There were a lot of people who didn’t know what we were doing there," says producer and Akaliko Records head Khan Mohammad Faisal over Skype. We’re talking about the launch event for the Dhaka-based label’s latest compilation, which took place this February at the 2016 Dhaka Art Summit. Titled Translations, the 12-track compilation featuring artistes from Bangladesh’s burgeoning new electronica scene alongside artistes from the UK, Pakistan and Germany, is the country’s first ever electronica record to get a physical release.

That may not be headline news for those of us in India used to a flurry of indie music releases and gigs every month. But for Dhaka’s small and intimate electronica scene—beset by challenges both familiar, such as unfriendly local authorities, and unique, like the lack of alcohol sponsors and bars as venues—it is, “quite a big deal", as Faisal puts it.

The national capital of Bangladesh has a population of 15 million, but it is surprisingly absent when it comes to conversations about South Asian electronic music. India’s decades-old independent scene has an ever-growing fan base. Pakistani electronica producers such as Rudoh, Talal Qureshi, Toll Crane and Dynoman have been attracting international attention for years. But apart from a handful of rock and extreme metal bands making original music, Bangladesh has been conspicuously silent.

One reason for this could be that authorities actively discourage “Western-style" entertainment (drugs, sex, and now EDM) in this conservative country. “There is a huge infrastructure problem in terms of doing events—there isn’t a single live music venue here," says Faisal. The lack of nightclubs and bureaucratic red tape make the organization of live shows a herculean task.

For years, the only way to go to a dance party in Dhaka was to attend highly commercialized, corporate sponsored events at posh hotels like the Radisson, Westin and Regency. Open only to the city’s wealthy elite, this party circuit is dominated by DJs playing Bollywood club numbers and international EDM cuts. “This is a separate thing from us," says Faisal. “These DJs subscribe to a completely different ethos when it comes to playing music."

Five years ago, Faisal got together with prominent local DJ Omer Nashaad and American-Indian visual artist Vru Patel to start the Dhaka Electronica Scene (DES), a Facebook group to share and discuss the electronic music they couldn’t find anywhere else in the city. Initially open to a handful of local producers making original music, the group slowly expanded as they discovered like minded people committed to creating and sustaining an independent electronica scene. Today, the group, and its Facebook page, comprise a small online community of producers, visual artists and fans. Its success has inspired the rise of a number of independent artistes and producer collectives in the city, while DES itself has grown from having four-five artistes on its roster to over 30. “There are a lot of D-I-Y collaborative efforts happening that have allowed us to grow so much in a short period of time," says Faisal.

The result of those efforts is the recent upsurge in electronic music coming out of the country, helped along by indie labels such as Faisal’s Akaliko Records, Electro Records and HTM Records. The sounds are diverse—from middling dubstep/EDM to expertly crafted soundscapes—and the producers have evolved quickly from mimicking existing styles to innovating their own. You can track that evolution through the five compilations Akaliko has released over the past four years, as the music on each compilation gets increasingly bolder and more experimental. The sixth release, Translations, is proof that Dhaka’s nascent, developing electronica scene is now throwing up artistes who can compete with, and take their place alongside, the rest of the world.

Dhaka producer Sinin’s Tomishro is a dark, ominous soundscape populated by blasts of harsh noise, droning synths and the delicate sounds of a sitar being plucked. DES’ Big Machete (Tooth Club) contributes a similarly warped sonic vision, its industrial samples and chopped up synths often veering over the edge into unnerving dissonance. The DeepSteel & the B Regiment offer up Kopotakkho Nod, a dreamy trip-hop track with uptempo beats influenced by the 1990s’ London’s Asian Underground. And then there’s Tin Whiskers (Nuzhat Tabassum), one of the few female producers on the scene, whose ethereal Vulnerable is the most accessible track on the record.

So what’s next for Dhaka’s intrepid young dance music purveyors? Faisal’s focus is on getting worldwide digital distribution for the music they produce, and figuring out how to create a live circuit bigger than the one-off show at art spaces organized by Goethe-Institut or other cultural institutions. The producers are there, the fans are there, they all just need to get together in one place.

“Dhaka is a city of 15 million people so if we can get only 4-5% of them listening to electronic music, that’s a large number," says Faisal. “I hope we can do more live events and get our artistes the attention they deserve."

Physical records will be available at www.akaliko.org from 15 July.

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