Mera Bhai: Reflection and Exploration Through Euphoria

At this point in time, I want to make people feel comfortable, but I want to challenge them as well.” explains Karthik Poduval, the artist, DJ and producer behind the alluring and all embracing electronic wonder that is Mera Bhai. It may seem an obvious desired goal to aim for, but one that only few artists are really striving to achieve, especially when considering their place within the contemporary music landscape.

It’s perhaps considered even less so when focusing simply upon the physical context of bands and DJs sharing a stage within a live context – considering the supposed predilection of music consumers is to embrace their own tastes over algorhythm-suggested suggestions, surely that should translate into the way events are being attended by a widely ranging demographic? While that yet seems to be the case, Mera Bhai is one project that is attempting to embrace an autonomous identity that articulates itself through the boundaries of convenient understanding.

It’s immediately forthcoming upon hearing Futureproofing, Mera Bhai’s upcoming first EP. Poduval may be stepping away from the group dynamic that he shares within the exotic tropicala of Flamingods – where he is a founding member – but that doesn’t mean he is labelling Mera Bhai simply as a DJ or production act – there’s more consideration needed to be taken than that. The intent for Poduval to challenge such foundations becomes clearer when you consider the music itself – wide ranging, undiluted electronic music that embraces the many cultures within which Poduval has inhabited, while asking why such influences wouldn’t work within the parameters of the four-to-the-floor thumpers that liberate such contemporary music.

New heater ‘Mañana Groove’ embraces such a wealth of inspiration in culture and taste – an intrinsic dance floor smash in one respect and a subtly sizzling acid trance the next. Most importantly, it’s all so seamlessly displayed that its able to explore the opportunity of existing within any environment. – not just within a restricted label or in settings that are penned in to apparently make things more easily attainable to the modern music consumer. While perhaps the most subtle and physical moment of the EP in terms of how it is attempting to distinguish itself – Poduval still personifies the eastern and western cultures that have inspired and informed his creativity, sampling Cissé Abdoulaye’s ‘A Son Magni’ – a precocious, sultry track from Burkina Faso – and underneath it building a similarly liberating sunshine house ripper.

This is what Poduval does so well as Mera Bhai – he channels all of his inclinations into eye-openingly cohesive work that questions why more artists aren’t exploring this in the first place. It’s bold, refreshing and utterly encapsulating. As we sit down with Poduval, his passion and exuberance for the project is immediate from the off, and what is slowly unravelled is how much of a personal, perhaps even spiritual act this is for him.

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How have you found the last few months starting this project within the restrictions of Covid, staying creative and adapting. How have you found that? 

For me, it’s actually been amazing. I say that, obviously I’m pleased for myself but I’m aware it’s been a terrible, tumultuous time for many people – it’s been rough. About a year, 18 months before COVID, I lost three family members, which was obviously a tricky time. Then about a week before covid I broke up with my girlfriend of eight years – not to say feel sorry for me or anything.So it’s been a pretty fucking wild time, but I’m really glad that all happened before COVID, not during, because it would’ve been absolutely heartbreaking for me if any of that had happened during this period of time.

This four months is the longest that I’ve been in England since 2014 that I haven’t been on tour, I’ve basically been on tour relentlessly since then, which has been exhausting. It’s actually been a blessing for me to be able to stay at home, work on stuff, develop and stay creative. I was chatting to loads of other creatives at that time and there’s a huge amount of creative energy but people weren’t motivated.

So for me it’s been a super creative period of time what I’ve needed for ages, but now I’m trying to ease back into normal life or whatever, while maintaining time to myself – i’m sure you’ve found it as well, when everything stopped you had some much time to stop, slow down and take stock when typically you just have back to back stuff, you’re constantly doing shit. It’s actually its really helpful to have space, the quality of your life and work is just so much better because you have time to think about stuff rather than just doing it all the time.

I think that’s it, those of us that do so many different things at once have found its given us the time to slow down, really consider how that routine we had is making us feel and if it is actually working, if the creative spurts we have are still conducive to good healthy living I suppose. It’s been the same for me to be honest, not crashing but just stopping and asking whether I want to go back to the same thing and whether I can do things better and that work better for me as a person.

Definitely, and looking after my mental health has always been a really big thing for me, I’ve spent years in therapy and i’m very vocal, I talk about it lot, and I think this period in time for me was another point of self-reflection,  where even though I’ve been looking after myself – I do yoga everyday, I work out a lot, I meditate – there was still a point where there was still too much going in my life, and actually I needed more space.

It’s constantly trying to not push yourself, but constantly trying to get inside and see if things work for you. As I said, it’s been a tumultuous period for many people and I have many friends who have gone the opposite way, but in a way that means that there’s stuff that needs to be looked at. It’s inevitable really that this would happen, you’d be encouraged or pushed along by the COVID situation.

How has it felt delving into your own solo work? Exploring something that is very much yours in comparison to more collaborative creativity?

Really interesting. I love Flamingods so much for what it is, but the nature of working with people is its always about compromising. The amazing thing with Flamingods is it’s fully democratic – there’s no one that goes “this is how it’s going to be” – we always agree on everything, which is amazing, but it always means that there’s a meeting in the middle.

It’s a beautiful thing, and I’m so lucky to have that actually, but this was almost overwhelming in that moment of feeling like I could do whatever I want and there’s no one to answer to, there’s no second judgement, there’s no second guessing stuff, it’s actually what I think sounds good and what sounds right for me.

When I started it, it was a point last year when we finished touring and I disappeared to India, What was really nice was the concept was born in India which is where I’m from, I was just on my own there and now I’ve brought it back to a space here where I live in London and I’ve brought in all these collaborators that are a part of my circle and life. It’s not like I’ve gone to India and made a spiritual album, I’ve gone home, written a record that was largely influenced by lots of different things, you wouldn’t listen to it and think that it was written in India. That’s not relevant to anyone other than me, so it’s quite personal in a way, that was about my trip, not about me telling the world I was in India, it’s cool.

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It’s quite interesting, because like you say where you’ve taken those influences from are very much personal to you – but then the sound of it as a whole is quite a universal thing, it obviously does take in all these different tastes and cultures. There’s seamlessness and juxtaposition at the same time?

I’m really glad you say that, it’s really meaningful, because in a way I didn’t set out to do anything, but that is what I was trying to achieve. If I look at it and I’m asked what is it that I want to get out of this, that is it. I think also its important that the influences are there but it’s not perceived as world music, or the kind of stuff that would be played in a specific place. It’s not the world music dance tent, I want it to be outside of that space that is quite alienating in a way, like this is the category you fit into.

That seems to come from the convergence between not only the natural instrumentation but also the more electronic, club-orientated elements – It’s a real mixture across the board. Was it important for you to be able to present such various ideas within a condensed release like an EP? 

Yeah actually, it’s funny. The title of the EP is multifaceted, in essence one of the ideas to it being called Futureproofing was that I’ve actually just put a bunch of tracks together that are varied and have very different influences, but to me it’s fairly logical.

Futureproofing in itself is “if you don’t like this, you don’t like me” and that’s fine. I don’t really need to worry about making fans or digging this stuff, cause if they don’t dig this then that’s it, they don’t dig me, and that’s fine, that’s cool.

This is a thing I’m currently exploring a lot more in my DJ sets as well, obviously i’m not the only person to do this, but I’ve been playing in so many different environments, in a techno environment or a UK garage environment, or you go the a world music night and it’s different. In the sets that I’m doing now I’m not being wild with it but taking people on a journey, play some good shit and play stuff that all feels like somehow it makes sense, but you’d never know outside of it how it would. In my head it makes sense, I want to make that work, it’s a work in progress really.

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It’s interesting to consider this within a live form as well, does it work as you alone, does it work as a band, does it work as you DJing, in what respect does that work? I suppose considering that is exciting because it makes it quite fluid? 

Yeah definitely, and I’ve thought about that as well, how I present it. I’m trying to be quite careful in how I present it. After the tracks developed and I shaped them into an EP I was thinking about how I present the concept of the project – so I thought before going into live shows and bringing people in I just want people to become familiar with the influence and the idea of being taken out of your comfort zone.

That’s exciting in itself?

Yeah, long term goal, trickling it out.

So I suppose your DJ sets are quite a nice natural progression into your work within this project?

Yeah definitely, I felt like there was quite a disparity, there was one side and there was another, and musically for me there was nothing in the middle to represent that. It felt like they all had their own spaces, their own categories, their respective places, so I’m trying to pull that all together and see if it works. Also, I hate this term, but to see if it works in a commercial environment, if people will like it – not if they will buy it but if it will jar people out – would people just listen to it, would you hear it on the radio, could you get down with it. I’d like to share those experiences with people basically.

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It’s nice having that balance of accessibility and exploration and it having a narrative to it?

Yeah exactly. Accessible is the word I’m looking for.

Do you feel the project embraces the constant rush of modern music consumption, where genre is much less important in comparison to mood or atmosphere – or does it feel like the antithesis? Where it rejects the now traditional form for something more engaging and in-depth? 

For me, when I was writing I really had to make an effort to not follow the verse, chorus, verse. That did happen naturally in a couple of tracks, but in various formats I had to keep checking myself and be like “what needs to happen here in the track, where can I take it?” For me in a way it sounds timeless, even in my choice of instrumentation which some people have mentioned, the gear I used that I’ve got in my studio here it’s all really old drum machines, really old vintage synths, and I’ve got a big analogue desk. But at the same time, it’s got quite high production value, it’s quite glossy, but it still sounds kind of old and a few people have said that and I think yeah actually that is true, because I’m not trying to make it anything futuristic but I’m also not necessarily making it a throwback sound. They aren’t new and different, but in a way you haven’t heard it before, that’s what I aim for really.

It’s like you say it’s finding that middle in all this really nice exploration, because it can so easily be done and it’s not. But why not because it’s such an exciting idea?

Definitely, I don’t know if you have a different take on this, but I wonder if largely that comes down to the fact that people are scared of how things will be received. Also we live in this really consumer driven world, super capitalistic, that’s why I’ve only really just started thinking about this very very recently how you categorise things. I was kind of having this conversation with someone the other day about why labels often put out very west of leftfield stuff, is it because people don’t want it or is it because they think it won’t make money? I don’t know, and I think that stops a lot of people taking risks. I’ve gone off a lot of club music, because it all sounds the same and it’s perfect for that environment. Maybe people just want to sit in the safety net of those categories –  “what kind of music is it? Oh it’s House, it’s Techno, it’s two-step, oh it’s dub” – it’s very easy to explain and categorise.

MERA BHAI 7

It’s digestible, and it’s interesting because when looking at things like playlisting, they reckon consumers listen more to their own playlists rather than suggested ones, and that’s because they put their own mood and personality into it. So if listeners do that in their own respect, why doesn’t that translate into being into bands and then going to DJ sets? It’s such an independent thing that I’m unsure it would be accepted within a modern mainstream scope?

It’s sellable ultimately, it becomes a commodity. If you can’t describe it, who’s going to buy it? I guess it’s also the nature of the human mind, they want familiarity and they want stuff that they’ve heard before. I guess to some degree avid music listeners like ourselves will want to hear something fresh and different, but lots of people that aren’t that way inclined will just be like “I don’t get it”.

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I suppose again I feel like that’s where your music sits quite confidently between being accessible but has so many layers as well – I like how it has this very steadfast, raw directness to it – it captures emotion and euphoria at its most extreme moments. Do you feel like you are most creative when you are that forthright in capturing those moments? 

It is about being really forthright for me, in the writing process and in how I express things, especially in how straightforward can we be. How to the point can we be, not beating around the bush or glossing things up with the sampling or with the writing technique. The impetus when I was writing was how can I write with as few layers as possible, I just wanted to strip everything back – it’s like when you speak, you say the most when you say the least really.

That’s it, and that’s where the laconicness comes from it. Jama El F’na’ seemed like such a suitable starting point for you – being able to symbolise the coalescing of eastern and western cultures that you are trying to explore within this in one single track, especially when reimagining the work of Ahmed Fakroun who also crossed such accessible paths in the 80s. Did this feel for you to be the right embodiment of what you were trying to evoke? 

Definitely, it’s funny because that kind of sums up where I’m coming from in all different directions, really at its best. Really it’s just a hard club banger, which obviously doesn’t represent all my interests in music and style, but it’s really in your face, and I thought I don’t want to be bashful about what I present first, I thought let’s just go out there and put something out that’s like “fuck, this is really in your face”.

It’s not happy club either, it’s quite dark and a bit weird, potentially like 4am at a rave. Then it would come on, obviously people wouldn’t really know what it is or where its from or what he’s saying, but be like this is definitely a heater.

To me, dance music speaks this universal language of escape – a place where you can simply escape and let the beats carry you off or you can really delve deep and swim in the various layers that blossom from within it. What does dance music mean to you?

What’s interesting about this is the point that I went to India, I was in this fairly tumultuous time that I needed to be sober. Not that I was getting totally wrecked anyway, but sobriety was a big part of it for me. I think for people, Dance music and that idea of escape is really synonymous with being high, having this experience where you have let go of all your inhibitions. Whereas, I actually want to be able to experience those feelings of freedom, when you hear something like ‘Inspector Norse’ by Todd Terje or 808 State ‘Pacific State’ and you are transported to that place, you don’t need to have dropped a couple of pingers. You can just listen to that track and you can dance any time of day, anywhere, and you know what you are in for, and I think for me that’s really important.

Being in a place where I don’t really do that sort of thing any more, it was really important that I wasn’t isolated or excluded from those environments, I still want to be there and enjoy myself and make tunes that make people feel like that, that alternative freedom.

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Do you feel like making this was a very helpful thing for you, like a recovery or a healing process?

Yeah definitely, because I was so embedded in the writing process, the only rule was I have to be happy with it. The rule wasn’t that it had to be finished, the rule was that I had to enjoy it and I had to be happy with it. That in itself presented its challenges but I was like fuck it, how does it make me feel? Am I really into this? I listen to the record and I think its really good because I love that music, so in that way it doesn’t really matter. To me, it conveys those feelings and emotions that i want to hear in music, without also being too blatant.

It’s weird because one would think, being the tricky times we’ve had and me being a person that talks about mental health a lot, it’s not so forthright – it’s not like here are a bunch of things that I think you should feel, it’s the opposite, it’s just like a feel good response to those things.

It’s a much more primal thing – it’s very much about inciting a feeling without saying it?

Yeah, and there was a point where I was a bit worried that it lacked depth because I’m not being really direct emotionally with what I’m trying to present. But actually it is what it is and however people receive it, be it what I’m saying or they’re own experience, it’s cool.

MERA BHAI 9

Because there is so much variety across it, it has the different emotions, it has the various vibes people feel and that does come across, which makes it interesting in how we can talk about how much understanding we can take from just music itself?

Also going back to the idea of those feelings of euphoria that you get when you are in certain spaces, what is it, how does it make you feel, why do you feel that way? I spent a lot of time thinking about these benal questions, but why? I don’t know what it is. In reflection and exploration I get to explore these things musically.

Would you say it’s a very spiritual thing?

It’s so difficult in a way, because I shouldn’t be ashamed to say that it is. I feel like there’s such a taboo around dance culture and dance music culture, because for me dancing in a way is a spiritual thing. It’s a release and it’s so primal, and there’s no argument about why people dance. It makes you feel good.

But there’s a real taboo about dance music culture because it’s really really become associated and steeped in bro culture, where you’ve got to look a certain way and you’ve got to wear fucking certain clothes or whatever it is. It’s also become super tied up within social media culture, being seen at certain places. All of these really earnest experiences, being in grotty clubs and up at six in the morning, those are things that don’t really happen anymore because it’s not cool and it’s not trendy, and because of that whole movement dance music culture has become a bit of a taboo.

It is a spiritual thing, taking all those inspirations and being like where can I go with it, how can I explain those sounds through those ears, how am I hearing it? How am I hearing something that I listened to as a kid will fit with a disco track, It doesn’t make sense when I explain it but to me it does. It is a spiritual and personal thing for me, but I’m scared and slightly embarrassed to say that because of the connotations that dance music comes with, but it is what it is, and part of the process is it’s going to be received by people in different ways and that’s just the nature of it isn’t it.

It’s accepting that this is what you are feeling and what you want to achieve, and however people take it that’s ok?

Exactly, if people listen to it and think, that’s just four to the floor boring ass dance music, that’s ok, that’s their thing. Then maybe your thing is listening to more challenging stuff, and that’s what people need. Jury’s out, we’ll see how it goes.

Mera Bhai’s EP Futureproofing is out 9th October via Moshi Moshi. New single ‘Mañana Groove’ is out now – watch the video here at Wax Music. 

Words: Ross Jones          Photography: Max Dillon

Music Video Direction & Production: Niall Trask

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