Non-Applicable (N/A) is a live electronic music act and audio-visual collaboration created by Colombo-based musicians Asvajit Boyle & Nigel Perera. Representing the culmination of a decade-long journey of artistic co-development, the project serves as an outlet for the duo’s combined musical output across a multiplicity of genres and stylistic frameworks. With its emphasis on hardware-based live performances and immersive visual experiences, the project aims to shift local perceptions of electronic music as an artistic medium.
Photography by Shehan Obeysekara
In the live performance video for ‘Entry 01’ — the debut track from their new collaborative alias — Asvajit and Nigel stand behind a table covered in samplers, drum machines, keyboards, and mixing desks. With a spotlight above them and the camera alternating viewpoints, they dream up an intoxicating blend of futuristic synthesizers, syncopated percussion, skipping machine beats, and squelchy basslines.
As the video unfolds, you can hear influences from minimal house, techno, breaks, UKG, and jazz swirling together into man/machine music that plays with the push and pull between real-time and programmed feels. When I watched it for the first time, I was reminded of how I felt when I was first exposed to the West London broken beat scene. On a visceral level, their choice of textures, tones and patterns felt stylistically free and physically thrilling.
Hailing from Colombo and the nearby city of Negombo, respectively, the two Sri Lankan DJs and producers first crossed paths after the 2015 edition of Pettah Interchange, an annual series of counterculture music, art, and culture events that Asvajit organised in abandoned warehouses and buildings with the support of the Goethe Institut and their online music platform Border Movement. That was the first time Nigel witnessed the then relatively infant underground electronic music culture that had been developing in Sri Lanka since the end of the 2000s. The experience further fueled his interest in the scene and the two soon started working on music together.
Having previously spent some time immersed in the Berlin underground, Asvajit was an established figure in Sri Lanka’s post-war house/techno scenes when the two met. He’d already DJed across Europe and South Asia, released several house and techno records with labels overseas and launched the Jambutek Recordings label and artist collective. What inspired Nigel at Pettah Interchange was partially a product of Asvajit’s inspiration from his time in Berlin.
As a sixteen-year-old high school student, Nigel, eight years younger than Asvajit, started DJing classic rock, mainstream Sinhala pop, and hip-hop in Negombo. It was a far cry from the underground world he would enter years later, but the experience taught him some key fundamentals. He was a mobile DJ who became a club DJ. “I learned a lot from that. I can read a crowd, and I know what to play,” Nigel reflected.
Eight years after they first connected, Asvajit and Nigel’s friendship has blossomed into a multidisciplinary creative partnership. As well as both working separately as music producers and DJs, they now co-curate Jambutek Recordings, run the design studio Fold Media Collective, and collaborate on music and live performances. Asvajit recalls that before meeting Nigel, he would never have thought that such a multi-faceted and productive partnership would be possible due to the limited nature of the local scene.
Since then, Asvajit and Nigel have been on a journey exploring the sounds of 2010s/early 2020s house music as it cycled through minimal, tech and breaks-oriented configurations while also keeping an ear out for developments in hip-hop, beats, funk, jazz and experimental music. Along the way, they’ve also helped shine a light on the art of vinyl DJing in Sri Lanka and investigated new possibilities for multimedia performances through their ongoing Interface project while navigating the realities and challenges of the coronavirus pandemic and Sri Lanka’s ongoing economic crisis.
One of the aspects of the manifesto for this new work was that it was not going to be pinned down to any particular thing. They were going to lean into the fact they had diverse tastes and don’t really make music that fits neatly into one genre.
While I was in the research process for this essay, I spoke with a Sri Lankan underground music insider who wished to remain anonymous due to privacy concerns. They commented that the musical colour and vibrancy in Asvajit and Nigel’s live performances feels like the beginning of a long-needed counterpoint to the melodic techno DJ sets that drive the commercial tier of the local electronic music scene.
Asvajit and Nigel dream of shifting the general local understanding of electronic music. With N/A, it feels like they’ve found the right platform to make a difference. This is one of the things they wanted to address with the project. In a country where most people don’t really see electronic music in the same light as traditional musical performances, N/A attempts to swing that perception and show that there is more to electronic music than DJ sets.
By Martyn Pepperell with contributions from a local expert
We asked N/A to curate a playlist that would situate their work in their local context. They chose to highlight songs by musicians they have collaborated with, as well as songs by their contemporaries.
The audio recordings contained in this playlist have been used for non-commercial, educational purposes in compliance with the fair use provisions of the Intellectual Property Act, No. 36 of 2003.