Growing up in Pakistan, we may not have noticed it but we've had our fair share of musicians that cater to a niche audience, shaking them up with music that hadn't been produced locally before.
The only difference is, in the rest of the world these musicians kickstart new styles and genres of music that have a decent shelf life, while in Pakistan they disappear almost overnight.
And then there is Dusk, a death/doom metal band from Karachi — brainchild of filmmaker Babar Sheikh — that started making music in 1995.
Long after the rest of their metal peers let go, Dusk continued to create music for a cult fan following not just in Pakistan but in other parts of Asia and Europe as well. The band recently released a single through Patari called ‘Architect of The 5th Dimension’ to mark 20 years of creating metal music.
Images got hold of Babar Sheikh, vocalist and bassist of the band, to talk about 20 years of Dusk and the journey of being a metal musician based in Pakistan.
Babar is sitting in his office at SZABIST when we meet. At SZABIST he teaches courses on music and film direction when he’s not busy directing advertisements for television. Sporting a Joy Division t-shirt and hair that falls to his shoulders, Babar turns off the music blaring from his laptop and begins talking about the story of Dusk.
When it comes to heavy metal or extreme music, the '90s were a special time as a lot was changing, Babar recalls. While mainstream bands ranging from Iron Maiden to Judas Priest existed, at the same time there was an underground metal scene erupting the world over — including in Pakistan.
The early '90s and an introduction to the world of heavy metal
“I was really influenced in those days by the scene in Tampa, Florida," says Babar. "It had one of the best death metal scenes. I was also really influenced by the early '90s Swedish death metal scene and of course that sort of infamous Norwegian scene as well,” Babar recalls. “We were fans of the music, this was in our early teens when we were very impressionable and kind of wanted to grow our hair out and wear leather.”
Back in the 90s, fans of death metal music either had to read about the genre in imported music magazines or pirated cassettes and CDs. Babar’s earliest recollection of extreme music comes from publications like Metal Maniacs or other magazines that were a hub of knowledge for him. “Me and a few other people were always into going to Bolton Market and Khori Garden and going through piles and piles of magazines and come out with paper cuts,” Babar says. “Aap ko baatain bhi sunni parti thi dukaandaaron say for spoiling their stacks and buying just one magazine.”
"1993-94 was a very special time in Pakistan. You must realize, this was two years after the big Junoon explosion and that really revolutionized everyone’s thought pattern,” says Babar.
“I don’t consider myself a maestro musician in any way, even now I play very basic guitars and bass. I think when you’re a really technically gifted player you end up playing in a cover band and when you’re someone like me, who has only basic skills, you tend to create your own music. That was the first time I realized that it’s better to sort of do your own stuff," he says.
Through ‘93-‘94 Babar was making music friends in a band called Human Ash as they tried to enter the local rock music scene. “This was also a very special time in Pakistan, you must realize, this was two years after the big Junoon explosion and that really revolutionized everyone’s thought pattern.”
Despite doing some rock demos with Human Ash, it didn’t work out. “I remember one evening it just dawned upon me that since I listen to extreme music I should be playing extreme music. I didn’t ever see myself being a commercial musician anyway.”
From then on, Babar and a bandmate from Human Ash changed their name and their sound, creating heavy riffs. Coincidentally, this was also the time when the Milestones — a famous band at the time — were in the process of breaking up and a member of theirs Ziyyad Gulzar (who now plays with Rushk) gave Babar his guitar pedals, which was a big deal for him. “The force was sort of helping me towards the right direction,” Babar adds.
Trading favours: how Dusk recorded its first demo
Babar managed to record Dusk’s first demo with the help of Emu of Fuzon fame, who is also a well-known producer today.
“At Tariq Road, there used to be this place called Fish and Chips next to Mr Burger and it used to be the hangout for all the rock musicians at that time,” Babar recalls. “Musicians like Khalid Khan, Faraz Anwar, Shallum and Tanseer and the guys who later came to be known as Karavan, all used to hang out at Fish and Chips.”
That’s where Babar spoke to Emu and asked for help with a demo. “He [Emu] programmed drums on his keyboards because there was no way in hell in 1995 that I'd find someone who could play drums for that [demo],” Babar adds. Emu was familiar with heavy metal and had an idea of what the sound should be, and so Dusk's first demo tape was born.
The band Overdrive struck a deal with Dusk — if Dusk let Overdrive use their jam room, Dusk could use Overdrive's drum kit and amps.
And then Roger, a drummer, and Sohail, a guitarist, entered Dusk’s horizon. Babar often saw Roger in his neighbourhood, the only person other than Babar who used to wear flannel shirts, Doc Martens and had long hair.
“I went up to him and asked, 'dude do you listen to heavy metal'? And he’s like, yes! And he said, 'I think I can play the drums but I've never sat at a drum kit.' and I said, 'great, you’re with the band now,” Babar laughs. With Roger and Sohail, Babar got his first opportunity to jam in an actual band. Sohail had a room on his rooftop which served the purpose of a jam room. At the same time, a metal band Overdrive was on their way to gaining recognition and was approached by a promoter for a concert in Baku, Azerbaijan. “This was as obscure as metal can get!” Babar exclaims.
Overdrive needed a place to jam for their show in Baku and Sohail’s jam room came to their rescue.
The deal was that they could use the room only if Dusk got to practice on their equipment. “Because of that we got a drum kit in that room and stacks of amps and that’s the first time I ever witnessed what a metal band should sound like,” he adds.
Still around the mid-nineties, Babar was working on artwork for a new band that Ziyyad Gulzar and Ali Tim from the Milestones had formed along with Ali Haider known as Akash.
He asked the band to pay him for his art and the band forwarded his request to the record company. The label turned down Babar’s request to be paid but instead offered him one shift in their recording studio. The group of teenagers, who were offered a night shift, then stuffed equipment in a borrowed car and made their way to the studio in Saddar to record what became Dusk’s second demo tape ‘Where Dreams Bleed’.
After years of releasing music and albums, Babar connected with the virtual world through Facebook 2-3 years ago through a Dusk page and received tons of messages from people in not just Pakistan but in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh as well.
“We then started going to dingy looking locations to get band photos taken and send out mail,” he says. “In those days we used to make flyers — we'd send 20 flyers out to a friend in, let's say, Greece, and he'd keep one and forward the rest to someone else. That's how the underground scene used to work at that time.”
This demo was sold for $3 a piece internationally, and the trading circuit became a significant part of Babar’s life. This went on through the late '90s as well. Meanwhile in Pakistan, the band’s music just wasn’t being bought.
Eventually Sohail dropped out of Dusk and Faraz Anwar entered the picture. By this time Dusk was gaining enough recognition abroad to be offered record deals. “Dusk has never been a local thing,” Babar confesses.
But still, a cult following did exist in Pakistan. After years of releasing music and albums, Babar connected with the virtual world through Facebook 2-3 years ago through a Dusk page and received tons of messages from people in not just Pakistan but in India, Sri Lanka, Nepal and Bangladesh as well.
Full-length album releases and shift in band’s ideology
It was in ‘99 when Dusk finally recorded their first full-length album called My Infinite Nature Alone, consisting of eight songs and released through a Portuguese label called Hibernia Productions.
“It was proper, the artwork was done by some big artist and I got Amean J to photograph the band. It was a big thing in those days having a CD out with an international label,” says Babar.
From around 2002-2005 the band started becoming notorious for their progressive and doom metal sound. In 2004, Dusk went on an Eastern European tour and played in countries like the Czech Republic as their second and third album was released by a Czech-based label.
However, soon after, Faraz and Babar decided to part ways.
This led to a big shift in the band's ideology. “When Faraz joined, the band became more progressive and melodic as he was a big fan of Progressive Rock. It was great to play and a lot of people are still fans of that second album but it wasn’t doing anything for me here,” Babar says while touching his heart.
Babar wanted to go back to a more basic level of metal. Dusk's third full-length album, known ironically as Contrary Beliefs, was completed with the help of Babar’s friend, a sound engineer who was into electronic music. “The third album — you can’t even categorize it because it is just an album of soundscapes — it sounds like a long film soundtrack,” says Babar. Babar, who has always been open to experimenting, got friends like Arieb Azhar to do voice overs and raags on the album.
About his love for metal, Babar says: "It’s something about the whole sound, this really low-tuned bass with these really heavy guitars and pounding drums. My idea of having a great time is blasting some old-school vinyl really loud and being blown away.”
“Dusk has never been a one-dimensional metal band,” Babar explains. And after Contrary Beliefs Babar recorded with a duo in Karachi, one of whom was Aman Durrani. “A pilot by day but one of the best extreme guitar players I have ever met in my life,” Babar adds. Durrani played with Babar on Dusk’s EP *Dead Heart Dawning’, which came out in 2006.
Dead Heart Dawning was released as a split EP with a band from from India called Demonic Resurrection. The EP was released by the band’s own Mumbai-based record label.
In 2007 Babar joined Singapore-based band Impiety (a black/thrash metal band) as a bassist.
Being close to the Singaporean underground scene, Babar used to often visit to record with the band. The EP Dead Heart Dawning also includes guest appearances from musicians from Singapore. Unfortunately Babar was unable to put his filmmaking and advertising career on hold to go on tours with the band and he parted ways, but meeting the band’s drummer Halim Yousef allowed Babar to get him on board with Dusk and he is still the drummer for the band.
“Me and Halim went through this phase where we were like, screw everything, we will play the music we want to play,” says Babar. “We went back to playing death/thrash metal. It was more raw than what Dusk [started out with].”
At that point Dusk ended up releasing around seven extreme songs which came out as a split album called Eastern Assault, with a Singaporean crust/punk band known as Distrust. This was released by Gasmask Holocaust Records, a Karachi based underground label.
This was another era of Dusk that came to an end when Babar decided to go for a sound known as death/doom music. Heading back to Singapore, Babar recorded what later became known as Through Corridors of Dead Centuries, an album released in 2014, the band’s last official release.
This too was a split album with one of India’s most senior doom bands known as Dying Embrace. The album was released by an Indian label called Cyclopean Eye Production, a label that Dusk is still signed with.
And their most recent release is ‘Architect of The 5th Dimension’ that came out last week.
"The song was produced by Omran Shafique who also played guitar on this track. The aim is to record more Dusk songs with live drums in Omran’s studio for a new Dusk EP expected sometime this year. This too will be a split album between Dusk and a Japanese death metal band called Anatomia. The bands are still in the process of figuring out a label that will release the album,” Babar explains.
20 years and still going strong with metal… how?
Apart from a career in advertising as well as music video direction, Babar is and has been part of some of Karachi’s music acts like Ganda Banda and the 3D Cats in the '90s, and currently Chaand Taara Orchestra, a band with a more spiritual sound. But what was it about heavy metal that keeps tugging at Babar’s heartstrings?
“It’s something about the whole sound, this really low-tuned bass with these really heavy guitars and pounding drums,” Babar elaborates. “My idea of having a great time is not whisky, scotch and soda, it’s blasting some old-school vinyl really loud and being blown away.”
Babar believes it is important to go to the front row at a concert of some unknown band and headbang because you just like their sound.
In the mid-2000s with one foot in Karachi with work and the other in Singapore with music, Babar went on a metal journey which involved living in a tent for three days at a music festival and being able to see all his favourite bands play live throughout that journey.
“It was like earn money, work your ass off and go see metal,” Babar explained. “I’ve always been a big fan of metal and rock n roll in general. It’s important to be a fan of the music at same time [as creating your own music], you’ve got to just be crazy about it. I’m entering my late 30s now and I’m still as mad about metal as I was when I was 14.”