Jun 2024 30

Post-industrial punk duo Bangladeafy speaks with ReGen about the new album, synthesizers over bass guitars, sensorineural hearing loss, live performance, and more.
 

 

An InterView with Jon Ehlers & Atif Haq of Bangladeafy

By Ilker Yücel (Ilker81x)

New York City has always been fertile ground for a thriving and diverse music scene, and among its denizens is the duo Bangladeafy. Having just released their fifth album, Vulture, on Nefarious Industries, Jon Ehlers and Atif Haq have followed a notable trajectory from organic bass guitar driven hardcore toward a more focused synthesizer-based post-industrial punk sound. This dynamic has seen the band sharing the stage with a number of bands across the stylistic spectrum like Trace Amount, Muderpact, Hungry World Incorporated, Kardashevix, Psychic Scream, Countdown From Ten, and perhaps most notably industrial/metal legends Godflesh. The band was gracious enough to speak with ReGen about a number of topics, from the challenges of performing live in the post-pandemic world, to the effects of Ehlers’ sensorineural hearing loss on his creative outlook, Haq’s Bangladeshi heritage, the benefits and importance of electronics and synthesizers in Bangladeafy’s sound, and hints at what is yet to come.

 

Your fifth full-length album came out on June 21, titled Vulture, on which you reference other animals (rats and hounds), and a song called ‘First to the Carcass,’ which seems to evoke the titular scavenger. Can you tell us about the lyrical themes you explore on the album and how the title ties into them?

Ehlers: Across all of our albums, we refer to the natural world. I believe that there’s something deeply inspiring about the creatures whose Earth we live on. From an observational point of view, there’s a certain brutality that can serve as a parallel to the brutality we experience as people. The idea of scavengers or vultures is a metaphor for aging and the fear of becoming disposable. The vultures above are this impending force that are waiting to devour us upon our passing. Our ‘passing’ could be synonymous with our sudden lack of purpose in the art world. We’ll be left to wither away as vultures pick at our bones.

Once again, you worked with Jonathan Vergara for the mixing of the album; would you tell us about his contributions, what he brings to the table to enhance the sound of Bangladeafy in ways that you and Atif feel you can’t achieve without him?

Ehlers: Like any great engineer or producer, Jonathan has always served as a mediator in moments of creative standstills between Atif and I. He has the tools and experience to bridge the sounds we’re looking for even if it’s at opposite ends of a spectrum. Jonathan always has a cool head about him, which is needed in a duo situation where no third person can always be available to step in and offer a new perspective. Jonathan and I have inside jokes spreading across 14 years of friendship, which is also helpful on such stressful projects.

 

 

Heavy electronics and noise are not a new style, but there does seem to be a much more punk- and hardcore-influenced aesthetic to the likes of Trace Amount, Zheani, King Yosef, Greg Puciato, and of course, Bangladeafy. What is it about electronics that you personally gravitate toward that you feel achieves your goals better than the traditional guitar/bass/drum formula?

Ehlers: After having played synths in various metal bands in the late ’90s and early 2000s, I was aware of how much space a synthesizer could fill if utilized and amplified correctly. From a minimalist standpoint, in terms of gear, I found that we could sound like an even bigger band with less gear by treating a synthesizer as multiple instrument voices. By programming distorted bass synths in the lower register of a keyboard, and textural stuff in the higher register, you really can expand your potential soundscapes between two people. As a band that typically prides itself on not using any backing tracks or arpeggiators, we can truly say that every note and every explosive 808 that you hear is being played with feeling and in real time.

Being from New York City, there’s a rich history in underground music – from punk to the early new wave sound and a broader range of influences. You’ve cited Skinny Puppy, Nine Inch Nails, and Devo, but are there any particular examples of this New York history that you feel has had an effect on you and Bangladeafy?

Ehlers: A handful of bands in New York have certainly encouraged us to confidently make the shift from bass guitar to synths. The most notable one I can reference is a band called Netherlands, which is the brainchild of Timo Ellis, a seasoned NYC musician with an impressive list of artistic accomplishments. The core of Netherlands’ sound is the extremely devastating synth bass, which I experienced for the first time live in 2012. Netherlands, combined with many other synth heavy bands we have played with over the years, had cocooned themselves in my brain before fully materializing into my own vision for how I want to play music.

Are there any particular pieces of gear or equipment that you feel are essential to achieving the Bangladeafy sound?

Ehlers: I’d have to say that my Yamaha MODX6 and the current sampler I use for stabby sounds are the bulk of what is being heard. The Yamaha feels like it has no back wall in its sound designing – if there is one, I haven’t hit it yet after owning it for almost five years. The sampler allows me to dial in specific quirky stuff snippets of life such as jackhammers or bees and tweak them into something musical.

 

 

This question might be better for Atif to answer, but how would you say that his Bangladeshi heritage factors into his drum performances to give the band a more unique flavor? What about his drumming motivates and inspires you in ways that, say, a more standard rock or hardcore punk drummer would not?

Haq: My Bangladeshi heritage factors into my performances via sturdy work ethic. I grew up in a cohort of Bangladeshi immigrants who came from poor villages and worked their ways to classy American neighborhoods. That standard informed relentlessness improving which, I aspire, reveals itself at performances.

Aside from the criticisms and prejudices toward your sensorineural hearing condition adding to your motivations, in what ways has it made you think about your relation to music and your methods to make music in perhaps a way others cannot?

Ehlers: It is hard to compare my experience to others since I have never lived with full hearing. If I were to speculate from a scientific point of view, I have a tendency to favor low frequencies while also being particularly finnicky about which mid-range frequencies to work with developing sounds or mixing. If you were to view my range of hearing on a sound frequency chart, you’d see a major scoop in all the middle frequencies, while the low and high frequencies remain almost similar to that of a person with normal hearing. I typically like to explore the limits of the relationship between low frequencies and mid-range frequencies on recordings and in the live setting. I suppose that I’m following my own preference as opposed to what is correct from an audiophile’s standpoint.

From what I understand, you’ve also worked in special education in Brooklyn for the past five years. As a teacher, what has inspired you the most in the students that you’ve worked with? In what ways do you feel you’ve learned from them, and how do you feel you’ve applied that to your music and your life?

Ehlers: I try to keep work and music separate. I can say that being around youthful spirits all day has possibly slowed down my own descent into becoming a boring old man. There is a consistent reminder that confusion and uncertainty is a way of life for children in the middle school age, the same age in which I was fully invested in becoming a musician. Naturally, I associate my own memories of this time with robust emotions, both positive and negative. So, I need to carefully navigate these potential minefields with understanding and familiarity when faced with challenging situations in the workplace; especially after having been a frustrated special education student myself.

 

 

You’ve recently performed shows with the likes of Murderpact and Godflesh. In what ways did sharing the stage with these acts strengthen your vision for Bangladeafy’s music? What have you learned from their music and live performance that has affected your outlook and approach?

Ehlers: Meeting Justin Broadrick of Godflesh was one of the major highlights of the previous year. Godflesh was such a staple in my CD collection in the late ’90s. Having the opportunity to share a stage with them, based on our own reputation, was such an ego-inflating moment for me. With Godflesh, the importance of creating an atmosphere with the electronics and matching it with visuals was a lesson in live performance that I am still reeling from. Murderpact are local Brooklyn freaks who are very good at what they do. They demonstrate this impressive ability to make such complicated music and display it to the world as effortless body movements. Murderpact has solidified this belief that the combination of electronic chaos and organic drumming is the perfect intersection of human and computer.

On the other hand, while the need and demand for live shows is greater than ever post-pandemic, it also seems like they’re becoming more difficult to put together. What sorts of challenges have you observed in this regard, and what do you feel can or should be done to overcome them?

Ehlers: Booking shows and communicating with venues and promoters has definitely become harder than it used to be before the pandemic. Anyone who says otherwise is either in a legacy band or playing dive bars owned by their friends (which there is nothing wrong with). Even at the tier we’re at and the amount of time we’ve been around, we still have to find some way to convince a venue that our show is worth bumping up to ‘first hold’ because we never fully integrated into LiveNation or Ticketmaster and whatever system tracks ticket sales. So, to a venue or promoter who is unfamiliar with us, they are less willing to take a chance on a niche sound like ours. However, the out-of-pocket operating costs and amount of upkeep that it requires to keep venues open across the United States is more than I care to ever take on myself. I understand the hesitancy to take on risks for a band that has only managed to appeal to a small but loyal population. In a perfect world, the forces-that-be in our country could invest more into the arts much in the way it’s done in European countries. Perhaps show organizers or venue operators could shift towards chasing after grants to secure funding. In that case, venues would have to function more like an art space and less like a bar or club.

The album came out on June 21, and you had a release show on June 26 at Brooklyn Made. What else does 2024 hold in store for Bangladeafy?

Ehlers: We have a short tour coming up in July, the Disfigured Tour, which will take us through various upstate New York cities to Rhode Island. A few things in the work for the upcoming months that can’t be revealed just yet!
 
Tour Poster

 

Bangladeafy
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Nefarious Industries
Website, Facebook, Bandcamp, YouTube, Instagram

 

Photography by Jenna Hill, provided courtesy of Bangladeafy and Nefarious Industries
Website, Instagram

 

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