BMR Berlin #8 2018

Earlier this year, Natasha Humera Ejaz visited Berlin, from July 10 to September 9. The Pakistani artist, who produces music under the name Stupid Happiness Theory, was in the city as part of the Border Movement Residency. She had a plan: she was going to learn about the business of music; collaborate with artists; perform; introspect. Somewhere along the way, though, she threw it all out. She decided, instead, to experience these moments for what they were, and not what she was trying to shape them into. As it turns out, her time in Berlin was life-
changing. “After a certain point, I was just like, ‘I just want to be here.’ Living is much more
important than trying to do something about it. I started living.”

She stayed in Holzmarkt, a multi-storey complex and a creative commune of sorts, where she was surrounded by musicians and DJs. It functions as a creative hub for a community of musicians and other artists, with strong ties to Kater Blau now, and previously the iconic Bar25
on the river banks which gained international recognition as one of Berlin’s most important techno clubs. There’s a long historical significance attached to this space, which Ejaz learnt during her time there, complete with complicated back-and-forths between the owners and the government. She talks of how Bar25 was like a huge carnival for adults, where people were just allowed to be themselves. And the new updated spaces too, are premised on the same fundamental principles of individual freedom. “It’s one of the most aesthetically pleasing places I’ve seen in a long time,” she says. “The residency doesn’t really have a ‘plan’; it’s tailor-made. They’ll help you integrate of course, but after that it’s just you on your own. In any other space it could get lonely, since you’re a new musician from out of town. But here you walk out and you’re surrounded by all these musicians.”

She felt at ease in that environment, and speaks with great enthusiasm about her interactions with the many musicians she encountered during her time there. There was a pleasant chance run-in with two guys, one German and the other American. “I was having pizza downstairs [at Holzmarkt]; we were all musicians and got talking. Then I went to Poland for the weekend. I came back to see I had a new follower, and it turns out the guy I ran into randomly was Nagual, whose music I had been following too.” It was a similar case with Delhi’s Peter Cat Recording Co. who she met at a friend’s house. “I had no idea who these guys I’d met were. And turns out they were pcrc!” she says. “Then I hosted them, we spoke… these kinds of magical things were happening to me.”

Truly, Ejaz found herself during her time in Berlin. In our previous conversation, she had
mentioned her quest to introspect as an artist, examine who she was from that lens. And being in
this environment, being part of a thriving cultural movement, experiencing life as an artist, seems
to have helped her learn new things about herself. “Someone asked me what the end product of
my residency was,” she says. “I’m like, ‘Dude, I’m the end product!” She tells me, as you grow
older, you start questioning the instincts you’ve always relied on. “But then something like this
happens,” she says, talking about her time in Berlin, “and you find a lot of faith in yourself.”

Which isn’t to say Ejaz wasn’t productive there; in her own words, she was “productive as hell”.
In addition to Germany, Ejaz also found time to head to Poland briefly, as well as Lyon, France.
In Lyon, she managed to record percussion made by the feet of a friend of hers, who is a Kathak
dancer. So she sampled the ghungroo, an anklet made of bells worn by classical dancers. She
spent long hours, working well into the morning hours, working on music with her friend’s
husband, who is also a musician. “That was my idea of fun and I was having it. I remember the
week I got there, and France had just won the World Cup final, so around 100 people were
outside dancing on the street. I went and sampled them.”

One thing Ejaz focussed on was playing the guitar there, something she’d barely done in the past
few years since she began producing electronic music for SHT. She rediscovered her love for the
instrument, exploring new sides to her songwriting process. “I bought a guitalele and I’d just
take it with me everywhere. I would play it at the subway station, where I ended up jamming
with random flute players.” She’s someone who’s constantly ideating and working on material,
even if it’s in her head, and Berlin allowed her the space to explore those creative instincts. In
addition to working on new music, she was also able to look at her old stuff with a fresh pair of
ears and eyes, to make it relevant to who she is today.

Further, she managed to gather a huge collection of field recordings, of lakes, trees, birds, of
anything she could find. “I also developed a really beautiful musical relationship with nature. I
remember just sitting in a forest and playing the guitalele for ages.” And finally, she figured out
her space as a performer, as Stupid Happiness Theory, as she tells me how she is now clear that
she wants to incorporate as many live elements in her sets as possible; she doesn’t identify as a
DJ, and leans strongly toward improvisation in her craft, and that’s something she plans to work
out more in the coming months.

words by Akhil Sood
images courtesy of Natasha Humera Ejaz