Dark, powerful and hypnotic – the unique mixture of sound is one of the key elements in the sets and productions of Anil Chawla aka Amotik. Six years ago he moved to Berlin and started his own imprint. Since then the British-Indian producer and DJ has gained a remarkable reputation within the electronic scene. Berghain, KHIDI and Basis are just a few places where he has been on the bill. He took some time to speak to Monument about himself and his work.
Hello Anil, thank you for your time. You were born in the UK, right? When and how did you get in touch with electronic music?
Hi, thanks for having me! I was indeed born in the UK. My experience with electronic music all started in the early 90s when I was exposed to hardcore/jungle/acid house by getting tape packs from record stores and listening to music that my older brother was playing. Also, thanks to UK radio (Radio 1/Kiss FM) playing a lot of electronic music at the weekend, I was regularly listening to Pete Tong, Danny Rampling, and Judge Jules. Through radio, I was also introduced to groups like The KLF, Chemical Brothers, The Orb, Leftfield, and Orbital. From there, things just kept growing and I started visiting nightclubs around the UK from the mid-90s onwards.
Then you moved to India in 2010 and lived in Goa, Mumbai, and Chennai. How was your time there as an artist?
Overall, the experience was very worthwhile from an artist perspective. It was certainly challenging at times for quite a few reasons, but the experience was invaluable to grow and learn in so many ways. Each of those cities was totally different (language/food/people) but all of them had their own charm and unique feeling. I look back really fondly on living in Mumbai particularly as there’s such an electric vibe in the air there.
How is the electronic scene there and what makes it special?
In India, electronic music has been popular for many years now (especially if we look far back to psychedelic trance). I feel it has a pretty rich scene there and what makes it special is the enthusiasm people give you. Some of the venues are incredible too – especially in Goa where you can be playing outside by the beach until the sun rises.
After a few years in India you moved to Berlin in 2014 then. What were the reasons to come back to Europe and especially to Berlin?
My wife and I had just gotten married and decided that it was time to return to Europe but we weren’t 100% sold on London. We were drawn by the music/art scene in Berlin so decided to take a stop there on the way just to get a feel if it’s somewhere we’d like to spend longer. Things worked out really well and we haven’t looked back since. There are no intentions to leave the city any time soon, and it’s most definitely home.
If you compare the Indian and German techno scene, what are the differences and similarities between them?
I’d say the main difference is the venues – Germany has a lot more stand alone clubs, whereas many venues in India are attached to hotels because they need that for the alcohol license (especially in Chennai). People are also much more vocal with their reactions on the dance floor in India. It’s always surprising when I return there to perform to see how much people will cheer you on, and it’s nice. In terms of similarities, the knowledge of music is on par.
Your parents are Indian and you lived in India for a while. Does your Indian background have an influence on you as an artist and on your productions?
Not in a direct way (although I’ve failed many times to get a tabla/sitar sample into one of my tracks). However, it has an influence on my track naming for sure as the track names are all based on the Hindi language.
Let’s talk about your work. A year later after you moved to Berlin, you started your own imprint Amotik. Since then you gained a remarkable reputation as a producer and your productions are impressive. When and how did you come with the idea to start your own label?
Shortly after moving to Berlin, I was feeling a renewed source of inspiration, and felt like I was in a good production routine. Over the span of the first few months here, I’d put together around 10 tracks, and wasn’t quite sure what to do with them as the style was quite different than what I’d written in the past. A couple of friends had advised that it might be a good time to start a label and as the music was different from what I’d made in the past, it also made sense to start a new artist name, so it was a really good opportunity for a fresh start all round.
Your music is powerful and energetic but also hypnotic and it feels very stripped down. A great mixture! From ambient cuts like “Ikis” or broken beats such as “Iktalis” to straight forward techno – you keep the diversity in your productions but it is still possible to hear your unique sound signature. Can you describe your sound in your own words? What is the concept behind your tracks?
Thanks! I always want to make music where I can imagine myself closing my eyes and zoning out on a dance floor, and I’ll always put myself mentally in that place when writing. To put it simply, escapism.
How does the work process in the studio look like and what are your favourite pieces of gear?
Unless I’m in the mood to write ambient, I’ll always start with the drums/percussion, and build from there. My studio is pretty limited. I don’t do too well when I have too many options, so I work better with restrictions. Ableton is at the heart of it all, and I also have a Roland TR-09 for drums, and a midi controller. The rest is in the box, and I’m very fond of the Omnisphere 2 synth, as well as the Soundtoys/Waves plugins.
Last year you also released your first album Vistar. A really great album! After several EPs, why did you come up with the idea to produce an album and how long did it take?
It came about shortly after I had a really productive period writing and managed to get around 8 tracks finished in a short space of time. A lot of them weren’t strictly four-to-the-floor techno as I wasn’t feeling 100% inspired to write straight ahead kick drum bangers during that week. At that point, I thought about whether I had an EP or a nearly finished album, so I sat on the tracks for around half a year, tested them out, and added another couple of tracks (incidentally more straight ahead), and it all seemed to make sense as an album. The whole thing happened quite naturally.
You also have two releases with remixes from artists such as Anthony Linell, Ellen Allien, and Tensal. Who would you like to work together for another production?
I have been really trying to get both Shifted and Radioslave on board for remixes in the past, but our timelines have never matched up so I hope there’s an opportunity in the future to make that happen.
You are not only a producer but also a DJ and last year you started your live performance tour through Europe. I had the chance to listen to your set at Berghain and it was massive! When did you come up with an idea to perform live? What is the equipment of your live set?
Thanks a lot! Like my production, my live set is quite simple and I specifically kept it that way as it was my first time playing live, so I needed to feel comfortable on stage. Again, Ableton is in the middle alongside an Allen & Heath Xone 96 and everything is running through the 4 channels in the mixer. I’m using the TR-09 for percussion, and I have an APC – to launch clips – everything is rendered into 4 beat loops for track construction on the fly. I also have 2 guitar pedals for delay and reverb which run through the send/return on the mixer.
The whole concept came about from wanting to try a new challenge, and it made sense to tie in around the album release. It was definitely a lot of work in preparation and practicing but was really worthwhile. I stopped doing the live in February this year, as I needed a breather from it, but will plan to come back after I’ve had the time to change the format and tweak some things.
What are the differences between a DJ-set and a live performance? Which one do you prefer more?
I find life a little bit too calculated (at least the way I was performing). With DJing, there are more chances to take turns, and go with the crowd when the vibe changes. As I’ve been DJing for many years, I feel very comfortable/relaxed in that environment, so it’s my natural preference. Saying that, as I mentioned earlier, I’d like to re-work my live set up to give it some more flexibility, and I think that could change things entirely.
Are there any memorable gigs that you will never forget? In which country, festival or venue you would like to play for the first time?
This may be a bit predictable but the first time I played Berghain in 2017 was simply indescribable. I could probably talk/write about it for hours and I’d never be able to explain myself, so I’ll just leave that one there.
Also, in answer to your second question – it’s not a specific country but I’d like to spend some more time in South America, because my experience in Colombia last year was incredible and the people are so warm. I’d love to have the opportunity to explore a little more. There was a 2 week tour planned there over June/July so I hope that can get rescheduled when it’s possible.
Through your appearance on social media I notice that you are doing a lot of running and eat vegan or at least vegetarian. It seems like you have a balanced life. How does your daily routine look, especially before a gig?
I have been vegan for over 5 years now, and felt instantaneously better after the switch. My asthma was cured within one week of changing my diet, and there is simply no reason for me to ever go back to eating meat/dairy.
Maintaining a balance with nutrition/exercise keeps my energy levels and mental wellbeing as effective as they can be. Before a gig, I would normally try to see if there’s an option to get an early dinner with the promoters (as it’s always nice to chat) and have a couple of glasses of red wine to send me off to a pre-gig nap. I’d generally always try to sleep beforehand as it seems like I’m always starting to play around 4-5am (which is not far off from my midweek wake up time) so it helps to try and keep on a schedule as much as is possible.
It seems so strange even describing this now as although I only stopped performing a few months ago due to the situation, it feels like a lifetime ago.
Usually, you would be playing at a club or festival like any other artist. Now Covid-19 hit our life in every aspect of our society. How does the virus affect you personally and do you have alternative options for your income and living?
I miss being in clubs and hearing loud music, plus the social aspect that comes with that for sure. Financially, I’ve always had a backup because I never wanted to be in a position where I was chasing gigs for money, so I still have a part-time job here since I first moved to Berlin. I work Tue-Thu so that leaves an extended weekend, every weekend. I also work for a music publisher, so it’s good to get an insight about royalties from the inside and it definitely helps having that knowledge for my label. It seems that royalties is still a bit of an unknown/ignored subject within electronic music.
I could’ve stopped my job a couple of years back from a financial aspect, but I never wanted to take for granted that things would always remain so busy, and for me, it was also a nice opportunity to have some choice/flexibility with shows, and not have to worry about having X shows per month to pay bills or have to decide between a family gathering and doing a show. It also meant I could enjoy the quiet months (usually festival season) and enjoy Berlin in the summer. I feel really lucky to have the opportunity to keep that job in place.
With the closure of almost every club and festival: What do you think are the consequences for the club culture and how can the damage be prevented?
If we look at Germany, the government has put an emergency plan into place for freelancers/businesses who no longer have any income, and I really admire the speed at which this was implemented. I’ve no idea to what extent that will cover the bills of clubs, and we are now in a position where other businesses like restaurants/bars are starting to open in Berlin and things are coming back together. However, due to the impossibility of social distancing within clubs, they will be the last places to open I imagine. I haven’t heard of any permanent closures due to lockdown just yet, but for sure it’s a big worry for the future.
What are your projects at the moment and what can we expect from you in the future?
I have a new EP coming on my label coming in July (AMTK011), and I’m working on an EP for release with a Berlin based label who I’ve long admired for later in the year. I’m still writing and intending to put out music without any intention of a break.
Last but not least: What are you listening to at the moment? Do you have any tips for our listeners?
I’m still listening to and buying a lot of techno – also more vinyl since lockdown. One record which I really love is from a new duo called Droughtwerk. I don’t know much about them but they’ve just put out their first record and it’s really strong.