A few hours before writing this piece, I had dozed off while lying in an air-conditioned, dark room during the peak of the summer sun. The sound of someone passing by woke me up, but in the few moments before I realised I was awake, I seemed to be living in an old memory that felt very viscerally real, until it drained away and I realised it was just a dream.
When we read or hear the word dream, we often understand it to mean either our personal/professional goals or we take it to refer to impossible, utopian aspirations. In other words, we often think of our hopes and fantasies when we use the word dream. But dreams themselves are a different phenomenon — a soupy reality that exists in the temporary deaths we experience daily. Very few of us can remember enough details to even remind ourselves later, but almost all of us are aware of even the most fleeting of moments when a dream appears to be the complete reality.
If we were to look around for a band that can capture the essence of dreams; if there is a band that can express the murky perception that dreams embody; if there is music which expresses the triumph of intuition over rationality that dreams express; then that band is 6LA8 (pronounced Six-El-Ay-Eight).
My first interaction with this intriguing, mysterious band occurred around three years ago, and their music was so unique and challenging that it took me well over six months of listening before I started to ‘get’ their album, The Moderate Picture. A moody, austere album, it was completely devoid of any lyrics or even structure. The songs went from being melancholic dirges to manic dissonance drive sounds. One track that particularly stayed with me was a song called ‘Celeplode’, which I always imagined as being used for a dance at a mehndi for a robot couple. Yet, when I finally sought out more music from them, I found to my considerable surprise that 6LA8 were probably the most prolific band in the entire underground scene.
6LA8 began as an experiment between two self-confessed music nerds, and all that they put out isn’t created with an audience’s tastes in mind, but rather as a desire to slake their own creative impulses
It must be understood that despite producing music that has been regularly showcased in music blogs and magazines across the world, Pakistan’s underground music scence is exclusively a passion project. The absence of record labels, concerts and any sort of promotion by local media means that musicians have to do every single thing in the entire process themselves, from composing to production to mastering to distributing. Consequently, few are able to put out the number of songs they would like to.
In contrast, 6LA8’s band camp page has no less than 21 releases, including not just a compilation and several live collaborations, but a dozen complete albums as well. Other than samples from films or recordings by automated voices, almost none of the songs have any vocals or lyrics. Yet at the same time, the titles alone are evidence of the considerable emotion and intelligence that subsumes these songs. Give a listen to ‘Our Dog Eat Dog World of Heroic News Reporting’ or ‘Her Braid Lashing at him with Contempt’ to find songs that are complete aural essays.
Over the past year, I exchanged several emails with one of the two Karachi boys who make up this band, Taimur Sheikh, where we discussed the band and the music they wish to make.
It must be understood that despite producing music that has been regularly showcased in music blogs and magazines across the world, Pakistan’s underground music scene is exclusively a passion project. The absence of record labels, concerts and any sort of promotion by local media means that musicians have to do every single thing in the entire process themselves, from composing to production to mastering to distributing. Consequently, few are able to put out the number of songs they would like to.
When I asked him about what sort of music he and his band mate, Omer Asim, were trying to make, he wrote that it involved “… too many things to fit here. We want to make film/game soundtracks; to merge different worlds of music like Pythagorean tonal concepts and maqam music; [we want] to mix music with poetry, books and paintings; to make people listen closely, and also to go wild with their own art using us as backdrops; [we wish] to provide some emotional support to people if it resonates … Another thing that we strive to make in our music is a sense of being both real and surreal. The idea of interference comes from the fact that most of the times the music we listen to is interrupted and eventually modified by things from our environment, e.g. somebody talking over music in a car, atmospheric noise etc, so it’s a fair diving board into a journey, and also our little nudge to make people accept anything as music.”
The extremely conceptual and challenging approach that these two have emerged less out of figuring out what people might want to hear, and more from a simple desire to create music. In fact, that was also how they met.
Taimur writes that “we met through a mutual friend; I heard that Omer had a CD case full of wonderfully strange, obscure music you will not find anywhere, even on the internet. We met, shared music and became close friends, [and later] … wished to make some music of our own … I picked up a bass guitar, he started on an electric, and we both began to utilise our computers to make any legible melodies. By 2010 our music tastes had changed quite drastically and the two of us used to meet up almost every evening. [After one abandoned project] we started composing some atypical ambient/post rock with a laptop and two guitars, and called it 6LA8 because, well, it’s instrumental music that doesn’t make much sense, which fits.”
Intriguingly, the band faced a split a little while later as Taimur moved abroad, yet thanks to the internet and computers, this didn’t mean an end for 6LA8. Their musical influences had already dragged both of them towards using software to create and manipulate sounds, and so they continued to make music by composing separate pieces and e-mailing them back and forth.
Taimur explains, “We try to make otherworldly music, but we also want to sound like two guys who started off randomly, got into a dialogue and ended up getting into an agreement, which is what we do.”
Once their friends started hearing the music that the duo was creating, they pestered them to put it online. The more stuff they added, the more they built an increasingly committed and sophisticated following. Last year, the band also put together Omer’s marvellously surreal drawings and album art together to create merchandise for their fans. Like everything else that they did, this was financed by them, and carried out not because it offered a chance for fame or fortune, but rather as a symbol of the art that they have created.
The band plans to release their latest album called Consortium, which according to the duo is a conceptual album which “refers to a (metaphorical) meeting between you and your conscience, and the final moments before a breaking point.”
As Omer told me during a conversation I once had with him, 6LA8 is defined by the fact that it makes music that “is for anyone, but not everyone.” The music began as an experiment between two self-confessed music nerds, and all that they put out isn’t created with an audience’s tastes in mind, but rather as a desire to slake their own creative impulses.
Such purity of thought and quality of sound is an increasingly rare, if not impossible combination in today’s formulaic, commercial and corrupt music-industrial complex. Yet one part of Pakistan is creating its glorious antithesis, and it would be a shame for us not to tune into it.
(The entire music collection is available to stream and free to download [or pay what you like] at http://6la8.bandcamp.com. Some snippets can also be heard at http://www.soundcloud.com/6la8 and their meandering thoughts are available at http://6la8.blogspot.com)
Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, July 13th, 2014