‘The Jungle Never Shuts Up’: SoundLab, Urban Spree & Kala’s Musical Theatre

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Berlin is a cold and grey city, Ujjwal Agarwal, who performs as Kala, tells me. But countering that supposed gloom is the vibrant arts scene and the overall spirit. He’s vegetarian, and he’s taken a particular liking to the falafel there. Agarwal also talks about this one particular girl whom he’s bumped into a couple of times. She spends her time delivering jolly high-fives to random guys (mostly belonging to the minority). “She is like my motif of the culture here, I guess,” he says. “There is a vibe of just default respect that is very cool to witness, something that’s missing in India a lot.”

Agarwal, originally from Jaipur, India, reached Berlin in April as part of the first Border Movement Residency. His time there draws to a close with an explosive gig scheduled for 4 June, featuring a mix of both live and DJ sets by him, Cee, Perera Elsewhere, Menimal, Sick Girls, Born in Flamez, Shepherd, and Kumasi Nights, at Urban Spree, the iconic venue located in the heart of the city. Further, an exclusive premier and the CD release of a documentary called ‘SoundLab: Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand & Germany’ will also take place on the same evening.

SoundLab, a Border Movement initiative that takes the format of an informal residency project bringing together artists from around South Asia and Germany to learn from each other and collaborate – partnered for the first time with a new part of the world. SoundLab: Southeast Asia, Australia, New Zealand & Germany is a collaboration between Detour Asia (spearheaded by Cee with Richard Smith as his partner), the Goethe-Institut Malaysia, and Border Movement and is supported by Ableton Berlin, Red Bull Music Academy, KRK Systems and AIAIAI.

Fifteen musicians from Myanmar, the Philippines, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Singapore, New Zealand, Australia, Germany and Malaysia stayed at rainforest resort The Dusun in Malaysia from 10-21 January. The documentary, made by Lisanne Schulze, captures all that went down in that time. Cee (aka Christian Schwanz), the popular bass-heavy/experimental producer who played at Magnetic Fields festival in India last year and is part of Bass Sekolah as well, talks about the connections between Asia and Europe that have been built over the past 7 years. “It was my big dream to bring this analog-digital music platform/workshop to the Southeast.”

“I always say: ‘The jungle never shuts up.’ The impact of this magical surrounding is always there,” says Cee, talking about the experience of undertaking such an experiment. “Since our studio set-ups were not sound-proof, we quite often started making music by adding — carefully, like an architect — to the existing sound wall. Some artists expected more melody and less noise in the jungle, some were quite familiar with the noise level. Without having to guide people in any way, collaborations happened naturally and we achieved our goals on many levels. Our aim was the process, the improvisations, the sessions, and not necessarily to finish songs, even though we finished many, many songs. The way to tell a story about SoundLab was a documentary instead of focusing too much on nerdy song productions. Lisanne Schulze understood our approach very well, and her photo essays and the documentary, edited by Verona Herzog, tell the story as it is.”

Coming back to the gig, Cee wants to feature songs created at SoundLab during the first half of his set, while not compromising on his love for bass and club music, with plans to include music from his upcoming solo EP. He’s performing a solo set at Urban Spree, and concedes that solo gigs are different because of the absence of a safety belt. “All attention is on me. Touring with Bass Sekolah was fun, but much less ‘club’. Now I feel that bass bin pressure to show what my soul looks from the inside.”

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As for Agarwal, he has no definite plans for the gig as such. “I am trying to push my ‘live’ limits, really. I have a lot of channels that make sounds. I’ll just try playing around to express something. I have been playing along with this wonderful visual artist called Eric Erre from Mexico. We totally dig each other’s work and plan to keep the collaboration going to the best of our capacities.”

He had spoken at length about incorporating a stronger visual element to his music, even adding installations, with this writer before the residency began. He’s started, but concedes that there’s a long way to go. He’s been productive as an artist there, nevertheless. “It’s mostly been the confidence of playing those open, experimental live sets in front of an audience. Having played a few gigs now, I feel more secure about my work in general. The response, too, has been pretty warm. I am finishing some more music to be a part of the release on the new label [NOLAND] by Gebrüder Teichmann, so that’s that.” The mastering should finish in the next week or so, and he’s excited since this will be his first formal release on a label.

He also speaks of the inspiration he’s drawn from the city and its arts scene; how he’s seen “cold days, sunny days, rainy days, festive days, long walks, great beer, good food, lifelong friends”, exploring the European culture and lifestyle. He’s also pleasantly surprised by the “left-wing mentality seeped into society” there. “Smells like freedom,” he says.

written by Akhil Sood

NEWS - 02. June 2016   CITY - Berlin

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