There are few artists who sound as unique as MALFNKTION. When you imagine his powerful yet somehow soothing bass playing off the powerhouse of sampling, Raka, the mind boggles. Clearly, both the artists (and their audience) think so too. In their latest project, titled Raaja Beats, the two have come together to produce an EP that cuts across languages, cultures and generations.
The EP was originally conceptualized in 2018 and since then has been played at many venues in many formats. During the lockdown, the Bengaluru based producers finally found the time to compile the disparate elements into a complete body of work. Inspired by the compositions of the prolific film composer Ilaiyaraja, MALFNKTION and RAKA attempt to “revitalise a classic period, represent its melodies and grooves in a format that resonates with a new generation of listeners.
Intrigued by the individuality that shone through the collaboration, we interrogated their process, in a hope to understand how their brain functions.
You both are quite successful in your individual careers as musicians. What value do you think collaboration brings to artistic work? How do you think working together on Raaja Beats helped justify the interpretation of works by Ilayaraaja?
Raka: Collaboration definitely expands the mind when it comes to creating a whole body of work.
Malfnktion and I have very distinct yet recognizable styles. With that said, when we got together we ended up creating a sound that is so unlike what we’ve done before and yet contains both our characteristics. We learned something new everyday about each other’s processes, techniques and production methods.
Music aside, when it came to the artwork, we had a clear direction of how we wanted to package this project, and would go back and forth over the single artworks, down to the social media promos, and figure out what works, what doesn’t.
The reason why the whole project came out the way it did was because we both thoroughly enjoyed the process, because we keep it 100% real with our communication, and have a great balance.
Aditya: I believe collaboration allows one to expand an artistic vision and learn a lot in the process. Almost all my projects involve collaboration across mediums and with Raaja Beats, it was important to have another interpretive angle to Ilaiyaraaja’s music. Raka and I both produce HipHop and Bass-centric dance music and we’re both from South India. Having grown up listening to Ilaiyaraaja’s music, I think Raka and I were specially tuned in to the old school frequencies of 80s and 90s South Indian film music yet we could create something entirely unique combining our signature styles.
Tell me about the process of creating this work. How did you approach it? How much thinking went into it beforehand or was it primarily impromptu? What was the musical set up? How much time did you take to put together the album?
Raka: The project has taken us about 2 years to make.
When we got into the studio early last year in April, we laid down the ideas for Pothi Vecha, Ninnukori and Raja Rajathi in the first two days alone. It was just out of sheer spontaneity and having fun, but we did keep in mind that since these were Ilaiyaraaja’s classics, it was key to retain the original essence of those tracks, which I feel we’ve succeeded in doing so.
As for the set up, we both run Ableton on our MacBooks so it’s easy to exchange session files and work remotely. We have the Korg PadKONTROL and Push 2 to lay down ideas, Yamaha HS5 and HS10 monitors, Audio technica M50x headphones for mixes, Native Instruments Keyboard.
Aditya: We had several Raaja Beats sessions at my studio since early 2019. We tried to meet up as often as we could. Working as Raaja Beats, we kind of leapt out of our individual music projects to sit and hang out as two beat makers and friends exploring the internet, finding old classics hidden in obscure blogs and playlists, my aunt’s collection and youtube uploads. We’d end up remixing two or three tracks in a session or rework stuff from previous sessions. After many, many hours, Raaja Beats session complete for the day, project files exchanged between computers, we’d chill and check out the latest releases and sets, mostly high intensity shit. Making an EP really doesn’t take long if you feel you’ve reached the end of the journey with a particular sound or idea. With Ilaiyaraaja’s music and rediscovering our roots, we dove in, seeing how far we could go. In the last year, I’ve played various edits of Raaja Beats, (some of the tracks have at least ten versions) at clubs and festivals, that’s helped shape the sound as well.
What are your feelings about what you’ve produced? Do you have a favourite track (either one that gave you joy to produce or one that is superb to listen to or both)
Raka: Every track is a standout track on the album in my opinion. However, Pothi Vecha was one track that really set the tone for the album. The first track Malfnktion and I made together. It’s unconventional in so many ways.
Aditya: The EP and release came together really well. We’re glad to see people listening, sharing and reacting positively. I think the time of release has been special because most things went to shit in 2020 but here we have this ridiculously fun album that we get to complete. The last couple of months, Raaja Beats lit up the day, it has vibrant energy but dark energy as well, especially towards the end. Pothi Vecha and Vaa Vaa Anbe are current favourites, but this is subject to change.
I read somewhere that Raaja Beats has a future with multiple releases. Tell me about your plans?
Raaja Beats: We are looking forward to more releases under the Raaja Beats umbrella, considering we’ve found our niche and of course having a successful start. Let’s see what the future holds!
What is the one advice that you would give to the young producers (like me) who are just starting out, especially considering the fact that we have now gone through an intense experience of a pandemic?
Raka:An idle mind is a devil’s playground. Especially during times like these where you’re spending most of your time indoors, it’s important to focus on your strengths and just create or learn something new every single day. Even if it improves something by a small percentage.
The lockdown was a blessing in disguise for me as it gave me the time I needed to self reflect, do things that made me happy, and reconnect with my purpose of being an artist/producer.
Aditya: I think in many ways it’s a great time to be a producer. Everyone’s at home now anyway and glued to their phones and computers, earphones on perpetually. The lack of gigs and live events sucks but it also levels the playing field. There’s a lot of opportunity right now to produce original content, I’d advise anyone starting out to not put yourself in a box. Make use of all the platforms and tools available to you and collaborate!