After-dark inquiry: Sepalcure's Praveen Sharma
The duo plays Le Poisson Rouge November 10.
Mon Nov 7 2011
Photograph: Megan Cullen
Praveen Sharma and production partner Travis "Machinedrum" Stewart are about to drop the debut Sepalcure album, brimming with haunting, melodic bass music, on the Hotflush label. They'll be celebrating its release with a live gig, opening for Africa Hitech at Le Poisson Rouge on Thursday, November 10.
You've been on the scene for years; you've produced under your own name, as Braille and now as a member of Sepalcure. But I'm guessing that lots of people know you primarily through Percussion Lab website.
That might be true. I started Percussion Lab at the same time I released my first album, around nine years ago, so it's been around for a while. I actually met Travis around the same time. I basically just wanted to make a site where I could put up all my friends' awesome mixes. It eventually became a proper FM radio show in upstate New York on WVKR, which is when it began to pick up steam. Then I moved to the city about seven years ago, and we started doing some events around town with some really great artists, but we were also doing the radio show. Now we kind of combine the two and do a stream of audio and video in a live setting. It airs at percussionlab.com/radio on Monday nights from 9 to 11pm.
Let's jump forward to the current project. What's that name all about, anyway? I know a sepulchre is a tomb, but I'm not sure what a Sepalcure is.
It really just comes from when Travis and I had to come up with a name pretty quickly, when it turned out the first songs we were working on, just for fun, were going to be released. The project actually started while my girlfriend, [designer and illustrator] Sougwen Chung, was abroad. There was a lot of stress in the relationship—we'll just leave it at that. A lot of our early songs were in response to that. Sepalcure was actually the name of a piece she had done just before she left for Europe. We just thought it fit—it has that tomb reference, and then there's sepal, which refers to plant petals, and cure. It just all seemed to fit in with this idea we have of music being a healing force.
Those first songs, like the album, came out on Hotflush, which is about as prestigious a dubstep and bass-music label as exists. That's not bad for music that wasn't even intended to be released.
Definitely. I started making dance music when I was about 16, doing Detroit techno—or trying to, at least. But I moved away from dance music when I moved to London for a while, and got into IDM. Around 2008, Hotflush was one of the labels that started bringing me back to dance music, and I think it kind of got Travis more into dance music as well. So anyway, we were working on these tracks just for fun, and our friends Dave Q and Alex Incyde were running the Dub War party at the time. One day, Dave said to me, "Yo, we're gonna send these to Paul [Rose, a.k.a. Hotflush honcho Scuba]! He's gonna love them." I told him not to, that they weren't really finished. Alex apparently never got the memo, though. That same day, I started getting IMs from Paul about the tracks.
That was easy.
I'm certainly not complaining!
When I listen to some of the tracks on the album, I'm hearing a bit of the early work of drum 'n' bass producer of Omni Trio in there, mainly from the way you use seemingly familiar vocal samples in a way that makes them sound a bit ghostly.
We both like really early Omni Trio, but I don't think we were trying to hone in on that sound; you can't separate what you do from your musical history, of course. But regarding the vocals, I think [bass-music kingpin] Burial is the one who made it cool—or at least acceptable—in recent years to be pitching vocals all over the place, and I'm kind of happy about that.
There's a real warmth to the Sepalcure sound. Are you sampling mainly from vinyl?
Sometimes, but I think the warmth comes from the fact that we're using analog gear and things like a real Rhodes piano and real guitars. We're playing actual instruments, so it's not so much in the box as a lot of productions are today.
You seems to tie together a lot of musical threads; one can find elements of dubstep, drum 'n' bass, house, juke, IDM and lots more in the music. Is that something that you consciously strive for?
We don't really consciously try to do anything. [Laughs] We wrote this album in about two weeks, since our schedules are completely different, so there literally wasn't time to think about things like that. We just have one of us at the controls, someone else on the keys, and we just lay stuff down. But the point you're making is definitely something that's in the back of both of our minds. People are pretty much throwing out the blueprints, and that's what's making dance music exciting again. That allows us the freedom to just jump in there and do what we feel like. As long as there's a beat and someone can dance to it, at least.
And some of Sepalcure's songs are quite danceable.
Some is the correct word, I think.
Do you have a name for the kind of music you make?
Not really. With my productions as Braille, it's easy: It's house music. But with Sepalcure, I can't really put my finger on anything. It's very much in the middle, between house and techno and dubstep and juke and whatever. It's a real mix.
It's quite accessible, too—you don't need a deep background in electronic music to really understand the Sepalcure sound.
That's been pretty intentional, I'd have to say. With IDM, it can get so anal. Like, let me spend a week on this one parameter on this plug-in, and make sure there's this really crazy, freak-out digital-signal-processing glitch every 12 seconds. That attitude was really turning both of us off electronic music. Finally, I went out and bought a bunch of analog equipment and said, "Fuck the plug-ins—let's just write again."
Do you and Travis bring separate skill sets to the project?
It's really a full collaboration. I know that people who know us from our earlier work kind of draw quick conclusions about who's doing what, but there's no way to tell, really. On a track with guitars, we're both playing guitars; on tracks with Rhodes, we're both playing Rhodes; some of the jukey sounds come from me, and some of them come from Travis. And that makes it a lot of fun.
You're going to be playing live, opening for Africa Hitech, right?
We're really excited to be playing with them. Right before we started writing this album, I was getting really deep into their album. And I know Travis is a huge fan as well. We're also excited that this will be the New York debut our live A/V set.
What's involved with that?
Sougwen has done every visual piece for us, and she's created this kind of visual language, with new animation and 3-D models and all sorts of stuff, which will be shown on a three-screen layout. It'll all be mapped to our set, and it should all look really, really cool.
Sepalcure (Hotflush) is released on Nov 22; the duo opens for .