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Adam Kasturi
Photo: Ng Su Ann

Adam Kasturi interview

We speak at length to the electronic beatsmith about broken relationships, the underground scene and his third album ‘Amok’

Written by
Su Ann Ng

‘I don’t think I get the credit that I deserve but I don’t really care, at the end of the day it’s all an illusion,’ says KL’s Adam Kasturi, the prolific producer of electronic music. The sentiment is expected; it wouldn’t surprise people in the know, people familiar with him and his music. Not many are, though the outlier has made a habit of regularly releasing tracks, original collaborations and remixes – ominous, post-grime productions of stunningly sinister scopes – to satisfy our gleaming fetish of indulging in boredom, the never-ending, post-modern plea for newer-than- new music.

Adam Kasturi isn’t exactly bored – no, he has a deep reverence for the Artist and the Work. A snapshot of young, urban frustration, his work is pure kinetic energy; cold, forceful, lurching, with percussion popping off in pulses.

At 14 years old, he began making music on a PlayStation application, amassing a sea of unreleased songs before dropping his debut album ‘Jaguar’ in 2012 when he was 26. This month, he puts out ‘Amok’, his third LP.

You’ve been described as being a ‘workaholic’.
I love making music, that’s why I’ve been doing it for years and years. Every artist is his own worst critic, but when you’re good at one thing, you get bored of it easily, and then you try to break away from it. You don’t know how far you can go with the sound, what’s the point, what’s the motive when you write, do you do it because you’re trying to look cool, or is it more than that? I question these things; it’s not just buat, then release, then lepak, chill. I take it seriously. I’m always afraid that if I stop, then I’ll lose it. I see a lot of artists macam itu, who have lost it, especially my generation.

But we’re all the same generation, no?
I’m 29, but I grew up with Myspace, at a time when things were limited. Somehow you feel like you’re in this position where you’re not in the right setting.

Do you consider yourself to be an outsider?
We’re all outsiders. Even though we live in the internet culture, I sense a gap. I’m trying to break that gap, between the mainstream and the underground, or whatever you want to call it. It’s not like I’m trying to break into the mainstream, I don’t want that. Maybe they don’t know, they don’t realise that there’s something going on underground, there’s this sound, new sounds coming up.

Who are ‘they’?
The listeners. The artists, the mainstream. Sometimes I prefer it that way though, to keep things small, to keep things guarded so the wrong kids won’t mess it up. There’s something romantic about it.

Is there maybe a touch of resentment from the underground scene towards the mainstream?
When you’ve been doing this for a while and you don’t get the support that you envision, you get bitter, but I’m already past that. I just want to focus more on production; do more with the sound, release more work, work with more young talents. That’s one thing good about electronic music; it’s always interesting. Try to imagine what the sound will be like in the next ten, 20 years. I want to be there, I want to somehow be a part of that. Still, I’m a bit critical because other people are critical; some say electronic music is not music.

… because electronic music doesn’t use vocals?
If Mozart were still alive, would you ask Mozart why he doesn’t sing? Because of pop, because of radio, people tend to look at music in that mold. Sekarang sudah lain. You don’t necessarily have to adapt, you can do what you want, you can make eight tracks with just noise, suka hati you. But when we talk about being relevant...

Is it important to be relevant?
You know, it’s not just about being relevant, it’s about pushing your capabilities.

Tell us more about ‘Amok’.
When I finished the album, I noticed a theme. The word ‘amok’ came after. There’s a theme, there’s a story, and it’s about a protagonist living in present KL and the struggles of the protagonist. Look at external factors: we can’t help but to absorb all the energy around us. It can be political, sociopolitical; even though you try to get away, you can’t because it’s there, it’s in the air so the influence is present somehow. Of course, when I wrote the tracks it was more about internal struggle. ‘Amok’ sounds different: the mood is different, the arrangement is more adventurous. It’s lagi gila lah. I mean, things are a bit gila in this day and age. Kalau betul-betul you tengok, dunia dah gila.

Is ‘Amok’ a political statement of sorts?
Subconsciously, it’s a political statement. I have hope. I’m not really a pessimistic person, even though a lot of shit is going on. It’s just that this album, sonically, it’s me trying to push my limitations, push the envelope. When it comes to ‘Amok’, it’s like the title says.

Let’s talk about the protagonist’s struggles within ‘Amok’.
We are all filled, and fueled, by rejection. Also, in the industry, you don’t get the support that you should. That’s the thing about Malaysia, especially KL: we lack platforms, and we lack good music writers. When you don’t have good writers, some messages don’t get across, or they get lost in translation. Some kids read, and they want to know more about what’s going on. Sometimes the media covers the wrong people, people that don’t do shit, people who love to talk about shit but don’t do shit. I’m not against DJs, but if itu saja benda you buat then relax ah. DJs that don’t make music – or make basic music – and then try to act ‘legend’, this is not the place. You can act like that in your bedroom, but out here is where you need to bring something to the table. That’s what musicians should do, focus on the work. More work, less talk.

That’s what musicians should do. What should the media do then?
It’s a double-edged sword; media can bridge that gap and provide opportunities, more exposure. If we do it on our own, it’s good and all. If I have only five listeners, I’m okay, but sampai bila. Media should be like your best friend: support you, share your work. Music writers ask all the wrong questions: ‘Artis suka makan apa?’ Come on, people tak nak dengar all that shit. Things start to become cheap and then the artist gets discouraged. We cannot be too critical; we are so small and if you’re too critical, you might kill it off.

What does the release of ‘Amok’ mean to you?
I hope something good comes out of this. I’m really interested in doing soundtracks for short films, theatre, and that’s why this album has 27 tracks. It’s my portfolio. This is it.

What made you decide that either the tracks were done or you were finally ready to put out another album?
‘Amok’ took me a year and a half to write. The work started last year. That’s when I decided to make an album. It all depends on my mood, at one point I thought, ‘All right, I think I have enough tracks to release an album.’

How many tracks is ‘enough tracks’? With 27, ‘Amok’ comes in at 96 minutes.
[Laughs] When I think about it, 27 tracks is a lot, but why not? Plus I don’t feel satisfied if I release, let’s say, ten tracks for an album. 27 tracks, that’s ‘Amok’.

It’s the same old tired question, but what inspires you?
Broken relationships.

Do you get a lot of those?
I believe I get a lot of those, I’m being honest. Broken relationships, those keep me going. Music is the perfect outlet for me to make sense of everything, even when things don’t make sense. Most of the tracks are built in that state. I think it’s got to do with loneliness, it keeps the mind sharp and it’s good when you write music and you try to translate that. The artist is always trying to translate something. Benda itu dah habis dah, but the thing about artists is that they’re trying to capture it. Maybe there’s a beauty in tragedy. It’s not healthy to work only if you’re in that state of mind, but itu yang buat benda jalan. Itu yang buat kerja siap.

What do you look for in a collaborator – or at least, what do you look for when you’re considering remixing tracks?
I can only work with vocalists. I find it difficult to work with other producers. I’m not necessarily looking for a good vocalist, just good enough. They want to work with me, they’re passionate, that’s the most important thing. I’m more comfortable working by myself than with people. That’s why I do this music, because if not I’d probably have my own band, or something. I’m more supportive of the young kids; people like HOAX, they’re killing it. Sometimes, it’s good if you have a collective and you do something big, not necessarily music. I’m talking about short films, visuals, more.

Are you part of a collective?
I mean, I try to be more supportive. In my case, I’m just doing my work. I don’t necessarily think to myself, ‘Yeah, I want to be part of a collective, the scene.’ It’s not the way to go. It’s not really important anyway, to be a part of anything. The work is much more important.

Are we moving in the right direction?
The mainstream industry dah mati. Long time ago. They keep releasing mediocre stuff, all this stuff with ‘Akademi Fantasia’, people like Roslan Aziz, image kena betul, kena ada x-factor. Nah, they’re done. That’s the fact. This is serious business, don’t cheapen it. Underground, I think we’re moving in the right direction. It’s just that we should work twice [as much] harder, and it’s hard. Plus our scene is small, so the crowd too is small. We must find some sort of solid reason why we do this. We have a lot of great, talented producers but the body of work isn’t solid. People overseas dah jauh dah, we need to catch up whether you want to admit it or not. Sometimes, KL punya artist pun lagi bagus dari luar.

Amok’ is out now.

Listen to 'Amok'

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