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Suren Unka

Suren Unka

Interviewed by
Danielle Street
Friday 2nd May, 2014 1:34PM

After getting inspired to start writing music more than a decade ago thanks to a free sample CD from a cereal packet, Auckland artist Suren Unka has released his debut record full of beautifully sweeping synthetic soundscapes under the title El Chupacabra. We had a chat with Unka about his transformation through breakfast beatmaker, to dubstep producer, to drumming for a metal-core band, to now releasing his first album. We also got Unka to talk us through the inspiration behind a few of his favourite songs on the album, which you can listen to below...

Hi Suren, I heard that you used to go by the stage name “Starcraft” and make dubstep a few years ago... tell me a bit about that...

Yeah, it started because I was in an electronic band with my friend Fergus at high school called Ponny fight. Unfortunately, Fergus ended up moving to Japan, so I was left to go solo and that’s when I started my own electronic project. This was way back in 2009 when Scream and Bar9, my two favourite dubstep artists at the time, were doing some inspiring stuff that got my into making my own. I had some good times making horrible dubstep, but it’s all been a learning experience.

Why did you move away from that?

It was a gradual change, Starcraft was more on the heavy side of dubstep. The moment I tried to chill out the sound was when it all clicked together. I started using more melodies and a softer synth. This was the point I felt I was making music that was personal to me. So I decided to use my own name ‘Suren Unka’, to make sure I always kept true to my taste. I then started playing around with different beats and found that I liked dancy beats over half-time beats.

Do you ever dig up your old productions?

Yeah, a lot of them make me cringe but I still like to go back to them and see how much I have improved. I deleted most of the releases from YouTube but I keep them under my desk on my old beat up laptop, as a reminder as where I started from.

Your new album name, El Chupacabra, is interesting... where did that come from?

I got the name El Chupacabra from watching a doco on this South American Mythical Creature. It’s kind of like the western version of Big Foot or the Lochness Monster. The El Chupacabra has been notoriously blamed for the murder of people's goats. In English it literally translates to "goat sucker". I’ve always been fascinated with the power of people's imaginations to conjure up explanations for weird circumstances. I try to relate all my video clips to this, and so far every one has included some type of monster. Whether the creature exists or not, is yet to be proven, but I was so fascinated by the story it seemed like an obvious choice.

I understand that you also chose a lot of the song names from documentaries, have you always been a big doco watcher?

I wouldn’t say I’m an avid documentary freak or anything, but yeah, I do like watching them and when I do, they always seem to have a lasting impact. I really enjoy all of David Attenborough’s wildlife docos as they’re interesting and the cinematography is insane. My favourite one I have watched lately though is Bully, which highlights the severe problem of bullying in America - it’s so sad.

You use a medley of equipment and software to cobble your songs together, what is the most indispensable tool you have in your music making?

My Korg Radias is definitely my most indispensable tool. It’s my first and only hardware synth. Its like my third arm or eye. It’s super easy to achieve sounds that I’ve envisioned in my head. When I’m having bad days in my song making process, I spend the day making sounds I like on it, then save them into a sound bank for later use. On days when I do feel inspired, I can go back to this sound bank and use them to compose a song.

How did you initially get into electronic music making?

When I was 8-year-old I ate Nutri-Grain and they had these little prizes with their cereal boxes, and one time they included a PC game that allowed you to make music. It came with pre-made loops that you could place together to make your own songs. From there, I learnt that there was a Play Station game that did a similar thing. It was called Music 2000 and it allowed you to put together different loops such as drum loops, vocal and bass samples to make songs. After that, nothing could stop me. Most weekends I would go into music planet and play on their Korg Radias. I finally managed to get my hands on one when I was 16 and that’s really where it all began.

Do you remember what about putting music together in that way appealed to you back then?

I liked it because I felt like I had control over every instrument. I could take control over the whole creative process in a lonely but fulfilling one-man band. Electronic music is really satisfying in that way - not only can you invent sounds on your synth that are past the reach of most instruments sounds, but you can compose a song by yourself without needing to play 1000 different instruments. Of course I have mad respect for people that can do, but I’ve always been interested in the realm of sounds that instruments can’t reach, so it really just chimed with me.

You also play drums, most notably for Beach Pigs, at what point did you pick up the sticks?

I started drumming at the age of 10 after I was inspired by the drummers I used to see playing when my parents took me to church. Before I got a drum kit, I would practice on pots and pans and then by the time I was 14, I was in my older brothers metal-core band, called No Greater Power. After that, I was in a band called Hivemind who were meant to be playing with Beach Pigs at a gig, but their drummer got too wasted. They were on the hunt for a new drummer so they scouted me out and asked if I wanted to join. At the time I was looking for a more mellower sounding indie punk band, so it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Which do you prefer, drumming or creating electronic music?

I love drumming, but I prefer creating electronic music because it satisfies all my creative needs. Drumming in my band is always exciting because you’re in a team and you never know where four peoples creative energies are going to take the sound. However, being able to start from the bottom up with a song you’ve imagined in your head and creating every music part, is the most satisfying feeling in the world.

When it comes to making your own music… how does a track usually come together?

It usually starts with a drum beat. But then I start tinkering around on the keyboard until something just comes. As I said before, I have good and bad days. On my bad days I will sit at my synth and create sounds and then save them to a bank. On my good days, I’ll have a song sitting in my head and I’ll take the sounds I’ve saved and create a whole piece.

Now you have your debut album out of the way, how do you plan to develop your music moving forward?

I’m aiming to inject more real instruments into my electronic music. I already use guitars, but this year I want to start working with some violinists and flutists because electronic sounds fail to capture their beautiful tones. I also want to go touring round New Zealand and Australia, to promote the album and to get to play with lots of other artists on the way. I also have funding for two music videos, which are in the works at the moment, so it will be exciting to see how they turn out.

Please tell us about a few of your favourite tracks from the album...


I originally wrote this song for a friend’s fashion show. She wanted me to create something without any percussion, however as I started making it, my drummer's instinct told me to add in drums and this is how it ended up.

Weather Science

Weather science was one of the first songs of many I made for this album. It was one of those songs that you can’t put a finger on what you were feeling at the time, because it was just another mundane day in the studio. However, it was one of those songs I kept going back to and working on. There was something about it that stopped me from throwing it into the bin of tunes that would never make it past my ears.


I wrote 'Flee' after a weekend of two really bad shows. I’d spent what seemed like forever preparing, to end up playing to crowds of two people. It was just one of those times where you start to doubt whether you’ve taken the right path in life. On the Sunday however, I got over myself and decided to work on some new sounds. 'Flee' was the result of writing a pick-me-up, feel good song, to lighten my mood. Once I’d laid down the music, I asked the singer of my band Dahnu Graham, to come on board and write some lyrics. It was heaps of fun.


'Oryx' came about after I got unforeseeably kicked out of a band I had newly been asked to join. These things happen, but I was feeling pretty bummed about it, so 'Oryx' is really an expression of that.


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