Noahs Heark: How did I get in? I have no idea…
Tales of origin are always the stuff of legend. They are the all-important beginning, the moments of creation, when someone or something seminal appeared. Fact often gets muddled with fiction, feats appear greater with time but the crux of the story, always remain the same – this is when something important happened, this is when we started counting.
Mole was a breath of fresh indie air in Karachi, at a time when pop and a handful of rock acts predominated Pakistani music. While not necessarily a cloistered scene, music in the country was mostly one note; it was in this landscape that Mole released their first EP, the aptly titled ‘We’re Always Home’ in 2008 and though it may not have been a commercial success, it certainly qualified as a milestone.
The EP was a disruptive enterprise that abandoned the status quo, taking to bedrooms instead of studios, the Internet instead of stores, niche instead of mass appeal and doing a pretty good job at it. Mole’s release and subsequent journey reverberated far beyond its humble shores and while setting a precedent it also laid a foundation for something else, for while the band itself represented a coalescing it was their individual tangents that would go on to birth the Pakistani electronica movement.
Danial Hyatt, Faizan Riedinger, Ziyad Habib, Amman Mushtaq, Bilal Nasir Khan and Abdullah Tariq Khan, were Mole, but it is their present-day monikers that are more commonly known.
Respectively they are Nawksh Delivery Service, Friedi, Noah’s Heark, Smax and Rudoh and they form the bedrock of the local electronica scene that has emerged from the country. It was these very members of Mole who would be among the country’s first to be selected for Red Bull Music Academy. Nawksh’s elder brother, Shehryar Hyatt (Dalt Wisney), the pater familias of the movement was the first to attend in 2006. He was followed by Smax in 2013, Toll Crane, in 2014 and most recently Noah’s Heark, or Ziyad Habib in 2015.
Habib and others of his ilk are painfully modest, sometimes frustratingly so. Having interviewed many of his peers, this particular trait is notable and it was only fitting to begin the interview on this note: why, despite their reputation, are the Karachi boys so low key?
What follows is not quite a confession, for that would imply a disclosure, even guilt. Habib’s near-soliloquy, is a frank statement.
“I wish I could tell you. I personally don’t feel I’m that good. I hear so much stuff that is inspiring to me and I question myself. I see places where people aren’t as modest. But that attitude pushes me away. There’s something really messed up with human culture that it values cockiness. I don’t think that’s authentic to an artist. I mean take Kanye [West]. He’s a great producer, always pushing the envelope but he’s a son of a bitch. […] I don’t actively try to shit on myself, but that kind of lifestyle doesn’t appeal to me. I’m just working on myself. That’s what I use this music for. Figuring stuff out. Trying to be a better person. I’m making music to get better at making music. I know I’m not there yet. Maybe someday we’ll all turn into douchebags and say our stuff is amazing but right now we’re all just figuring it out. “
A founding member of Mole, becoming Noah’s Heark, being covered by Ear Milk, Fader, The Drone, setting up Hear Now Records and having been selected for RBMA 2015 (Term 1), Habib has had quite a decade behind him.
Presently residing in the States, he’s been quietly working on his career in the somewhat rural, but definitely uninspiring Worcester, MA. Admittedly shy, and somewhat cagey about the subject, Habib has ignored that primeval call that beckons all Pakistani men upon graduating – “come back, start a business, get married” – working instead as the resident “sound-wala” for the numerous events that go on in this hinterland.
But this isn’t as much limbo or exile for the musician as it is meditation, something that Habib frankly admits would not happen back home. For Noah’s Heark, music is a channel, it is exegesis, it is a career, it is stability for tellingly he says, “If I don’t make music I’ll have emotional issues” and even though the very circumstance of growing up in Karachi led to his music, it has also been an obstacle.
“We sat around at home all day, boys making beats.” With Karachi ever so often having paroxysms of violence, the city would confine Habib et al to their homes, socializing restricted to huddles at each other’s houses. It was this mingling that led to their music and eventually Mole, with the rest being proverbial history. Of course with such a capricious city and indeed country at their backs, the chance to put on a live show was rare. Despite many from the scene having played abroad, on home turf they have yet to play outside of Karachi.
Of course, throw in the public’s ignorance and even resistance to electronica and you get a surrogate scene with little tenderness and a lot of neglect. Habib admits it’s a “mixed bag” even though “this thing is in their backyard.” Perhaps this disavowal is also a point a of contention – even though covered in numerous international publications, Habib only made it to the local press after being selected for RBMA, observing, “we don’t appreciate what we have until someone from outside draws attention to it […] I think we have some kind of an inferior complexity – that maybe our stuff isn’t good enough.”
Illustration credit: Soraya Brouwer
Habib was surprised when he was accepted to last year’s RBMA, not as a perfunctory emotion but more because he genuinely felt he had sent them “crap.” 2015 was not the first time he had applied, in fact RBMA was the proverbial “pie in the sky” for Habib ever since Dalt Wisney returned to Karachi a changed man. Upon graduating, Habib begun a concerted effort to apply, sending in his ‘resume’ for 2014 and being “super confident” about it. But it was another Pakistani producer – Toll Crane who was destined to attend.
“It was super meaningful that we got that validation from outside cause we don’t get it from inside. That instils a sense of hope and confidence and I told myself ‘I’m going to apply again.’”
And apply he did. But this time, as opposed to being “analytical” about the whole thing, Habib was almost nonchalant, “I filled half the stuff at work. Even once I sent it, I felt I hadn’t done most of the questions. My roommates had sent theirs in and they got confirmations, I didn’t get mine until months later. I felt that I wasn’t going to get in – I mean there are 7 million of me out there, and much better. So I forgot about it.”
But the second time was the charm, though he still wonders, “How did I get in? I have no idea. I could play some of the tracks for you, they’re bad (laughs).”
He admits that it’s great that “Red Bull approves of me” but for him the experience is all about the people he’ll be meeting, something that has become a hallmark of the event. Dalt Wisney’s 2006 sojourn had him sharing space with the likes of Flying Lotus, Smax got to play alongside Andy Stott and it is this very society that Habib is at home too, having that shared experience to inform the beat.
written by Rahim Khan