“Literally one of the best producers around right now, go and checkout his Soundcloud.” There’s little more that needs to be said about South Asian producer, musician and DJ Darama after this glowing review from Nabihah Iqbal, as she introduced his infectious and intense Mixmag set late last year.
A key member of the infamous Daytimers collective, Darama is a master of drums, evidenced on his slew of dubs and his recent outing for More Time Records. As much an addict as a connoisseur, his production rings with a raucous admiration for the dance floor, sitting comfortably in that thin line between intricate and hard hitting that is reserved for only the best club music. In both Darama’s production and DJ sets this line becomes a tightrope for immense displays of musical gymnastics. Grandiose wobbly bass lines, labyrinthine hypnotic drum patterns and charming samples form the back bone his cinematic production; always beautiful, always a bop.
With plenty of time on his hands, over lockdown Darama built a beautiful home studio in his back garden. He welcomes us into his creative space, physically and mentally, guiding us through the warm touches in lighting and colour, his nerdy fascination with tech and sharing his philosophy on collaborative spaces and homely atmospheres.
Darama’s latest EP, Chaal, is out now on More Time Records.
What’s your musical education?
I’ve never had any formal education. I wouldn’t say I even took an active interest in music until I was about 18, but have been lost down the rabbit hole since then. I’ve pretty much learnt everything from YouTube and the internet in general, especially at the beginning. Although in the past couple years I’ve invested more in books which I prefer, I’m a bit old fashioned in that sense, I tend to absorb information a lot easier in that format.
I’ve also been slowly teaching myself to play the keyboard and finger drumming just through practicing and again online resources. I’ve always found I learn better when teaching myself and left to my own time.
What was your first ever set-up, when you started making music?
Just my laptop and some monitors, I didn’t even have an audio interface or anything like that! I think the monitors may have been some KRK Rokit’s that I had from DJ’ing and a terrible HP laptop.
What was the first serious piece of kit you bought?
The first hardware synth I got was a Korg Volca Bass, before then everything was done through Ableton and VSTs.
Thanks for taking some photos around your studio. Could you give us a little walk through the main components?
At the heart of it all is my laptop which is probably considered more of a gaming PC, but it has enough power to run everything I want to without breaking a sweat. I’m a bit of a computer nerd at heart and I have other interests which it’s really good for, so I’ll probably never own a Mac.
Audio wise I’ve got a Audient iD14 which my Adam T7Vs are connected to, I love how the high frequencies sound on these. I also have a pair of AKG K612 Pros for headphones which are seriously underrated (especially for the price), I’ve gone through quite a few different pairs and these are the most flat/neutral sounding to my ears.
Controlling everything I have a Novation 49SL MKIII which means I can keep quite hands on with all the controls in Ableton and any external gear. It took me a bit of time, but I have it setup now so it’s quite intuitive.
I’d say another important piece is where I have my decks. Mainly because of the PA speaker I have attached to them, I’ve got a LD ICOA 12a which has been super helpful when referencing tunes and how they’d sound in a club. Or at least as close as I can get with a small room and neighbours.
Other than that I’ve got some classic Indian drums that I’ve had in my family for ages (tabla and a dhol).
Where is it located, and do you share with anyone else?
It’s at the bottom of my garden, inside a concrete shed which I saved up to build over lockdown. So very convenient but it still feels separate from everything else.
I do have people over quite often though and my brother uses it anytime he can.
Was there any method to the way you’ve laid it out and have you made any special non-musical touches to make it feel like a productive workspace?
Yeah, I’ve done quite a bit actually. One of the main reasons for building it was so I could have a space to have other artists round and collaborate. I was never a fan of the typical setup I’d see where the producer/engineer is looking at the screen and the artist behind them, I didn’t want to have my back to people. So even though it’s probably not the best acoustically I have the sofa to the side of where I’d usually sit to make things feel a lot more collaborative.
In terms of productivity, I have a little magnetic board to organise what I’m doing each week and to keep track of things. There’s also quite a bit of hidden storage to keep things feeling open and not so cluttered.
Another design choice was having the decks facing out into the garden, so it almost creates a small booth when I have people round and just in general it’s a bit nicer to look at. The lights in here are also all adjustable and can be programmed in a few different ways so I can have them almost like club lights. Just to kind recreate where the music will be played. The panels I have on that window are removable, so I have the option of letting lots of light in or really turning it into a den.
The whole space kind of had that in mind, I didn’t want it to feel completely dark and functional so there’s plenty of colour and warm tones. I’ll probably be in here for the next few years, so I’ve also left space for a synth rack and just general room to grow and expand, even decoration wise. I’ve started a board with people who’ve come through and a wall I want to cover in art to remember certain projects and events etc.
And of course, no studio is complete without a nice rug and some plants.
What’s been your method for creating this studio? Has it been a gradual accumulation or a bulk purchase? Any key inspirations in pulling it together?
Just to have a space that’s convenient but separate from the rest of my life so I can be clear-headed when creating. It’s as much a space for people to hang out in as it is for making music and I think the people I’ve had through so far have appreciated that. It always seems to make people feel at home, which I think is important in creating your best work.
It’s kind of a mixture of both since the actual structure and all the acoustic treatment was a bulk purchase but I plan on adding to it over time with more gear. Main inspiration I had was seeing FKJ’s studio although this is still someway off that!
Are you always seeking to experiment and develop your studio, by changing or adding equipment? If so, what warrants a change?
This is the first time I’ve had a proper space so it’s all quite new to me, therefore it’s more a process of refinement and realising what works and what doesn’t. I prefer not to change things too often and get the best out of what I have before adding anything new, I think I’d end up getting paralysed by choice otherwise.
I also think it’s important for me to do that so I can make proper decisions when I do get new pieces of gear.
If money were no object what would you add?
I’d probably get a Sequential Prophet-10 and a few other synths, probably a Moog of some kind. I also think I’d extend the whole space out and have a proper vocal booth in here.
You must have a most treasured bit of equipment. If you had to keep just one piece, what would it be?
This answer might be a bit of a cop out but definitely my laptop. I can probably make do without much else.
Before you head to the studio, is there anything you do to prepare or get in the right headspace?
I like to have everything out the way before I start on something new, little things like cleaning up or watering the plants. I find it difficult to focus if I’ve got lots of other things going on so I’ll try and make sure I don’t have anything I need to do for the next few hours.
What’s your creative approach when you’re in the studio? Do you go in with a concept in mind or is it usually an impulsive exercise?
It can vary but it’s probably closer to the latter. When I started producing, I still had my DJ hat on and would try to approach things by combining one track with another. Some ideas still start like that but don’t really end in the same way.
As I’ve got more experienced it’s very much about feel. Whatever I start the track with, whether that be a sample or an idea it must have generated some kind of feeling or emotion in me and I just keep adding to that. Every sound, plugin, melody or bassline after that has to add to that original feeling or increase that level of excitement in a different direction. This is also how I know when something is finished too, when it’s hitting that original feeling perfectly and it feels visceral.
I try not to force things, if I’m feeling quite inspired and am coming up with lots of ideas, I’ll keep doing that until I don’t. I try not to get bogged down with the technical aspects at that stage unless it’s important to how the idea is being translated across. I then have a big folder with lots of ideas and I choose the best to finish and then once the arrangement is done I’ll move those into another folder for the final steps of mixing and mastering. So it ends up being 3 phases and each can take up to 2 weeks usually. Sounds quite long but I then end up with a lot done at the end of each cycle and gives me time to properly respect each track.
Are you someone to labour over a track until every crease is ironed out, or do you prefer a raw, instinctive approach without dwelling too much on something?
I edge more towards detail, especially during the final stages. I actually enjoy that part too, might not make too much of a difference to the listener but I know those details are there. This is just to make sure it feels right but there are no rules obviously.
I made Vera in a couple of hours whilst on a zoom call with some friends and that sounds like one of the most polished things I’ve made.
Where do you go or what do you do when you have writer’s block? Anything to reset the mental hardware?
Usually back to that folder of ideas and work on something new which means I don’t get a block for very long. If that doesn’t work then I’ll try listening to some new music, a mix, go for a walk, anything that gives me a bit of space from the idea. I usually find when I’ve hit a block with something it’s because I’ve lost track of the initial feeling I had, or it’s become a bit confused, and I don’t know what I’m trying to achieve anymore. So space and perspective definitely helps in my case.
What inspires you outside the world of music?
Mainly books, I don’t read as much as I would like to, but I make time for it every week. It’s mainly non-fiction, stuff to do with history, psychology, philosophy or whatever. I think I just like learning overall. I also keep little notes on my phone of interesting words or ideas I pick up on which can sometimes be a starting point for things.
What would you say was the most important piece of kit in the making of your new release, and why?
Apart from the obvious choice of my laptop, it might be my phone. The drums I sampled at home were recorded on there before I had a proper mic. Also just having it as a place to jot down ideas when I’m away from the studio
What else is on the horizon this year that’s getting you excited?
I’ve got a collaborative project coming up with a rapper (Nine Levels) called No Manors which I’m really looking forward to. Gives me another outlet to experiment with, the beats still sound like me but a bit more soulful.
There’s also lots of exciting things planned with Daytimers that I’m looking forward to.