For those who characterise our underground as insipid, local producer Halal Sol is one of the latest faces to quash that narrative and push the envelope. Collaborating with locally established, bi-continent label Darker Than Wax, the producer-DJ peddles his animated beats onto our shores via his latest EP Dijamin, drizzling his signature edge onto polished productions that beget endlessly for the clubs, something he knows a thing or two about after multiple stints in the local circuit. Dijamin, then, is a natural progression of things, a buoyant label debut from an equally spunky figure.
Boasting a worldwide premiere on This Is Ransom Note, as well as featurettes on DJ Mag, Mixmag Asia, DMC World, and NME Asia, the 6-track EP parades the vision and versatility of the sonic heavyweight in years to come, with local tastemakers Bongomann and Kaye hopping on board to round off the debut album in suave. We chat with the lad behind the album on the journey leading up to its release, his relationship with music, as well as being a creator in Singapore on the whole.
Sup’ Halal Sol. Firstly, congrats on the worldwide release of your 2021 EP Dijamin on local label Darker Than Wax. How long has this been in the making, and how does it feel now that it’s finally released globally?
Thank you very much! I started on the EP draft about March last year after being granted the Noise Music Mentorship Grant. It took me almost a year before I could finalise the tracks and send them out for mixing and mastering. There were so many edits, deleting the tracks entirely and stalled halfway written tracks. It was honestly pretty stressful at times as I wanted to show my best works thus far. I was so relieved and happy when the tracks got mastered. Now that it is released, I am ecstatic to see that people are enjoying it and makes the stress all worth it.
Take us through this album getting baked - from ideation-execution, to mastering, and now fresh out of the oven, as well as how it sits on your roster of releases thus far.
At the start, I wanted to have an EP that was really diverse with many different sounds, styles and energy. I tried with many different complex sounds and elements in the music. After listening to the tracks, I did not feel that they fit together. It was back to the drawing board, and I did consult Kaye (DTW) on the direction. I felt that I wanted something simple that could be done with simple synths and drums and took the challenge to make it work. So, everything I used in the tracks, except the vocal and horn samples, were vanilla sounds that could be easily found on any digital audio workstation.
This EP is definitely a big chapter in my music journey, and it definitely will not be my last. I hope to do something more house-focused next.
View this post on Instagram
‘Dijamin’ means guaranteed in Bahasa Melayu. The album art’s patternisation is mesmerizing, and vaguely resembles a gathering of people embracing/locking arms on certain angles. It’s also reminiscent of a Batik painting on its own. Did I hit the nail on the head?
Oooh yes close! I thought it would be cool to see "Dijamin Halal" together. That's a catch-all phrase to say something is halal certified. The artwork was designed by my partner, Adilah. I would like to keep the whole Islamic theme going from the monicker to the artwork. The tessellation takes inspiration from motifs in medieval Islamic structures that conceals while illuminating a space. The outer is web woven together by a kaleidoscope of faces creeping towards the sun. That being said, Malay art has influences from Islamic art.
Compared to the more downtempo, lounge foray of your EP First Thing in 2018, Dijamin’s energy is more assertive, and you’ve placed ‘Don’t Feel the Bass’ at the top of the tracklist to possibly set the tone. Percussions seem brighter, synths are straightforward yet seducing, and the lo-fi house and acid jazz forays of your signature are underscored throughout. What has stuck with you since your first EP till this one, and how has your sound evolved?
The first EP was self-released and was what I was trying to achieve at the time, to have something more chill and intimate as it was just a collection of tracks I made that sounded nice together. For this EP, I wanted something more energetic with a bang, since this will be released with a label. I think my sounds have not evolved much to be honest haha. This is evident in the 4th track "Hearing Deficit". That’s the vibe of most of my tracks I have hidden somewhere in my hard drive. I released a track titled 'Stop MP3' on my Soundcloud in February that I feel encapsulates my overall vibe well (shameless plug haha).
Darker Than Wax is home to some immense talents like yourself, both homegrown and abroad. What’s your chemistry like with the label, and how did this relationship come about?
I have been following DTW since about 2012-2013. I just started producing music and wanted to see what’s out there in the SG electronic music scene since they were one of the electronic music labels that had music I could resonate with. It wasn't until 2018 when I got a slot on SG Community Radio that we came into contact, and I was invited for a couple of live sets. They have been very supportive and have been pushing me to make good music. It is the kind of good pressure that keeps me wanting to improve and try different things.
View this post on Instagram
Amongst your track record you’ve remixed the likes of Charlie Lim, broke bread with BGourd for Veggie Wraps Vol. 1, tumbled with Joy Alexis, and reloved Bongomann’s ‘Deeperluv’. How did these aid your sound signature, or Dijamin in particular, if at all?
For the remixes, I try to keep the same feel and structure of the original work as I believe the vocalists still hold the center stage and my music was to complement them. Likewise for BGourd’s EP. For Bongomann’s remix, I wanted to keep the elements of the original track there and make it obvious that the original track is the one to be focused on. For the EP, everything was from scratch and I had to imagine a track that was not there. It was an intensive process. And I had to listen to a lot of music and listen to my past stuff to get the inspiration for the tracks in the EP.
I guess the creative process is different for a remix versus an original work. It’s fun doing a remix though because you try to reimagine a song and reproduce it in your style.
View this post on Instagram
You’ve mentioned that there’s a place for electronic music in Singapore, and that’s something you’ve almost let go of in the past. Talk us through the circumstances of your almost surrender.
I think I brought that upon myself haha. I am super critical of myself and will feel really low when I hit a roadblock. I was in a certain music ensemble at a certain institution in about 2016-2017. I was not really good compared to others at the instrument I played, and I felt really out of place and demoralised. Shortly after the annual concert, I quit the group and have not played my instrument much since then and almost stop music altogether.
I try to be consistent to keep on producing and listening to music. I guess it's just that I feel the music I make is not up to 'standard', and that's when I stop making music for a while, sometimes even stop listening altogether. Thankfully, I still have some motivation in me to continue as I really do enjoy producing music.
Then, what were your motivations for persistence?
Music is my main source of dopamine. I feel that it also makes me 'human'. Without music, I'll just be another cog in the machine. Work, go home, eat, sleep, wake up - repeat. I feel like I am not living properly if I do not create something or express myself artistically. Music is the way I am comfortable in doing so and it has kept me going through some dark times. I think I will continue making music for as long as I am alive.
I’m sure you’re aware that there’s an Israelian label helmed by Moscoman that bears a similar name to your moniker. What are some labels you aspire to work with other than DTW, and why? You can include Disco Halal too - I won’t blame you!
Hehehe, yes I found out about Disco Halal after I chose the name. I love some of the stuff they put out. Maybe in the future, I hope to release with labels focusing on underground house music to reach a more specific audience. But for now, I'm happy being part of the Singapore electronic music ecosystem and hope to grow as much as I can here before venturing out.
Speaking of monikers, lastly (and most importantly) - “Halal Sol”, or just “Sol”?
Halal Sol yo. I was thinking of a name that would stick. And something I identify with. I hope "Halal Sol" has been burned into the memory of anyone reading the article hehehe.