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The beat generation: Electronica in Pakistan

Hira Tareen performing live at the PDN Karachi meet up. Photo provided to Dawn.

Publication Date : 13-02-2013


Electronic dance music has never accomplished the level of vogue it currently enjoys in Pakistan


Electronic dance music (EDM) has recently gained a great deal of popularity all around the world in line with the emergence of numerous labels and DJs. Although the genre has been spanning across since the late 1980s as the key genre of night clubs; it has never accomplished such vogue, especially in the Pakistani context.

Percussive music genres largely branch from production methods of disco, techno, house and trance. However, in recent times, there have been various sub-divisions and adaptations of club music, which are at rift with mainstream music.

Electronic music was originally created for night clubs, parties and raves, but due to its rapidly growing popularity, it has made its way into many categories of mainstream music.

And Pakistan has not been left behind in this regard. At present, there are many amateur and professional DJs across the country and thousands more waiting for gigs.

Karachi, in comparison to other cities in Pakistan, has been witness to a boom in discotheques and night life. However, Lahore and Islamabad have recently stepped up their game with various event management companies hosting club nights and parties, attracting many people from surrounding areas into the city for an eventful night out with friends.

Roughly 10 years ago, Karachi hosted some of the best parties with very small intervals. Their frequency has slumped due to a rise in substance abusers and security threats stemming from the culture of private guards and weapon possession.

“The older days were awesome! There were few people who were really passionate about this form of art and entertainment. It was difficult but amazing nonetheless,” says Faisal Baig, one of the most well-known DJs in the country.

“The scene did not die out; it was affected by the situation in the country. Karachi became more and more dangerous. Lahore has a good scene now with new people diving in, and technology has made it possible for more people to try spinning and producing, but mostly they keep it at a hobby level. EDM artists cannot sustain themselves on local gigs alone, and that’s why the professional scene just does not pick up,” he claims.

Many struggling musicians in Pakistan are already trying to overcome this ordeal, including artists involved in other genres of music. In comparison to mainstream music, the audiences for electronic music are still diminutive in number, but there are still many who are trying to revive the community and its events.

In this vein, a forum under the name of Pakistan DJ Network (PDN) recently hosted an event for artists to showcase their skills.

The event started with a meeting of PDN members, hosted by Hira Tareen and Ali Safina (the founding members) that held discussions about goals, plans and challenges faced by DJs in Pakistan along with a narrowing down of solutions to overcome obstacles and reach their desired apex.

“We are taking small steps to come together and collaborate on various projects. The initial goals have already been achieved, the next goals are to possibly have a Lahore meet up and perform at more live gigs collectively,” said Tareen.

“Due to the current political situation and limitations in the country, and not being able to perform live as much as we’d like, another thing we hope to do is to use alternatives to still get our talent and music out there. As an organisation, when we put together events ourselves, we are committed to providing our talent with a drug-free and safe environment where the music is at the forefront and the listeners who are there come with an open mind.”

The meet-up then opened up to 'DJs Play for DJs' which incorporated performances consisting of 30-minute sets showcasing their skills and talents in their particular genres.

In Lahore, similar efforts are seen with event management teams hosting large music festivals by inviting foreign artists like Sander Klienenberg to pump it up.

“Initially it was tough. Recession had hit, the market was saturated and I didn’t have much help. It took me quite a while to figure it out. But now, with the grace of God, the feedback is phenomenal,” Fahad Rehman, the art director at a Lahore-based event management company, FCCM, said.

“Hiring foreign artists has proven to be a very lucrative and viable business model. People are willing to pay top dollar for quality entertainment,” he added.

This trend initially was accustomed to Karachi and paled away for some time but quickly gained pace with major gigs featuring grand artists like Anthony Pappa and Jimmy Van M.

Though Baig highlighted potential problems arising from such trends, “As great as it is for international artists to come here, I think it takes away from the local talent. Promoters just don’t see the locals as crowd-pullers so it becomes a loop and the local artist doesn’t rise.”

He further added, “It is commendable that they get international artists but it has to be balanced better. In the earlier days, I’d play a minimum of 7 hours a night and really be able to take the crowd along; now you have to fight for a 2-hour slot.”

Music festivals around the globe take place on such a grand scale with a massive audience adding up to 30,000 people and more. Perhaps Pakistan will witness their share too, and surely they too are in hope for such escapades, especially with all the changes in the cities.


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