The Fuschia Tree
Editor's Note.
The melodies of our lives crisscross across the maps of our emotional terrain; they are the paths by which we chart our inner journeys.

If we peek between the notes, we find Time working its mysterious fingers through every tune. While rhythm imparts order to the musical experience, melody gives it a sense of continuity. It is the line that connects the dots, connects the performer to the audience, connects us to each other and to the transcendental experience of music.
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By Aneesha Bangera, Issue 24, Melody: A Different Tune
When Gaurav Malaker, a lawyer-turned-producer, and Avinash Kumar, a product designer with a penchant for toys, chanced upon one another, they discovered that they shared a Basic Love of Things. Together, they bring light into dark corners, sending their audience hurtling through the shadowy confines of the club and headlong into a three-dimensional universe of colour and sound. Their act transforms the average club-goer into a head-bopping, light-catching space invader, wearing 3D glasses and rediscovering the positive energy of otherwise dimly-lit nights. Theirs is not a melody born out of linearity, but from prodigious chaos. It is a universe of mishaps, missed flights, crashed laptops and lost-and-found hard drives. But, with implicit trust in each other and incredible, instinctive talent, Avinash Kumar and Gaurav Malaker of the audio-visual collective BLOT! have rewritten the rules of the electronic dance music experience in India.

The Fuschia Tree: How did you two meet? What were your first impressions of each other?

Avinash Kumar: Through a mutual friend who was also part of BLOT! in the early days. I thought Gaurav was a bit brash, young and irritating (laughs). But what struck me the most right at the start, even though we played very different music then, was that he could really make people dance and get comfortable on the dance floor.

Gaurav Malaker: I didn’t form much of an opinion on Avi, but I know he thought I was a little too ‘Yo’ for his liking (laughs).

TFT:  Tell us about your ‘Basic Love of Things’ and the formation of the collective.

AK: In my head, the statement that keeps coming to me is ‘the love of an amateur meeting the skills of a professional’ but sadly, at least in my case, my amateur love is finding it pretty hard to meet the professional, so the story continues I guess.

GM: The name Basic Love Of Things came up in a conversation that we were having about enjoying the things we do at a very primal, basic level. The name sounded good but was too long. Fortunately, it makes for an interesting acronym. Our inside joke is that our name is the best thing about our act.

TFT: What comes first – the sound or the visual?

AK: It depends on the situation, but it’s also always alternating. In the clubs, it’s better to let the music take the lead, since most people are there to dance and there is a special quality that dance music needs to have. We still push in a lot of stuff coming in from the visuals, whether it’s audiovisual sampling, immersive installations or a concept for the night in general. There are other situations when it’s the visual that takes the lead, like say in an art gallery, or at a sit-down performance, where the act of seeing (like in a cinema) is to be considered too. Practically, it’s hard to tell sometimes, since we are both feeding off each other and so it’s more like a game with different captains all the time.

GM: Neither. They actually come together when we meet and exchange content. We work together in a creative sense, but we barely ever share the same physical space, barring at gigs. But it’s turned out to be a really fun, at times frustrating, method to madness. Most of our content is produced instinctively, whether sound or video, and then we work backwards to juxtapose them to suit the larger context.

TFT: You seem to draw inspiration from the exotic (your travels, art, history) as well as the seemingly banal (the market, train journeys, plants growing from cracks in the ground). Can you explain what drives you to create?

AK: Inspiration is everywhere, and everywhere is always overflowing with inspiration and information. In addition, good art travels across time and is relevant centuries after it was made. So what drives me to create are two things – one, that I want to educate myself in the visual throughout my life. It is obvious that it’s an endless process, and the joy of being a part of such an infinite cycle of art is quite inspirational. Second, I am driven by a need to find some synthesis to the journey of life through these expressions. These are purely personal, and sometimes it’s the worst of experiments that you finally hold close to yourself because they represent something personal to you, and the practice of art becomes a way to bridge these two things together.

GM:  Nope (laughs). But seriously, how can one not?

TFT: As a collective, is the creative process a collaborative one from start to finish? Tell us a bit about the journey of creation.

AK: Well, we have a very novel and hilariously dysfunctional work relationship. We have rarely taken out the time to be ‘collaborative’ in the more mainstream notion of the word – as in, burning the midnight oil together working on projects and building all the steps in the journey together. For Gaurav and me, the whole project that BLOT! is, is something of a live experiment. We both trust each other a LOT, and also like to give each other a LOT of room to grow away from the critiques that we could give each other. This has been a blessing for us, since it also allows BLOT! to have a multiple personality of sorts; you will see this if you examine the spectrum of our work. This is also a function of the fact that these have been the early years of BLOT!. Having said that, I think BLOT! epitomizes some parts of what a good collaboration is. The connection we have on stage is the same whether we met at the airport just before the gig or spent a few months preparing for it.

Collaboration is often mistaken for togetherness from start to finish. With the kind of lives we lead, with multiple responsibilities, successes and failures all happening together across different teams, a more efficient way to collaborate is to have a sort of undying trust in the other; to have a more relaxed attitude of looking at a friend or work partner, and letting him do his thing and demonstrate the good and bad ideas in his practice. I think this becomes very healthy in the long run because each artist in the collective then has his own voice and freedom, and the collective is not strung together by obligations but by shared aspirations.

GM: Avi and I have very distinct and specific skills and roles within BLOT!, therefore our creative process is pretty much the way each of us wants it to be. We work together because there is an inherent sense of respect we have for each other’s work, and this makes it easy to collaborate and, more importantly, accommodate our individual ideas within the collective pool.

We work independently in our own respective studios and meet fairly often to evaluate progress and match content, and from there it’s just a matter of culling or perhaps sculpting our individual creations to suit the broader BLOT! context.

TFT: Is it really SNAFU (Situation Normal All Fucked Up) where you guys come from? Describe your first album in 5 words.

AK: Yes, it is really SNAFU where we come from/live in! In 5 words: “Finally we have an album.”

GM: Yes, we’ve got this funny knack of finding ourselves in really bizarre situations all the time. We’re always hard pressed for time, we always forget things everywhere, we’re always late on deadlines – not because we’re unprofessional but usually because, say, our hard drive came under a car or Avi missed his first flight and slept through the following two. More recently, in Lausanne, Avi spent 170 euros on a taxi while looking for his gig laptop that we thought we had misplaced hours before our gig...only to realize it was on the chair I was sitting on while trying to reformat my laptop that had crashed.

I’d like to think our album is dynamic considering we’re mostly a techno AV (audiovisual) act. But if you don’t agree, then Situation Normal All Fouled/Fucked Up is pretty much what sums it up.

TFT:  Your shows are sensory experiences, and the 3D launch of your album took AV acts to the next level. How do you think this translates in your album?

AK: Well, one of our approaches from the beginning has been to include a lot more in the average club night than is apparent. The 3D really came in from that point of view – to make the night more interesting, more fun. We are one of the few electronica acts that infuse a lot of humour and fun into the night. We believe that night haunts need a lot more of humour and fun and a lot less of overt sexuality or shadowy dark corners. So this idea of light and projections is very interesting for us, because it lets the daytime and positivity of life creep into the club experience.

For the album, you have to see the music CD as a slice of what we have to offer. SNAFU itself has a DVD in the making very soon, so there will be an audiovisual piece to the content. Musically, the album presents several states of mind and musical ideas, and therefore reflects the spirit of BLOT! within the constraints of electronic dance music.

GM: I don’t think it does, and it’s not meant to. It’s just a music album (that I’ve worked really hard on). Along with producing music and film, our focus has always been on augmenting our live performances with video, light and décor, thereby reaching out to a larger audience and hopefully converting a few more to electronic dance music. When we started BLOT! many clubs were confused about why we spent time setting up projectors and installations made of cloth and wire and why we brought in projectors in the first place. Some even asked us if they could play a cricket match while our gig was on (thank Hevs that’s changed)!

TFT:  Are your gigs like extended jam sessions? Tell us about improvising; about surprising and inspiring each other.

AK: Yeah, a lot of it has that improvised experience contained in it. I think it’s interesting when it’s two different people coming together and being ok and supportive about each other in a way on stage in front of people. I really believe that it is this feeling that is amplified when you see the more simple expressions of sound and visual together. For a large part, we let each other enjoy the things that we individually like and bring that to the performance if we believe in it.

GM: All our work together is like an extended jam session. We never rehearse or practice together before gigs. It started out as a bad habit but is now a profession. Needless to say, we’re always surprising each other, sometimes pleasantly, but mostly just shockingly. Avi inspires me, and I’ve learnt a lot from him and his creative process. I’m hoping he’s picked up a few life skills from me.

TFT: What do you talk about just before a gig? Is there a lot of clowning around or is it all work and no play for the BLOT boys?

AK: We are both fairly good I would say, but in a very inefficient and often really funny way. There are all sorts of crazy scenarios pre-, during and post-gigs, but somehow we end up having a pretty good routine and are mostly all about the work. But within that there is a whole universe of mishaps and incidents that makes it look mostly like clowning around.

GM: There’s only clowning around. Umm, actually one of us is always late so there’s not much time left to chat or formulate strategies prior. I’ve been getting to gigs really early and in time these days though, but Avi is hopeless.

TFT: Describe a typical evening at your studio – the décor, the conversation, the company, the music, the food and drink.

AK: We have different studios and spaces. Mine is always evolving, either from a mess, or to a mess. My studio has a lot of stuff from our gigs, so it’s a bit like a tent-house honestly. There are all sorts of visitors, and it’s quite entertaining in general, because my mom has her Bharatanatyam studio below my studio. Mom’s food is the best I can hope for so I catch that whenever I can. Don’t drink spirits, but lots of juice, sometimes filter coffee.

GM: I’ve just setup a new studio and, after seven years of darkness, I have sunlight! We're workaholics and boring so no one visits our studios. But since it’s where I spend all my time, I work hard on keeping it dust-free and loaded with gear that's too complicated for me to understand.

TFT:  Before BLOT!, what did you imagine you would spend your life doing? As a child, did you play toy instruments or paint your walls and faces?

AK: I think BLOT! represents, for me, a big part of what I knew I wanted to do, but perhaps I didn’t have the experience to articulate what it was. We still play toy instruments and paint our walls and faces though.

GM: I wanted to own a train, but that wasn’t to be, so I became a DJ/producer and studied Law. I worked as lawyer, and spent two years being bitter and hating the world at large while doing music on the side. I quit Law for good in 2010, and haven’t looked back since.

My parents got me a plastic drum set when I was three; I’m not sure what I did with it but I remember having it. I still paint faces, but mostly when my brother (or even Avi) is asleep.

TFT:  Your collaborations with Vasundhara and Suryakant in the new album have brought together beautifully intense vocals and sounds. Can you talk about your influences and favourite collaborations?

GM: My influences and inspiration are in constant state of flux, there’s just so much music out there that I think it’s really hard to zero in on a few. In collaborating with Suryakant and Vasundhara I found two great friends (which is lovely, because I have a total of four), but beyond that it was a great learning experience, as it should be when working with other artists whose work you admire and respect.

TFT:  You can pick any venue in the world, and choose your audience. Where would it be and who would be in the crowd?

AK: A small gathering of people who are having fun would be good in any part of the world.

GM: We played this in 2010 in Berlin. I had no idea what it was going to be like, and our set was at 3 a.m. so I wasn’t sure of what to expect. It turned out to be Utopia (okay, maybe that’s a bit much) plus one of the best gigs in my life, and I think what made it so great was the fact that I didn’t know what to expect. Heck, I didn’t even know how we got that gig. I’d like to have that gig again please.

TFT: Now for the quick-fire questions! If you could live on only four foods (you have these in abundance), including the essentials like salt, water, gin, what would they be?

AK: Dosa, gunpowder, chutney, avial.

GM: Water, green chilies, chicken, bread.

TFT: You're traveling around the world with one book and one song. What are they?

AK: The book I am writing, and hopefully Gaurav has the song he is writing too.

GM: No chance. I’m not going anywhere with just one song. Encyclopedia Britannica please (because I fear they will stop making them soon, Internet).

TFT:  Your most valuable possession?


GM: There’s rather a lot to list here. But, um, my ear (yes, singular, since I can’t hear from the other).

TFT:  What were some of the jobs you had when you were younger? What would you tell a lost, young practitioner in your field?

AK: Toy Designer, Accessory Designer, Teacher, Design Consultant. “It’s ok to be lost”.

GM: The same thing I tell myself everyday: “Hang in there”.

TFT: Besides your work, what is the one thing that completely consumes you?

AK: Life is fairly consuming.

GM: I wish I could say there was something else.

As told to Aneesha Bangera, a writer who wanders between Madras and Bangalore.

Gaurav Malaker, a lawyer-turned-producer, can only hear from one ear and tries to stay punctual and dust-free.

Avinash Kumar, a film and toy maker, revels in the endlessly inspiring process of creation.

Together as BLOT! they turn bizarre chaos into mesmerizing audiovisual performances that take them around the world.

Also in this issue

Illusion: Seeing Beyond Seeing
Meaning: In Search of Significance.
Melody: A Different Tune
Rhythm: Ordering Time

Dhrupadi Ghosh is an old friend of mine. We have often had long sessions of adda late at night, discussing her dream projects since her college days at Santiniketan, where she majored in Sculpture.