Vibe Seekers

“I was a fan of Rudoh since back in the days of LimeWire and Grooveshark,” Sameer Arshad says about his current partner at Jugaar Records. Arshad was still in high school in Tokyo, exploring the music coming from his family’s home of Pakistan over peer-to-peer file-sharing networks of the era. And although the pair wouldn’t meet for years, a seed was planted.

Now 34 years old and escaping for a nightcap after his newborn is finally put to sleep, Arshad is preparing to celebrate their label’s debut compilation with a release party in Bangkok, which he now calls home. The compilation is heady mix of driven breaks, made purely to keep the dancefloor sweaty. It brings together artists from all over the world, including the UK, Egypt, Pakistan, India, and Thailand. The party—which will be the first event at local mainstay Never Normal since its expansion—will represent that diverse mix as well, featuring Karachi’s Rudoh playing back-to-back with Monophonik from New Dehli. “It might be the first Indian-Pakistani back-to-back ever in the world,” Arshad grins. “It’s a big peace sign.”

Jugaar’s recent Dubai party

Arshad spent his childhood all over the place. His family is from Lahore in the Punjab region of Pakistan, where his parents grew up across the street from each other. But he went to school in Hong Kong, Pakistan, Tokyo, and Glasgow. And he was listening to music all along the way, eating up everything from city pop in Japan to Bollywood records at home. “I was exposed to so much growing up, maybe that’s why I am who I am.”

When Arshad started listening to Rudoh back in their school days, Rudoh was in a band playing psych rock and trip hop. He wasn’t even making dance music when they began working together, but he was a serious producer and had studied sound engineering in London. It would take a gig in Thailand to finally open his eyes to the possibilities of dance music. “When I booked him for a stage in Chiang Mai, he heard some of these guys playing and thought it was sick,” Arshad says. From there, he slowly started listening and learning and then eventually making it as well.

Arshad’s first events in Thailand were the Soundistan parties back in 2017, which were dedicated to platforming Asian artists specifically. “I was fortunate enough to live in all these different parts of Asia, and everywhere I’d go, I’d see this incredible talent,” he recalls. “I’d ask artists if they’d played in neighboring countries and they’d say no. I wanted to connect them with people who were just across the border. To create a kind of ecosystem for the artists, not even just for the crowds.” He says they’d rent entire houses and fill them with artists. “Of course, it was for a gig, but the magic kinda happened behind closed doors.” Artists were naturally collaborating and becoming good friends.

Jugaar cofounder Sameer Arshad

The scene has grown a lot since then and the networks are much stronger now, with artists regularly performing across the region. So Arshad decided it was time to move on. He also thought it was necessary to bridge the gap with artists from other parts of the world where electronic music is more established, partially as a way to bring Asia to them, but also to bring some of his heroes here to Asia. So he started Jugaar with Rudoh as their first release. (The word Jugaar means, “A flexible approach to problem-solving using limited resources in an innovative way.”) “We didn’t know how the first record was going to do, we just wanted to release something we love and believe in and see what happens,” Arshad says. That first EP was successful, so they kept going.

Arshad was changing his perspective on style, too. In the Soundistan days, he was inclined to represent Asia and wanted to hear Asian instruments on stuff. “But over time I found that that’s not what I want,” he explains. “We shouldn’t be expected to do something exotic just become we’re from Asia. If it works, it works, and it’s great. But you can’t force it. If a Thai kid is into UK garage and that’s what they’re vibing, they should have the full freedom to make what they like. It shouldn’t be like, ‘Oh since you’re brown or yellow I want to hear something different from you.'” Because of this, Jugaar does not have a regional sound, despite a roster that’s made up of mainly Asian artists. You could drop the tracks in a set anywhere in the world and it would blend in.

Jugaar cofounder Rudoh

One of the things that Arshad loves so much about dance music is that it brings people together from all walks of life. “Artists in general have the ability to transcend many things, including borders. They surpass misconceptions because you look at the art first, then you look at the creator. It’s a great passageway.” He says that with dance music in particular, “You can find friends all around the world that you feel like you’ve known for a long time. I go to Japan or the UK and can immediately jump right into it.”

But of all the places Arshad been, he thinks that Bangkok is the most special. “It’s where I found my community,” he says. “The city has a communal vibe and really takes you somewhere for long periods of time.” He hopes their release party will embody that spirit. “It’s all about the music and vibe you bring.”