Drummer and Music Producer Moin Farooqui talks about his latest Progressive Rock Album
Moin Farooqui embodies the spirit of a true indie artist. To back me up here, Musician-Entrepreneur Big Will, AKA Will Zhong, sums up the characteristics of an indie artist perfectly, "They don't stop learning more, they work relentlessly, they think outside the box when it comes to making money, they have a solid online presence (They may not have a big one, but a solid one), and they reach out themselves."
Moin's background is diverse as can be. When I say diverse, I'm actually talking about a career filled with polar opposites and fearless experimentation. I've always maintained that it is the independent musician who will break his/her head finding what doesn't exist and that will eventually be appropriated, overused and bludgeoned by commercial artists, while the poor indie soul receives nothing for it.
When I listen to Moin's self-titled EP, I get this feeling consistently. It's raw as hell and yet with each listen I notice something I didn't before. And forget the mere act of listening, it's also the excitement from when I look at the waveforms. Enough for me to wait in anticipation for what's going to arrive next.
But before we talk about the EP, let's delve a bit deeper into his life.
"Though today I'm known as a drummer, I actually started out as a professional Hip Hop dancer! I was part of the dance troupe 'Fictitious Crew', now called Kings United - India," Moin begins.
Wait... What? Everyone knows Kings United! I remember how viral they'd gone years ago. Every Indian and his chacha was sharing their 2015 winning video! Their NBC World Of Dance videos from a year ago have cumulatively garnered over 5 million views.
"Yes, the same crew which won the World Hip Hop Championship and a Bollywood movie was made on their story." He beams.
I'm already floored. Here I was under the impression that I was talking only to the kick-ass drummer of the popular Thrash Metal outfit Carnage Inc. All of this reminds me of something I once heard/read, 'Spend a day with someone, anyone, and by the end of it you're guaranteed to learn at least one thing you never knew before.' (Paraphrased, of course)
"The first drum-kit I owned was purchased with my prize-money from our crew winning India’s Got Talent!" Moin continues, "And while I'm exploring several genres as an artist, Hip Hop will always be at the centre of my universe. As a music producer and sound engineer, I work with Bombay Lokal (Again a very well-known Hip Hop collective founded by Shaikhspeare, Gravity, Dcypher and Beatraw) and few more upcoming rappers in the Vasai-Virar region. Since 2017, I've been part of the Bollywood scene with Shahzan Mujeeb, Rupin Pahwa, YouTubers like Ritu Agarwal, Pranav Chandran, Sarthak Saksena, Madhur Sharma and many more. While my Hip Hop influences are largely old-school, when it comes to Bollywood I just love the work of A.R. Rahman and Amit Trivedi."
Farooqui hails from Nallasopara, a historic town in the northwest Mumbai Metropolitan region. His tastes in music have always been varied. As a child he listened to Bollywood classics, in school it was Hip Hop and in college, Metal. His first band, Clay Crown, covered Nirvana and AC/DC and then diversified to include other influences like Aussie Progressive outfit, Karnivool. He later joined Carnage Inc. to explore the Thrash Metal genre, which requires fast and heavy drumming. In his case, it was a ton of double bass.
"This year, I've put out something completely different from what I usually play. Prog Rock was always part of my life, I mostly listen to it in the nights and on long drives. But I had never actually imagined starting a solo project, giving it my name and releasing an EP. But I'm glad I did. It really has boosted my confidence!"
MOIN (The EP) features collaborations with ex-bandmates from Clay Crown, guitarist Swar Joshi and bass player Neilson Fernandes and fellow-musicians and friends, guitarists Jay Rathod and Tapan Kantharia and bass player Tushar Sharma.
"I travel a lot doing Bollywood shows, so it was always fixed that whenever I do decide to make my own stuff, these boys will be the first ones I collaborate with! Plus everyone has a different style of playing and approach towards their instrument."
So how popular is his work? After all, Prog Rock/Metal is very taste-specific/experimental, in particular that each segment of the song has to be experienced without haste. Does he think in this day and age the audience is cerebral, and more importantly, patient enough to enjoy it?
"The scene has grown impatient, though there a lots of people who will dig my music, reaching them is difficult. The kind of music we make is what you listen to in your intimate zone; probably while driving, sitting in the room with a couple of friends or chilling in the balcony. It requires patience and time and thats what makes it special. The old-school Metalheads have yet to grow out of Megadeth and Slayer. This is 2020, after all! There is more to rock and metal than just an overdriven guitar and bass played with a pick. The sound-palette has changed, become huge, and there is lot of crazy music coming out! I know it is difficult to reach the right audience, I aim to, but like my songs take time to build up, my audience will take time to build up and when it does, the heaviest and loudest part will play!"
"Fuck yeah," I think to myself. And as a card-carrying member of the 'Old-School' Metal community, I can attest to the fact that, even then, when bands tried to perform something different and original, crowds would yell, "Behench*d Metallica, Behench*d Pantera" while throwing bottles at the stage.
On listening to MOIN, I immediately noticed these crazy build ups he speaks about. You can't just put his music on and skip to parts. You can't just listen to them from the middle. I, myself, had to devote at least six listens to it. His first two singles, Meditate and Seclusion are almost concave in how they begin, peak and subside. A stark contrast to the crazy moments in his third single, Clay Crown, especially around one-and-a-half minutes into the track and then again around the three and three-and-a-half minute marks. Nightwalk had unexpected twists and turns and a phenomenal ending. Finally, Ek Nayi Subah, the concluding track was technically the most experimental thing I’ve heard, with a clean, almost cinematic quality to it.
"Ek Nayi Subah is my personal favourite! I was going through a very bad mental phase during the days of complete lockdown and getting work was difficult. To add to it, there was a death in my family. It struck to me as a question - We say that after every dark night there is always a bright new dawn, but are we really sure the new dawn will be bright? Will come after every night? What if it doesn’t? Who knows? This song is not the only ending to this album, but also the start to the next."
The lockdown has hit artists and creative professionals the hardest. Unlike many others, who while also suffering, had some hope in the fact that they merely had to wait it out, artists have always lived in an unsupportive world with unending career-related insecurity. With the lockdown, the mental toll has only taken a turn for the worse. Artists play, what's possibly, the most important role in the evolution of society and humanity, and are told more often than not that they should be looking for "real" jobs. Yet, like with any other prominent career, successful artists are among the most respected human beings in the world. I have come across so many folks from the corporate sector who have given up music to pursue financial success in their fields, yet there's always that regret and pining for music as they reach old age. In contrast, I'm yet to meet a single successful artist who misses and pines for a time he could have followed his passions and pursued a corporate career. #Truth.
So then the 'real' question here is only to do with financial-success. How does an artist in today's world market his work successfully? Farooqui has words of wisdom one just can't disagree with.
"Choosing the right distribution company is very important, one mistake and your song doesn’t get noticed by anyone. Since I am not a very popular artist, I need my songs to be in playlists with active listeners. If you plan to earn by selling your EP or album, then merch and Bandcamp are the only options. You can't count on royalties generated by streaming. In my opinion, artists must use streaming platforms as an outreach method only, basically to get as many genuine followers as one can. One must then direct them towards ones Bandcamp page. A true fan will easily pay a couple of dollars for your hard work, which is worth a thousand times more than 10k streams on Spotify!"
This brings me to my final question, something I ask every artist, for the sake of insight, of course. What was his process and approach to his music. This is after all a drummer-led project.
"The process was very sorted. Every artist I worked with had his own recording setup. I would create a structure with the drums, add some programmed guitars and melody lines for reference and send it to them asking them to improvise in particular regions. We hardly ever had any tos-and-fros. On receiving the final files, I would sit and edit them accordingly. Each song started with a specific melody that I had in mind, all except for Clay Crown. What I did there was intentional! I had this riff playing in my head for a while and I wanted it to be heavy and in 7. The entire song was pre-programmed sent to Swar joshi for the precise/exact feel it needed."
Moin's process is in congruence to what I've always felt and even mentioned at the start of this article - Fearless experimentation (Hat-tip to Big Will again). But after having spoken to him, I'd like to add another point to Big Will's list - A true indie Artist is not afraid of going back to square one and beginning again.