Into the light: IYRE is uplifting South Asia's drum 'n' bass scene - Music - Mixmag
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Into the light: IYRE is uplifting South Asia's drum 'n' bass scene

Sri Lankan artist IYRE delivers a melodic, rolling mix and speaks to Aneesa Ahmed about the sonics of d'n'b and connecting South Asia's scene with the international community

  • Words: Aneesa Ahmed | Photography: CHÉ Studios
  • 30 March 2022

By putting his own unique twist on drum 'n' bass through innovative production and sound design, IYRE is making his mark in the global d'n'b scene from Sri Lanka.

Living in Colombo, the capital of Sri Lanka, IYRE (pronounced eye-ree, real name Sasith Gamage) loves his country and the nature that can be experienced in it. He's an avid fan of the outdoors, and channels this in his music through inspiration and samples.

His first love was metal and rock, drawn to the way the dissonant and harsh sounds crashed against each other to create a banquet of sonics. Down the line, the same qualities attracted him to drum ‘n’ bass.

“Drum ‘n’ bass is a fusion genre at the end of the day — yeah, you have the breaks and you have the drums, but there is influence from other music in there which makes it what it is; whether it be reggae or Indian classical music, there’s always something going on there,” he says.

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Previously making dubstep under a different alias, iClown, Sasith now goes by IYRE and is learning about himself through drum ‘n’ bass music, as well as building bridges between the community in South Asia and international d'n'b heads in the UK and Europe. Inspired first by Pendulum, and now by d'n'b artists from all over, he’s honing his skill to make satisfying, elating and euphoric tech- and liquid-driven d'n'b. “My sound is South Asian inspired, but with borrowed elements of metal and rock music. There’s still a very analogue sound to it, which is slowly creeping into my production.”

He’s already had releases on Goldfat Records, Pilot Records UK, Fokuz Recordings and Celsius Recordings, has been nominated for a Drum & Bass Arena award.

But for IYRE, the journey hasn’t been easy. Sri Lanka’s underground scene is already small, making the drum ‘n’ bass scene even smaller. He’s doing his best to champion some of the best sounds to come out from his country and surrounding areas, and credits the internet for being able to find some of his favourite music that he can share.

He’s presented us with a varied drum ‘n’ bass mix with snippets of his own unreleased tracks, which fans can anticipate hearing in his upcoming EP ‘Light of Hope’ out on Goldfat Records on May 27. Listen below, and read on as we speak to IYRE about life in Sri Lanka, the underground scene, the sonics of drum ‘n’ bass, and what his alias means.

Have you always been into drum ‘n’ bass?

I wasn’t a producer until 2012, and until then I used to just jam out with my friends in studios, but we’d play mostly metal and rock tunes because that’s what we used to listen to at school. I’d say my biggest exposure to 'Western' music would be through school, we had multicultural teaching and they’d expose us to music and art from all over the world. We started discovering rock bands and metal bands, such as Linkin Park. I don’t like to admit this, but back in the day I didn’t like electronic music nearly as much as I do now. I didn’t understand the sonics and production of it, and I felt as if playing with 'real' instruments was more appealing than playing on CDJs.

But towards my older years, towards A-Level times, around 2011, I was exposed to Skrillex through one of my friends at school. And it was his track ‘Get Up’, which he did in collaboration with metal band Korn — it was metal meets dubstep. That’s when something clicked inside me, I realised that electronic music could be fused with other genres such as metal and rock. That’s really what started my love for electronic music. Then later I went to Uni and I got my first laptop and started making music. I was researching how to make dubstep, and it all went from there.

How did the dubstep making go for you?

You know, I actually got pretty good at it. I started making dubstep in 2012 and created another alias called iClown which I used for over eight years before coming up with IYRE for drum ‘n’ bass. I was making a lot of dubstep and enjoyed it for a while, but in 2015 I started getting a bit bored of the sound because in my opinion, it was starting to feel slightly repetitive, due to the influence of Skrillex and the wave of producers that followed. I came across Knife Party by some chance on YouTube, and I researched the members of Knife Party and then learnt more about Pendulum. I didn’t really know much about drum ‘n’ bass before that, but I found music by Pendulum around 2015, so four years after they disbanded for the first time.

I’m glad you did eventually find your way to Pendulum!

You know, it's funny because some things take a while to reach Asia, especially here in Sri Lanka. So the first track of Pendulum’s that I heard was their 2010 track ‘Witchcraft’, and I just fell in love with the genre.

Was it mostly YouTube that exposed you to your big influences like Skrillex and Pendulum?

Yeah, because genres like drum ‘n’ bass, dubstep, breakbeats, etc. are not that widely popular amongst people over here in Sri Lanka. In terms of electronic music, there’s a lot of focus on house music and elements of tech-house and deep house, but that's where the majority of interest lies. I did not have an opportunity to access a gig or a set or whatever inside Sri Lanka. So if it wasn’t for the internet then I would never have found these genres which I now love!

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What has your journey been like with drum ‘n’ bass and the internet?

Even though I started making drum ‘n’ bass in late 2014 under my last alias, I was not getting very integrated into the global drum ‘n’ bass community, because a lot of it was in Europe and in the UK. So I felt a bit like I was on the outskirts, not being in any of the main hubs, and even with the internet, I found it hard to connect.

Why the change in alias?

So my old alias, iClown, in my opinion, didn’t have the grit or the edge for drum ‘n’ bass. I also just used my change in alias to have time to work on my skills and to restrategise, I took time to better my production and sound design skills. I changed my alias and strategy in 2020, and I had the time because of the pandemic. I really wanted to be a bigger part of the drum ‘n’ bass community, and thankfully I was able to do that.

What do you mean by you wanted to be a bigger part of the drum ‘n’ bass community?

Ever since I started making drum ‘n’ bass, I really wanted to work with the labels which are directly associated with the genre, specifically with labels that are situated in the UK. My objective was to be involved with the community and those labels no matter what, so I decided to shed my name and move into a new alias. My former alias, iClown, did very well but I was ready for a new chapter in my music and where I am right now is my dream. Also, an alias is just a vessel to get to where you want to go, so I’m happy that as a musician I’m becoming more confident in my craft.

Where did the name IYRE come from then?

I was brainstorming with a lot of ideas, and my good friend and mentor Human Nature - another d'n'b producer - helped me pick this one. IYRE is actually an anagram of the Sanskrit word ‘Iyer’, which means healer. Apparently, IYRE means ‘doing good’ in Jamaica too, which I didn’t know about but it’s a nice unexpected perk of the name.

Outside of Pendulum, who else are you inspired by in terms of drum ‘n’ bass?

Wow, there’s so many people, groups, labels and DJs who inspire me. This ranges from. Alpha Rhythm, who is a friend and I love the way that he manages to blend elements of good music, Brainwork from Australia and I think he’s one of the most underrated producers in the scene right now, the 1985 crew, including people like Monty and Alix Perez. The sound from 1985 is also creeping into my production, it’s very organic and is relatable to humans. I can’t not mention Metalheadz, and Goldie and Kemistry - they were icons and we wouldn’t be here without their influence. I also like the Renegade Hardware sound, Shogun Audio and their flagship DJs including Joe Ford. But one of my biggest inspirations is Winslow, who is now with Hospital Records. He inspired me and my sound so much and to find myself at Goldfat Records.

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I have to give the biggest of shout outs to Mr Porter & Mitekiss from Goldfat Records, without whom I wouldn’t be here right now, and they both introduced me to some incredible sounds. They also gave me my golden opportunity, they took me in and have been mentors to me for this long. I sent them a track after I saw Winslow work with Goldfat Records, and eventually said that the track I submitted called ‘The River’, with Bala Mandala - another Sri Lankan artist who lives outside of Sri Lanka - was not quite ready for them but they directed me to Pyxis and her label Beats in Mind: Headsbass, a non-profit label that raises awareness about mental health. They released ‘The River’, and I also sent my track Fragments’ to Goldfat, which eventually got picked up. It was premiered on UKF and the rest is history.

Do your friends and family also like drum ‘n’ bass - have you managed to convince them around to your side?

I have a mild following here, and that includes my parents, family and my wife! My family don’t really understand the genre, per se! But they have been to a couple of gigs I’ve done, and they’re very proud of my achievements. Even if they don’t understand the genre, they support my musical passion. Same with my brother, I send him stuff and he gives me feedback on what he thinks of a track. My wife is a dancer, she understands the genre, and she’s really into d'n'b and gives me great feedback too.

Are your family members musical in other ways?

Yeah my whole family are music fans and I grew up listening to a lot of music, my father studied 'Eastern' music. My father also worked in Saudi Arabia and brought back cassettes from other places - which is how I was introduced to the pan-Asian sound.

I know you’re keen to get Sri Lanka on the map, how are you going about doing that?

I’m really trying to get not just Sri Lanka, but the whole South Asian region on the map. I try to teach people who are interested in drum ‘n’ bass how to produce, it is how we can all help each other build together. We have a good community here, and I have a small but loyal following, so I try and repay them for their support by elevating the community and giving credit to even more Sri Lankan and South Asian producers and DJs. I along with one of my friends, Sagar Deshmukh, made a podcast for Winslow’s BSA Radio to elevate some of the best sounds coming from South Asia. There’s so much talent in our regions, and there are so many talented people here; including Barasingha. He released a few tracks with Shivacult. It’s incredible! I’m so in awe of his talent.

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How would you describe the very small d'n'b community in Sri Lanka - are there many events?

We don’t really meet up, you know. It’s weird trying to organise a gig just for drum ‘n’ bass — if drum ‘n’ bass is played at a gig then it has to be piggybacked off of another genre, whether that be rock or metal or whatever type of music. In the four to five gigs I’ve played, they’ve all been part of metal gigs; I opened for bands as a d'n'b artist. But but as for electronic music, it still doesn’t exist as much. I’ve been offered to play a gig, but they requested I made it more commercial in sound. Some of us are trying to see if it is possible to organise some underground raves, but it’s a long process. We’re also looking into getting sponsorship so we can get people from India or other nearby countries to come and play here, or vice versa and get people like me to go and play there.

How do you include sounds from your Sri Lankan heritage into your music, can we hear them in the upcoming EP?

I love adding some subtle and digestible sounds from Sri Lanka and South Asia into my music. I don’t try and overdo it, because I know so much of the fanbase is in the UK and Europe and won’t necessarily understand my references, but I still want to have something from here to represent. So whether it’s a small sample from a Sri Lankan or even Bollywood movie, using a specific sound, or working with a Sri Lankan vocalist, I like including my own bit.

Other than representing Sri Lanka, how else do you add your own personality to your work?

As I said, I’m a huge metal fan! I love Tesseract, from the UK, and I went to India to see them live! My music has a lot of inspiration from them, and from bands that are similar, especially around the ambience which I try and create in my music. I do try and make it as much my own, through sound design mostly. I’m starting to make an IYRE sound and I love seeing people enjoy my music because it is very much me! I’m honing my own sound and I’m learning, I had to learn production from scratch and my initial inspiration from Skrillex was a huge push for me. When I first started to produce my own music, I was almost emulating him, however involuntarily I started to carve my own sound.

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Talk us through how you normally make a track?

It’s organic, and I never put any pressure on myself. There are times where I don’t even make music for weeks because I want to recharge and in that time I do things like guest mixes, some sound design, reach out to labels etc. Inspiration just kicks in — sometimes it’s after I read a book or an article, or even at work during my day job, sometimes I take my phone out and record a melody on my voice notes. If it hits, it hits.

What equipment do you use?

I’m very software based at the moment, sadly. Hardware is very expensive and I can’t afford to spend as much on equipment as I’d love to. I use my PC and my Soundcard. I have a midi keyboard but I don’t use it much for production really, so it’s mostly just done on my laptop. I do try and layer and incorporate sounds from nature a lot in my tracks. I love the outdoors and I hike, when I travel too, I record textures and sound snippets. But I love leaving the city and going to the mountains and the beaches! I use Serum for most of my sound design, and I make sure it flows and try and keep my methods simple.

What’s some important lessons you’ve learnt from the global drum ‘n’ bass community?

You know, I can’t express how much I am grateful for our family over at Goldfat Records. We have monthly Zoom meetings where we talk about drum ‘n’ bass and we all help each other and give tips on production, and how to make things like the drums or whatever element sound better. We learn a lot about each other and help push our styles forward. I’m very alien to the electronic music culture in countries like the UK, and even a little bit to the underground culture over in the Asian continent. Outside of drum ‘n’ bass only, I’m also part of the Daytimers discord chat because I wanted to feel like a part of a big South Asian electronic community. Here I’m learning about the history and origins of South Asian underground.

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Have you had any feedback on your music from fans?

Yes, and every time I hear some kind words I feel incredibly lucky, happy and humbled. I have yet to see my music be played in clubs in person, but I have friends over the world and especially in the UK who have all sent me videos of my tracks being played in clubs, and it’s very humbling. Seeing footage of my music being played in club spaces has changed the way I view drum ‘n’ bass, and it has changed the way I view my own music. Seeing crowd reactions changes perspective, so while it is evolving, the IYRE sound is just coming into its own.

How do you feel about where your music career is right now?

Honestly, I’m achieving so many things which have been lifetime goals for me and I feel very lucky to be able to do so. I had support from the guys over at UKF, I’ve released tracks with some great labels, I got nominated for a Drum & Bass Arena award, I’ve had contact with Mixmag Asia, and even this Mixmag Impact mix! I’m proud and excited for the future. My first release on UKF was a true pinch-me moment! These types of things are rare in the Sri Lanka scene, to get so much recognition internationally. I’m so humbled and happy.

What can we expect from your forthcoming EP on Goldfat, which is due to be released in May?

In terms of production, it’s definitely some of my best work to date. I have a guest vocalist, who I can’t name as of yet, who is not directly involved in the drum ‘n’ bass world as she normally sings for a lot of dubstep artists, so I think this is very interesting and exciting. The vocal work is amazing, and it made that track very different. There are some deep, techy tracks and there are also some melodic tracks on the EP too. These tracks have a big focus on sound design, but I tried to capture and curate this IYRE sound. I let my heart speak out on this EP, hopefully, people like it!

Where do you want to go from here?

Well, I want to play more gigs and events, that’s for sure. I’m looking into going to India or somewhere else nearby to play. But that’s what I’m trying to work on for the next few months, hoping to get some playing gigs somewhere. Musically, I’m not forcing myself to make music and I just want to see what I like and what I feel like. I also want to push more South Asian talent from the region into the light.

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Who are some Sri Lankan, and South Asian, artists, crews and DJs you champion?

There are so many! There’s so many names in Sri Lanka, the South Asian region and people who are part of the global South Asian diaspora. This includes; Dushi, Goldtooth, Janaka Selekta, Gracie T, DJ Jedah, Darkspin, Fushara, Night Shift DnB, NOYSE PROJECT, Asvajit, Bo Sedkid, Dilee D, The Soul, Gru V, Dimuth K, Cmb Cruzz, Mesia, Kyotto, Subandrio, Nigel Perera, Dinelka, Ukato, Pavan Mukhi (Foreign Beggars) and the 4NC¥/Darkmode crew, Crash Comet, Nasha Experience, Barasingha, Drum and Bass India , Junket crew, Krunk live and Sohail Arora, Yung Raj, Karmasynk, DCODE, Tech Panda, OX7GEN ,Sepoys, Moscillator, and Watashi Wayogisan.

To finish, tell us more about your Mixmag mix.

I always let the vibes provide a direction to whichever set I play, and in this set, I was set to create a perfect balance between dark, rolling and melodic elements of d'n'b. It's queer, yet very bouncy. I enjoyed compiling this so much! I tend not to overthink in terms of technicalities, but manage the set as and when we progress. I have also introduced a few tasteful blends in this set, while not trying too hard to clutter the mix.

IYRE's ‘Light of Hope’ EP is out via Goldfat Records on May 27

Aneesa Ahmed is Mixmag's Digital Intern, follow her on Twitter

Tracklist:
01 IYRE & Alpha Rhythm - Rain Tribe
02 Aydn ft. Nat James - Circuit Prayer
03 Dynamite MC - Into ft. Bop x Subwave
04 Alpha Rhythm & Ritual - Illusions
05 IYRE - Asrama
06 Kublai - Landscapes ft. Note
07 Sub:liminal - Late Nights ft. Bazil MC
08 Mitekiss - Sophie's Tale ft. Milo Merah
09 Digital Native - Rabbit Hole
10 Foreign Beggars ft. Laville - Reveal (Alix Perez Remix)
11 Askel & Elere - Laser Pistol
12 Ephyra - Seeing You
13 Visages & Kyrist - Mirai
14 DMR - Hollow
15 Nemy - Invert
16 Brainwork - Leave It
17 Real Feels x Dopplershift - Listen Up Close
18 The Caracal Project & Rohaan - Turbocharged
19 IYRE - ID (Forthcoming Goldfat Records)
20 Lakeway - All Massive All Crew
21 Minor Forms - Space Beyond
22 Minor Forms - This Sound
23 Snowtek & Ferice - Circelling
24 Istoria & IYRE - ID (Forthcoming Celsius Recordings)
25 IYRE ft. Breezy Lee - ID (Forthcoming Goldfat Records)
26 Zombie Cats - ID
27 Winslow - Breaking News ft. T.R.A.C
28 Mitekiss - Falling In Reverse ft. gurl
29 Brainwork & MNML - Not Afraid
30 IYRE - Zainab

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