The last time Bilal Nasir Khan – who plays music under the alias of Rudoh – spoke to Instep, it was nearly four years ago. Since then, the co-founder of independent label, Forever South, a music producer and audio engineer has accomplished so much that it is both impressive and a sign of what the future generation can accomplish, when given the chance.
“I set up a studio four or five months after Karachi Files  happened,” remembers Bilal. “It was followed by Karachi Files coming to Karachi and playing a show at the Karachi Arts Council. Right after that, we went to Berlin for a show at HAU, which is this government-based performance space and they are responsible for calling artists from different places. They do big shows, covering people. They also called a bunch of photographers, writers from Lahore as well. It was like a big festival.”
Bilal Nasir Khan, along with several musicians, writers, audio-visual artists, is part of Pakistan’s subculture movement and though it may not have taken over the mainstream and is sometimes labeled “too obscure”, it is edgier and worthy of just as much attention as the mainstream, if not more. The two maybe converging but it is far from complete. With people like Bilal Nasir Khan around, however, that gap is slowly closing.
As Bilal tells Instep, he started Box in a Box studio and switched off his music side, which includes his own label, Forever South, and musical alias, Rudoh.
“It was all about running the studio. I wasn’t making music; it was about going out and getting work. In pursuit of that, I mixed Ziyad’s [Habib] album, I mixed Asfandyar Khan’s [TMPST] album.”
With a degree in audio engineering from the United Kingdom, Bilal began venturing into films as well. “We did the ADR (dialogue recording) for Chalay Thay Saath and that was one of our first projects with 60 per cent of it featured in the film. It was an insane week. Little bits of work started coming together after that,” Bilal reminisces.
Bilal highlights two films and both are not only linked to the Oscar season, they showcase his ability that goes way beyond playing only electronic music as a DJ, at home or abroad.
“There was this Norwegian-Pakistani film called What Will People Say, directed by Iram Haq. One half of it was made in Norway and the other half was made in Pakistan. They did a lot of the shoots in India as well. They came down to Lahore to do the rest,” says Bilal.
As Bilal remembers, a series of bombs shook Lahore and the team immediately recorded whatever they could and left.
“Since the sound team left, there was a big chunk of work they couldn’t do here. We, the studio, went as a team. It included Faizan Riedinger – who was hired at that point,” he says.
They went on an approximately two week-long escapade and went all over Karachi. “I’m talking Sohrab Goth, Empress Market, Baloch Colony… different colonies. We had to pay people to go into their houses, katchi abadi houses, and get room tones and the sounds of their rooftops and various colonies because the film is set in a katchi abadi sort of place and all those Pakistani scenes needed background sounds and sound effects.”
Bilal and his team went to bus stops and various areas to record the sounds of donkey carts, mosques, rickshaws and essentially sampled the whole city including the sound of life beyond the one that is restricted to certain elite areas.
“Now I probably have one of the most extensive sound libraries in Pakistan,” notes Bilal. “If you go on the internet, you’ll find Indian sounds and libraries. You won’t find Pakistani sounds. Kudos to the Norwegian company who hired us and I got this work through a page I follow on Facebook.”
“There’s one specific part I remember. They were trying to recreate the national anthem with boys and girls singing a school scene. But they weren’t allowed to say the word ‘Pakistan’. So, every time the word Pakistan came up, they murmured and it was like gibberish. So we had to go find children of that age and get them in the studio and have them do multiple takes and replicate them with delays, layer them over each other.
Our job was just to recreate things they couldn’t do and provide them with an extensive library of Pakistani sounds. An hour worth of sound in that movie is our sound and What Will People Say became Norway’s Foreign Film Academy Award submission for the Oscars 2019. For me that’s a huge deal.”
It wasn’t always smooth sailing. “We got harassed because people wondered where the cameras were and we had headphones and boom mics; some thought we were agency people or something, trying to spy on people. We’d walk in and shops would start closing. We freaked out some people; some people ended up helping.”
Bilal Nasir Khan sees working on the Norwegian-Pakistani film as an incredible opportunity. He followed this with another big project: Braadri Broadcast, for Hamza Jafri.
He mixed, mastered and recorded the whole thing. “I recorded more than 30 musicians from different regions of the country in like ten various languages,” Bilal continues. “I got to work with some very interesting people with whom I worked later on other projects like an advertisement – calling a sitar player or a tabla player… they’re great musicians.”
Bilal’s studio then got involved with Pakistani film, Cake, directed by Asim Abbasi, which released just last year and was Pakistan’s official submission to the upcoming Oscars 2019. Though the film didn’t make the final cut, Cake remains one of Pakistan’s finest film productions since the revival more than a decade ago. That’s two films Bilal has now worked on that were submitted to the Oscars even if they didn’t make the final round of nominations.
“We had this 20-minute disco/party scene in Cake that we had to score. With Faizan and I having a good background in electronic music, it was easy work for us.”
All this led to other work but for Bilal, being able to work on films that are linked to the Oscars is a huge deal. “For me, it was like I couldn’t be more proud and happy with myself. I shut down my music side and took the studio work seriously and you do all this work and you never really think something will come out of it so it’s extremely fulfilling.”
Within that period, Bilal Nasir Khan also realized that he needed to start making music as Rudoh again. “I’m sure I speak for a lot of musicians when I say that if you’re not making music, something’s going wrong with you, mentally and physically. I really believe in that.”
Bilal Nasir Khan – in addition to all this – is also responsible for designing, from start to finish, Umair Dar’s state of the art studio – Aleph Studio facility in Karachi.
Hired by Umair Dar (The D/A Method), Bilal spent eight hard months setting up the studio, which recently played host to Chand Tara Orchestra’s album listening session. “It was custom-built and Aleph is going to blow up really soon with the kind of people they’re working with and the work ethic they have,” notes Bilal. “It’s my contribution to the community,” he says.
After building Aleph, Bilal went on to play show[s] in Thailand, Kuala Lumpur last year, which brings us to 2019 where Rudoh will certainly be making a much bigger mark with his own music including releasing a Vinyl with a German label.
“I’m heading to Singapore, Kuala Lumpur [this year], playing at a festival in North Thailand, going to Poland, doing a couple of gigs in New York and London. 2019 will be about Rudoh. I’m getting a lot more bookings. I’m playing in Amsterdam. I’m in talks for label releases in Berlin. It’s almost seasonal for me, whatever works I go that way. I’m trying to work on my own music now, touring, playing shows.”