VAN BOOM UNMASKED
Written by: Ashley Alleluya
Unmasking is the act of peeling away an exterior – a cover – placed to hide what’s within. When our team first encountered Van Boom at his show in December, we were captivated by two things: the music and the person behind this mask. My first write-up on him must have betrayed the intrigue I felt, because soon after, Van Boom agreed to indulge our unmasking quest and meet with us to speak about the image he had crafted.
As with his show in December, Van Boom shows up on time. He’s there waiting for us when we arrive, mask on yet a little guarded, but courteous when we apologize for getting there after him. For someone whose music has a confident, extroverted sound, he is also shy – at least when we first begin. There are no airs about him, no displays of grandeur and surprisingly none of the restless energy that usually marks the teenage years. Instead, Van Boom speaks in a measured, even tone, using his hands when he needs to emphasize a point.
We start with his entry into the world of music production and for this, Van Boom credits the chaos and turmoil of the world around him. “The past three years were a difficult time with things going on at school, forced jobs that I took up, watching my dad flip through the news about distressing times for the world of Islam and countries like Palestine and Syria shook me up,” he recalls. “All this emotion collectively brought out the character of Van Boom in the past year, a personality cultivated from the subconscious who converts the darkness into positivity through music as he sees it.”
When Van Boom speaks about being affected by the strife in the region, it is not a superficial weightless political statement. He addresses the victims of this large-scale tragedy as brothers and describes his mask as a homage to those affected by territorial conflict. “I noticed that our brothers in these troubled areas were mostly executed wearing masks that were mostly black. This visual helped me conceive the look of Van Boom’s mask; the same facial covering, only in pink – a positive color,” he says.
Using the music he had been listening to as a stepping stone, Van Boom then spent the next two years experimenting with music production software, finding his identity as an artist and using his technical skill and emotional range to compile his debut album. Skrillex was an inspiration. From the confidence with which he made his music to the touring and accessibility, Van Boom wanted to use his work similarly – to give out his message to the public, available to all but possibly only understood by a few. In recent times, he also name checks iiWaves as a musical endeavor that is worthy of respect and recognition.
Production of the first album took two years, from learning the technique to recording samples on completed tracks. When I ask him for his favorite track from the album, he struggles with the answer for a second, going with the diplomatic “all tracks are my favorites” reply on his first try. If there’s anything I was learning from this meeting, it is that shy dos not mean diplomatic.
Van Boom quickly amends his answer and names “The Void” as the one that holds meaning to him. “This track has a sample I recorded of a friend’s voice on the day we first met,” he reminisces. “She and I are still very close, but it is her effect on my life that makes her involvement in this track so special.” As he elaborates, we discover that Van Boom has placed a little of every person who has made an impact on him into his tracks. “At one point, I did not have any friends, so I spent time in my room by myself with my music,” he confides. Driven by creativity, however, he found himself gravitating towards the relentlessly creative people around Kuwait, those who were constantly working on their craft, creating and giving back to the community that shaped their identities.
Farah, or xxMantras, is a poet whose words and cadence caught Van Boom’s fancy a few months ago. He speaks fondly of her, equaling her skill to her kind nature, stressing that he knew they had to collaborate. Together they found the words that would introduce his set at his debut event last December. As someone who attended the event and listened to Farah rhapsodize, I can attest to her talent. Another person Van Boom holds close to his heart is photographer Aziz Mutawa. “I met him at the Contemporary Art Platform and instantly became a fan of his work,” Van Boom tells me. The friendship they formed and the shared discussions over the creation of Van Boom propelled Aziz to put all his other work on the back-burner and dedicate his time towards this artistic journey. “For being the generous person he is and for supporting my music, Aziz will always be special to me,” he shares.
According to Van Boom, his only musical training includes learning the drums when he was young “just to make some noise” as he puts it, but he seems to have quickly graduated into the world of music production. From discovering music in everyday sounds to buying his own equipment, by the time we sat down with him, Van Boom had already put the positive feedback for the first album behind him and is deeply immersed in album number two. It is when he talks about the value of the auditory world to him that Van boom truly sheds his mask. Forgetting the shyness that he wraps around himself, his words become more articulate and his sentences longer, as he tries to convey how sounds shape his creative process. A believer of the magic of sound, Van Boom pours into his work the music of his surroundings. “Sounds are endless and you can create so many original themes from the environment around you – and I always want to be original, never copy anyone,” he gushes. It is this kaleidoscopic personality of sounds found in nature that Van Boom seeks to replicate in his music. While his first album toyed with distortions – both audio and visual – in everyday sounds, his second album aims to fuse two very polarizing sound families – Kuwaiti folk music and electronica. “I did not anticipate such a healthy response for my first show,” he reveals. “But now that my music is out there, I want to continue introducing sounds into Kuwait that begin a new movement within the community.”
I ask him about his plans for the immediate future – does he see himself achieving the level of success that his inspiration, Skrillex, comfortably thrives in? “If I could, I would be so happy,” he laughs. “He is everywhere, touring many cities, sending out his message through his music. I want to be able to take my work to the crowds in Dubai, London, Los Angeles and Amsterdam someday”. For now, though, he seems perfectly content making music and collaborating with those artists interested in turning his new album into a project that introduces to Kuwait “something they haven’t heard before.”
It is only when we are saying our goodbyes that I notice his T-shirt. Simple and white, it has the words “I SEE YOU” printed in pale pink across the chest. For reasons I cannot pinpoint, those words, coupled with the pink mask and his smile that is at once bashful and brash, gave me goosebumps. I realize that today, for a brief moment, I saw Van Boom, as well.