Sumith Suresh aka Braindrop has firmly carved his place as one of psytrance’s most versatile and gifted artists. With a career spanning 15 years, the veteran artist is one of the most celebrated figures in the Indian underground electronic music circuit and one of the nation finest exports to the world. We caught up with him for an in depth interview talking about his new album, an insight to his production process , balancing life as a label owner/educator and his techno project Synister.
Hi, Sumith. We’re glad you’re able to take some time to talk to us. Could you tell us more about your early musical background? How did it all start for you, and what were some of your influences?
My early memory of music was listening to tapes of Michael Jackson, 70s & 80s disco/bollywood music, followed by early compositions of A.R Rahman, classic rock/grunge, instrumental, folk music etc. Eventually this also led me to start playing the guitar when I was 13. But while I was, I was also getting exposed to electronic music by the likes of Juno Reactor and more featured on B grade Hollywood movie Ost's. In those days you would get them in tapes. And interestingly some of the clearly cutting edge electronic music you would hear in those Ost's. It was also around the same time I heard Prodigy. In 96/97 I heard Chemical brothers, and Prodigy's seminal Fat of the land, which changed everything for me and remains till date my biggest influence in getting into music. Later in my late teens I got more into goth/heavy metal, playing in jam bands for fun. And then eventually when metal kinda got boring for me, electronic music came calling me again, and this time with psytrance. There was no looking back ever since.
You are one of the most versatile producers in the scene, always pushing your sound in an exciting direction. What is most important to you when making music?
I've never been one to follow trends. And I think my extremely varied background in music reflects in my style and production. The most important thing to me however, is the feeling in a track and musicality. For me the track should make you feel something, concept or a vibe or a mood. Not just mindless or predictable sounds. Ultimately when I make music I look to achieve these things in the highest quality possible.
What is your creative process before you sit down to make a track?
I typically don't have a set process. But I do like to have a name of a track first. This allows me to have an idea and direction of the sound I'm going for. I usually start with templates that are already ready to start producing a section right away. And I start looking for interesting sequences of sounds. This could be a combination of both hardware and software. When I arrive at the first couple of cool sequences, I start to build the track around it. Sometimes my surroundings, travels, crazy moments, artistic captures also inspire me.
I don't use a lot of software. But if I do, then it's majorly coming from Reaktor, Glitchmachines, Zebra and Massive. A bit more of Serum these days, but I'm really looking forward to try Massive X. Looks interesting. I also have an incredible Reverb that makes some of my sounds big. But it’s my secret weapon..! All I can say, it's an emulation of a legendary hardware reverb.
A production tip
You dont need to use a lot of stuff (samples, plugins, fx ) etc to create good sounds. Stick to using one or two synths max , and learn it in and out. Of course, do not be afraid to experiment, and use a multitude of fx plugin combinations to create unique cutting edge sounds, only if required. This is what i do to create sometimes otherworldy sounds.
Apart from that Eq is your best friend! I get many messages from people asking me about how i achieve such clarity in my tracks and it all boils down to eq. You can sculpt incredible sounds, if you really know how to use your eq.
What message do you want to spread with your sound?
Of course like most artists, I would like to spread positivity and all of that. This already goes without saying. With my project I want to show the beauty in the endless possibilities and permutations of sound and rhythm. To go beyond one's comfort zone, go into unchartered territories, blend sounds that were never thought of before. Sound is such an integral and powerful part of the human and perhaps even all existence in general. I started this project to showcase this according to my vision.
How would you describe your music?
Essentially the Braindrop sound, is one that is meant to challenge your thoughts, surprise you with combinations, create playful yet blissful moments, uplift your spirit . One that is devoid of any trends and one that is bursting with energy. Music that is dark and light, intense yet positive at the same time. Music that relates to all aspects of the human mind.
What is your opinion on the current Psy-Trance scene and the modern sound that people are attracted to?
If we are to talk about the scene in general globally, then I would say it is at an all time high. So much that it's even starting to influence other genres. The energy and the artistic sophistication that comes with this sound is really infectious and the music put out now is of the highest quality. It is the only genre I personally know that is such a massive movement without having any need of mass commercialisation or media etc. And it's not just the music, but also the incredible art that surrounds it that adds to the factor. However, the popularity has created some really generic sounds in my opinion, to the point that some are ridiculously cheesy and unbearable.
At the same time the music in the underground scene is quite steady and is of high quality. However imo it is also lacking some creativity at the moment and seems like everybody is sticking to something that is safe. Not that it's a bad thing, but I'd definitely like to see artists come a bit of their comfort zone and try new things to keep the music exciting.
We’re curious, outside of DJing / Producing, what else do you do with your time?
I am an avid fan of sports and martial arts especially. I trained in Muay Thai for a couple of years and it's absolutely one of my biggest passions beyond music. I've taken a break from it the past 6 months, but will continue to be back at it and some other martial art form soon.
I am also a part time educator in electronic music teaching in a school, custom courses and workshops from time to time. I love to impart the knowledge that I gained over this 15 years to the next generation. Besides that I read a lot on technology, commerce, work on some graphic design stuff (I have a diploma in this), A&R and management related stuff with my labels. If time allows me, I'm surely up to rage at a party too!
How do you balance Playing/Producing/Labels/Life and teaching?
it's tough. But when you love what you do you always find a way. Typically day time is spent on label work, classes and other work. Night time is usually when i dwell
Into music production. Sometimes it's almost 20 hrs a day. Yea..it can get intense! Sleep is a luxury!
What are the challenges you face as an artist/producer in India ? ( from bookings to events, Payments etc ?)
I've had a fair share of chasing payments from rogue promoters in the past, and unfortunate to see this problem still lingers with some artists and that sucks.
The problem lies in improper planning and unrealistic expectations while doing events. Another persisting problem that I still see (even though it is considerably lesser these days) is the stance promoters take when you're a national act. In the past I've had to really work hard and even sometimes put my foot down to let them. Know that some of us are actually equal and times better than international counterparts that they bring in, and that being a national act shouldn't be seen as lesser.
Also I hope for more unity between the regions and also hoping authorities educate themselves the need to allow events to see that it's just not a party, but also a community building thing. They have bigger problems to work on, than shutting down events just to please their ego.
You have a new album out. Tell us about it?
Kreature is my 3rd studio album and my first dark progressive album. I love making this style too and making albums in general. I've always wanted to do a full length after releasing eps and singles for years.
The concept of Kreature originally comes from this game 'Crysis' I played a few years ago. As the years passed by I developed the concept a bit more from this initial idea to a fictional scientific human experiment deep within a jungle that gives birth to this Kreature, a hybrid of man and the strains taken from all animals in the ecosystem.
I also believe humans are not far from making such experiments a reality. We can already see the baby steps towards it. Stylistically this album has all the shades of Dark progressive making it a complete journey from start to end and has a certain sound and aesthetic to it. It's released on my label Occulta Records and the response I've been getting so far in just a month has been amazing. Really happy with the outcome.
What would you be doing if you weren't making music?
Definitely a martial artist and/or a graphic artist. Can't take the art out of me!
What's your favorite beverage?
I love me a Gin & Tonic
What can we look forward to in 2020?
2020 started off on a bit of an unfortunate note, with an injury that I'm undergoing treatment for. I'm recovering fast so will be taking a small break from touring and production. However a blasting night psy Ep is in the works to be released on Omveda Records in the summer. So watch out for that. I’m also looking to do some workshops around in different cities as and when the opportunity arises.
Tour wise, I'm looking to actually take a back seat in the first half of the year, as I need a bit of a break from the extensive touring over the last 5 years. This is one of the few downsides of being an artist. The burn out eventually catches up. But post that, I'm looking to perform in areas that I haven't in a long time or haven't at all. A South America tour is in the works (more details to be revealed sooner or later! :)), and I'd like to hit North America again and so Is South Africa as I've never played there before.
So looking forward to materialize some of these this year.
You also have a techno project called Synister. It sounds really tight and interesting with a signature psychedelic touch. Tell us more about it.
You're quite right in the description of it. I launched Synister in early 2015 through my tecno imprint Occultech. I love techno. Many people are not aware of the fact that I actually started my pro dj career with a residency spinning techno and acid house, while I was playing underground raves with psytrance. Towards the latter half of 2000s I was more influenced by minimal techno. The similarity between that and psychedelic music is quite stark, and probably that's what kept me with it. So my early day of this project is more minimal. Techno oriented. Of course I also played a variety of techno hence that also eventually shaped the sound of this project. The last few years have been great with every release of mine getting a solid response. I've been lucky enough to be invited to play abroad based on this alone, in a short span. Going forward it is going to be more on the hypnotic side of techno, but yet still cutting edge sounds and a solid dancefloor vibe. I can't wait to unveil all the new material. That will come out soon. Exciting times ahead!
A message to your fans?
I want to say a big thanks to all my fans and well wishers over these many years. I always try to provide something fresh and unique and your feedback has always been great, and this is what has kept me going. I'd like to end by saying, stay tuned for more coz my best is yet to come!!
Kreature Album mix soundcloud(On Inditronic Podcast)
Check out the album on Spotify