Madboy/Mink, a duo with Imaad Shah and Saba Azad makes electronic music mashing up old school Funk and Nu Disco. Modern eclectic sound designs with its roots in the era of the pioneers of funk and soul can be described as distinct attributes of Madboy/Mink’s music as they integrate live guitars, synthesizers, vocals and vocoders. Imaad and Saba talk to Emaho about how they are inspired by many genres but owe allegiance to none when producing their own trademark music.
Emaho : You have been described as a terror twin duo. What made the two of you come together to collaborate as musicians?
Imaad: I think it was the fact that we look like twins. Maybe we are, you never know. For starters, we immediately found a shared love for Harlem swing and similar forms of dance music. Saba’s voice was perfect for some of my old raw disco productions and from the first few jams on, we stuck.
Emaho : Yours is a kaleidoscope of futuristic music along with an old school essence. What are the challenges of executing this exciting combination? Using a MicroKorg, live funk guitar, vocoders, soulfully destroyed vocals and old school vinyl samples; you play Mod-Nu Disco and synthpop with a touch of electro swing. What draws you to bring such diversity in your music making?
Imaad: I don’t think we look at it as ‘diversity’, because that happens to be our idiom and the sound that we have evolved into, as producers and musicians. So even while our music has its roots in old school funk and disco, its very much our personal take on that. We love shaking up cultural and time zones.
Saba: I think the challenge is in limiting ones options. Being free with the sounds you connect with or enjoy is never challenging. It’s natural to want to produce music one enjoys listening to. Even though technically these sounds may be very different from one another there is a distinct flavour that emerges as our music…we enjoy the old school, we like reinterpreting it in our new way.
Emaho : Imaad, The Pulp Society, your previous band was a funk-rock band. Madboy Mink is dirty electro. Saba, you’ve sung for commercial mainstream Hindi cinema also. How do you identify yourselves with such different genres of music?
Imaad: Now that I think about it, from the time I picked up production in my teens and guitar from even earlier, I’ve gone pretty deep into a lot of the music that I love. It varies. Though I’ve certainly zeroed into my personal groove as a producer and have a sound that I like to call my own, as a listener and music researcher I try to listen and learn avidly. I listen to everything depending on the time of day and my level of moodiness. I adore Punk, Delta Blues, synthpop, Qawali, Minimal Tech, Nu-Jazz, big band, this list is endless. My Soul records are precious and I have a cassette marking every phase of my childhood and adolescence. While The Pulp Society is a classic Funk live band, with Hammond organs percussion, it’s a very different experience from producing in the studio with Mink and all my other explorations with synthesizers and samples as a solo producer.
Saba: My beginnings were as a rock and blues singer for a bunch of bands, mainstream Hindi film music happened as a by-product of people having heard my voice at gigs. Growing up my influences have been and continue to be varied, no one only listens to or enjoys just one kind of music there is no limit to what I enjoy, today it could be some Captain Beefheart, tomorrow some pop from the south of France, day after some good old Farida Khanum, and day after some insane math rock.
Emaho : Do you associate yourselves with the aliases ‘Madboy’ and ‘Mink’ respectively? What roles are defined for the both of you and how do you overcome creative differences in your two-member team?
Saba: Well, ‘Mink’ was just a name my favourite music producer called me by…it stuck….apart from the fact that I enjoy eating peanuts I don’t think I’m anything like a squirrel, do you?
When it comes to a highly opinionated twosome, we battle it out like anyone else, the good part is the differences are never at a large aesthetic level we had that covered a while ago when we decided to collaborate. Invariably the differences more often than not lead to something better than what we started with so we don’t mind the occasional jostle.
Imaad: Saba is definitely a squirrel or a rabbit in disguise as a human… I’ve been producing solo as ‘Madboy’ for a while now and it’s been a pet name for ages- one among many jokes made at my name over the years with regards to sanity… or the lack of it. But yeah, we love playing solo as well. Saba has been playing some raucous swing parties with her MinkSwing DJ set. The after-party she played at NH7 was pretty off the hook too.
Emaho : We’ve seen both of you as actors, on stage and screen, now your music tells us there’s more than what meets the eye. How do you want to be perceived as musicians vis-a-vis your image as actors? How has Madboy/Mink changed your plans as such?
Saba: I think we’re just doing what we love and know how to do and that’s not restricted by any medium, we’ve both grown up in highly fertile environments that allowed us to have our own voice our own idiom and choice of professions. Imaad is also a lyricist, music director and filmmaker, I’m a professional dancer, theatre director and designer. All performing arts are so incredibly intertwined it’s impossible to be interested in one without having a real grasp on the others and I don’t think Madboy/Mink has changed anything on that account.
Imaad: There’s really no conscious thought about being perceived or anything. The important stuff is the stuff you have to do, if you know what I mean- in every sense. When you survive by it, the drive is immense. Cinema and theatre are very intense parts of my life, and so is producing tunes. And where one starts to become the other, is really a very blurry line. I shoot and write my own films and sound design and music are essential to that. My work with actors in theatre, and as one too- has a big effect on my performances and on directing performances. This goes on and it’s a very useful interconnected web of knowledge for a control freak like me.
Emaho :Do you believe your genre of music is a revolutionary trend in the indie music scene? How has the public responded to your work till date?
Saba: It’s no doubt different from what our audiences are programmed to react to, but we’ve had a very loving reaction to our music. Our single, ‘Lemonade’ got a wonderful response, we are doing what we enjoy and more often than not our joy filters into the audience.
Imaad: Of course our music is revolutionary! Isn’t everybody’s? But yeah, we’ve played a ton of gigs and released only one single because we like our releases to be really special- but in spite of that, the level of connection with our tunes has been huge so far.
Emaho : The so-called “indie electronic” bubble has swelled in the country – for the good, bad or the ugly? Are you trying to create a signature sound in the Electronic Dance Music scene by doing things differently?
Saba: We aren’t trying to be different we are just doing what comes naturally to us, it may be different by default but it wasn’t a planned decision at any point. Like I said the only rule we stick to is that we must enjoy our own music…everything else is tertiary.
Imaad: Yeah, what we do is definitely not in response to any ‘scene’. In fact, how can you make anything that way? That would just be lame. We produce the sound we like because it’s non pretentious and because we feel a primal connect with the Funk. And that’s the only way it can be a signature sound- if you ignore everything and just do it your way. I’ve learned to trust my kinkier tendencies and instincts.
Emaho :Your song ‘Lemonade’ has been well received. Your audience knew the song even before you officially released it this September. Take us through its music making process, from the idea to the recording to its production.
Saba: I guess it’s not as straight up funk as some of our other direction these days. It’s a song which needed a vocal delivery that was weary and funky at the same time and that’s a vocal sound were honing a lot more with our other tunes. Layering our key vocals with post-Punk type megaphone filters and old school Soul falsettos. Also, Imaad’s choice of synthesizer sounds is on the kookier side of things and he was trying to evoke a George Duke or Daft Punk like classic synth tone. He thinks the Strat is the funkiest of guitars and the lyrics are about being shot in the gut. A humble attempt at Bowie meets Justice meets Prince.
Emaho : What are the challenges of performing live in comparison with recording in a studio, especially for you guys because there is a lot of production and engineering work involved?
I think the challenge is surviving nightclubs. The studio is a haven where the wheels are churning, focus is strong and experimentation leads to results. The shows are physically demanding and tremendous fun. Also, lots of perspective is gained when you’re touring. Your mixes, production and tones really have to translate on great and terrible speakers alike. Unlike some people, when we play live, we are not a DJ act. There’s a lot of guitar synth tones and vocal processing that needs to sound blisteringly good. It’s also stepping into the real world, musically speaking. People’s tastes vary so much geographically!
Emaho : Since your first gig at Cocaine last December, how have you been promoting your music and how far have you come? Are you working on any upcoming projects currently?
We’re terrible at promoting ourselves, but the goodwill you gain at gigs really stands up. We’ve been secretive about our releases and released only one single but people really have been catching on to our songs when we play them live. That will change though now and were going to be releasing a bunch of singles in the near future followed by our debut EP.
Art & Culture Interviewed by Rakha Bihani