“Every single pantone colour splashed on an empty canvas conjuring imageries of either a sunset near the beach or skyscrapers in the deep of the night.”
Suggesting some sort of synaesthesia when asked about his creative process, Faiz Pradana’s current output – kitschy electronic pop by way of Shibuya-kei sans vocals (save for samples) – doesn’t actually require one to have a neurological phenomenon in order to see its neon lit visible spectrum. That may be an obvious tell, but it is oftentimes difficult to read the tone of the diminutive DJ-producer’s speech; his overwrought answer was either the pretentious phrasal twiddling of a bedroom producer or the matter-of-fact brilliance of a Rain Man type savant.
Close friends would tell you it’s the latter. Their chosen term of endearment for Pradana is Time Lord (Pradana), in reference to the Doctor whose alien demeanour is frequently described as within the realm of mild autism; Asperger’s or sociopathy, take your pick. Mean inside joke among friends as it is though, the taunt is somewhat faint with the whiff of envy and the fragrance of reverence; it also refers to their claim that Pradana has always been ahead of the curve musically. Be it in the man’s own production or general music taste and foresight, he’s had a multitude of identifiable musical chapters in his career, though he related that “every musician had their own natural phase when it comes to experimenting with musical styles to build their own musical identity.” Said in an unaffected tone that’s become characteristic of Pradana; more suggesting a perceived fact than didactic pedantry.
The first discernible incarnation of Pradana was initially as f-dot, and later on Skware-1 – a hip hop producer associated with the Rogue Squadron collective during their infancies (of his membership status now, he said, “It would be really delusional of them if they wanna claim each member that ‘defected’ is still rollin’ with them.”). Then there was the Skware-1 who played at BUD CULTURE gigs that got founder Tubby proclaiming him the “King of Grime” long before the fashionably hip appropriated the genre into something runway-friendly. A glimpse of his output during that era can be heard on R.I.P Skware-1: Skwarewerrrkzzz Mixtape (2006-2009) – rooted in beat music, hip hop, and glitch hop, the self-released mixtape signalled that Skware-1 was in his death throes, soon to be regenerated into the more permanent entity known as Pradana.
In the interim between then and now though, Pradana as Pradana had its own transitional phase as well. His remix of pioneering housemeister Urban XS’ ‘Luscious’ had a strong vogue slant to it (dubbed ‘vogue-ish’), predating the larger queer presence in the mainstream electronic scene today. ‘Give it to ‘99’ and his reworking of Janet Jackson’s ‘If’ mined the 2-step canon of the UK. Other tracks looked to juke (also pre-Rick Owens fuccbois), then there was an occasional vaporwave tinkering or two, and even some jungle for competition’s sake. But it wasn’t until he hit the big 30 and remixed VMPRMYTH’s ‘Sleazus’, turning the bro-y producer’s masculine track into city pop sludge, that the long-gestating Shibuya-kei influence crept into his production – later, his take on ‘Senyuman’ by quartet Menikmati one-upped it by incorporating the genres that he’s dabbled in previously (jungle, d’n’b, 2-step) into the beat, making for a tofubeats-like permutation. If true synaesthesia were truly involved, the muted colours of hip hop beats, the saturated and low res hues of vaporwave, and the concrete grey of d’n’b, grime, 2-step, and other basement genres must have been an affront to his audiovisual receptacle – no wonder the pop of pantone colours now. In fact, Pradana fantasises about releasing a “straight up pop record” with a female vocalist (“Since I suck at singing myself”).
I cringe at people who still think that DJs party a lot and get all the girls while producers stay in the cave completing a track.
Despite the Bildungsroman-length journey that finally led him there, his predilection for the Japanese wasn’t a recent development. In fact, the party responsible for initiating Pradana into electronic music came from the Land of the Rising Sun. “Back in the 2000, I came across this weird tag called Shibuya-kei on Audiogalaxy – shout out to P2P network – [and] I ended up illegally downloading Towa Tei’s Last Century Modern and the rest was…” he stopped, seemingly thinking for a moment whether to be a cliché, “… contemplating for seven years on whether or not I should dive into doing this ‘electronic’ music thing.”
But of course he dove into it. As an electronic artiste, even during the transitional periods, Pradana had shown the tendencies of a Japanophile – his JUICE Curates mix, ‘Kyatchi!Kyatchi!Kyatchi’, was an unapologetic tribute to Shibuya-kei, his early hip hop beats had the J-hop aesthetics of the genre’s luminaries (notably m-flo), and his music preference even included straight up J-pop. He often discusses city pop on social media with what he named the “city pop club ‘trifecta’” – noisician Jerk Kerouac, fellow beatmaker Adam Kasturi, and the man himself. There was also great love shown for “overly generous Japanese netlabels,"" most of whom frequently put up free releases. “So shouts out to Maltine Records, Bunkai-Kei, Trekkie Trax, Marginal Records, Tanukineiri, [and] Daytripper Records for always filling up playlists for my DJ sets,” he gushed.
“You could say that I’m just following trends,” said Pradana of his affinity for Japan, “the whole world is always looking up for cool references from that Island and its homogenous society.” If his self-awareness weren’t quite pronounced early on in the conversation, then this should prove otherwise. However, putting his self-diagnosed Asperger’s hat on, he was quick to clarify that he wasn’t exactly some kind of a music weeaboo; “For your information, the whole city pop thing which I’m into lately is actually no more than the Japanese version of late ‘80s, early ‘90s pop music – read: vaporwave’s main source – which always have a special place in my heart.”
With nearly a decade worth of experience, carrying with him an impressive beat oeuvre to boot, Pradana doesn’t get as many gigs as you would think he should be getting. It’s no secret that the Malaysian scene is more focused on the DJing aspect than DJ-producers with original tracks – look at who gets to open for international acts! Meanwhile Doorly informed JUICE that for him to get top billing, he had to force himself to make his own tracks. However, Pradana didn’t agree with the notion that the blame should be put on the ‘scene’; “Not all producers DJ though (laughs),” that outright dismissal was then followed with his alternative take on it, “People still tend to think that DJing and producing are two separate hobbies or professions even though there’s a healthy number of us who multitasks effortlessly. I cringe at people who still think that DJs party a lot and get all the girls while producers stay in the cave completing a track, which is always depicted by those ‘producers’ meme on social media.” That, according to him, was somehow responsible for the “imbalanced focus between strictly DJ and DJ-producer.”
There was no delusion as to the state of the scene here though. “We’re lagging four years behind compared to Singaporeans in this department,” Pradana said. Smug or not, he should know; Mushroom Buttons and Pradana were invited to Syndicate SG’s Beat Invitational some five years ago, and they had firsthand experience with the talents and quality of music from the city-state. It wasn’t just that, the camaraderie was significantly better. “They definitely had warmth, that everyone-here-is-your-friend vibe compared to us KLites, and they seemed to support each other in all the events they ever went to,” he told us, “I don’t know, maybe being in a small island makes them more like a tight-knit family, I guess.”
All is not lost. With the emergence of Akhyla (aside from VMPRMYTH, most are young’uns) and HOAX, Pradana was convinced that we’re finally catching up. “I’m glad that more and more kids are actually into this shit and I’d have to admit that most of ‘em have achieved better than us old farts in an insignificant amount of time musically,” he admitted before giving us this hypothetical, “I can’t even imagine the level of musicality that they’re gonna achieve when they reach my age.”
“The younger generations tend to adapt quicker than we do.”