In the year 2016, an apocalyptic smog engulfed our nation’s capital city. All around, people took to the streets clad in protective masks, while others, too afraid to venture outside, stayed shut in and stared out of their windows at the gloom which had all but smothered the city. Celebrated jazz drummer and composer, Tarun Balani of jazz quintet, Dharma, was amongst these weary few, who felt the gloom of the choking city inwardly and decided to channel this feeling of melancholy into creativity. We got talking with the musician himself, as he told us of his new solo EP 2°, released under the moniker, Seasonal Affected Beats.
Having grown up in Delhi, Tarun’s earliest memories of music are memories of his mother, listening to old ABBA and The Bee Gees tracks while doing household chores. As a child in middle school, Tarun once followed his older brother into the music room, where his sight locked onto a senior, playing a fibreglass drum set.
“It was just the power of the beat that struck me, and I thought, ‘this is the hippest thing I have ever seen in my life, I’ve gotta play some drums!’” Tarun says, “It was love at first sight with the drums.”
His first solo project after years of collaborative efforts, Tarun explains that moving into a more individual space had both its advantages and disadvantages. “I genuinely truly love collaborative work, and so with Dharma, I bring in a lot of unfinished music and then have the band interpret the music, and we hash it out, together,” Tarun explains, “But with SAB, it’s great to some degree to have full autonomy and be able to do whatever you want with the music,”
°Seasonal Affected Beats
As we talk, Tarun recalls that day back in the year 2016, when he felt the gloom of the smog-smothered city as a living, breathing entity within him.
“It was really depressing environment for folks living in Delhi.” Tarun explains, “I was sitting around with my partner who works in mental health, saying that I might have Seasonal Affected Disorder and that it was impacting my mood. Then I started thinking, how cool would it be if I wrote a beat each month, and see what kinda beats I would write as my mood and the seasons change,”
It was so that Tarun’s solo moniker was born, with what was, at the time, a loosely formed plan to experiment with sounds and drum machines at his home studio. It wasn’t until the summer of 2017, when an unexpected cancellation of Dharma’s tour of Europe befell the troupe, that Tarun truly devoted himself to his writing.
“Truly, I had never intended that I was going to be a solo producer or a performer, I have been leading my band for the better part of over 7 years now, and this is just not on my radar,” Tarun explains, “I just started putting out snippets here and there and folks were encouraging, and it was interesting, but quite challenging as well to have to learn a lot of technology and integrate it into performance and production,”
The EP, which employs the use of Sensory Percussion instruments, enabled the young musician to produce, write and compose in real-time. “It’s really liberating, because there’s a moment in the production, performance, and writing, where even I somewhat don’t know what’s going to happen because I’m not writing music to a grid or to a bpm, so it’s very very exciting for me, personally,” Tarun explains.
While his principal instrument is the drum set and percussion, Tarun also plays the piano and the trumpet, skills he debuts in the public eye with this latest release.
°An Experiment in Vulnerability
While most of Tarun’s compositions are written and composed from a deeply personal, introspective space, the EP 2° is a raw, vulnerable take on the artist’s views on climate change, mental health and more. Composed as a suite, each song on the EP is meant to flow into the next, compelling the listener to start over once the final chords of the last track have played.
“I never really intended to use a specific theme for each track or anything like that, but it just sort of ended up happening,” Tarun explains, “As a curator of a bunch of songs that go on a record or an EP, it’s important to have, at least for me, a flow to the EP where it’s more than just tracks that have been clubbed together.”
Using beat progressions and sound to illustrate his feelings toward climate change, the track Prelude is charged with looped synthesizers and arpeggiators, creating a sense of urgency. “It’s a sort of call to action, to create an awareness towards how urgent the need of the hour is to open our eyes and ears to climate change,” Tarun explains.
The second track, Jitter, is a sonic portrait of long-time friend and drummer for musical duo Parekh and Singh, Jivraj Singh. Inspired by their conversations concerning mental health and the uncertainty of a career in the arts in this current climate, Jitter is a portrait of a friend, as well as a companion through hard times.
A song inspired by Tarun’s own mantra in times of distress, Let the Light In features musician Kavya Trehan, and is a reminder to allow yourself to feel how you feel and to let the light in in times of darkness, with self-love and self-care.
Watch Seasonal Affected Beats’ new music video for Let the Light In here!
What he describes as one of the most politically charged pieces of music he has ever written, Dr Escher samples BR Ambedkar’s iconic speech in parliament in the year 1946. “I think what’s been happening with CAA and NRC, and just generally the turmoil and panic in India is an extremely volatile environment,” Tarun explains, “His words are endless, and I really relate to them, and I think they will be something I will be referring to for many years to come,”
The final song on the EP, 2°, is a letter penned to Tarun’s three-year-old niece about climate change, and the world that awaits her when she grows up. “I think generally, the way we’ve been dealing with climate change, everything is always portrayed in a very negative light where everything is going to be catastrophic- there will be a huge tsunami and we’re all going to die and that’s about it- but I truly wanted to portray a feeling,” Tarun explains. Composed as a lullaby, the soothing, almost melancholic piano tones give way to the droning of the trumpet, and into a final crescendo of sound that creates a truly uplifting sonic experience.
As our conversation draws to a close, Tarun leaves us with a powerful message about art, and those who are brave enough to make it.
“Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about the role of the arts and the role of the artist in society. I think we have a very prominent role in society. Historically speaking, the way the arts have been viewed and documented has been very different from the space we are in today,” Tarun says, “The impact of art in today’s world, in my opinion, is very small, and yet, it is socially relevant and politically relevant. If I had to put a message to my EP, it would be that art is important.”
As with artists across the world, Tarun’s music is a vehicle for change, and an embodiment of the vulnerability of artists, and of humankind, and of their resilience in the face of unrest, both of the mind and the physical world.
Listen to Seasonal Affected Beats’ EP 2° here!
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