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Interview by Alfonso Gomez Shot by Euseng Seto

Garbed in mostly Ricks – or Chias and Chews as he is wont to now – and contrasted with the traditional religious headwear of Nusantara Muslims, the songkok, Farhan Yassin’s outward image lives up to his chosen nom de artiste; Moslem Priest. The name alone is a controversy in itself (Google it and you’d find a six-page thread lambasting him), but the man’s appearance isn’t consciously designed to garner a reaction. “It wasn’t like one morning I woke up and said, ‘Oh! I think I should dress a certain way,’” he told us while sharing an origin story that’s more accidental than calculated. That it may be, but much like the DJ-producers he is influenced by and find familiarity in – the Night Slugs roster, B. Ames’ vogue couture – Farhan dabbles in art and fashion. Aesthetics clearly make for an important part of who ‘Moslem Priest’ is – be it with or without observable meaning. Seeing another net culture scholar in him, took the time to sit down with Farhan and spoke to great lengths about whether we live in a cyberpunk era, having your track played during a Boiler Room set, post-internet art, the Malaysian scene vis-à-vis Singapore’s, and the close association between electronic music and fashion culture today, among other topics.

Photo of Moslem Priest
Art doesn’t have to just be a painting.

Your chosen stage name and choice of getup (the songkok paired with street/runway-ready clothes) are likely to garner a reaction – especially in a country such as ours. Was it by design that as a DJ-producer you needed something of an image?

I’ve been wearing a lot of Rick, a lot of black stuff since 2008, which predated my DJ days by five years. So it wasn’t like one morning I woke up and said, “Oh! I think I should dress a certain way!” As for the songkok, I was in London for a year in 2011 for my foundation and I brought [it] along with me. Soon after, I realised that it blended well with what I was wearing. It kept me grounded too, always reminding me of my culture and home. People would come up to me everyday asking me what it was! They loved it and I’d tell them the history of the songkok. I have tons of them all over the room: Tall ones, foldable ones, custom made turquoise and maroon ones. My fav is Tom Rich’s leather songkok.

I didn’t give myself my stage name. Here’s the backstory: This was in 2011 and I was wearing a Rick skirt and I had his weird long blazer and a super drape-y black tee and I was walking in Covent Garden [on] one of those packed Sundays. This guy with a megaphone in a thick cockney accent came up to me and asked about my songkok. He asked me what I was (religiously) and I told him I was Muslim. He took his megaphone and just shouted into it, “Hey, everyone! We’ve got a Moslem priest here!” I thought, “My God, that’s brilliant!”

There’s a six-page forum thread on me with people just bashing the hell out of me. How I’ve insulted the songkok, how my name is just unacceptable! Moslem Priest! Ya rabbiiii. I read through it and I was just laughing and in awe. It’s super controversial! I love it so much!

We think it’s fair to say that you’re obviously influenced by the UK – specifically of grime and a soundscape unique to Bok Bok’s label Night Slugs (NS) and its Los Angeles derivative Fade to Mind (F2M). What about that particular scene inspired you so much?

Night Slugs as a whole influenced my collective (50490) in so many ways. First, the coherency each artiste applies to their EPs/LPs is something that I try to do as well, be it in mixes (all NS mixes don’t bring you to a halt but instead, bring you on a journey), or in our own tunes as well.

Each artiste in the NS/F2M camp is so versatile. Let’s put Bok’s Southside and Charizmatic Self EPs next to each other – they are almost complete opposites in terms of influences but both hit you just as hard. Girl Unit’s Club Rez EP had a couple Prince-like anthems alongside ‘Double Take’ and ‘RezDay’! Their Allstars Volume 2 CD could have easily been heard as being done by a single producer. That is what makes Night Slugs and Fade [to Mind] so charming to me. Their productions have always been ever-changing, pushing the boundaries of electronic music whilst still maintaining a coherent theme throughout the entire roster. It’s also the artwork. They progressed from blocky images then towards hyperrealism. Hyperrealism just fits so well with the whole package. Those little previews they did for [Jam City’s] ‘The Courts’, Club Rez, [Egyptrixx‘s] ‘Ax//s’ (with Andreas Fischer), and the works of Nic Hamilton ([L-Vis 1990’s] ‘Ballads’, [Bok Bok’s] ‘Melba’s Call’, [Bok Bok & Sweyn Jupiter’s] ‘Papaya Lipgloss’) are beautiful.

On a more general level, we know you grew up in a musical household, but how did you start getting into DJing and producing?

I started making mixes using VirtualDJ on my laptop in 2010. Then I started buying a lot of vinyl — white labels, vinyl-only releases. I picked up a 1210 turntable to listen to the records. After awhile I had so many records but I couldn’t mix yet since I only had one deck (I eventually bought another pristine one six months later), so I reached out to Jony from Maddkidz and I would rent the studio two hours at a time, every other day just practising by myself. I owe a lot to him. This was mid 2013, and soon after I started producing with Mysteriz. By the end of the year, we released the 50490 Vol. 1 compilation and then shortly after I released my Da Werks EP.

With the exception of you, not a lot of DJ-producers here have connections to the fashion world. Elsewhere though, it seems like fashion and forward-thinking electronic/dance music are intertwined (for example, Jlin is Rick Owens’ favourite juke act apparently) – in your opinion, what is the connection between the two?

Rick is really on a Jersey Club and ballroom binge now! I was just at the London store the other day and that’s all that was played. The B. Ames-produced tune for his penis-showing show was hardcore hype trap! It was amazing. The reason why it’s more apparent now than ever is because most producers have design backgrounds (at least overseas). People like Virgil Abloh of Off White and HBA fully support forward-thinking music like the GHE20G0TH1K shows, etc. Air Max ’97 designs for ASSK Paris. Trax Couture itself is a clothing label. People go to the clubs to look good.

I’m working closely with Joe Chia and Justin Chew now. I adore them because they take risks. They’re not just thinking about Malaysia, they’re thinking worldwide and that’s why I connect so well with them. Don’t be surprised to see capsule collections from us in the future (and even more exciting stuff).

Photo of Moslem Priest running around in a car park Photo of Moslem Priest running around in a car park Photo of Moslem Priest running around in a car park Photo of Moslem Priest running around in a car park Photo of Moslem Priest running around in a car park Photo of Moslem Priest running around in a car park Photo of Moslem Priest running around in a car park Photo of Moslem Priest running around in a car park

We’re assuming you’re big on scifi – William Gibson and Moebius, to name a few (yes, we stalked your social media footprints). Electronic/dance is a genre trope, meanwhile in real life, that type of music is so indebted to net culture. Would you say 2015 is officially cyberpunk?

Yes! We’ve got iPhones and Google Glasses. We’ve got Microsoft’s Hololens. We’ve got ‘Post-Apocalyptic’ fashion. Put those together in an outfit and you’d look like you’re straight out of The Matrix. Also, we’ve got the most powerful hackers in the world hacking into government websites. The NSA can read your emails and texts just like Big Brother, but that’s more Nineteen Eighty Four than cyberpunk.

Relating to that, why do you think electronic music – from Vangelis’ Blade Runner score to Burial – is so closely associated with dystopia? Even your own production could be fitted into a cyberpunk soundtrack, we think.

Because it’s cool! Personally, I think dystopia is such a recurring theme in movies that we’ve become obsessed with that and the end of the world. A lot of us grew up watching movies like Brazil, Blade Runner, The Fifth Element, The Matrix, and not forgetting anime [films] like Akira and Ghost in the Shell. Naturally, a lot of producers are attracted to that. We don’t want the world to end or be in shambles, but at least we can try imagining it. Have you seen Doomsday Preppers? It’s hilarious but that’s the reality of the world we live in. There are people out there preparing themselves, we just want to make the music for them when it happens…

While we’re still at it, let’s use scifi as a parallel to electronic music. The former regularly deals with artificial intelligence gaining – or attempting to gain at least – sentience, or soul so to speak. From the very beginning of the latter’s existence, it has been at odds with musicians who do not see ‘instrument’-less music as ‘real’ music. With music today going increasingly more electronica in both underground and mainstream, has electronic music found its ‘soul’?

If it makes you dance then it doesn’t matter, right? Electronic music has always had soul. A lot of producers use real drum recordings. Stuff like kuduro, gqom, and tribal house. Swindle mixes jazz instruments with dubstep and does live shows with bands. Classical musicians hated John Cage when he started. His ‘4’33”’ piece now gets applauses! To me, if the music makes you ‘feel’ something, then it’s all good.

Tell us about the 50490 collective. What’s the significance of that area code?

I’ve been living in Bukit Damansara for 15 years, Iz (Mysteriz) has been here his whole life, and Naz (S|Co.) lives here too. When it came to starting a collective, it was only natural for us to use our postal code. Besides, Subang people rep 47500 hard too.

Even besides Trax Couture, you have quite the connection overseas. How did you manage to hook up with them?

Social media is such a powerful tool. I’d communicate with a lot of them through Twitter DMs and Facebook. The boys and I would send zips of tunes to them. DJ Rueckert of Classical Trax helped a lot. He set up the Classical Trax group on Facebook. We probably had 50 guys in there early last year. There are 600 of us now. Some of my idols are in there – it really is amazing. In terms of Trax Couture, I’d met Matthew Thomas (Rushmore) a few times in London to grab some wax off him. Then I played a Vogue Ballroom event at Hong Kong last year alongside Rushmore, Victoria Kim, Dashaun Wesley, and DJ MikeQ. It was amazing, we had Paris Was Burning on a huge screen behind us and the vibe was amazing. He asked me to join Trax Couture soon after that.

‘Yo Fuccboi’ was played in a Boiler Room set before. Does having your track played by DJs overseas, one during Boiler Room no less, come as validation to you?

[Shout] out to Scratcha DVA! It was very exciting. DJs were already playing my tunes on radio for some time but Boiler Room was something else. People were sending me messages on Facebook, texting me about it, all when I was asleep! It’s gotten a lot of support. Oneman used it in his summer mix, which was lovely too.

We know a few other local producers who have had their tracks played by DJs outside of Southeast Asia. Does it ever feel like you guys, people in this scene who make their own music, don’t get as much recognition locally? Do you feel like most of the attention goes to those who purely just DJ?

Definitely. It’s especially difficult for me and the rest of us because the music I produce and play are still very niche in Malaysia. Hip hop is still king. Festival trap, trance, ‘deep house’ (laughs) – these are what people love here and we can’t change that. Bud Culture (RIP) and Maddkidz were the only ones pushing proper soundsystem music since 2008. We’d be happy with a crowd of 30 to be honest. We just want to play it LOUD.

Photo of Moslem Priest
Photo of Moslem Priest
There are people out there preparing themselves [for the apocalypse], we just want to make the music for them when it happens…

What do you make of the scene in Kuala Lumpur?

You would know. Bottle service. Sparklers on champagne bottles. Socialites in one corner. A group of pillheads in another. Promoters who don’t pay the artistes they book just living the high life. People kissing each other’s arses off. Humble people who I’ve known for a while turning into snobs once they turn famous.

Singapore is great, everyone vibes and they always book great acts. I opened for Ikonika there. The first time I played in Singapore with the Darker Than Wax crew, it was a 2am set and I played ‘til 4:30am! I don’t remember how many rewinds I got that night. I enjoyed myself so much. To be honest, I’ve never felt that way playing here. People don’t quite get it. Everyone in Singapore is into grime and d’n’b. I hope KL will be like them someday. I’ve educated people on the music I play for two years now and I really hope it pays off. I don’t go out anymore, unless I’m playing or supporting friends. I prefer reading books and having coffee at night. The coffee scene is excellent.

But it’s definitely getting better! Naufal and the HOAX kids are super dedicated. I’m so proud of them. Cee brings in great acts. Loops Collective too, they brought down Goldie for God’s sake! I’ll be starting my own club night soon. Insya’Allah.

You’re a proud autodidact – you take photos, make art, compose music, and write music reviews despite being a college dropout. But ‘Knowledge is power’ is an axiom you believe in. Having credited the internet for most of your knowhow as an adult, would you say (institutionalised) education has failed Malaysian kids?

No, I don’t think it has failed our students. My friends got great results. I can’t have people telling me what to do. Let’s say I get an assignment and I’m positive I can do it, I’d still procrastinate. My lecturer once told me, “Farhan, you’re a bright student but you never do your work.” I decided to go on sabbatical and focus on my music and my art. I’m doing better now than I ever have. It really boils down to what fits a particular person. I work better when I am my own boss.

Still, I think segregating students by how well they perform in school is unnecessary. You’d have a group of delinquents in one class (Let’s call it ‘Kelas budak kurang pandai’) and then you’d have the ‘Kelas budak pandai’. Knowing you’re put in a particular class and have bullies say, “Oh, you’re in that class, that means you’re dumb.” When morale is low, students can’t perform – these are my personal views.

Going on an internet tangent, there seems to be a nebulous relationship between electronic music and net culture – acts like Oneohtrix Point Never and the PC Music crew deal specifically with the artifice and decadence of the internet and digital culture. The internet democratised art and music – everyone can make art and music and have their work easily distributed to pretty much anyone in the world. As someone whose music and art deal with the same thing (we think at least), what is the nature of that relationship to you?

The internet has allowed all of us to showcase all our works to the masses with just a click of a button. It’s a great thing. Dadaists and Fluxus believed that art can be made by anyone and with anything. Conservative artists opposed that. Nowadays, I’m being sent music every week from friends and other producers — I can play a set every other day and it can be filled with music I just got from that particular week! Post-internet art and culture is an ever-growing thing too. Art doesn’t have to just be a painting; digital art is widely accepted now and fits so well with the whole music scene because they complement each other well. You’ll see 3D promo vid of a show or a club night, [or] posters which look really cool, and it makes you want to go! The poster is an art in itself. People like Zulamran Hilmi and kkkkkiddddd are some of my favourites in KL in terms of 3D art and gig flyers.

So far, there hasn’t been a collaboration between you and Najwa. Will you guys eventually work together or is there a conscious decision to not ride on each other’s career?

No, it isn’t that. We’ve actually made a few instrumentals with her on synths, but we never really got around to finishing it. I asked her the other day if we should start again and she said, “Jom!” So who knows really!

Is there a plan to release a Moslem Priest full-length album?

I haven’t thought about it at all, really. I’m still honing my skills. We wouldn’t want to rush anything, it has to happen naturally. If it happens, it happens. With that said, my Trax Couture EP will be out in late September, with Tuff Wax and Tessier-Ashpool Recs EPs out next year, insya’Allah. 50490 Vol. 2 should be out soon. More releases from Mysteriz and S|Co. to come!

Lastly, because most of our questions were longwinded: What’s your pet peeve?

Taugeh. I despise it. To hell with it. That is dystopia…