Fringe: Outside the Pop Periphery

source: Rizki Maulana

MUSCLE//MACHINE
TESTOSTERONE

MUSCLE//MACHINE is a multi-hyphenate duo in two ways; musicality and genre. They produce, they DJ, they sing, they rap, and they play multiple instruments despite growing up in the DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) age. They are also reflective of the post-genre zeitgeist that the internet age has embraced – MUSCLE//MACHINE make just about anything, from Tom Waits-channelling working class lament (‘Temptation’) to straight up hip hop bangers (‘Good Girl’), and they do it all with effortless élan.

In a different world, Mus (VMPRMYTH) and Aaron (JSTN PWRS) of MUSCLE//MACHINE would have been accepted quicker by the scene. Perhaps even by the bigger pop milieu, they would have had a career similar to The Neptunes – artistes on their own right and producers to many a pop star. All while still maintaining creative legitimacy. Alas, the landscape here is vastly different from more developed countries.

“If you don’t know the right people, you’re basically f*cked. In light of that truth, we shot ourselves in the foot anyway,” Mus told us, referring to their proclivity towards being irreverent in the face of cronyism. You either grow up or “continue bitching,” he added, saying that it took time for them to realise the latter was unproductive. “As growing musicians, we will only grow more critical, but we’ve learnt to channel that into something more positive,” concluded Aaron.

That ‘something more positive’ could be producing for other acts – if you don’t like the scene, shape it – which they had dabbled in with their seminal production of Meliha Faisal’s first recorded single, ‘Eyes Open’. They’ve stated that a larger release with her is in the works, and that being a producer for other artistes was really something they are looking into as a career. “I actually wanna make beats for rappers I support,” Aaron explained, naming SonaOne and Arabyrd as two people he’d like to collaborate with.

But it’s not just established acts (“[We’re] hoping to discover some new talent as well.”), MUSCLE//MACHINE has produced for a completely unknown act; Amir Meludah. Describing him as something of a ‘modern day Malay bard’, Aaron waxed lyrical about the literary MC, “[he] is setting a great standard for hip hop in Bahasa.” The duo should know a thing or two about the genre, if there were a constant in what they do, it’s that they tend to gravitate towards hip hop.

“Hip hop in general is a genre so musically and lyrically diverse [that] it will always be a part of what [we] do, even if it may not seem obvious,” said Mus, cementing that the duo wasn’t just unfocused everything and anything.

What we’ve heard of MUSCLE//MACHINE so far is barely scratching the surface of their capabilities. They’ve recorded over 50 tracks, most won’t see the light of day, but all the cumulative influences of the group will become more apparent with the release of their EP. “All our sides make up [the group] – that is our constant,” Mus told us with affirmation.

Knowing what exactly their influences are is more impressive, Mus and Aaron have taken an almost erudite approach to music. While Aaron’s primary diet at the moment is trap – studying DJ Toomp (someone who has been around since before trap was EDM-fied) – he’s also busy researching synthesis, Bach, and Indian classical music. Mus is currently neck deep soaking in Turkish and Mongolian folk and Amon Tobin’s sound design.

“Sound is really insane…” Aaron said before Mus butted in, “… every style, note, timbre, combined in a certain way brings about a certain expression or emotion. Depending on how I feel at the present moment, certain styles become more pertinent.” Surprising articulation from a group that rapped about girls jerking d!cks and turning tricks, but it makes sense for a group whose passion lies in the studio and constantly learning the craft.

Despite their frustration with not getting recognised sooner early on in their career, both Mus and Aaron stopped letting that get to them. Preferring to continue making music than worry about pop awareness, Mus concluded our talk perfectly.

“If I were that insecure, I would’ve stopped making music a long time ago.”

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