I knew Rohan Chander was thoughtful before I was able to witness his chronic, mid-conversation philosophical spirals. This personality trait is spelled out by each and every track on his latest release, “Bakudi Scream,” a careful balance between high-level audio storytelling and blended hyper pop-chip tune instrumentals that draw from video games, fantasy and guilt.
“I harbor a lot of guilt,” the composer said via Zoom. “Around the choices I’ve made professionally and personally and whether it matters to [my parents] that there’s things that have mattered to me, that don’t matter to them...Things I believe are really important that everybody should think about.”
Chander’s family is always present in his music the same way they are always present in his life, but their forms morph into fantastical musical abstractions regarding relationships and love.
Chander, a first-generation Indian American raised in Rhode Island was given piano lessons from a young age, but didn’t develop a true interest in music until he found himself in the grips of pubescence. When his family acquired a mini-Mac computer, Chander’s older brother was the first devoted to the GarageBand application.
The composer admiringly ascribes most of his core musical identity to his older brother’s similar musical disposition and love of hip hop. “He would make a bunch of old school boom- bap-type hip hop, and was really big on J Dilla,” Chander recalled. He would sit at his older brother’s feet and mimic the styles he heard. Slowly, Black music such as soul and jazz, “started to seep into [his] musical language.” Older brother didn’t pursue music, but his one-time hobby set Chander off on the trajectory of his life—to the chagrin of his parents.
He thinks that maybe there was some kind of artistry a couple generations back…but he isn’t sure. For now, he is it.
Chander describes his parents’ relationship to him making “musician/composer/performer” his full-time career as a culture clash. Even before that career was a possibility—back in high school—they were not fans, hoping that he would become a doctor or lawyer. Their confusion and passive disapproval have only driven him to a pure-heartedly contrarian lifestyle guided by music. He recalls months of running on solely power naps so that he could write music during the school week. The experience forced Chander to put everything into music.
“I was just working hard because I had to prove to them that I could,” he said. “I felt like I could prove to them that I can do it, but also to myself, that I was not fucking up in the way that they thought that I was.”
His parents warmed up to the idea when he began chasing his MFA degree in music from USC’s Thornton School of Music following his undergraduate studies in classical music at NYU. He knows they mean well, but Chander still questions himself. He mythologizes this inner turmoil into his work.
Whatever escape that music couldn’t provide, the young Chander found in stories. He spotlights anime and video games as the intersection of his loves. He names longform story based RPGs such as “The Legend of Zelda” and “Naruto” specifically. “Bakudi Scream” features a number of samples from and sequences inspired by both. The album’s introduction features a robotic voice asking a series of invasive questions that act like security questions protecting your mortal identity. You have selected your avatar and are about to enter the audiophonic universe that Chander has sculpted.
The span of his imagination thinly veils a meticulous sense of logic behind an operatic album. By deceiving the ears of those accustomed to relating certain responses to video game-style music, Chander inserts himself into your mind’s eye. There’s a story in “Bakudi Scream,” if you’re willing to find it.
The main character, “The Architect Prince,” acts as a second body that listeners can use to ask how they’ve become themselves.
“In my case, this idea of self-synthesis is really still tethered to an image of whiteness that has its own damaging colonial archive,” Chander said. “In whose image am I trying to create myself? And whose image is the architect Prince trying to create? What is this exosuit that you’ve built? What is this mechanism, this engine you’ve created?”
This conflict grounds the story, which brings “The Architect Prince” into contact with a hacker and character named “HINDOO WARRIOR.”
Chander’s live performance brings even further energy to this concept, embodying the storyline physically. Disguising himself behind a light-up mask, Chander’s frenetic movements turn him into an overexposed human laser. So long as those central questions clearly exist, however, Chander doesn’t mind if the journey itself can seem abstract. The journey continues with the sequel record he’s creating, building on the same universe, but around the execution of the architect prince. “The whole record is confronting questions I’ve had recently in relation to death,” the composer said. “How death and…the considerations about identity can kind of actually go hand-in-hand.”
The album will be completed alongside commission-based work and his podcast, “Critic, Critic,” a place that brings artists of color together to discuss the overlooked nuances of their music stemming from their identities—something Chandler believes is missing from music journalism. “I just felt—honestly—white people don’t get it, you know? It’s really good when you are talking to other people of color and you can really bond over and discuss things in a different way.”
Chander’s deeply contemplative perspective leads him forward as much as it drags him back. Evolutions are inevitable and he’s aware, but the 2022 version of his innermost self can be found on Spotify under, “Bakudi Scream.”