Living in areas where certain genres thrive is something that can easily be taken for granted. Spoilt for choice with events, friends who share a similar passion and just a general community spirit based on shared musical tastes. But what about the places where amens and reeses don’t regularly feature on national radio, or even in clubs? How do drum and bass enthusiasts in these areas grow their hunger for music which was until relatively recently a western phenomenon?
IYRE is the perfect example of how to use distance from key musical hubs to your advantage. As the only drum and bass producer currently based in Sri Lanka, Sasith Gamage has been able to develop and excel not only his productions, but also his musical network through his dedication to the music. Channeling inspiration from his surroundings gives him a unique perspective on the genre and he’s already featured on some of the finest up and coming labels in the dnb world, with releases on Goldfat Records and Celsius Recordings.
His latest release on Goldfat soaks up the influence of Sri Lanka’s landscape and its diverse population, giving him a sound palette which is fresh and distinctive but still weighty. We caught up with IYRE to understand his unique approach to the genre and what it’s like to work so closely with people who are thousands of miles away from him.
Where in Sri Lanka do you live?
I was in the rural hill country until a few years ago, but since then I’ve lived in Colombo. You get all the scenery and beautiful mountains in the hill country. It’s very calm, quiet and scenic.
Why did you move to the city?
I was supposed to start school so it made sense to move to the city. I still go to the mountains whenever I can. Traveling and hiking are my passions so I do that whenever I have a chance to get out of the city. But since COVID, I haven’t been able to travel around as much as I would like to.
Hopefully things open up and you can start going back to normal and traveling again. Does being in nature influence your music?
Yeah, I do miss it. Āśrama on my latest Goldfat release was inspired by my travels to the hillside. There’s a mountain range called Knuckles, I always try to go there for the scenery and hikes. Āśrama means monastery, a place where you go to meditate and find yourself. In Knuckles there’s a monastery called The Hillside Hermitage which is run by a foreign monk and they don’t allow tourists there as it’s purely focused on meditation and wellbeing. Going there inspired me to make Āśrama as I tried to incorporate sounds which depict the hillside scenery. The sound of flowing water, Buddhist and Hindu chants. It’s a fusion of all of these inspirations.
That’s fascinating. Did you record some of the sounds whilst you were there?
I recorded the flowing water and some other sounds on my phone. Whenever I go to the jungle, I record the sounds of the birds and create my own ambient samples. Other than that the rest of the sounds are purely based on inspiration from my travels.
Tell me a bit about the other track from the release, Zainab.
It was specifically inspired by my intention to work with Arabic vocals. They’re rarely used in drum and bass, yet the music is very trancey and there are beautiful variations and melodies. I wanted to see if it was possible to combine the two. The meaning of Zainab is ‘desert flower’ which made me picture a girl in a desert, and the feeling that I wanted to give people was that beauty can be seen in places it’s not usually associated with. Towards the second drop of the song I have some Indian elements, including sitars, tablas and Indian singing. I wanted to give the listener an idea of the region that I’m from in South Asia.
Where did the Arabic influence come from?
I have a lot of Muslim friends, Sri Lanka is a very multicultural country. One of my close friends, Arshadh, can sing beautifully in Arabic so working with him and getting to know him as a friend has given me the opportunity to understand the cultural aspects of Arabic music. I guess it was inside me naturally through interactions with my friends. Arabic vocals can sometimes be a little aggressive depending on how they’ve been sung, so you just have to figure out how to make them sit in a liquid tune.
It’s really special that you’ve been able to incorporate your travels and friendships into your music. What’s the music scene like in Sri Lanka?
We do have an electronic music scene here, but in terms of drum and bass there’s not much happening to be honest. We do have some clubs and festivals around the country but they mainly focus on deep house, progressive house and techno. I think I’m the only drum and bass artist from Sri Lanka.
So you’re the best drum and bass artist in Sri Lanka!
I mean, I would prefer to have more people produce drum and bass so I could build my own community. Interact with them and work on tunes together. But in terms of dnb, I think I’m the guy pushing it right now [laughs]. Hopefully people will see what I’m doing and get into drum and bass.
If there’s such a small scene over there, how did you get introduced to drum and bass?
I got into electronic music through dubstep, the whole Skrillex phase. Then I started making dubstep and a bit of trap. I really got into it! In 2014 I ran into Pendulum, four years after they disbanded for the first time. I was listening to Immersion and since then I’ve been inspired to make drum and bass.
I first started listening to electronic music properly around 2011. I used to be a metalhead and still am, but I was completely focused on metal before I got introduced to dubstep. I think dubstep resonated with me because I was already listening to metal, they’re both very aggressive forms of music.
How about DJing? If there’s not a massive drum and bass scene, do you get a chance to play out much in Sri Lanka?
Not as much as I would like to but there are some people who invite me to play at certain events. I’d love to branch out and play at different festivals. I was trying to get into a few festivals in India, but the lockdown stepped on those plans a bit. There are few events here which accommodate drum and bass. There’s a general perception that drum and bass is a ‘hard’ genre, so it’s an acquired taste in Sri Lanka.
It’ll be interesting to see how things change because it seems like drum and bass is becoming more popular all over the world. Are you involved with the local music scene in Sri Lanka?
Definitely, I have another alias which I use for connecting to local artists. I work with a lot of local rappers in the scene and make trap, ambient music and electronica too. I’m also the bassist and producer for a metal band called Constellation. I have quite a few years behind me as a musician and all of that has led me here.
Is IYRE the main focus right now then?
Yeah, I’m completely focused on IYRE and want to make the most out of it. It’s gaining momentum so it makes sense to invest most of my time into it. It’s a completely new alias so I need to work with the labels, get to know the people behind the scenes and get into the marketing behind it. I’m working on an album under my other alias so whenever I feel fed up with making drum and bass, I start making other genres. It’s a very organic process, I’m not forcing any of it.
It must be interesting going from making drum and bass mainly on software to playing as part of a band.
It’s a really fun and collaborative process. There are two other writers in the band, both of the guitarists are exceptional. Us three get together and compose everything – it always feels very organic. We write ideas separately and then bring them all to the table to see what works. It’s a very fun environment; there’s camaraderie, we criticise each other in a healthy manner and you get a lot of opportunities to grow as a musician. Once the composition is complete, we take the song to vocalists who work on the lyrics and vocal melodies. In a normal circumstance as a producer you usually get to work with one person, max. But when you work with a band, there are quite a few people you have to go through to get to a final product. As a producer myself, it’s a challenge to get the best out of the other people that I’m working with. But it teaches me a lot.
I guess most of your drum and bass stuff has been solo so it must be nice to collaborate.
I actually have a fair few collaborations that I’m working on at the moment. The songs I’m releasing this year are from the lockdown period, but there will be a few collaborations released next year. This is my first experience of working with people from the UK, US, Canada etc, and it’s been enlightening getting to know the cultures of the countries and learning how these other producers work.
Who are you collaborating with?
Most of the people are contacts I got to know through the scene, some from Goldfat. I worked on a track with the Irish producer, Aleyum, which will be released on Fokuz Recordings. I also worked on a collaboration with a producer called Note from Goldfat, we’re currently waiting on vocals from Bala Mandala who is also from Sri Lanka. There’s another tune with Alpha Rhythm and also one with Pyxis. A whole bunch basically!
It’s wicked to hear you’ve managed to form connections with people so far away from you! Since you’ve been so busy, have you got any more releases coming up?
On the 14th of September I have a single coming out with Pilot, as well as a single coming on a various artists EP on Celsius. After that comes the Fokuz release. I’m focusing on building a library of tracks that I can perfect and pitch to labels that I want to work with.
Are any of these more extensive projects?
Yeah, I definitely want to start releasing EPs. Right now I have about six singles coming out this year and then a couple of two-trackers. One with Goldfat and one with Pilot.
That’s really exciting. Is there anyone you want to mention or shout out?
I want to shout out Goldfat first of all, so Mitekiss and Mr Porter. The first ever release I did with them was uploaded on UKF which was a very intense experience for me as an artist. It was out of nowhere so I want to thank those guys for the help and support they’ve been giving me. They spend time developing us as artists, it’s not just about just releasing music with them. We have group calls with all the artists, we speak about the history of the genre and they give us pointers about how we can improve our music. Goldfat is very different compared to some of the experiences I’ve had in the past.
We have a hashtag #fatfam and we consider each other family. We’re all supporting each other, getting together to promote everyones releases. It’s amazing given the fact that we are individuals, but in the end we come together and help each other. A lot of them are from countries that are famous for drum and bass so I get to understand certain things that I wouldn’t know as an artist from Sri Lanka.
It’s great to hear that they put so much time and effort into developing the artists and their community. Are there any other labels you want to mention?
I have to big up Dreazz at Fokuz, he’s been very supportive of my music and has given me a platform to release within the family of labels. I finally got onto the main Fokuz label which is very exciting, and hopefully I’ll be able to release more music with them in the future. I want to shout out HumaNature and DNB Academy for the extensive support that helped me a lot to enhance my quality of production, those guys at the academy are family, and I can’t think of any other person that works harder than Andre in terms of drum and bass-related education. I also want to thank Luke and the Pilot crew. An opportunity presented itself after Fragments was uploaded to UKF and next month I’ll be releasing on Pilot which is really exciting. I’m blessed and fortunate to release music with stellar labels within a very short span of time. I never expected any of this to happen so soon. I actually had a two-year plan and I’ve been able to achieve most of it. I’m going to update my plan and aim even higher for next year.
Be more ambitious, why not!
Definitely! I want to shout out my parents, brother and girlfriend as well for tolerating me. Production takes a lot of time. I’m managing to balance my work and music at the same time, and without their support this wouldn’t be possible. All of the friends I’ve made through music have been really helpful too, giving me advice and sharing experiences with me. It’s totally a community and more than what I expected the drum and bass scene to be like. I was accepted immediately and they gave me a sense of belonging, which is even more important because I’m isolated in Sri Lanka.
Would you ever consider moving to somewhere with a bigger drum and bass scene?
I would love to. It could be a possibility in the future, but right now I’m just focused on making the best music possible. Who knows what lies in the future though. I would love to go to a proper drum and bass festival! I haven’t heard my music on a really big system so that’s a huge dream of mine. Zainab did get played by Kublai at the Stand Together event at The Cause in London, he took a video and sent it to me which made me really happy. I did also get the opportunity to play for the Mental Health Matters online festival, which was my first performance under this alias. It went really well and after that I got a few opportunities to do some guest mixes, including one on Goat Shed. It’s been amazing and I’m enjoying the journey.
Enjoy IYRE’s journey: Asrama / Zainab it out now on Goldfat