Taking inspiration from electronic music, Gaurav Malaker, of pioneering audio-visual collective BLOT!, tells us how he followed his passion to swap the courtroom for the dancefloor…
Tell us about yourself
From border towns to Brighton, where BLOT! will perform at the renowned Great Escape festival this month, electronic music producer and DJ Gaurav Malaker has journeyed across India to arrive at this dream juncture: he’s made a career out of his passion for music. BLOT! have transformed India’s electronic music landscape. They’ve added an element of art of the dance floor, organised multimedia festivals like UnBox and Eyemyth, played at iconic festivals like South by South West and Magnetic Fields. Malaker also co-runs his own label Qilla Records with his DJ-producer friend Madhav Shorey aka Kohra. So you’d never guess that the 32-year-old, who has DJed at clubs from Tokyo to Texas and Trivandrum, was once a lawyer arguing cases in Delhi courts before winning audiences in clubs.
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How did you end up in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?
“For some reason, I thought I had an aptitude for law,” says Malaker, who had a choice between completing a BA or picking a professional course. And like most Indian middle class kids, the inclination was always towards a profession that would bring a steady paycheck every month. “I thought doing law would make more sense, if I completely became a loser sort of DJ then I’d still have law to fall back on without losing too many years.” But even as he entered his teens and joined Amity Law School, he’s begun taking baby steps into his passion for DJing. Malaker was already DJing all week at what describes as “a shanty-ass bar.” He’d finish classes during the day, get his books out, pack in CD folders and get to bar to play all night. It was an early lesson in music and what goes on behind the scenes at clubs. “You understand the economics of how music works, the management of a bar and most importantly what you don’t want to do,” he says.
Malaker developed a passion for music very early in his life,thanks to his parents. “My dad had a really big…good sounding music system. He’d spent all his money on buying it when he was younger than I am now. He used to play the guitar, my mother sings,” he says. It gave him a head-start with other DJs after he settled in Delhi after travelling the length and breadth of the country with his father who worked in the Air Force. “I already had a good sense of what would work and the kind of music that works with different, sort of, like, demographics in a room,” he says. “Most of the DJs in Delhi had no…or at least the DJs I hung out with had no…they didn’t listen to music at home. They were just people with equipment.”
It was a defining moment of his life. “I’d always been around music. But I never thought of it as a special sort of thing. I just grew up with it as something that existed,” he says. Delhi, inadvertently helped cement his relationship with music. “I started to feel like a grown-up once I was in Delhi in class ten in 2000 when we moved there,” he says. Malaker was jolted from living a sheltered life to moving to the capital. “Delhi with all its aggression…testosterone…peer pressure. It’s hard to come to terms with hormonal teenagers wearing cool shoes and lying and doing badass things. It pushed me further into, like..sticking to what I had grown up with, like music,” he says.
What did you study?
Unlike other artists who give up their degrees, though, Malaker had decided to complete his graduation. And went to do litigation, corporate law and joined an Australian legal head hunting firm EA International in their Delhi office. His experiences in court and at legal firms in the capital though convinced him that he wasn’t prepared to give up on his passion just yet. “The lower courts in Delhi were like, quite in the outback, in the wilderness. It was quite a place for the rough and tough. I remember one of the judges, when I was trying to argue my case in English, told the court, “Dekho, angrezi jhaad raha hain (listen to him showing off his English).” Obviously many people in the courtroom were like, haha, so funny, the Judge has made a joke!”
How did BLOT happen?
By this time in 2007, he had been introduced to Avinash Kumar, his partner in BLOT!, who besides conjuring up stunning visuals and design for all their projects is also the voice of reason and guidance of the duo. Kumar regularly encouraged Malaker to take the risk of giving up the comfort of a monthly paycheck and follow his passion for DJing and producing electronic music. Malaker was further inspired by a trip to Germany with Kumar in 2008. It changed the way he perceived electronic music. “I saw a lot of people unemployed there, happy, just following their passion. When you think you are down and out, frustrated and the more people you see in the same situation the more encouragement you get,” he says. “You say that it’s okay, this is how life is.” It was a turning point.
Later that year, the global financial meltdown gave him more proof that it was time to take the plunge. “One day all these names from JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs showed up on our database,” he says, when he worked as a head hunter. “Here you’ve spent millions on your education, thousands of man-hours and the world’s best brains, if you want to call it that, were unemployed in the flash of minute. I realised that eventually, stability is what you make of it,” he says.
Tell us about BLOT
Malaker had saved up enough from his paychecks to fund his studio gear and with great trepidation resigned from his salaried job. “I was under-slept and overworked,” he says. “It is frustrating, especially when one of the two things you do, you don’t like very much. I felt like I was not being upstanding about my legal job. So I quit. It was pretty scary.” But his decision to follow his passion and start up India’s most cutting-edge audio-visual duo has been vindicated, and how!
Besides playing at every major club and festival in India, among the many achievements that BLOT! list are being invited by respected British newspaper, The Guardian, to curate an audio-visual segment for them. They’ve released two full-length albums, had their music signed on by critically acclaimed labels like Hamburg’s Dynamic and are currently preparing a new live show to premier at London’s Southbank Centre in May.
Malaker typically underplays their influence in India’s electronic music scene, saying that BLOT! would find it much tougher in today’s thriving club and festival environment. He’s positive that education is still key, but perhaps today’s youth have the luxury of studying their passion, which didn’t exist in the ‘90s. “It’s extremely gratifying to study a creative field. Humans are built to learn, I think. Even today, the satisfaction you get when your curiosity about component X is satiated is incomparable,” he says. His advice is simple enough. “Follow your heart and your mind should follow,” he says, before adding. “And you can be a kid till you’re like, 30, 35, 40, it doesn’t matter as long as you’re doing it all.”