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Akshay Rajpurohit makes synth music as Aqua Dominatrix. Photo: Abhijit bhatlekar/Mint
Akshay Rajpurohit makes synth music as Aqua Dominatrix. Photo: Abhijit bhatlekar/Mint

A grungy, neon-lit soundscape

Synth producer Aqua Dominatrix returns with a darker, grittier sound on his third album

Flesh—the third album by Mumbai-based synth producer Akshay Rajpurohit aka Aqua Dominatrix—sounds like a darker, grittier reboot of the 1980s, the soundtrack to Stranger Things if it was set in a dystopian William Gibson-esque universe. This is synth-pop with all the gloss and shine rubbed off, its bright, uplifting synths offset by methamphetamine-laced drum loops and ominously pulsing bass lines. Armed with an enviable array of synthesizers, samplers and drum machines, Rajpurohit has created a grungy, neon-lit soundscape.

“For the past few years, I’ve had a lot of friends from the music scene go through mental health issues," says Rajpurohit, 32, over a cup of coffee at his two-storey bungalow in Chembur, Mumbai, which doubles as his home studio. “It’s like Dexter’s Laboratory, you know how his lab gets destroyed at the end of every episode? I think that’s the part of the episode we’re in right now. I’ve been thinking a lot about what’s happening in the world around us, and you can hear that reflected in the darker sound on the album."

Rajpurohit is best known to Indian music fans as the guitarist for Mumbai experimental metal band Scribe, one of the country’s most popular metal acts. Having experimented with virtual synths on Scribe albums like Confect and Mark Of Teja, he bought his first hardware synth in 2009. Metal and synth-pop might seem like polar opposites, but he says he’s been a fan of synth-pop since he was a child listening to his mother’s recordings of songs by post-disco/new wave acts like Shalamar, Imagination and Depeche Mode.

“Those bands had this aura and attitude—they looked so odd on stage, all the faces were deadpan, they had a distinct style," he says. “When I started making synth music, I wanted to explore the idea that if synth-pop hadn’t died out in the 1990s, what would it have evolved into? That’s what I wanted to create."

Rajpurohit spent the next few years playing around with synths and uploaded a few videos on YouTube. In late 2015, he got a call from Nikhil Udupa, then the head of content at Pepsi MTV Indies, asking if he wanted to take the project live. Rajpurohit met Udupa at the Viacom18 office, where he was told that he’d be opening for American electronica producer Pretty Lights. “I didn’t even have an hour’s worth of material, and he wanted me to open for Pretty Lights," laughs Rajpurohit, who spent the next four months writing the bulk of what would be his debut Aqua Dominatrix album Sadomist. “I was terrified because it was my first time playing solo on the stage and it would be in front of this huge crowd."

The name Aqua Dominatrix comes from Rajpurohit’s fear of water bodies and his fascination with Irene Adler, the dominatrix in the episode titled A Scandal In Belgravia from the TV series Sherlock. Every Aqua Dominatrix release has had a strong woman from history or myth as its chief reference point. For his second release, Overthrowing Magnus, Rajpurohit drew from Norwegian folklore about a French woman who assassinated the Mad Duke Magnus. For Flesh, a record he describes as a very physical exploration of what we are (“bags of flesh"), Rajpurohit explores alternate myths about Shurpanakha, Ravana’s sister in the Ramayana.

“I’d gone to Sri Lanka in 2015 and I saw so many monuments and temples to Ram and Hanuman, and that got me thinking about who are the strong women in Indian mythology?" says Rajpurohit. “Shurpanakha was perfect because she was the reason the war started, and then she disappears. It’s like the writers just stopped writing about this amazing, very polarizing character."

Flesh made its live debut as an audio-visual performance in collaboration with Mumbai visual artist Nikunj Patel (aka Moebius) at the Magnetic Fields festival in December, the music complemented by eerie wire frame models of human and animal anatomy. The duo plan to take the set to a Mumbai club for the Flesh album launch gig, following the release in the first week of February. “We’re going to add installations on stage for the performance in Mumbai," says Rajpurohit.

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