"I want to see commitment – because I'm committed to the day I die": An interview with FAUXE

"I want to see commitment – because I'm committed to the day I die": An interview with FAUXE

Sometimes, love is not enough. Sometimes, you have to go at it with a fervour that is life-defining and totalising. The common term for that attitude is “religion”. In this case, it’s not who or what you’re praying to that matters but why you’re locked in that pursuit at all. On his 2018 album Ikhlas, the Singaporean musician FAUXE submitted himself to the ritual of  expanding the lexicon of Malaysian music through nothing less than the single-minded goal of collective rebirth.

Its 16 songs kiss what has come out of the soil of Malaysian music – folk songs, dance pop hits, Tamil rap, spirituals  – but that reverence manifests in its reimagining of the source material into floridly new and otherworldly creations. FAUXE has always operated as the fulcrum between the human voice and the jaw-dropping affordances of the electronic medium but on Ikhlas, he exerts his world-building power on a world so close to home that he challenges the parameters of its very foundations.

It’s tough to love music that is delivered as a dissertation but Ikhlas cannot be tethered to the stodgy framework of academia. It’s a living thing – its songs ooze with the sweat of its history and its energy is unrelentingly kinetic, a cosmic bounce with the elemental power of a heartbeat. 

As much as Southeast Asia is born from the larger vibrations of its mother continent, it is its own monolithic entity. And as much Ikhlas is an ahead-of-its-time artefact, it belongs here. To commemorate its hallowed place in Southeast Asian music, The Analog Vault will immortalise it with a physical release in the form of a vinyl record that will coincide with Fauxe performing live.

Here, Fauxe himself reflects on a year of Ikhlas and elaborates on Altruism, the next frontier of his art.

Congratulations on the first anniversary of Ikhlas and on the physical release! Why is having a physical product important to you?

Truth be told, the physical release was not as important until I realised how Ikhlas served as a documentation of our past and present. And keeping up with the times, with the resurgence of things such as cassettes and vinyl, ain't no harm. So, of course, when someone approached me and they wanted to do it, I felt that it was all love. 

Moving forward, it has encouraged me to realise, no matter if it's a novelty or a real interest, that, it's something that I would keep. And I would like to believe that the people who buy into that have that same belief. 

You are known for moving away from whatever you've previously done rather quickly. How has Ikhlas aged for you? 

Ikhlas has taught me how music is nothing but a tempo, and that it doesn't matter if I am sampling an ethnic band from Sarawak; I could still do the same thing if they were right in front of me and I have my drum kit or other things – I could still make music. There was never a learning curve. It's like a religion – When you put yourself into it, you'll see there is no relation other than tempo. 

Because we are in a place that has so many different races and religions, I can safely say that the difference between Singapore and everywhere else is that we never learned how important these cultures that exist between people are, but we learnt how to live in harmony. Just like music, harmony is king, melody is king – and that's a religion to me. 

That's why, with Altruism, its whole focus is just on rhythm, harmony and improvisation. 

Does that change how you look at Ikhlas now? 

No. I feel that every album is like going through school. My first stuff was primary school, then my next release was secondary school, so I'd say that is my diploma. Now, I'm moving on to getting my degree. 

You will always have people saying like "Oh, those were the good times!" or "Oh, the stuff I used to do as a kid was bad". But everything is a part of a process of living the next 50 years of my life, so I will always look at Ikhlas the way I saw it the first time I made 'Gaut'. Everything else is just other people's perspectives and influences, their tastes and how they consume music – which is not my priority. 

One thing that is apparent to people who care about music and who've listened to Ikhlas is that you cannot deny that its maker has respect for the source material. How do you balance that with the digital age practice of making music from a laptop?

The digital age of music didn't exist back then. So, that's not respect. That's being influenced by the era you are in. Clearly, the respect was fit to the music that has existed through the samples. But what I'm doing is going back in time – literally – and showing them, like, "Hey guys! We have this now, would you want to make music together?" 

For me, I see everything as a tempo. So even if you're going poly-rhythmically, or you're just doing one note, I would still see that as the base point. It does not matter to me; everything is tempo. We live on tempo – 60 seconds is 60 bpm. 

Is there a song on Ikhlas that comes to mind when you talk about the album, but whose story you haven't told before?

I sampled 'Aadu' from Lock Up’s ‘Kokkara Ko’. One day, in Malaysia, I met them at a club. They were like, "I heard the track, it was crazy!" That's when I knew I had their respect. 

I respected them so much because they're the source material. Period. I cannot even say anything else. So for them to like how I used their song, I felt really thankful. This song was the song I spent the most time on because of the respect I had for them. I want people to hear what I hear, but I want people to remember that if you ever come across the song and you like it, I will tell you the story. And this story is one that I have never told because it happened so randomly at a club. It was all love. 

And did you make any changes to Ikhlas for the vinyl release?

I remixed the entire album and switched everything to mono, because I was thinking about the vinyl aspect – low end doesn't work really well. So I cleaned everything up. 

When you hear Ikhlas on vinyl, you're going to hear a very fresh version of it. It's the same thing and same arrangements, but the feeling is different – it's a lot lighter; it’s also coming a year after I learnt so much about production and I applied it. Some sounds will appear more upfront now, because I mixed them and played with the levels. 

What can people expect from the upcoming show? 

The whole show is curated by me. It's from 5pm to 12am. It’s how I would run shows if curated by me, solely. This means that you have the workshop that's from 5pm to 7pm, which goes through the whole process of Ikhlas – how I made Ikhlas and music in general, and, finally, how I developed songs from one sound. 

Following that, we will have an ambient set by Zeekos Perakos. Then it moves on to more dark folk stuff from Hell Low, followed by a free-form set by Altruism.That’s us, we'll be playing five songs for one-and-a-half hours. Lastly, we have disco and beyond from Bongomann. 

This is the kind of show that's clearly playing from the heart. That's why I want people to come from the start. You don't need to come for the workshop, but when you pay that 20 bucks, understand that it's not just you seeing the opening set and stuff. No. Everything is curated so that you can experience what seven hours feels like – I will make the seven hours feel like ten. 

Does Ikhlas have any bearing on Altruism or is Altruism a whole new frontier? 

I come from a band background and I've always wanted to explore playing the music that I make and create live. Ikhlas was one of the pieces for a very long time – talking with a lot of different people and trying to play it at home by myself. 

And then came Altruism, which is a community group that started just so we can play, be free, be happy, and improvise. One thing led to another and I realised, "Hey, why am I not covering my own songs?" – Covering. Not playing. “Covering” means that I can change things. Through that, I realised that tempo is king. I've learnt a lot by trying to play Ikhlas live and I've learnt a lot about how important it is to deconstruct these ideas yet put yourself in everyone's shoes. So, it's like being a music director.

You see, we've only jammed once. We have another jam tomorrow, and a last one the day before the show. People would be scared, normally, but I'm not scared because everyone I know can improvise in their own way. That's the difference. I didn't come here to find the best people and give them stuff to play. I came here to work with people that love me the same way as I love them. And I feel that kind of emotion equates to what I call energy. Tempo and energy. If you can put these two together, your life can change without even realising that five minutes went by. 

And when can people expect releases from Altruism? 

So, FAUXE is going to be releasing three albums under the Altruism name. The first one is called Altruism: The Beginning, the second one is called Altruism: New Life, and the third one is called Altruism: Essentials, or Altruism: Freedom, I don't know yet. But, Altruism as a group is only focused on that last album – that's why I want to take three years to jam with them.

That's why when we perform live, we will never look at the audience; it's not our perspective. Our perspective is to learn to be comfortable with each other so that on the third album, we can go into the studio and we can jam – structure, with rhythm, harmony and improvisations, cut all the tracks, one-time takes, and the album is done. Then we'll play in Singapore, then Southeast Asia, then other places in Asia like China and Japan. With whatever money I can get, we'll fly to Europe. And now there's this thing called a community band, called Altruism. 

All of us are all interactions, so I feel that as long as I can maintain that for three years, I can dare say that repetition is commitment. I want to see commitment – because I'm committed to the day I die, already. If I can advocate that, with everyone I am with, I feel that everyone becomes part of the process. 

For example, meeting random people that came up to us after our show at Pink Dot and told us that they loved the Altruism stuff. I was like damn. You came up to me and said that – that was so important. Those two people taught me that it doesn't matter what taste you have, we all have a tongue. It's just about how I articulate myself, and I can only learn how to do that if other people accept me for who I am, so that I can give back 100% or more. And it feels a lot better not doing it alone. Altruism 2019 and beyond. 

Finally, has what you expected from yourself as FAUXE changed from when you started? 

No. I cannot resonate with the discomfort that a lot of musicians here feel. Because, clearly, I didn't "start" making music; I just like music. Whether it's the mask, whether I had a Malay girlfriend, whether I have my future wife with me, whether I was a Muslim, whether I was a Catholic, it doesn't matter. I've never lied to anyone about music. I never showed my distaste – I've only showed my discomforts with things that I wished were better. But I've never had a problem. Never. Even until now people look at me wearing the sarong and be like, "Bro, that's all nice and dandy, but I see you as a star so I hope you dress like one."

I mean, your mentality is certainly not flawed, it's perspective. But I don't need that. I never lied. The only thing that's changed is my age – that's why I can say I have 50 years left. I’m afraid of dying all the time; I think about death everyday. But at least I have no fear of about the melodies that I come up with when I wake up in the morning. That's what I want to encourage in these live shows, especially – to be brave, to have no fear when you do your thing.

Why do jazz musicians who improvise go fucking hard? Because they put their lives on it. Because there's history and circumstances, but we don't have none of that. So what can I put on my life? The people around me. I want to be influential, not to be famous, but so that I don't have to be alone. I can be the centrepiece for unity because I don't give a fuck, and that has never changed. Wearing the mask has taught me one thing: Everyone will still look at you funny when you do something different. So why bother doing the same thing as everybody else?

Catch FAUXE live at the the Ikhlas vinyl launch on Saturday, 6 July, at White Label Records, from 5pm onwards. Tickets are available here.