Since time immemorial, music has been described as a universal language. Artists, scientists and technocrats, have shared a love for it. It is the one thing that surpasses even the arbitrary boundaries that we’ve superimposed between human and non-humans, earth & outer space. If you’re wondering why we’re spewing this sermon on the universality of music and its intersection with the arts, we have the answer for you. We’re reviewing a new, very niche project in electronic music that deals with these topics.
Led by Bangalore based educator, producer and DJ, Ishan Gaur, Safar is a collective represented by multi-genre artists who are at the beginning of their careers. It all started when Ishan, who was inspired by peripheral arts and sciences for his musical projects, designed an experiment where a group of musicians would respond to a common stimulus with musical creations. He wanted to see how a common stimulus can evoke varied responses within a control group and what that could possibly help the artists understand about creation, both in the big picture and in their own work. This led to an open call for artists on Instagram, followed up by a Discord server where Ishan and 20 other musicians began brainstorming on the stimulus for the first compilation.
The other pillar of Safar, apart from the experiment, is collaboration. From the very beginning, Ishan wanted the collaboration to stand for more than a commercial project about featuring the big names in the industry. He wanted the artists to feel like they were working together, but also be able to bring their individual creativity to it. When they were brainstorming the stimulus for the first compilation, everyone submitted an image and the one that received the highest votes, The Hand by Salvador Dali, was selected as the stimulus.
To take it a step further, every person involved at that point, submitted 2 original samples each, which formed the sample bank for the compilation creation. Over the course of a couple of months, 11 of the 20 artists responded to the stimulus with their creations, which eventually went on to become the first compilation “The Epoch of Dali”.
The first compilation is a humble introduction to the artists’ work, ranging from techno and electronica to breakbeat-infused grooves and ambient soundscapes. It was testament to what inspiration and creativity in the spirit of community can offer. What initially began as a humble experiment to study how musicians react to a stimulus, had now become a bonafide project and they needed a name for it. Here again, the pillar of collaboration came to the rescue, and they brainstormed their way to Safar.
Perhaps, one of the rarest quality about Safar is the openness with which it works. While the music scene has seen many collectives juggling for control, Safar is a free to walk-in, free to participate and free to leave at your will. In fact, Ishan thinks of it as an NGO.
As a natural conclusion, the first compilation was offered freely across platforms, with optional donations, should anyone be so inclined. He wants the artists to focus more on the creation of the art rather than how it would sound to those who listen to it. In this way, Safar encourages true introspection of oneself while also providing a platform for those sounds to be heard.
Artist response aside, Safar’s compilations have managed to drum up some interest in the general public as well. While the tracks do not lend to club music or commercial radios, some of them found their way to the community radio stations at boxout.fm. The compilations have also drummed up a lot of interest amongst other budding music producers who wanted to be a part of the project. In fact, from the first compilation of 11 artists, the second compilation which came out in November 2021, included 16 artists.
Moving away from the concept of visual arts, the second compilation took on pondering space and time. The visual stimulus was the picture of a man looking into space where there seem to be multiple planets. An additional caveat, maybe the most daunting one, was that none of the artists could produce a track that followed the 4 by 4 rhythm. Despite the challenge, the pillars of collaboration and openness, made it possible for the artists to be free with themselves and their craft. Without the fear of judgement the artists were able to experiment and produce what they could.
Dreamier and more esoteric than the first compilation, Celeste was also one where the experimental sounds really landed on their feet. The goal was to break away from habits and patterns in creation. Trading in the comfort of the standard four to the floor rhythm for odd time signatures and wonky samples, the project started in anticipation of creating something unique. Every artist and their creation was linked to a planet, and the entire compilation took on the form of a celestial system.
The release was accompanied by an artwork of the planet for each track and a write up of how they imagine the planet to be. All this work, was once again produced collaboratively with artists on the compilation, which has come together remarkably well to produce a coherent vision of a galaxy.
It is interesting to see that Safar wasn’t an idea that lost steam after the first compilation or that it hasn’t been criticised for its lack of commercial outlook. In fact, if we can venture a guess, the lack of restrictions imposed by capital investment and it being replaced by a sense of collaboration are probably what have kept the artists coming back to it. We’re increasingly seeing a pervading sense of producing music for the sake of production, promotion for the sake of fame and a loss of principles becoming a norm in the burgeoning electronic music scene. The music in the scene is being pushed to the background and true friendship seems to be a thing of the past, which is a shame because as any musician will tell you, a shared experience of creation with a fellow musician trumps any commercial or superficial interaction that one might have.
In the face of rapidly changing dynamics, small scenes like Safar are sanctuaries for musicians to retain their peace and foster their creativity without the fear of being judged. As they plan for their third compilation, throwing around ideas on the Discord server once more, we hope their work will inspire others out there to form their own little scenes that can keep the music in the industry alive!