Despair is the new normal.
There, we said it.
But what does the phrase ‘new normal’ even mean anymore. Ever since Covid, everything, from bread to Zoom calls, has been touted as the new normal. Predicting the ‘new normal’ is the new normal. Ironically though, Covid has made us realise that there is no ‘normal’ and that life is truly uncertain. This feeling comes through in spades in the latest EP, ‘New Wave Synthesis’, by Instinct.
The EP surprises the listener with rapidly changing moods from one track, in fact, from one bar to the next. Designed to be listened to in one sitting, it flows through a vast variety of genres and feelings in a seamless flow. Channeling the spirit of Squarepusher, Azaan, the musician behind Instinct goes from breaks to IDM to experimental ambiences flawlessly.
The EP begins with ‘Endless Guilt’, a track that builds a melody that complements a sampled vocal in a distant ambience. A minute into the track, Azaan drops the beat and layers it with intricately programmed breaks and bass that almost goad the melody into picking up the pace. The background is rich with clanging metal percussions setting up the stage for what’s to come. ‘Tunnel at the End of the Light’ picks up where Endless Guilt ends, with a retro sounding melodic loop ‘tunnelling’ into a groovy drum beat that eventually shapes up into rhythmic drum and bass supported by a physically modelled melody. The highlight of the track are the occasionally peaking breaks layered on top of the beat.
This sets up wonderfully for ‘For the Greater Good’ which plays with what sounds like the popular ‘Amen Break’ to begin with. It plays with the break before it eventually becomes a completely new break that complements the staccato playing by Azaan. The last track ‘Sunset Storm’ closes the album with an ambient interlude that encapsulates the unsettling feeling of the EP quite poignantly. By now, the listener is aware that it isn’t possible for this ambience to be all that there is to the track. It is almost that one is expecting for the play with the breaks to begin and crescendo into a a minute of pure melodic breaks.
Noosphere Networks, the label on which Azaan has released this EP, has consistently been releasing groundbreaking work by old and new talent. After the debut album, Ethnica, also on Noosphere, with this EP Azaan shows growth towards an IDM approach towards his music. His training with classical music lends a unique edge to his sound. We briefly interviewed Azaan to understand his process behind the EP and his hopes for the future.
- What drove you (a concept/ideology/idea) to make “New Wave Synthesis”?
Well it was definitely when the lockdown began and all life came to a standstill. My opinions or thoughts were not exactly mainstream, I was watching the turmoil and also being ridiculed online for having a different opinion, so ‘New Wave Synthesis’ was my outlet at the time, when I was frustrated about what was happening around me and was unable to speak or escape or even just lead a normal life, I just started making music that mirrored what was in my head at the time.I think that’s why parts off the album are so rigid and aggressive sounding.
- How has your work changed/evolved/grown since your previous release, “Ethnica”?
I feel like I evolve constantly as an artist, I’m always up to experiments and trying new things and learning as I go along. Ethnica in my opinion was the first releasable piece of music, props to Noosphere from Bombay for giving experimental music a platform and some much needed support. NWS is a far way forward from Ethnica in every aspect, whether it be the detail of design, or the overall depth I’m able to give my music. This piece is also now almost 1.5 years old, and I’m already looking at this as basic, compared to the new work I am going to release soon, hopefully there won’t be such a big gap this time.
- What was your sound set-up for this EP?
I always describe my music as mix media, I design my own sounds through analog/modular gear, I sample from things I hear or have recorded myself, I try a lot of generative mathematical synthesis to come up with original wonky stuff. My setup for this was primarily the Moog DFAM and SubH for a lot of the design, I had a few small volcas at the time on which I did some of the baselines and beats. Other than that it has samples of santoor from the 1970’s, some local chants and rhythm patterns here and there, I also used a lot of Reaktor on this.
- What does your music practice entail behind the scenes? Your inspirations/hopes/dreams etc?
Possibly the easiest answer is that it entails discipline. Just the discipline of spending time with music everyday. For me it doesn’t have to be planned or prepared for, I know that part of my day will be spent with some music or the other, whether it’s producing experimental stuff or whether it’s just sitting and playing a melody on the uke and writing some lyrics. If you chip away at it everyday, you’re bound to get something of value.
My hopes and dreams aren’t really tied to my music, I just want to live a comfortable independent rat race free life without stepping on other peoples toes, musically I hope to keep evolving and releasing music that someone somewhere can benefit from emotionally or in any capacity, or even just music that im proud of making.
- What is, in your opinion, the most exciting thing about the Indian electronic music scene right now? What is the biggest challenge?
I currently run my own electronic music venue in Goa, so I’m privy to both sides of the coin quite a bit. I think the exciting thing is that the edgy, notorious, underground sound is slowly finding a well sized audience, I feel like the audiences and artists alike have matured (most of them at least), and people aren’t as afraid to experience or listen to something off centre.
The biggest challenge is probably still distribution. Putting things up on Spotify and Bandcamp just isn’t enough, the algorithms work very discriminately and predictably. More Channels/Events and awareness is needed for the experimental sound to make a stage for itself here in India. With festivals like Magnetic Fields and especially Echoes curating some extremely interesting artists now, I’m hoping for better times ahead.
Azaan or Instinct isn’t someone you see performing on a lot of bills or releasing a lot of music. Yet, being for a family of traditional musicians, it is almost in his blood to make music. And perhaps, that is why an EP release isn’t something he is seen doing often – because making music is second nature to him.