from, is the home of two of bass music’s most forward-thinking luminaries, Peverelist and Appleblim—two producers who have moved into that otherworldly space (or rather, strip) beyond genres, and tapped into the outer limits of rhythm. Move up along the Prime Median towards Lancashire and you can add Sam Shackleton to the list, and watch these limits further blur, rather ominously, and form a fierce nebula of sorts… of post-music, death and a mythical tribe dancing on your grave.
Will Henley isn’t quite conversing with mystical tribes or immortality yet, but it was refreshing to find a rookie producer dabbling with that one thing that makes bass music good: subtlety. His backward paddling rework of Arrested Development’s “Living” makes the track sound like a Blackstar-era smash. The drums do not carry the super-deep rattle and echo of Hi-Tek’s “Move Something”. But there’s a drunk, low-slung bassline which appears unexpectedly halfway in, erratically wobbling the mix. It’s hard not to feel that most new Drum & Bass sound a little dated, but there’s an unhurried propel about “Forgotten” which is reminiscent of the scintillating second-half of Pangea’s “Memories”—A good reference point without a doubt.
As he reveals in his soundcloud, Will is still learning the ropes of production, and there’s a breezy candour about the way he goes about it. Time will tell whether he can dig a little deeper, and warrant the ‘Sri Lanka-based’ geographical connection in his music through locality and influences too (i.e. more DJ /rupture than Diplo, or at least Favela on Blast-era Diplo). After all, the country is a haven for its own bass-heavy vibes—it seems Will has the chops to grasp some of these—he just has to look in the right corners.