Now, for someone like me, someone who goes out of his way to intentionally subject himself to the most fucked up sounds, the harshest noises, the most un-tuneful shit that could ever possibly be laid down in a recording — it's extremely rare to be surprised by new music. But this record blew my head apart.
I eventually got in touch with Hari, and helped book him a couple of Beijing shows last March. At the time, he was en route from playing in Delhi and Punjab to making his US debut at major music industry conference South by Southwest, where he shared the stage with Das Racist rapper and fellow Indian-diaspora cultural radical Heems. The live experience was comparably batshit. Quoting myself:
"Landing in Beijing after a panicked scramble to secure a backup venue, the DJ, clad in a full-body, electric-pink pajama kurta, had to construct his own booth at Beijing’s School Bar. No stranger to improvisation or threatening imagery, he created his own platform out of a discarded wooden door studded with jutting, rusted nails, barely balanced on a concrete ballast ordinarily crammed with half-drunk beer bottles gripped tightly in the hands of the dive bar’s punk rock regulars... HVAD positioned his hard-case of vinyl LPs on the far side of the stage, ceremonially crossing from side to side in the process of selecting tunes, pausing frequently to confront the audience with his wild-eyed grimace and an inimitable battery of hand gestures and body language seemingly collaged together from a discarded reel of acid-stained Bollywood celluloid."
photo by REProduce founder Rana Ghose
Though Hari was only in Beijing for a bit over 72 hours, he caught the China bug big-time. He came back last week at the invitation of Beijing-based producer Jonas "Jelly" Søndberg, who, like Kishore, hails from the Albertslund suburb of Copenhagen. Making the most of the return trip, he'll be performing once again this Thursday, May 14 at Dada for Gulou Double Decker #4, before heading down to Suzhou to perform at the Midi Electronic Festival on Saturday.
I caught up with HVAD at Balance Productions, the studio where he's currently holed up, to talk about producing for Chinese pop stars, 24-hour film scores, milk crate sound systems, his communal dubplate cutting service and Syg Nok record label, and the "mathematical reality" in his music...
SmBJ: How did you begin making music in Albertslund/Copenhagen? I know you had your crew, Albertslund Terror Korps, when you were first starting out... How did you develop your musical style and visual identity at the beginning?
HVAD: I started out with production work when I was quite young. I think I started making computer music when I was 12. Around then, even before then, I was using records and scratching at home, and soon I started going out with milk crates and turntables in taxis. We had a homemade sound system that we used, and then we went up and played at parties and stuff. Later on it got more and more into me strictly playing my own things, in more of a performative way.
SmBJ: What got you into the culture of producing? Were your parents really into music? Or did you have other influences within Denmark or from outside?
HVAD: Definitely, yeah, influences all around me. My father had some records in his home, when he came to Denmark from India he brought some records with him. At some point he bought like 1,000 vinyls for 1,000 kuai, to sell them. But when I was born there were still some left, so I was using that to scratch with.
SmBJ: What kind of vinyl was it? Totally random?
HVAD: Random things… like Indian classical and disco music.
SmBJ: How do you classify your own music? It's not really any one genre, you have these Indian influences, but then it's all over the place. Were there certain parties you played in Denmark or specific influences that shaped the sound? To me it sounds really chaotic...
HVAD: Yeah, I had different influences around me as a human being, put where I was. Chaotic... probably, if you look at it that way. It depends how you want to call it. Chaos, or life, or patterns in mathematical reality. It can look chaotic, or it can look very systematic, geometrical. Chaotic/geometric are maybe two different things, but they also meld together. I'm a part of it, like everyone else.
SmBJ: So what is your goal, as a composer, when you're making and performing this music? What are the most satisfying moments to you personally?
HVAD: Probably when I, in live situations, feel like I've ventilated and hosed energy.
SmBJ: You also run your own record label, SYG NOK. How did you get the idea to start the label? What does the name mean?
HVAD: SYG NOK means "ill enough" in Danish. It's a label that I started back in 2006 with a friend called Teppop, which means "terror" in Russian. He was a big inspiration to me. He taught me everything about analog synthesizers and computer music. We soon expanded the crew, so now it's more like a foundation than a record label. We all do different things in different parts of the world now. Teppok is in America, I'm here, one is in Germany, one is in Copenhagen...
SmBJ: And within Copenhagen you also run a communal service for pressing dubplates, right?
HVAD: Yeah, for cutting records.
SmBJ: Why did you start doing that? How did you get the technical knowledge and equipment necessary to start something like this?
HVAD: Yeah, basically it was just about cutting records. I was releasing my own records because no one else would do it, or if they wanted to, they wanted to at least control how it would look or sound in some way that I didn't really feel comfortable with. So I'd rather release my own stuff. So, soon I was going to record cutting studios in England and Germany, and later on I got the idea with some friends from the local culturehouse that we should do a record cutting service for our own community. I got in touch with someone in our community who had a cutting lathe. It was broken, and we fixed it. And now we have an even better lathe. I've been cutting records for 7 years now.
SmBJ: When you performed last March at School and Dada, you were DJing, but you're playing your own music, on records you cut yourself and released on your own label, and you also have some live inputs, like Tibetan singing bowls and digital tanpura, not to mention some crazy stage moves. Where is the line between live performance and DJing for you?
HVAD: It's pretty melded together right now. I feel more like a performer than a DJ today, but DJing is my, how would you say it… my main instrument as a player, as a performer. But yeah, as you say, I play my own compositions, along with some instruments. It's like my guitar is the turntables.
SmBJ: You're back in Beijing after briefly passing through for two shows in March, in between a few gigs in Delhi and Punjab and your US debut at South by Southwest. What made you want to come back here?
HVAD: I feel very much at home here in China, actually. It seemed familiar in some way. I'd never been here before, but it still felt familiar. Even though I've been spending most days on this return trip in a dark studio room, I feel at home here. I only see the sunlight for like one hour a day... but Beijing feels comfortable and exciting.
SmBJ: You're back in Beijing primarily at the invitation of a friend to do some studio production work. What are the production projects you're working on now?
HVAD: I'm currently visiting and working at Balance Productions in Beijing. I was invited by Jelly, my friend from Albertslund. We've known each other since we were teenagers, maybe before. We met for the first time after many years the last time I was in Beijing. So he invited me to work on some projects here, to help out with some mixing and mastering, and co-produce some of the tracks he's working on. The two artists we're working with are pretty interesting. One is a really well-known pop singer, who used to be in a big TV singing contest show. Now she's doing some pretty different stuff. The other is Leanne, a Chinese folk singer, super interesting.
HVAD at work in Balance Productions studio near Chuanmei Daxue
SmBJ: Since landing, you've also put together a pretty interesting last-minute project, composing a 24-hour film score with local musicians. What's the story behind that?
HVAD: When I arrived in Beijing, I'd just started this project, which is a 24-hour-long film that I'm doing a score for. The film was made by Lili Badawi, a space rocket and submarine engineer from Copenhagen. It's one year in a 24-hour film, called The Eternal Now. I put out an invitation to people who could participate in recording The Eternal Now score, and some people came, like Jonathan [Zeitlin, Alpine Decline], Brad [Seippel, thruoutin]. So The Eternal Now is going on for eternity, right now. [laughs]
SmBJ: What are your plans for the near future?
HVAD: After this, I'm going to Bornholm, which is a Danish island I haven't been to, to play. And then I'm going back to Copenhagen to play some music, then I'm going to do a Canada tour, going through all of Canada. And then I'm coming back to China, to work more here at Balance, and to play some shows perhaps. I don't know. But my most immediate plan is to play Midi Electronic Festival in Suzhou, this Saturday. And then after that I'm going to Shanghai to hang out at The Shelter for the Let's Get Naked and Listen to a Bunch of Drones show. But before all that I'll go back again to Dada and play here in Beijing.
So that's pretty much the plan… to catch up on the vibes here. For me it's really an adventure to be here, and I truly appreciate it.
photo by Will Griffith, Live Beijing Music
Catch HVAD's inimitable live/DJ hybrid this Thursday night at Dada, for Gulou Double Decker #4. In addition to his solo set, he'll be doing a late-night improv collaboration with local hip hop gadfly Dawei, should be interesting...