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Getting high on the Mad Decent Block Party

Adil Omar, Talal Qureshi and Mad Decent Block Party tour manager Brandon, spoke to Instep about putting together Mad Decent Block Party, the selection of artists and future plans.

Getting high on the Mad Decent Block Party
Talal Qureshi, MDBP tour manager Brandon and Adil Omar

Instep: Brandon, what is your involvement with Mad Decent?

Brandon: I started working with Mad Decent Block Party four years ago and in the last four years I’ve been involved with overseeing every Block Party throughout.

Instep: In 2016, Diplo came to Pakistan, was that your first event here?

Brandon: It was amazing, it went really well. And that happened through Adil (Omar) and Talal (Qureshi). They basically got in touch with us and they wanted to put on a show. We spent about eight months planning it and it was fantastic so we decided we want to keep doing more here and put together the Block Party 2018. We plan to come back early next year or late this year and do it again, here in Islamabad and in Karachi and Lahore.

Talal Qureshi (TQ): I think every city deserves to have this. We all deserve an amazing platform to play music and not just for Islamabad but Karachi and Lahore, Sialkot, Gujranwala and everywhere; we just want to see happiness.

Instep: How was this year’s edition put together; what about the selection of the artists, particularly the Pakistani ones?

Brandon: Curation was done by myself, Adil and Talal as far as the artists went. I’d been familiar with Lyari Underground for a couple of years now and met them last time I was here so definitely wanted them on the bill. Obviously SNKM (Adil and Talal) and they kind of got the other local musicians together. We wanted to make it as much a Pakistani festival as it was Mad Decent with overseas artists. It’s really important to us to grow the local music culture, finding local musicians and encouraging them, helping them and giving them a stage.

Instep: Pakistan obviously has this very myopic image abroad. When you think of Pakistan, in the Western context, it’s a place infested with political problems and terrorism issues. Was there ever a concern when you guys were coming here, for the first time?

Brandon: Initially it was because it was uncharted territory; the first time I came here I had absolutely no idea what it was going to be like and I was pleasantly surprised. I think it’s just like anywhere else in the world. People get up in the morning, they go to work, they have families and houses and they have lives. Having been here a few times now, I really enjoy it here, I enjoy the culture and I don’t feel like it’s unsafe or any such thing. The more I come here, the more people like Chrome Sparks and Valentino come, they go back and they tell people how good the experience was and I think it’s good for everybody, especially for Pakistan’s image.

Instep: At events like this there is always a concern for something going wrong. It has happened at Mad Decent events in the past.

Brandon: It’s like any event, the possibility of something going wrong; it’s always there. But the responsibility comes back on us to plan it correctly and make sure we have the right plans and things in place should something occur. If something occurs, you should have a solution and a lot of work goes into doing an event like this, it doesn’t happen overnight. It takes about eight months of planning and figuring who is going to play, when and where its going to happen and coordinating what the artists are doing so we can get them here. Then there’s the PR and the building of the show and we’re lucky to use Catwalk for PR and Black Box Sounds (for the infrastructure and the production) as well as Taazi. It’s good to support local industry rather than bringing people from outside. It’s important to build them and the next time we come we have people on the ground.

Instep: There is strong perception that this kind of music (electronic, tribal, acidic, club, beats, rap) is not as commonplace in Pakistani music. The scene is heavily corporatized and the top artists do not take risks with their palatable, almost jaded sound. With that in mind and the overwhelming response of the crowd at Mad Decent 2018 do you think such events can help in introducing people to new genres and sounds.

Brandon: Absolutely, I think it’s very important and it’s not just about introducing new music. Everywhere there are people doing this kind of music, in their home studios and bedrooms. People are doing it anyway so it’s like finding that small group of people, working with them and helping them grow and add to the local scene.

TQ: It’s just to inspire everyone to do what they love, that’s the main purpose.

Brandon: Such events are really important. It’s cultural exchange of a kind and coming here and just sharing on a musical platform where there’s no politics, there’s no race, it’s about sharing and enjoying music and that transcends any other kind of cultural exchange.

Instep: Tell me about yourself, your association with MDBP and beyond?

Brandon: I work for a company called Team Work Events and they manage 28 different artists including Diplo and Major Lazer Soundsystem. My job is to oversee production and touring for all their artists and part of my job is Block Party and to take it and put it somewhere and make it work.

Instep: What is it like working with Adil and Talal?

Brandon: It’s been fantastic. They’re juggernauts, powerhouses, not just with their own music but with their passion for the music culture of this country and building something. Their passion has fed me a lot of fuel to come here and keep doing this.

Instep: Talal, Adil, tell me about the curation process?

TQ: We knew we had to give local artists a chance because they’re all really talented musicians. Lyari Underground is from Karachi; Shamoon Ismail is from Islamabad; Haider Mustehsan is from New York.

Adil Omar (AO): The new artists coming out of Pakistan are very cool, especially all of the artists we performed with at the Block Party. People are now trying new things, they’re more comfortable with themselves and having fun with it and not trying too hard to follow the mould that’s been made for them. It’s a very exciting time.

Instep: Is Mad Decent Block Party 2018 the biggest music event you’ve seen in Islamabad?

TQ: Yes, biggest in Pakistan which I’ve witnessed personally. It was really good.

AO: It’s the biggest crowd we’ve played in front of.

Instep: Adil, how did MDBP happen?

AO: Initially I remember someone from their agency getting in touch with us, I think they were getting in touch with a couple of people and seeing if they can do shows in Pakistan and we were the ones determined to make this happen and we saw a lot of importance in the collaborative aspect of it, not just for our music but for furthering the platform for all music over here and building a bridge. It was a team effort and everyone who’s been involved in this has been very invested in it, everyone has worked very hard to put this together from both ends. It’s been really special relationship and really special journey for these shows.

Instep: The proceeds from the show are going to Saahil.

Brandon: Another part of Mad Decent Block Party thinking, the ethos, is giving back. It’s not about going in and doing stuff and we were thinking this was a good way to give back to the Pakistan community and obviously with what’s been going on in recent times, this was a good way to contribute. Children are universal and having the chance to help Pakistani children through this particular NGO seemed like the good and proper thing to do.

–Maheen Sabeeh



Maheen Sabeeh

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