Musical duo SomeWhatSuper brings a desi twist to Pakistan's EDM scene
“We’ve been playing in Karachi since 2017 but we’ve never had a scene like this before!” laughs Talha Dar, one half of the duo that calls itself SomeWhatSuper. “We first started off playing with one person in the crowd. And then we went on to play in the Lahooti Melo, Face Mela etc and there’s a lot of crowd there. But it was never like this!”
They’ve just finished performing to a packed hall at the Beach Luxury Hotel in Karachi. The gig ended surprisingly early, by Karachi standards, before midnight. But credit for that goes to the chief at Salt Arts, Raania Azam Khan Durrani, who’s running an event management company that has fast established a reputation for hosting well-executed, high-end performances by a carefully curated select group of artists and performers from across Pakistan (and at times, beyond) and musical genres.
This is the duo’s second performance with Salt Arts and they shared the stage with another young DJ to enter the music scene: Turhan James. He only recently returned to Pakistan from Canada, and has already performed at some of the bigger events including the Solis Music Festival in Lahore earlier this year.
He was the first to open the show and his track list included the recently released original Feel Alive, as well as LA and Wicked Ways. Turhan’s own music is more groovy and softer compared to what was to come after him, and yet, in some ways, it was the perfect introduction for the audience for the night. As a producer, Turhan has a very distinct Western taste for music, and while he looks very comfortable on stage, he’s still finding his footing where interacting with the audience is concerned. I’m excited to see him grow and develop both as a producer and performer.
At just 29 years of age, Talha Dar and Feroze Faisal of SomeWhatSuper have gotten their music act down to somewhat of an artform.
When the duo of SomeWhatSuper came on stage, they took the performance up several notches, to a point where they had the entire audience singing along to the songs they played. Some of the songs on their set list included the song that launched them on to the mainstream media, The Sibbi Song (featuring Abid Brohi), their twist on 'Gharoli', 'HumTum', 'Ko Ko Korina', 'Nach Punjaban', 'Babiya' and 'Laung Gawacha'. From their originals they played 'Apka Matluba Number' and 'Bandook'. I was very pleasantly surprised to observe the audience recognise the latter two.
In contrast to the earlier performance, SomeWhatSuper constantly interacted with the audience — often holding up the microphone to them to encourage them to sing and turning the song off for a few brief seconds to see how in sync everyone’s singing was. They did two encores that evening.
Hoping to speak to the DJs that had performed, I was led across the stage to where one of them, Talha Dar, was in the green area, towering above everyone else. After a brief introduction, Talha indicated that we should step outside where it might be quieter. Pretty soon, I found myself following him and his security — a group of men just as burly and tall — through the crowd and out into the parking lot where the other half of SomeWhatSuper, Feroze Faisal, was waiting for us in the rain.
There was no place to go for cover, so we decided to have the chat in my car, under the watchful eyes of their security who braved the rain outside, while they waited for their transport to arrive.
They’re both 29-year-olds and seemingly oblivious to the fact that there were hundreds of people that wanted to get a piece of them just a few minutes ago. They have the same down-to-earth attitude as people who’ve just started out, not those that have caught the public’s fancy for the past couple of years.
I point out that they always incorporate some desi elements in their music as well. “That’s what makes us SomeWhatSuper,” says Talha. “We don’t care if people hate the music. We’ll play the song because it goes with the vibe.”
“We don’t want to hate people, but sometimes we do get a lot of hate: Aap desi scene kar rahey ho. [You’re making it into a desi scene],” adds Feroze. “We’re just owning it. Before this, the EDM [Electronic Dance Music] scene was a bit gora [foreign]. It was also very, very underground. We brought it to the mainstream. We just wanted to introduce proper dance music to Pakistan.”
EDM is still a relatively niche genre in Pakistan. “Because the audience is only now starting to understand it,” says Feroze. “When more producers jump into it, it will start to expand and give birth to newer genres. Filhaal [Right now], we confine it to a bubble called desi EDM. And we’re at the right place to educate people for that.”
They’re very good at figuring out what their audience wants and interacting with them. Does that come naturally to them? “In the beginning it was very tough to find the right sound for the audience,” confesses Feroze. “But at the end of the day, humari awam naachna chaahti hai [our people want to dance].
“We say this all the time: our ‘rave’ culture is basically the mehndi event. You’ll find a lot of diversity in that. Your song becomes a hit when it’s played at mehndis. That’s how we figured out what the audience actually wants.”
“And we’ll play pure Pakistani music,” adds Talha.
It’s an approach that has worked for them. According to the duo, they played more than 30 gigs last year in cities across Pakistan, which includes Islamabad, Karachi, Lahore, Faisalabad, Gujrat, Gujranwala etc. Having crossed the 100th mark in the total number of gigs, at just 29-years-old, they seem to have it all figured out.
Have they had any memorable encounters with their fans? “We’ve had the best chhoti si [little] fan,” says Feroze. “She was five-years-old and she brought one of our posters for us… ” Talha completes the sentence: “And all of our songs were written on it!”
“We will never forget that,” says Feroze. “We still have that poster.”
“Otherwise, we don’t usually stick around,” relates Talha. “We just play our set and go out.”
I can bear witness to that. But it turns out the duo have a reason for this. Their gigs have sometimes resulted in unexpected, boisterous conduct by the audience. So the boys would rather play it safe and leave than stick around and wait for any kind of potential trouble.
“We’ve seen some really weird sh*t,” confesses Talha. “We were once playing at the Ghulam Ishaq Khan University [in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa] and right in front of us chairs were flying across the venue. Then they [the administration] shut the electricity down as well!”
Apparently, that didn’t deter their audience. “The students introduced a chant for us,” relates Feroze. “It went, ‘Sab se aala, sab se upar, SomeWhatSuper! SomeWhatSuper’!”
According to the duo, 2020 is going to be a big year for them. “But for now, we’re releasing our own solos,” says Feroze. “Our releases with SomeWhatSuper are ready but we’re going to wait.”
“We’re trying to push new music out there through other people because SomeWhatSuper can’t run on the radio all of the time,” clarifies Talha. “That’s the only thing we want from other people as well: just release new music.”
Original published in Dawn, ICON, September 8th, 2019