Pakistan - Through The Eyes Of TMPST
17 March 2015
The alternative cultural space in South Asia is tiny, fragmented and limited to only a couple of metropolitan cities in an area that otherwise boasts districts larger than most European countries, and a population that seems to be multiplying faster than proverbial rabbits. That fact isn’t exactly surprising - electronic music has so far only infiltrated a particular class and strata of society. Technology forms its basis, and not everyone here has access to it.
But despite the tininess of the alternative music community, the majority of music journalists in South Asia (which mainly includes India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka in terms of our media coverage right now) mark the last few years as a cusp, a changing point in the way modern music is received by the urban dweller. We've seen an increasing number of (legitimate and shady as hell) promoters, venues and decent labels here in India. Down south, Sri Lanka has seen growth in the recent past, most of which can be linked directly to cultural support, has led to with new organisations (Bang Bang, Jambutek), events as well as a whole bunch of promising talent sprouting up all over the place. Over to our east, Bangladesh is progressively producing more quality sounds, creditable largely to the Dhaka Electronica Scene.
And then of course, nestled along our western margins, is Pakistan, the country of focus for the next edition of the Border Movement Lounge, which takes place on Wednesday this week. Bearing its flag is an artist we’re incredibly keen to hear live – Asfandyar Khan, also known by his musical alias TMPST. Khan creates contemporary bass, 2-step and garage inspired production as TMPST (which we’ll get to hear at the BM Louge) and downtempo, ambient, often post rock inspired music (think Eluvium circa 2009) under his own name. His deep connection with contemporary Pakistani urban culture and music has also led him to write for Border Movement in the past.
It’s an extensive artistic repertoire, which made him the perfect subject to give us a little insight into the lives of others across the border. We got in touch with the genre manipulating, longtime musical talent and scenester to talk about his upcoming performance, sound and the status of Pakistan’s music and parties.
TMPST describes his own work as “…a mixture of a post-dubstep/future bass sound, perhaps with a bit more emphasis on textures and ambience than a ‘club’ sound. Whenever I’m making music as TMPST that’s what I’m aiming for anyway.”
We were curious about TMPST’s influences, making the wrongful assumption that his country lacked live music when Khan was growing up. While that may have been true for the kind of alternative music we talk about now, we forget sometimes of Pakistan’s rich popular music culture and Khan is quick to point that out – “There actually was, (live music) to be honest, because I started to get heavily into music in the early 2000s, and that’s when Pakistani rock music really kicked off. Everyone was picking up guitars, and everyone was in a (terrible) band. That said, most of my inspiration and knowledge is down to the Internet. I honestly can’t imagine where we’d be as musicians without it.”
So what’s he excited about with his performance in the capital? “I’m mostly looking forward to just seeing Dilli, and meeting up with people involved in the scene, hoping to learn and figure out things that I can help replicate back home.”
Asfandyar lived in Pakistan’s capital Islamabad most of his life, only recently making the shift to what many acknowledge as the country’s artistic hub. “Karachi is definitely crazier and I can see that in the musicians and producers here. The city has more of a party scene than Islamabad, but a fair amount of those parties also play very mediocre music, so I’m not sure who wins out ultimately! It’s great, though, to be in a city that’s on fire, creatively speaking.”
An important element to Pakistani, particularly Karachi nightlife (or what exists of it) that has to be mentioned before we go further is the Forever South initiative (FXS). Based in Karachi and founded by Bilal Nasir Khan (Rudoh) and Haamid Rahim (Dynoman), FXS has been instrumental in encouraging upcoming talent and pushing new music from the region. In a previous article with Border Movement, Asfandyar had stated that what was lacking in Pakistani alternative music was “the presence of labels or promoters or clubs” as well as the restrictive laws (security concerns, illegality of having alcohol at events) that govern when, how and if parties are held. We asked him what role FXS had to play in improving the situation since then (if at all) – ‘To some extent FXS has closed the gap between making music in your bedroom studio and being able to play live or throw a party. It’s still not enough though, and it’s taken a toll on FXS itself, particularly DynoMan who seems to age a lot after every event. I honestly have no idea either how things could get better, unless a ridiculous amount of money is thrown into this fledgling industry.”
Community backing and the availability of an interested, enthusiastic audience is the backbone of any industry. We already mentioned the lack of promoters and venues and Khan reiterates that, telling us that while more people are involved in the space, “…they’re mostly just listeners. There’s nothing else in this ‘scene’ beyond the people who make the music, and the people who listen to it – no journalists, no promoters, no RJs, nothing. It is what it is though, and I think everyone’s learning to live with what they have and appreciate it in its own way.”
There’s no denying that we’ve got it a lot easier in India in terms of nightlife. We’ve got music pouring out of every second bedroom in every big city, parties that go on till relatively late at night (the word ‘relative’ being key here), new promoters sprouting up every so often and venues growing out of alleyways like garden weed. Asfandyar even told us that he thinks “…everyone in Pakistan is jealous of India and the scene there, and I know everyone wants to play there!” But it’s something else he said, when I asked him about the status of parties that caught my attention. – “Well, the last gig I played was over a year ago! FXS regularly hosts events ‘regularly’ means once every 3-4 months. It’s a terribly depressing state of affairs, but I guess there’s a silver lining too – I don’t know of a single musician/producer who dumbs down their music for the dancefloor. Everyone takes so many more chances musically as a result, because there’s nothing holding them back.”
See, there’s the difference. Sitting at a laptop, digging around for more information about Pakistani music culture made me realise that while we certainly win in terms of quantity (don’t we always?), we’ve got a lot more, how to I put this gently, crap, coming out India. To be fair, the same can be said about most music from around the world, but there tends to be more of a balance.
There’s nothing innately wrong with us, but it seems like, after the rapid growth of dance music and club culture in India, a lot of otherwise talented producers are making their music more people friendly at the cost of quality and creativity. Consider a sight we’ve all seen – someone’s made the effort to plan a set list, they’re standing at the console thinking everything is peachy keen when an angry 21 year marches up front and demands Calvin Harris play because it’s her birthday, goddamit. Unfortunately and unsurprisingly, most succumb to those pressures.
TMPST tells us, with much enthusiasm, when we ask about who else we should be listening to from Pakistan – “EVERYONE ON FXS! (sic) I can’t stress enough how brilliant this collective is and how every producer on it has a unique sound. Aside from that I think 6LA8 are amazing, veering in between that ambient/drone territory, as well as indie-folk artists like Shajie, Janoobi Khargosh. Nawksh is amazing as well, and is probably the craziest musician in Pakistan right now with his lo-fi absurdist anarchy, while Slowspin is right now my favourite musician in the country with her ambient singer-songwriter genius.”
Pakistan might not have a lot of venues, promoters or even, to a large extent, listeners. But the small groups that create its core don’t stop making music, and never create for the sake of it. They don’t need to care about trends or to cater to anyone but themselves, which is why we’ve seen so much genre crossing innovation coming from that side – from ambient and shoegaze to drone music, Urdu indie and so much more. It’s that kind of eagerness and passion for making the kind of music you truly love and want to listen to on and off the dance floor, which we could also benefit from. There’s a lesson in there.
THE SAME 3 QUESTIONS:
3 most inspirational artists:
3 favourite albums of all time:
Burial – Untrue
Rustie – Glass Swords
Lapalux - Nostalchic
3 favourite artists of the moment:
Words: Diya Gupta