Exclusive Mix & Interview
October 26th, 2019
Label Boss: Asvajit
Country: Sri Lanka
Genre: House / Techno / Minimal
Introduce yourself and your label. Anything you would like the audience to know?
Despite technically being a citizen of the UK, I was born and raised in Colombo, Sri Lanka where I still live and work. I’m a bit of a “third culture kid” and don’t 100% identify as being any particular nationality. I’ve been fascinated by the potential power of music for a very long time. In my youth, I was very much into Rock and started my musical journey playing guitar in a couple of local bands. After getting into Electronic music during the Big-Beat era in the late 90s and attending my first raves in the then-infant Electronic scene of mid-2000s Sri Lanka, I decided to put down my guitar (and leave behind the tiring task of managing egos) to take up music production and DJing instead.
I’ve been active in the local music scene since soon after the Sri Lankan civil war ended in 2009 and very happy to have been able to play a role in the development of Electronic music culture on the island. From 2012-2016, I helped organize Pettah Interchange, a series of large-scale shows that took place in abandoned and neglected buildings in the city. (A practice which is very uncommon in this part of the world).
Jambutek was founded in 2014. At the time I didn’t really have a clue what I was doing, but over the years I have been able to achieve some semblance of focus and professionalism when it comes to managing the imprint. The label was founded to represent the work of local musicians I had been mentoring at the time but soon outgrew this function to become more of an international imprint with broader goals. In the years since it’s inception, Jambutek has evolved pretty much in parallel with my own development as a musician, and indeed, a human being. It’s been an extremely insightful journey which has led me to many great experiences and human connections.
From a musical standpoint, many of my productions draw inspiration from a variety of sources ranging from the lush textures of early Dub-Techno to more modern Minimal House aesthetics. I also sporadically write more laid-back work which represents my love of classic Hip-Hop, Funk, Jazz, and Afrobeat. Apart from my work as a musician and label manager, I also work as a professional graphic designer, specializing in long-form design.
How did you use the experience of your personal career to expand the awareness of Jambutek Recordings?
I tend to feel a little uncomfortable with too much self-promotion. Once the label came into existence I felt like I had something external, something bigger than my own career to champion. This empowered me to be more proactive about spreading the word about the project in a way I had never been able to before with my own work.
The year before I founded the label, I was fortunate enough to be booked to DJ at the inimitable Fusion Festival in Germany. Afterward, I spent some time in Berlin with the opportunity to play some gigs at some really great clubs in the underground circuit. Apart from allowing me to create some traction for our fresh-faced group, meeting so many other label owners that were running great imprints gave me some key insights into the business which went on to greatly shape our future direction.
I – like so many others who come from societies less accepting of dance music culture – was so inspired by the scene there that I moved to Berlin soon after we released our first couple of digital EPs. During this period, the label languished but I really broadened my horizons and I returned to Sri Lanka the following year, extremely inspired and motivated. In the years since I have continued to create visibility for the label when traveling abroad for gigs and other projects. It’s actually very helpful to have something like this to stand behind, I would hate it if all I had to talk about was my own work and career.
"When curating music for release, we look for fresh takes on old formulas as well as a sense of integrity and restraint."
When it comes to signing music, is there anything specific you look for in an artist?
We generally release music that could be very broadly categorized as House or Techno but tend to gravitate towards work that straddles the line between genres and musical styles. When curating music for release, we look for fresh takes on old formulas as well as a sense of integrity and restraint. I guess you could say that we like music which has a contemporary approach and aesthetic, music that builds, modernizes and expands pre-existing conventions. Considering our size, we receive quite a few demos each week. Unfortunately, many of these are somewhat irrelevant to our sound. As is common these days, a lot of young producers just send out their material to labels without actually verifying whether it is stylistically appropriate.
Give us some insight into the current artists releasing on the label.
While the label was initially intended as a platform for local musicians, we have expanded over the years to work with over two dozen artists from around the world. We have published the work of artists from South America, Europe, the UK and South Asia (amongst others).
Though we have released the music of some established musicians, many of the artists we work with are relatively new to the scene. We try our best to provide a platform for deserving up and coming creators. It’s quite a diverse group, both culturally and musically. The artists on our roster work in a multiplicity of styles ranging from Minimal Techno (sometimes with an Experimental slant) to more dance-floor focused (but relatively low-key) contemporary House music. I sometimes worry that this broad-spectrum represents a lack of curatorial focus but I think this musical range is something that has come to define us over the years.
Being part of a record label is like being part of a family. Tell us about yours. What really goes on beyond the screens?
One of the most rewarding things about doing this has been the opportunity to connect with so many passionate and dedicated proponents of Electronic music from around the world. I am in contact with so many people, many of whom I still have not gotten the chance to meet. Over the years, we have built up a very close-knit group and it really does have a very familial vibe.
One thing that has come to characterize us – at least in a local context – is our work in the field of education. This is something I am very passionate about on a personal level. It was very different learning how to make music in a pre-Youtube era. Electronic music had no place in Sri Lankan culture prior to the mid-2000s. When I started out, there was no one on the ground to really ask for guidance. As a result, I ended up internalizing many bad-habits both in terms of technique as well as a general outlook and approach. These habits took me years to unlearn. I am still working on it and I have always enjoyed helping people to avoid these pitfalls.
Things are very different now. There are a lot more people doing Electronic music over here now and the sheer volume of online resources is staggering. Still, though we feel that access to educational resources plays an invaluable part in the development of future generations of electronic musicians. We spend a lot of time mentoring young producers and creating educational opportunities for promising artists.
"We try our best to provide a platform for deserving up and coming creators. It’s quite a diverse group, both culturally and musically."
Let’s talk artwork. Who is behind the design and how are the ideas conceptualized?
Our visual identity is extremely important to us and we spend a lot of time and resources crafting our album covers. All illustrations are hand-drawn by Ruwangi “Roo” Amarasinghe, a very talented visual artist from Sri Lanka. The design and layout are done in-house myself and my friend and fellow label manager, Nigel Perera. Through a collaborative process, we produce unique illustrations for each release. Since we have about 10-12 releases a year, it can be quite a time-consuming process creating a steady output of illustrations. We keep at it though as we feel it helps us stand out in the crowd and pretty effectively represents the personality of the label. We try to keep the artists involved in the process sometimes interpreting the title of the release literally and other times taking a more abstract approach inspired by the music itself. Some of the results can be pretty playful.
Congratulations on your first vinyl pressing. Tell us about the experience.
Though I am far from a purist, the tangible nature of vinyl records and the idea of working with a physical medium has always resonated with me. Doing a release on wax was a long-term goal ever since we started releasing music back in 2014. When it comes to Contemporary Electronic music, there is not much of a vinyl culture in Sri Lanka. While our little island has not been immune to the vinyl revival/trend of the last few years, there is not much (if any) representation of “underground” House and Techno in physical form. Earlier this year we were able to secure a distribution deal with Memoria Music who helped us publish our first 12” record.
While we had a lot of faith in musical curation of the release, we were nonetheless amazed when all 250 copies of the first pressing sold out in a matter of weeks. The response was so good that we are actually doing a repress which will be out early November. Overall the experience has really inspired and motivated us to keep going. It’s common knowledge that digital sales are a pretty barren wasteland these days so after years of often-overlooked digital releases, it felt really great to be reminded that it is still possible to create something that actually sells.
Give us some insight into the future of Jambutek Recordings. The projects, collaborations and developments. What can we expect?
Apart from continuing our monthly digital releases and podcasts, we plan to continue the physical releases, with our second compilation currently in the pipeline for an early 2020 release date. We also do a lot of educational outreach work. In collaboration with the Goethe-Institut and it’s Electronic music sub-platform, Border Movement. We conduct free music workshops and artist residencies in Sri Lanka. We intend to double-down on these efforts in the coming years by taking these programs further afield into more rural parts of the country. From a creative standpoint, we are in the process of developing an audio-visual label showcase which we hope to perform regionally and in Europe next Summer. In the works is also a line of t-shirts, art prints and other merch that make use of our now extensive archive of visual material.
Asvajit, in a few sentences. Tell us about this mix you made for us. Where did you get your inspiration? Is there anything special you want the audience to know?
For this mix, I have worked exclusively with material from our back catalogue as well as a few upcoming releases. We publish a fairly wide range of music ranging from slightly Experimental, Minimal Techno to more dance-floor oriented modern House music. In light of this, I have tried to curate a selection that represents this musical diversity whilst still remaining coherent and focused. My usual approach to studio mixes is to try and put together something which is as listenable as it is danceable, this one is (hopefully) no different.