Accidental or ingenious? Either way, the title of Asvajit‘s fourth EP, “Hopper“, manages to work three-fold: (1) Perhaps what you see is what you get, cool little artwork based around a cool little creature; or (2) it’s a ‘hopper’ in the same way a dancefloor ‘burner’ is a burner. Or rather more tellingly (3), it represents an artist slowly (or sneakily) trying to hop away from a tried-and-tested formula.
If the answer is indeed the latter, then his success rate depends on a few factors.
First (1), the context:
Asvajit is the leader of the new-school of Sri Lankan dance music, ushering in an era of bedroom-producers making it overground, beyond the beach-side romps and “EDM”-parties that made Sri Lanka somewhat of a mini-hotspot in the subcontinent. Make no mistake, some of those parties were good, but it was the rise of a handful of producers making their own music and events like the Pettah Interchange that gave the scene its soul and voice. And yet, 2 to 3 years down the line, at least to the casual observer, it seemed not much has changed, or rather evolved, from the initial blueprint of impressionable set of producers doing their own take of the music they love. To a lesser degree, perhaps this applied to Asvajit’s work too (with the notable exception of Warran Dub, when we expressed our support of him exploring the dub aspect of his sound), the producer himself implying a certain dissatisfaction with his past work. And if this was the context, things were set up just right for him, to take things to the next logical step.
Secondly (2), the impact:
By now, Asvajit has had the time and opportunity to travel to some of the original sources of his inspiration, and to witness and play alongside some of the music’s pioneers. The network and ecosystem around him had grown considerably, and whilst with this came the pressure to perform and better your past work, it had perks too: the template of exposure was considerably broader, and whatever music you put out, more heads (some of them of labels, hopefully) were bound to listen. Yet paradoxically, the success of these new EPs should be weighed on the impact they have on the local landscape too. Whilst that remains to be seen, we hope they inspire a legion of younger artists to explore sounds beyond what is immediately accessible to them.
Finally (3), the music itself:
Is it good? While Hopper managed to execute an interesting set of ideas, it felt like it struggled to carve out a voice of its own, with one (tentative) foot in tech-house and another, in funk. Pillow Talk succeeds in this aspect decidedly more: the samples feel more thought out, the hooks (and licks) more natural and freewheeling, and the tonality of it all, more cohesive. Of course, nothing here sounds new, or like music that has never been done before. But within the above context (1), things sound afresh: The seaborne pads and twinkling bells of “Lady Bird” summon the ghost of Massive Attack and SCSI-9. Title track “Pillow Talk” is a highlight, its hefty bass stabs anchoring deep, its bottomless atmosphere sounding like (a less sombre) Deadbeat. “Tough Enemy” cruises through, with a cocktail of hurried drums & samples blending into a beat Blackstar could freestyle on. By the time those Baduiztic whispers/moans and infectious Maurice Fulton-like horns take hold on “That’s the Funk” (with a subtle sitar doing work, too), the message is quite clear: It’s time to shake out of the mold. And here, Asvajit does just that, through a strong 4-tracker whose individual tracks hold their own, which while being somewhat stylistically apart, manage to work as one.