Once a part of powerhouse hip hop duo Muscle Machine, Mustaqim Arifin has been making some serious waves in the electronic music circuit as VMPRMYTH (pronounced ‘vampire myth’). He recently had a hand in producing critically acclaimed duo 2dB’s single ‘Run’ and gets featured in high-profile electronica shows frequently. His debut record, ‘HEROINe’, may just turn out to be one of the sleeper gems of 2014.
‘You are a product of your own environment, and that is often unique,’ says Mustaqim, when asked if it’s still possible to create original-sounding music in this day and age. What he says makes sense, and it explains why Mustaqim – himself the product of several different environments – has been able to make such profoundly unique music. Much of Mustaqim’s formative musical experiences happened abroad – he fondly remembers an experience he had in high school in Saudi Arabia where students stacked tables together to make a makeshift stage for a punk rock concert. As a kid, he moved around a lot because of his dad’s work. ‘My dad was always into buying records from local artistes wherever we went,’ he says, ‘so I was more familiar with some artistes from some far corner of the world than I was with what was happening on MTV.’ He attributes his eclectic taste to his experiences adapting to different cultures constantly. ‘That played a huge part.’
In the last few years since his return to Malaysia, he’s noticed that in our musical culture, there’s a pervasive tendency to box ourselves in – everyone seems fixated only on the kind of music they want to make and listen to, which is not something that Mustaqim quite understands. ‘Musicians here sometimes can be quite petty,’ he says. ‘I think everyone should enjoy music for what it is and not be divided by the labels we put on them. We are already segregated racially and religiously at times, so I don’t know why we would like to create more things that would drive us further apart.'
'HEROINe’ is a multifaceted beast. It’s got a strong electronic soul running through it, but it’s not afraid to veer into hip hop and bluesy guitar, the latter working brilliantly to anchor ‘The Key’. It seems he can’t resist going back to his roots in band music, which might seem at odds with his newfound love for electronica. He feels that exploring both comes very naturally to him. ‘These things are only conflicting when I am trying to explain them from a marketing standpoint, because people sometimes need to put you into a hole to understand where you are coming from musically. But when I am writing, it’s absolutely not conflicting at all.’
‘HEROINe’ is mostly an electronic record, but that’s not to say it’s only fit for the dance floor. Quite the opposite, in fact, with the record giving off a rather ominous feel throughout, which Mustaqim owes to some recent events in his personal life. ‘I had to deal with losing a lot of things that were important to my life at the time.’
But things are looking up for him. His debut record is gaining decent traction both locally and abroad, he started his own music label, AKHYLA, which houses similarly progressive artists from Italy to Indonesia, and he’s even found time to give something back to the music community here through his Midnight Oil project, which brings together music producers from all over the globe to share ideas. He also runs music production classes for people interested in getting into music production. ‘Just tell us what you are interested to do and we can tailor a programme to suit you and to help you get there.’
Here is a man absolutely brimming with passion not just for making and producing music, but also for helping others do so too. ‘I think sometimes people who are interested to get into it have actually no one to help guide them,’ he says. ‘What I want to do is give them access to people who have done it, through the coming together of a community that hopefully will result in ideas that will eventually become new music.’
‘HEROINe’ is available for download on Bandcamp and iTunes. For more information on VMPRMYTH’s music and Mustaqim’s other projects, visit www.akhyla.com.
Top three essential tracks from 'HEROINe'
Anchored by a moody guitar pick, this track rarely strays off course, guided by Mustaqim’s fuzzy vocals negotiating a seducing melody. By the time the dirty blues licks come at the end, you know you’ve sat through something properly special.
He brings on the soul with this one. The horns lead the way while the beats flutter in and out of expected timing, adding much-needed texture to an otherwise hypnotic track. The grandiose pianos and strings enter the fray by the midway point to break things up and take it down a notch.
Could’ve easily been a ridiculously progressive backing track for a hip hop cut. The beats remain colourful and unpredictable throughout, and the modulated, back-masked voices keep you on the edge of your seat.