by Jia Ying Chia |
Walking to the beat of your own step, is something Fikri Emran (BARE) knows a thing or two about. As one of a handful of Electronic Dance Music producers from Brunei, Fikri was surrounded by music growing up. Influenced by his dad, this self-taught pianist, drummer and music producer is perhaps one of the greater successes of the digital generation — where Youtube is the teacher and the world is your classroom. From multiple collaborations with other local artists, Bare moves seamlessly across genres like classical, house and techno, giving his music a rich depth and complexity that one might only expect out of more experienced musicians. We sat down to discuss hot takes, being truly passionate, and doing your own thing.
Give us the backstory first — how and why did you get started with making music?
BARE: Going into my A Levels, I wasn’t great academically by the school provided a free piano in the main hall that anyone could play. I saw a friend of mine get on it and I was watching them play for like fifteen minutes. I got home that day and told my dad, “I want a piano”. It was like a japanese piano piece that I ended by being inspired by. I didn’t originally have an interest in music, despite my dad playing the bongos in an old band and growing up with music around me. I learned from Youtube and after a while, I realised I wasn’t really good at playing other people’s music on the piano, so I learned how to freestyle on it and from there I got a grasp of what melodies were and created something on my own.
How did it feel making your own stuff at a time when you were really just beginning to learn and also develop your music?
BARE: It felt like anything was possible at the time; I wasn’t a great singer so everything — melodies, vocals — came from piano rolls. I make the piano sound as it someone’s singing. I enjoy that space where I’m in deep thought. I don’t think I was great at piano but it did make me feel closer to music. I try my best to collaborate with others. It’s not my best suit — I think it’s very difficult to have two or more people (directing) a vision musically and sometimes we have to compromise on certain ideas to make the best thing. Teamwork makes the dream work? Yeah, basically. It’s half the truth, because there’s always difficulty in collaborating, management, and seeing things through together, so that’s why the easiest collaborations are when someone sings and I produce. Where people are playing to their strengths, in that sense.
Where did the move towards music production and composition happen?
BARE: It’s a funny story; I got inspired by club music and one day after a long night, I jumped on the bed and I had this melody in my head that sounded like an EDM song, and I just went on with it. That was before I was a DJ – I was just always fantasising about how cool the job was. I wasn’t planning on being a hiphop producer or anything. I’m really into ‘club music’, going to festivals, I really enjoy that; you should produce music that you enjoy. It started out as wanting to really perfect something and when I started off, the first two, three years, it was really bad (laughs). It wasn’t ready to be heard basically. I networked with friends who produce as well but the people who I was working with six or seven years ago, are not producing anymore. So I have to network with people doing that now, cause I think I’m still learning, really.
You’ve been to a massive DWP Jakarta festival – is this where you cemented your desire to become an EDM producer?
BARE: I love Indonesia and I go back and forth to catch a lot of my favourite dj’s playing there! And there were always Youtube videos like the Tomorrowland recaps online. I got the experience to become a DJ myself, and I like seeing people dance. I like dancing too, so I stuck with that genre. I just realised how everything came from the internet really, haha! This generation of music all comes from the internet.
There’s a lot of controversy around DJ’s playing ‘live sets’ that are actually recorded prior and fake-played as live mixes. What’s your hot take?
BARE: I feel like some days you feel off and when you play 50 to 100 shows a year, there’s bound to be that one show that you just wanna chill back and just make an appearance. Hopefully, it feels as real for your fanbase. As a fan I would definitely be disappointed, but I can see that artists have off days. It’s a tiring job, but they’re also living other people’s dreams so it’s something to think about.
Tell us more about your musical approach and influences.
BARE: You can put a violin or a trumpet in house music; there’s no sound I think that you wouldn’t be able to use technology to make things fit. I feel that I’m influenced by the music of the moment. I feel like I’m inspired by what’s happening right now and the best people are inspired by the future, they’re predicting the future. But I can’t do that, yet! Fred Again, he came out of nowhere last year and I’ve been hooked on everything he’s released.
There aren’t a lot of EDM producers here and we haven’t collaborated. It’s not a bad thing. I think it’s okay. We can be left to our own devices and do our thing, be more different form each other. But it’s great cause I can learn a lot from everyone just by listening to their music. Like what’s the priority for them in that moment when they produce something.
You did a live set on KFM with Kuey Mo and Sushi Boy around 5 years ago. What was that like, playing your music on a public platform for basically the whole country.
BARE: I really took the opportunity to showcase my music. I think there was a lot of stigma going around on what people associated EDM with, so they might have felt that it was too intimidating to listen to what they would called ‘techno’ or they felt like they wouldn’t listen to it every day. But in that radio spot, I tried to showcase different things. I even had a slow song in there with electronic hip-hop… so (people could see) how versatile the genre is. And I hope I managed to showcase my different tastes and how I produce that into music. I’d do it again, for sure.
Okay, for all the audio and technophiles out there – what’s your setup like? Are you eyeing any new gear?
BARE: Oh! I use LogicPro, and for samples, I use Splice. And one of my favourite synthesisers is Serum. For my mixing setup, some of my favourite plugins are by FatFilter which I’ve mentioned in my tutorial video. I really need to get a proper studio going, for sure. It’s so satisfying when you have the right set up, sound system, monitors. I feel like I’d be there for a while (laughs).
Since you’re well versed in making songs, what’s the secret to a good drop? Speaking of, which artist does that aspect best?
BARE: Hm.. I feel like the first five seconds of the drop is the most important part and what happens after is all because of that part. So make a big bang, or whatever vibe you’re going for, and I personally like empty spaces before. Skrillex, for sure. The music just sounds like it pops out of the speaker and there are ‘secret sauces’ in every song. I feel like almost all the electronic music producers are trying to figure that out. In terms of (that genre), I feel like a lot of people are great at what they do and I’m just trying my best to figure out how they do things – in my own style.
What’s the future hold for BARE?
BARE: There’s a million things that I would love to happen. I definitely want to play a set outside of Brunei, somewhere. I’m still very strong headed in that vision. If nobody’s hiring me, I would still make the effort to, for example, book a boat, put a DJ board there, and play. I’ve always been a hard-working person.
Speaking of making things happen on your own – the Temburong video. Very cercle vibes.
BARE: Yeah! Those things require at least five or six people to just hang out with you there all day. I had the idea because I knew the spot existed, and I had to use all the power from my laptop which only lasts an hour. And I couldn’t bring a charger. So I only had one shot to do the whole set but luckily there weren’t any big mistakes in the recording. It’s so funny because after I posted it on TikTok, people thought I was pretending to play (laughs) but they don’t know the full story. The visual shots from my friend were nice too, so it was a great experience.