Sunday, November 18, 2012

In conversation with Basheer & the Pied Pipers


Indie band discusses new album, Basheer

If you have any concerns about the state/future of the Pakistani music industry, then just explore the efforts of our independent musicians and you will be instantly reassured. Our indie scene harbours immense talent and is producing some very interesting work, as artists experiment with an array of sounds and genres. 

One such act is Basheer & the Pied Pipers. The group that comprises of Salman Younas Khan and Saad Munzar came together a few years ago and released their album, Basheer, earlier this year. Their unique sound has been earning them rave reviews ever since.

“[Basheer & the Pied Pipers] is mainly Saad and I,” says Salman. The group formed when Salman “came to Karachi in 2008 for school” and have been playing together since then. “We write and record all the stuff ourselves,” he continues. “Saad handles bass and guitar duties, and I handle samples, synthesizers, and drums, but there is a large degree of overlap. When we play live we have a group of great friends that help us out, each of them being brilliant musicians.”

The duo, who describe their music as “primarily instrumental, with sparse vocals”, gave us a taste of their recorded sound with their EP, paperclouds, which was released last year, and easily convinced listeners to take notice. “We played a few shows which really drove us to record our original material,” they reveal. “There were a few bands here playing a lot of their own stuff and it was really impressive. We picked up a cheap mixer and an interface and recorded our first EP, paperclouds, in 2011. We started recording Basheer right after that.”

Basheer, their first full-length release, is a 10-track collection of songs that play with a range of sounds, creating a blend that is both unique and impressive. “We started writing as soon as we got done with the EP we released last year,” says Salman speaking of the process of creating Basheer. “And after we had the writing process done, we just did what we did last time, recording drums in a soundproof lecture hall. We were on the strictest of budgets too, so a lot of duct tape was involved. Then everything else was laid down in either of our rooms.” “We live in the same building so it was pretty convenient.” adds Saad. “We knew we wanted our full length release to be more live band oriented. We jammed quite extensively for this one.”

As a debut album, Basheer is surprisingly confident, even though its makers are reluctant to discuss it. Instead of talking about the sound of their album, they'd rather the music speak for itself. “We really wouldn't know how to describe it at all,” they say. “We'd prefer you'd listen to it and call it what you want to.” You can hear electronic influences and hints of psychedelia on the record, as Basheer & the Pied Pipers create a mystifying ambience while weaving English vocals into the soundscape. The result is ethereal without sounding contrived, and from the opening 'been' sounds on the first track 'Yes' to the gentle guitars of the album closer 'You Know I Know I Know', there's much to be discovered. The beautiful 'Dreaming of You' is, well, dreamy, and feels like floating into someone's reverie; the crisp 'Monsoon' is short but memorable; and 'Mallet' is hypnotic. The songs have character, and the Pied Pipers' conviction shines though in the record. The two musicians say they have a plethora of influences, and cite Radiohead, Mew, Mars Volta, and Blockhead as some of the artists who have inspired them, and while these influences are reflected in their music, their sound still remains their own.

The album has been released as a free download online, and the duo say they don't have a particular business model in mind when it comes to monetizing their work. “We've never thought of making any money from our music really. If it comes along, great, but the whole process of making and playing music is enough reward for us both.”

And where does Basheer stand in the current Pakistani music scene? “I'm not sure really,” laughs Salman. “All I can say is that we're lucky to even be part of this huge wave of independent music. There are extremely gifted artists from all over Pakistan that are doing things completely independently, and are happy doing so.” Saad agrees; “Poor Rich Boy, //orangenoise, 6la8, Asfandyar Khan are just a few examples of some outfits that we have the utmost respect for, putting out great music relentlessly,” he says.

With output as impressive as this, Basheer & the Pied Pipers and their peers certainly deserve more recognition. And when their music is available for free, you simply have no excuse to not listen to it. “Support the independent music scene as much as you can,” the band urges. “Go to live shows! Download and share releases!”

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 18th November, 2012

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