Aerate Sound Create a Stunning Audiovisual World On Debut Album
The unconventional electronic music duo from Bengaluru weave in slice-of-life sounds on the nine-track ‘Only For External’
When Aerate Sound head to the recording studio, they bring a little extra equipment with them. “The first thing we set up is a projector,” says Joe Panicker, who makes up one-half of the Bengaluru-based electronic duo. While Panicker plays with sampled sounds, his band partner, Naquash, projects his visual art on the walls and experiments with sound-responsive visual software.
At every stage of the process, Aerate Sound is a collaboration between audio and visual forms of art. They are an electronic duo, but not in the conventional sense of the word: Panicker handles all the music, and Naquash creates the visuals that go along with it. Their live shows incorporate projections that accompany their DJ set, and their mesmerizing debut album, Only For External, which was released in early March on Bengaluru’s Consolidate record label, features Naquash’s stunning album artwork.
Naquash is a visual artist who only goes by his first name. “I don’t like the tradition of using second names,” Naquash says. He believes that surnames are filled with potentially negative associations, such as who your parents are and what your caste and class background are. He also believes that more music should have a visual component, and constantly films everything. “He’s a compulsive documentarian; he has to take these weird little movies,” says Panicker. “[That’s] probably why this works, because he has so many [film] samples.”
“I’m a person who gets distracted very easily, so I need to sit back and watch things,” says Naquash. “In India especially, there’s no dedicated time for visuals [in music]. But if you look at Chinese, Japanese [artists], lots of inspiring youngsters are doing it.”
Panicker and Naquash became friends in Kerala in their final years of high school, but went their separate ways for university. Panicker, who is a drummer and played the mridangam for several years, studied audio engineering at SAE Institute in Chennai before moving to New Delhi in 2004. In the Capital, he worked as a sound engineer for rock band Euphoria before pursuing his own career as a drummer and producer. Seven years ago, he moved back south to Bengaluru, and reconnected with Naquash, who had just moved there from Vadodara.
By then, Panicker was fully immersed in the music scene, and had plenty of friends in it–so he began listening to some of the music they liked. He was heavily influenced by beatmakers J Dilla, Nosaj Thing, Flying Lotus and Amon Tobin, who introduced him to the concept of looping, even before he began making electronic music of his own. “As I was listening to [them], I realized that even in live, real-time playing, you can incorporate all those ideas, so I started doing that with my drums,” says Panicker. “It changed the way I play drums a lot.”
Now that Panicker is a full-fledged sampling artist, he still retains some of the traditional sensibilities he picked up from years of playing the mridangam and being part of the live music scene. His brand of electronic music is heavily rooted in real-world sounds, which is evident in the samples he uses. On Only For External opener “Nafiri,” Panicker samples a sound he recorded in Varanasi, which he reconstructs on the track to sound like a shehnai. Elsewhere on the nine-track album, you can hear calls of street vendors and children playing on the street that Panicker recorded himself (he calls them “field recordings”). Even the drums on the album, though sampled, are individually recorded sounds from Panicker playing his own drum kit.
Album standout “Tarpaulin Shed” features the only live instrumentation on the entire album, a killer bassline that originated from what can best be described as a happy accident. Bassist Sandeep Madhavan, who makes music under the moniker The Burning Deck, had left his bass lying around at Panicker’s apartment. On the day that Madhavan came by to pick it up, Panicker was messing around with the beat that would later become “Tarpaulin Shed.” “He was like, ‘Hey this needs some bass!’ and I was like, ‘Yeah, this needs some bass,’” Panicker says. “In five minutes he’d laid out that bassline.”
Today, Panicker and Naquash live together in an apartment that they’ve tricked out with a recording studio. They’re constantly working on Aerate Sound projects, but the two still make time for their own individual pursuits. Naquash, who has a background in fine arts, regularly shows his sculptures at galleries around the city and does installation sculpture work too. Panicker still freelances as a drummer, and is speaking to me on the phone from a weekend trip to Ahmedabad, where he’s playing the drums for a theater troupe he’s forgotten the name of (The Company Theatre, he texts me later, but he’s spelt it wrong).
Since the pair each have so much going on, it’s hard to see why they’d want to keep coming together to labor over Aerate Sound in a recording studio for hours on end. But once you watch them at work, their motivation becomes a little easier to understand. The very first Aerate Sound collaboration, “Carry,” is still up on YouTube, and is from before they were even a formal project. In that two-minute video, Panicker lays down a melancholy glitch-hop beat, while Naquash flickers in and out of the frame like a ghost, using light painting to create swirling landscapes around his friend. Years later, both Aerate Sound’s sound and art are no longer as raw as they were in that first video, but the audiovisual world they create when they come together remains just as captivating, leaving both your eyes and ears wanting more.
Listen to Aerate Sound’s debut album ‘Only For External’ below: