Avinash Kumar treats the name B.L.O.T as part instruction manual, part personal philosophy. An acronym for Basic Love of Things, B.L.O.T is a two man audio-visual collective. Avinash’s friend and collaborator Gaurav Malaker is in charge of the music, while Avinash is the resident VJ. Having performed in Colombo before, Avinash was back to lead his first VJ workshop for Border Movement and Goethe Institute’s Pettah Interchange Marketplace. He started out by telling his young protégés what every VJ should know – “The great thing about visuals is that nobody really cares. It’s not like if the music shuts off – people would lose it. If the visuals turn off, the party still goes on.” For Avinash, this is absolutely liberating.
As one of India’s most interesting and experimental VJs, Avinash thrives outside the box. It helps that he was never indoctrinated with club culture; instead he began his career as a designer of toys for UNIDO. His professional interests continue to be pretty diverse, incorporating his work at Quicksand (they’ve been hired by the World Bank to study financial inclusion in rural India) as well as his interests in research, design and filmmaking. “The big joy of VJing is that wherever you’re coming from you can find a way to express that,” he says. He also likes to challenge the idea that a VJ’s place is at a party – “I’m always telling people there’s dance performances, theatre, fashion – clubs are only a fraction of what a VJ could do.”
Avinash embodies the curiosity that the name B.L.O.T implies – his visuals are incredible to watch. A seamless blend of stop motion animation, photography, film clips and graphics, they make the mundane fascinating (for instance in the way they document street life), creating intriguing contrasts (old Hindi film clips looped to a techno beat) while always retaining a sense of humour and playfulness. B.L.O.T’s visuals have a real sense of place, celebrating local vistas and people. Avinash has noticed that this can work as an icebreaker for people encountering electronic dance music for the first time. “People listening to it can feel alienated immediately, but when you install something local, it becomes their entry in to the music,” he says.
Up on stage he doesn’t worry too much about stringing all of his content into a coherent narrative – his viewers do that for him. The idea of putting together a visual story for a whole set might freak a VJ out, but Avinash says he’s learned “that you are facilitating the meaning of construction inside people’s heads.” The brain makes its own connections and the people watching feel more engaged. “There are no rules, there is no right and wrong. It’s your own sense of what works that makes it interesting,” he says. Sometimes it works so well, that dancers abandon movement and simply stand around watching.
It’s a sign that audio and visual are equal partners in B.L.O.T. “We want people to think sometimes that it’s a cinema they’re watching and their music is a score for the cinema rather than the other way around,” says Avinash. Despite how tight their performances can be, Avinash says it’s all on the fly. Often Gaurav will see his new visuals for the first time when they’re projected on giant screens during the performance itself. Explaining that they work in separate studios, he says “we do that deliberately so that it keeps the surprise factor for each of us individually also a little high. Over-preparedness is boring.”
With one album down, B.L.O.T is gearing up for their next. It promises to be a doozy. It actually had its start in a line of ‘Future Botanical’ themed t-shirts Avinash was designing. He decided the theme needed a short story to explain it, but then the story became a graphic novel and then a graphic novel plus an album and now it’s both of these plus a live performance which they’ve been invited to debut at the Jaipur Literary Festival in early 2014.
The wildly inventive story, which he describes as funny with a deeper philosophical heart, is essentially about a South Indian guy with synesthesia who goes to Mars. As they explore the idea of a middle path between science and mysticism, Avinash’s mother, who is an accomplished Bharathanatayam dancer, and her students will be involved in the final performance. “It’s become so much larger and got tied into all these things…and we still haven’t done the t-shirts,” says Avinash.
Published in The Sunday Times, Sri Lanka on 25 August, 2013. Words by Smriti Daniel. Story pix and ST Magazine cover courtesy of B.L.O.T