The year 2007 was mega for India: Taj Mahal topped the list of the Seven Wonders of the World. India got its first woman president. India won the first Twenty20 World Tournament. 2007 was also when BLOT! stepped onto the Indian music scene. With minimal techno and hypnotic LED graphics at play, they’ve been responsible for electrifying the country’s electronic music landscape ever since. Gaurav Malaker’s basic love of things (which also channels BLOT!) brought him together with Avinash Kumar to spearhead this project, which marries music and visual arts in a manner that our indie scene had never before experienced. With 10 years of legacy backing it, BLOT! has left a definitive mark on the industry, sprinkled with collaborations with Universal Music, Diynamic Music, awards from VH1 Soundnation and several others. Describing his genre as ‘organic, melodic, and electronic’, Malaker is taking it forward through acts beyond performing. Co-founding underground electronica label, Qilla Records, and interdisciplinary creative festival, UnBox, he is revolutionising the indie music scene with every strum and tune.
While music occupies 33.33% of his heart, the other two-thirds are taken by the two ladies in his life – the stunning better half Vandana Verma and their dog Ella. While he believes he connects better with animals than humans, “there’s no judgement, they are cute, always chilling, usually love you unconditionally and are very funny”, and would love to start an “Ella plantation” one day (with due permission & blessings from Ms Verma), there’s no denying that he creates a splendid connection with humans through his music and art. As he terms himself ‘obsessive’ when it comes to engaging in & perfecting any activity – music or hobbies, we get chatting with the man behind the decade-full of magic, and bring to you – Gaurav Malaker, unplugged.
Tell us more about Gaurav Malaker outside the studio?
I love fighter planes and complex Lego kits. I keep buying and stashing these away for when I take a break from my studio and gear. But there’s so much to learn, discover, and create that there’s barely time anymore. Come to think of it, I’ve never been so unidimensional than I am now. I’m a bit obsessive when it comes to doing things, I enjoy perfecting details and just making (all) things, it’s amazing because it’s a real mind exercise and I go on until I’m numb.
Inversely, kickboxing and callisthenics are amazing too, because they are physical and you can push your body to breaking point. The fear and satisfaction of conquering is more immediate and gratifying here, but most of all it just clears out my head. It’s violent too, so it’s great (laughs)!
What led you to lock away your law degree and pursue a career in music?
To be honest, I never wanted to be a lawyer. I did want to be a fighter pilot, but as it happens, I’m deaf in my right ear and would not have cleared the medical requirements. When I finished school there wasn’t much to choose from, and I couldn’t afford some music school abroad, so I tried to make do with what was available.
Law school taught me a lot, even though I was the class clown and a nuisance to all (I continue to be), thankfully I didn’t drop out. Worked a lawyer job, made some money, bought studio bits, and then just quit – I’ve never been happier.
What’s even more special is that every now and then at gigs I have lawyers come up and ask how I managed to do it, that it’s so hectic etc. But I’m just happy that there are doctors, lawyers, people from all professions and cultures that show up for electronic music shows today. That is exceptionally special for me, especially where once in Delhi clubs and underground music was restricted to the elite, the “bad kids”, and a cocky few. It’s all so different now, and it’s so exciting to be a part of it.
What’s the most special part of your craft? Other than the music, what keeps you going?
The possibility that I might be able to create a memory, visually or by sound, and music that I’ve poured my soul into creating. I’m always chasing the moment, the energy at gigs, trying to recreate that while making music and then taking it back out there. That cycle can be quite fun and very inspiring.
It’s no secret that we’re huge fans of your missus. How did you both meet and how has she contributed to your work journey?
We first met in 2007, when Vandana was doing a story on BLOT! for TimeOut Delhi. She went back to London after that (I tend to have that effect on people), and returned in 2010, which is when we actually started hanging out. It was definitely a turning point in my life – with the right person by your side, the motivation to be the best possible version of yourself is always very high. She’s very inspiring and I’ve learnt a lot from her and our time together; she’s like my dream girl and life and music is just so much better with her.
We’re both very competitive and ambitious so we’re working all the time, but we do find common tangents everyday, and life’s an adventure. About how I affect her work journey – you’ll have to ask her! But I check everything with her before I put it out because she has great taste, and also because I’m always unsure.
What prompted you to start BLOT! with Avinash Kumar? Tell us a little more about this equation?
Avinash has been among the most important people in my life. He changed my mindset completely, showed me what it is like to be to be an artist and believed in my vision when no one else did.
When I met Avi about ten years back, I was sick of being a DJ because of the way Delhi treats people in the service industry. The reality was that there was no dignity in being a performing artist then (’99 – 2000+), at least as a DJ, people thought they owned you for the night, especially at private parties. At first it didn’t matter, but as I started getting older it started to grate on me, and I’d always find myself in this weird contradicting construct, where my peers thought it was cool to be a DJ, but the actual people at the club and parties thought us DJs were dumb and somehow undeserving of their respect.
It was also quite a contrast that during the day where I was running around in court, wasting time because a judge was late. Cut to 12 hours later to being this dude at a party behind speakers, meekly playing out some random hit like Sharara Sharara or something umm…musically profound.
But then Avi and I started BLOT! after disregarding all of this garbage, approached clubs’ management directly, and engaged them long enough for them to give us a chance. And we didn’t have to look that hard, we went to the Park Hotel (Delhi), at the time the hotbed of music and nightlife in Delhi, and convinced the management to give us a Tuesday a month to try our experiments on our loyal, unsuspecting friends. Things went well, we were encouraged, our friends stuck by us, and suddenly it’s 2017.
What shifts have you witnessed in the industry in the last decade? What’s your observation on where we stand today?
In the past five years there’s been an exponential increase in people making informed choices about what they like to hear, where the like to go, and most importantly what career path they want. Our industry is extremely dynamic, but there’s barely any government support for artists or art of this nature, and none to the restaurants, bars, and clubs, despite the huge taxes. Still, everyone is always working their a**s off, hoping things will change. It’s changing already, with the NRAI lobbying for extended timings, relaxed policies, and reduced corruption.
And those who think dance, music, and performances are not in our “culture” need to rethink (and be given a gentle but firm slap), because it’s untrue. Historically we’ve always had the most amazing musicians and exponents of dance and art, the discipline is just more diverse now.
What the next Plan of Action for BLOT! and Gaurav Malaker?
I’ve finished the music that I’ve been working on for the past two years, and it will be out soon. I’m still figuring things out with Tej Brar (Third Culture Entertainment), who I’ve just signed with and performed parts of a live set with him at Boiler Room Delhi.
I’m also refocusing on one of BLOT!’s core ideals – art and some toys. These are surreal pop art pieces I commissioned from very talented artists from India and the US and the art prints will be out right after Diwali. I’m taking my time to find the right printing ink and paper to do justice to the details of the hand painted work.
I’m quite excited about working on an action figurine series called Resin Ravers (stereotypical party people – bouncer, metrosexual guy, DJ and so on), and a vintage tin robot.
And there’s always more music – currently I’m completing work on a Remixing and an EP with material from musicians I really admire – Nicholson (Lands), Aqua dominatrix, Begum, and Don Bhatt. I’ve been working on this for a long time, like everything else. Sometimes I too can’t tell if I’m slow or just plain incompetent. But you know, when it rains, it pours…
As we wait to get our hands on Resin Ravers (dibs on the tin robot), we dial it up with the signature DSSC Rapid Fire.
Favourite city to play in?
Delhi / Bombay / Berlin / Hyderabad / London (obviously in no order).
Last song stuck in your head?
Curses – Another View.
One tip for those looking to enter the entertainment industry?
Hear all the criticism, listen only to the ones that intersect with your own evaluation. Don’t kiss ass and always work on improving taste & sensibility. Everything else will follow.
One thing you love about the music industry? And the one thing you hate?
I love how all musicians and artists take very little time to become friends. I guess it’s because there’s a shared sense of the struggles and triumphs. Strong dislike for unprofessional people and copycats.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this feature are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily reflect those of DSSC & its affiliates.
Featured image courtesy: Nicobar / Shovan Gandhi