Q+A: Suren Unka

Suren Unka

Ahead of his Wellington show alongside Race Banyon, Kakapo and Edie Daly that takes place this weekend,  Suren Unka sat down with Matt Hutson to discuss his debut album, El Chupacabra (out April 21), recent standout shows,  what we can expect from his live set and more.

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What is it exactly you do? For those that aren’t familiar with your work.

It’s electronic music basically, all done with my synth. It’s quite dancy but not so in your face.

Is there another artist you can kind of relate your music to, or is it a sound you’ve developed yourself?

There’s loads of artists that influence me. You can kind of relate it to people like Gold Panda or Bonobo. I just finished my album and Bonobo’s been a big influence on that.

How long has your album been in the works for?

Two years.

Are there tracks on it that were done and dusted two years ago, or have you been constantly going back and touching up older tracks as you go?

Well I’ve already released two of the songs on the album, ‘Alice’ and ‘Early’, but I’ve still been working on them. I’ve mixed ‘Early’ differently and am getting it mastered by someone else. I’ve kind of changed the sounds of ‘Alice’ a bit as well. Some of the other songs, like the first track on the album was made straight after ‘Early’ so that’s been sitting around for a while and I’ve been constantly chipping away and working on that. The other songs are more recent ones that’ve been more house influenced. The earlier ones were four to the floor, but I was kind of bored of that and progressed to a more Garagey style.

Have you been working with anyone else on the album or has it all been entirely you?

It’s basically entirely me. Danhu Graham, the singer of my band Beach Pigs sings on two of the tracks, ‘Early’ and another one called ‘Flea’, which I actually got funding from NZ On Air to make a video for.

Do you find that drumming in Beach Pigs helps with the electronic side of things? I know a lot of drummers that turn to electronic stuff because they already have the whole beat thing down.

It kind of does and kind of doesn’t. The style of Beach Pigs has nothing to do with my music, to me they’re two totally different things. That being said I’ve added a drum pad to my live set which has added that live drumming element.

How does your live set work?

It’s all done on Ableton, so I’ve got drums, bass and synth all sectioned up into loops so I can change the patterns which I trigger for different sections. Now I’ve got the drum pad too though so I’ve got a bunch of stuff loaded into there. I’ve also got a midi controller for the effects and filters.

I’ve noticed from seeing a few electronic acts perform, that if they add some kind of live element to the mix, it makes it so much easier for the audience to get into. Is that why you added the drum pad?

It’s definitely that. Before I got the drum pad, people would still dance and stuff but they weren’t watching me. After adding the drum pad people started watching me. People used to ask what I was actually doing up there.

I’m guilty of the same thing, I haven’t quite figured out what’s actually going on in live electronic sets.

Exactly. Adding the pad has me doing something on the stage the whole time which just makes it a whole lot more fun to watch.

So the show you have coming up, is that your album release show?

Nah, it’s just a show. It’s April 5th at San Francisco Bath House in Wellington which is an awesome venue. I’m playing with Race Banyon, who’s my favourite New Zealand artist at the moment, and Kakapo. I have a new live set for that which is 45 minutes rather than 30.

How do you feel about that Puppies and Mighty Mighty closing down in Wellington? How do you think it’s going to affect the scene?

It’s going to effect me a lot because I play more Wellington shows that Auckland ones. There’s more of an electronic scene down there compared to Auckland. Auckland’s still all about the bands. I’m particularly sad about Mighty and Puppies closing down, because I haven’t played Mighty yet as a solo artist and Puppies always had such a good crowd for me, people will just rock out.

Do you find the Wellington crowds more receptive than Auckland? I don’t wanna go bashing Auckland at all, but I know every time I play there people get so much more into it, they dance and have a good time.

Definitely. There’s a different kind of scene down there.

Speaking of having a good time, have there been any stand out shows for you lately?

Well I played R&V which was awesome. I played in the Jager tent which is like a big blow up boiler room. I was setting up and no one was in the room. I started playing and still it was just my girlfriend rocking out, then randomly a whole bunch of people just hoard in and it was incredible. Everyone kind of had their own space and their own moves. It was a real rave kind of vibe.

How’d you find the R&V experience? The people, the drugs, the partying, do you like it or is a bit much for you?

It is a bit much for me but you can tell other people really enjoy it. The sad thing about R&V is there’s awesome bands playing early in the day that no one goes to. I saw UMO play to a crowd of about 50 people which was really upsetting because they played an awesome set.

Another thing about R&V that was quite upsetting was I saw Hudson Mohawke play at about 3am in the Red Bull tent to about 400 people. The next night Chase & Status played to about 10,000 people, and played his song like they were trying to claim it or something.

Is that something that happens a lot in the electronic scene? Do people take other peoples songs and just do it without any recognition?

It’s kind of weird. There’s a fine line between DJing and electronic music these days, so occasionally people will just randomly chuck other peoples songs in their set. I never do because I feel like it’s almost saying I’ve made this song, which I haven’t.

So when the album does come out, do you have plans to tour it?

Yeah. I haven’t fully planned it yet but I’ll be playing Union Street in Auckland on April 19th just so I can throw a big party for everyone who’s supported me so far. I’ve got the Wellington album release show in May and I’ll be trying to suss some stuff out for Christchurch at Darkroom hopefully.

Will it there be hard copies of the album?

Yeah I’ll be getting CD’s done. I can’t afford Vinyl haha.

I’ve seen the artwork for the album and it looks great. Who did that?

My brother Ahnand does all my art.

Do you do any visual art stuff yourself?

I want to start adding visuals to my live set, so I’ll get someone to do that while I play. I have made music videos and visual art clips in the past which I might add.

You mentioned before you got some funding for a music video, is that done?

I’m still looking for a director. I’ve got two types of funding actually. I’m working on one song ‘Golden Town’ which I received a recording and video grant for. I’m still working on the recording side, but I have a director for that.

Do you have a concept for it?

I can’t say what it is at the moment, but it’s sci-fi.

Awesome.

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