We Accidentally Started EDM Beef in Pakistan
Left to right: Forever South crew members Dreadnaught, Run Circles, Alien Panda Jury, EMPEROR LEPHANT, and Toll Crane
Last week we started a certifiable shitstorm with our profile of rising Islamabad producer, Talal Qureshi, who made some comments about his competition roughly 1,400 miles to the South in Karachi—particularly the collective known as Forever South. Among several other barbs, Qureshi accused the group of over-sampling old Urdu songs, and making "trippy" music that is over-influenced by hashish and ecstacy. Immediately after the piece was published, Talal took to his Facebook and Twitter to try to save face, saying that there had been a "misunderstanding," and implying that THUMP had altered his interview.
We wanted to get to bottom of this he-said-she-said fiasco, so we struck out to learn more about Qureshi's role in the Pakistani scene at large. In the process we encountered an entire scene of young dance music fiends who had previously flown beneath our radar, most of them hailing from the world's third largest city—Karachi.
Karachi may be the closest analogue Pakistan has to New York or Bombay, but these days, political violence and organized crime often overshadow its teeming cultural scene. A collective of Karachi-ite beat makers, under the banner Forever South—or FSX for short—are working to change that, with a stacked roster of artists and multimedia events rarely seen elsewhere in Pakistan.
FSX duo Treehouse serves brittle, synth-heavy grooves on "Our House," while crew founder Dynoman’s most recent single "Geese Geese" pairs sped-up tabla drums with frenetic melodies and haunted machine sounds. Meanwhile, the crew's younger artists Alien Panda Jury and Toll Crane emerged out of the shoegaze band Orange Noise, and they still play guitar on the side. While a lot of Pakistani EDM fans and producers elsewhere are fixated on the accessible and outdated sounds of candy raver trance and dubstep, what comes out of Karachi is often psychedelic and unnervingly experimental. "A lot of people are promoting bad Punjabi pube-step," says Toll Crane, whose spooky Halloween single "Coy Boys" recalls Nitzer Ebb when Nizter Ebb had balls.
We let the collective's members defend themselves against their grumpy Northern cousin, and they told us about throwing warehouse parties, "projection mapping and visual synchronization" and their connections to Istanbul's electronic underground. Forever South co-founders Dynoman & Rudoh, artist Toll Crane, and the man who taught them all how to make music with a computer, Dalt Wisney, all weigh in.
Karachi shoegaze and electronic songwriter, Toll Crane
THUMP: "Coy Boys" sounds like some serious synth shit. Where do you see your work fitting?
Toll Crane: Well, I don’t really follow the scene so much—I just listen to mixes off and on. I’d say my main influences are acid techno, maybe house and four-on-the-floor stuff. The producer Actress is a big motivator and inspiration to me. He’s more avant-garde but the guy speaks the truth with his tracks. He somehow pins the exact feeling I get while coming down from something, like early morning brain sparks. But I also like making bangers sometimes.
The track sounds totally different from what Talal Qureshi said about Forever South. I didn’t hear anything too “trippy” or anything with the Urdu samples he was complaining about. Where did he get that?
I have no idea. There’s a little bit of a controversy regarding that, and all the artists on the roster want to clear the air. More than anything it's about Forever South being misrepresented by him. The only Urdu samples you might hear in our entire catalogue are from Dynamoman’s EP Naubahar, which was his passion project. What Talal said about drugs was also pretty stupid—there’s no scene if you shun the people who do drugs. That’s horse shit.
How much of his disconnect with you guys has to do with his current residence in sleepy Islamabad?
Wel, Islamabad is extremely beautiful when it comes to nature, but the city life is fucking boring. It’s extremely dead if you don’t know anyone there. But if you didn’t know anyone in Karachi it wouldn’t give you the feeling of a dilapidated cemetery. Karachi is a living city, there’s shit going on. After 8PM Islamabad shuts down. All the house lights are switched off. It’s a town full of retired army uncles. So, I think he’s super disconnected [laughs].
What’s been the biggest news this year for Forever South?
In Karachi we’ve thrown four shows this year, and this is a city where it's hard to get them going. It's really hard to do shit like this, but we’ve been throwing shows without fights or drama. And the shows aren’t dry either. That’s unheard of. Dynoman has been actively involved in putting these shows on. He’s right on top of it. We have three shows lined up in Karachi, Islamabad and Lahore for next year. Maybe I’ll see Talal there.
Forever South co-founder Rudoh
Dynoman & Rudoh
THUMP: So Talal really caused a scene with his comments in the interview we published. I heard Talal Qureshi was connected with all of you during the early days, how true is that?
Dynoman: I’ve known him for three years. He used to live in Karachi actually. I even invited him to the first gig we held because I knew of him as a talented producer, and in fact we all started out together as an outfit called Karachi DJ Rampage or KDR. We all gave him that kind of respect. But apparently he isn’t happy with the local scene.
Rudoh: There’s a way to collaborate and cooperate musically. There’s a process. We’re not doing this to disinclude people; we’re trying to get people to work together. We offered Talal a lot of stuff. It was hard to work with him though.
He seems like he could be touchy.
R: We were trying to release his EP, but he kept trying to release it when he thought it should be released. He didn’t understand how a label and an artist are supposed to interact with each other.
D: He can be difficult. Also, his comment about us overusing Urdu samples is completely false, maybe 5% of our songs have an Urdu sample, if that.
R: And what if we did use Urdu samples—what of it? Are you denying the fact that you’re Pakistani? Are you denying us our own heritage?
D: Well, Talal says it's all a misunderstanding on his Facebook.
R: Whatever. I think that people are butt-hurt about something they said getting around. And they don’t have the decency to stand by what they said.
Other than being slagged off by a former associate in VICE, it sounds like Forever South has had a big year this year.
D: We released a couple of singles last year, and we released my album, an album by Tree House, and then we had three shows. The first show was in January in a warehouse.
R: When we were told about an artists' commune with a warehouse we could book, we thought it was gonna be mad money because the space is gigantic. But the owner hooked us up with a price, and we loved the place. It was a really open space with a projection setup. We held our first gig there. Then we also played our third show there with a higher budget. The only problem is the artists' commune is a ways from the heart of the city. People really into the scene come, though. Our last show had 240 heads.
D: But our next shows are in the heart of the city. We also have a radio show called Forever South Fridays. We're preparing for our 2014 season of that—right now we're asking for mixes for it.
Anything happening before 2014 rolls around?
D: The New Years party is going to be off the hook!
R: If anyone finds out it’ll be crazy! We’ll have 6 million people coming in with their vadera (personal) guards.
D: No bro, it’s better if we get it in VICE.
R: I just finished my thesis on projection mapping and visual synchronization, so for the next December show we’ve planned out actual 3D projections that can be interacted with by the crowd. We’re gonna have 3D models with 3D projection happening on it. There's gonna be tons of new stuff.
Big tings! How did this all come about?
R: No one has really come out and said this properly but, Dalt Wisney pretty much mentored us. He's the one among us who left Pakistan, and he's living and spinning in Istanbul. But he was the only one we knew making beats, at the time on Reason 3. He went to the Red Bull Music Academy in Melbourne—apparently he was with Flying Lotus and Madlib. He studied there for two weeks, and when he came back he single-handedly started a revolution. He's so passive about it—he doesn't give a fuck and he doesn't see what he's done. But we've been very lucky victims of that. He started a label called Mooshemoo, and began putting out us and his friends. And he was the one who taught us how to make beats on this software. It all comes from a bunch of pothead kids hanging out with him, learning how to make beats, and Dalt's younger brother plays drums in Orange Noise, which in turn gave birth to Alien Panda Jury and Toll Crane.
D: We used to play in rock bands at the same shows back when we were 15. Back then, I thought I was the only one making beats. Before there was KDR there was one night we used to do at Dalt Wisney's house. A lot of the present roster used to get together and make beats back then at his place, and we used to play them for each other. It became a night, just us ten guys—ten blokes sitting around. That gave us an idea to form a collective. Today, I honestly truly feel like everyones doing a super job. Big props to Dalt Wisney who started this.
RBMA alum, Istanbul-based producer Dalt Wisney
The guys in Forever South say you were a huge influence on them getting into beat making. How do you see that?
I was just making music and Rudoh happened to be around, and ended up hanging out with me. He was friends with my brother. I'd smoke joints, and they all wanted to hang out with me. They always wanted to hear what I was listening to, which in 2006 was Madlib, J Dilla, Daedelus, and a lot of early Warp releases. I started doing this sort of stuff in 2002 after reading some magazine interview about some kids making music with Fruity Loops. I said, "What the fuck—this guy is making an album with Fruity Loops? I should stop playing Counterstrike."
It was trial and error, figuring out how to mix a track, how not to mix a track. When I met the Forever South guys they were always jamming upstairs. They were always jamming in that traditional “rock music” guitar, drums, bass setup. They just showed curiosity, like, "How did you make this sound?" I handed them my software and a whole lot of music on an external drive.
They mention you coming back from the RBMA being a major catalyst for the scene.
Going to the RBMA changed everything. Before that I was always alone sitting around making electronic music. At the Red Bull Music Academy, it was the first time I met people using the same software, or making the same choices, or lack of choices [laughs]. I wanted that community. After leaving the RBMA I got friends together. I tried to work on a vibe. I still have the first few tracks those Karachi kids made, and I still think they’re awesome tracks. It’s like their personality went into the machine and came out.
And now you're in sexy Istanbul. How have the past 2 years panned out?
I just put out a release on a label out here. There is a really nice unit of people I work with, and I have no idea how I fell into this circle. I've been doing a lot with my girlfriend for the past year. What I like about Istanbul is the people. They're very open. Istanbul has a really big indie/punk scene and a huge electronic scene. It’s massive—it's on par with any major city. It just doesn’t get the kind of recognition other places do. It’s huge, beyond deep house and trance. There’s enough for people into other kinds of music.
Any more plans for maybe a longer full-length release?
I’m working on my album, it should be out this year, it's called Wisney Land. I spent five years after the RBMA locked up in a room with a lot of records, a lot of hash, just making music. I did that all day everyday. I barely slept. I have about 1,200 to 1,500 tracks I’m just sifting through. I’m about four years behind, listening to the tracks and putting them together—putting out EPs. I think I should have maybe put stuff out a little earlier. But I’m glad I didn't put it out in Karachi—I just made it there.
1500 tracks? Fuck. How are you gonna get through that?
I don’t smoke weed or anything out here, I don’t spend much time in front of a machine. I’m just trying to put the old stuff out and make a career out of it. It’s like the time I spent back home in Karachi is now ripening over here. Istanbul has been my favorite place on Earth so far. I have really good friends here. the support I've gotten from Turks is mind blowing. Theres a huge language barrier but I’m thinking of signing up for lessons.
Sounds good. Doesn't sound like you're eager to go back to Karachi anytime soon.
When I was in Karachi there wasn't much of a scene. I don't want to use the word, but it was like a prison. You can maybe go house to house, maybe get high with different people. But there weren't really places to see shows at the time. I always wanted to just go home and back to making music. Actually, I’m just trying to get back to that mindset. It's changed. Being in Istanbul is not like being in Karachi.
Prison seems like a harsh way to put it, I mean, is there a positive way to put that?
Karachi feels like a prison in a sense. I grew up there, but I never really liked Karachi much. I always wanted to cycle around greener pastures, but I was stuck in that city. When I moved to Karachi as a kid it was during the peak of violence and kidnapping. I wasn't allowed out of the house—I was given a computer and books and a telescope. I was, like, a nerdy kid. I would go back from school, go to a pirated video games and music store and go home. That's how I started making music. I got one of those Korean pirated CDs with the music software in it, which I installed. So I think I mean prison in a positive sense, maybe like being stuck in a library. You make the most of it.