Alchemy & Amalgamation with Audio Units

Kalen Bergado

It’s sometimes said that generational differences can cause conflict, but in the case of Audio Units, the age differences between the two brothers, Ashwin Baburao and Ashrith Baburao, lends the group an edge. With influences ranging from the classics to current sounds, and a rich history with music, Audio Units brings a wealth of knowledge to their forward thinking productions. The breadth of influence is easily apparent in their ability to create tracks that creates both a hypnosis like feeling and a need to dance, two feelings that would seem at odds until you hear the music.

From first appearances, the brothers of Audio Units make the amount of responsibility they have taken on in the world of music appear nonchalant. Digging a bit deeper they show us how a life in music in all aspects, from DJ’ing and producing to teaching, requires a large amount of organization and devotion, showcasing their true passion for this lifestyle. With their new releases on Parquet Recordings and Qilla Records we caught up with the two brothers who make up Audio Units to get an idea into what has driven them to where they are today and how they hope to continue chasing their dreams moving forward.

With the plethora of new releases that have come from you guys (Parquet Recordings and the new EP on Qilla Records) I’m curious about your history in music and its evolution to what it is today? What have been some stand out influences in your past and some more recent ones?

So, our dad was running one of India’s first computer training center in the early ’80s, so we pretty much grew up playing games and learning the alphabet on the keyboard for the next two decades, video games music was always super fascinating to us. Our mother sings and plays the ‘veena’ – an Indian string instrument that is very hard to master. She was a huge influence, about making us understand the power of music. One of the first ‘dance music’ tapes we chanced upon was a 2 Unlimited album, Ashrith was literally born that year, in 1991, I used to have a tape deck that my cousin had built because we could not afford to buy a branded one. This particular track on that album called Faces stood out to me, today it’s probably gonna sound a bit cheesy! But at the same time, being in India Bollywood music is something you can’t avoid, this particular composition of A.R. Rahman from the film ‘Roja’ was just stunning.

Over the years, we listened to a lot of music, from the heavy metal fuelling teenage rebellion during the teens, lyrical wit of rap and hip-hop, obsessing over industrial. While exploring MIRC chat rooms for some company, we stumbled upon bot rooms that served up music, you’d basically go in there and message a bot with a specific command to show, download or upload files, this was kind of an early P2P before the days of Napster and Limewire. All day we’d watch music videos of songs on this French channel called MCM like Daft Punk, Prodigy, Bob Sinclar, Orbital and so much more and scouring the chat rooms at night for to download these tunes. Those were the glorious 128Kbit MP3 days of the late ’90s with 28.Kbps internet speeds that took about 20 minutes to download a full song, but most often due to disconnections, a few days is more realistic!

The first track we ever downloaded was Jennifer Lopez – Waiting for Tonight (Hex Hector Remix) in 1999. The whole concept of a remix blew our mind to smithereens, the fact that you could turn a song upside down, a little research led us to discovery of MOD files and DOS Tracker software that you could program notes sequentially on like an excel file using a database of wavetable sounds, then we chanced upon a computer magazine CD that contained the first version of Propellerheads Rebirth, a 303 & 909 emulator and eventually Reason. Lacking the skills to use any of these to make any music, the demo songs were a huge eye-opener in understanding the underlying concepts of music making. Samplers, Synthesisers, FX, Sequencers, and Automation, especially in Reason, because it was so graphically oriented, and kind of had this back panel where you actually hooked up different devices for them to be routed.

So we are an amalgamation of all these influences, but more recently and contextually, we enjoy a huge palette of sounds, right from intricately complex sound design of Amon Tobin, to the sophisticated simplicity of modern techno. Music is just beautiful in every way.

One of the interesting things to me is working as brothers, but also with a significant age difference. Within eight years music and the prominent styles can change a lot. How has growing up as brothers affected the way you produce and play shows together? Has growing up while different music styles are prevalent been a major role in what sounds each of you contributes to the productions?

Yes sure it does play a huge role, the age difference we have. But I think it can also be a strength, it can be a bit of a rut sometimes to be stuck in the past. But what I think works for us is the fact that Ashwin knows all the classics, and having traversed through the entire spectrum of sounds, and Ashrith does care much for them, brings something new to the table. Although the initial years were a bit of struggle, it was this cross-breeding of our individual tastes that led to us to experiment, attempting to making everything from cheesy pop to psychedelic trance. So yes, all these styles and differences have been what has shaped to what we sound like today.

In regards to the new releases themselves (“Hindol” and the Multani EP), they conjure up different images and sensations, from more interstellar and the feeling of being lost in space on “Hindol” to the darkness and roughness of the underground on the Multani EP. Could you walk us through your mindset when producing these releases? Were there different intentions behind what you wanted to achieve with each one?

So we’d been putting out music fairly regularly until 2015, toward the end of which we felt the need to strategize on our content, so we took a break from putting out any music until now, the whole idea was to write at least 2-3 hours worth of music and then figure what to do with it, without succumbing to the prior “you need to release to stay in the game” pressure. To be honest, we’re barely happy with anything we put out in the past.

So during this time of writing all this music, Hindol, Multani, Idumati where churned out. Hindol was meant to be peak time track in our own sets, early Plastikman sounds were a huge influence and I think that reflects in Multani with the rough acid touch. The intention now is to write music that provokes a certain mood that’s strong on the floor and ensure its danceable.

Back in 2011, you guys had talked about developing a live act. How has your live act transformed over the last 7 years and what is your current live set up like? How different is it from your studio set up?

Currently, we play a hybrid set which involves Ashwin on the Traktor running 4 decks and Ashrith on an Ableton Push 2. So there’s a lot of our own material that we’re road-testing, other people’s music, demos from our friends, unreleased material from Qilla, but all with a small degree of melodic or rhythmic improvisation provided by Ashrith. Sadly, we haven’t yet gone on to do a 100% live set, but the plan is to start doing an all original set this year, eventually leading up to a live set.

Our studio setup, on the other hand, is the usual mono synths, drum machines and we just added a eurorack recently.

One of the shows that you played recently was the Qilla Records Sacred Alchemy Vol.3. Could you give some insight into how that show went as a fully immersive experience? What have been some other memorable places you’ve been able to play shows at?

The Sacred Alchemy shows are one of our favorite ones to play, simply because we’re excited about having with our entire crew and everyone brings out their A game in every show. This edition was particular very special, we were closing the night and the club is fantastic with this huge larger than life-size lighting rig right above us, its suspended with metal chains that let it manoeuver. The crowd was right around us, boiler room style devouring off that juicy sound system.

Other memorable gigs this year have been at the Local festival in a fort in Jaipur and their post-party at an undisclosed location in Delhi. We also run a nightlife agency called Afterworx and we celebrated the anniversary with Mathame & Patrice Baumel. That was another incredible gig warming up for Mr. Baumel who we adore and idolize to bits.

What do you see as tenets of a good show or DJ set? Does it lie in the reaction from the crowd or more of a personal feeling about how smoothly it felt?

Okay so, there is a lot of factors that go into making a good show, we believe the DJ set is a very intrinsic part of the entire experience. First I think it’s getting at least 90 minutes to play, because what 10 tracks do you showcase in an hour to give someone an experience or a journey? Next, it’s a good sound system, because even if you have people that have been deprived of a good dance, they ain’t moving without the subs delivering the goods. With the right track-selection we believe it’s always possible to get a reaction from the crowd, but for us, the crux of a good gig is everything we’ve said above.

There are times we’ve played at packed houses on a shitty sound system going back feeling not so good about it, times when the monitoring was so good in the booth that it didn’t matter that the floor was empty! One thing we do to constantly assess ourselves is recorded every set so we can go back and critically listen.

What are some tracks that you’ve recently been playing that you have really enjoyed including in your sets?

Colyn – Carbon Dioxide

Charlie Thorstenson – Vinden

KAS:ST – Nepal

Vatican Shadow – Egyptian Journalists Syndicate

Woo York – Elusive

Playing a lot of places in India how have you seen the electronic scene change over the years especially in Bangalore? How would you characterize the scene at the moment and do you like the direction it’s headed?

It’s dramatically changed over the last few years, the ratio of good artists to venues which was super low is slowly increasing now. There’s been a huge rise of DIY parties lately, get a safe spot, rent out a sound system, call all your friends and play music till the wee hours of the morning. This is just the rebellion we need, in a land where nightlife is suppressed to a certain extent by authorities.

For us as artist and educators at Beatworx, this ecosystem of schools, aspiring musicians, promoters and bookers is very important for all our survival and future. There is a new electronic music festival almost every month, all year, in some location or other, so yeah, we’re super happy to have seen it come this far and still progressing.

How do you find a balance between producing, DJing, and teaching at Beatworx Studio? Do all three play into each other, or is one the priority at the moment?

Really there is no balance at the moment, as much as we try to find by designating different days of the week for these activities. We even have classes to teach on the weekends sometimes, making it hard to meander between the mental state of teaching and gigging. Sometimes we’ve just arrived from another city, sleepless, and we go straight into class to teach.

I think it’s because we truly enjoy doing all of this, it never really feels like work. These “limitations” have been crucial to our development as artists because we find ways to be more efficient with our time and craft and there is a lot to learn from teaching someone that develops you in ways you’ve never imagined.

Yes sure, now and at any point of time making music will always be the first priority and love!

What was your initial goal with Beatworx Studio? Has it evolved as the music scene changes and how do you adapt to the different desires of the industry and students attending the school?

Yes, we’ve come a long way since 2012 when we started to offer lessons from our bedroom studio, to moving into a small space above a hospital, to the facility we have now with over 500 students enrolling every year, with varied interests. When we started it out, it was just the two of us, now we’ve grown to a 10 member team. We’re slowly fulfilling that initial goal as staring off as educators but eventually branching into all aspects of the nightlife industry.

I think most people that come to the school are hugely influenced by the most popular stuff they’ve heard, we find some of them that need a little guidance to come over the dark side (hahah) and some of who can’t see past a “Tomorrowland”, either way, we do our best to help them achieve their dreams without comprising ours.

How has teaching Ableton and production had an impact on your own output? Does it push you to try new sounds and technique in your own work?

Ashrith is an Ableton Certified Trainer, and that surely has an impact on what we do. Essentially because having access to new tools and a community of educators can be hugely influential. Sometimes parts of a project that have been started in a class as an experiment could vitally become the hook of an Audio Units track. Or a technique we discover with a happy accident during a remix could become a part of a class.

All these years of failure and mistakes are important lessons that we pass on to the students, there is no right or wrong really, it’s all so contextual and how you make it work for yourself.