Congratulations by Raji Rags - OTIH Records [OTIHEP001] FLAC download included with physical items

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A 5 track beats & breaks ep (19m 27s) — released April 30th 2024 on OTIH Records

Raji Rags is a shape-shifter, always taking on new forms.

Whether you know him as a DJ, a label head, an A&R or behind the scenes at institutions like Boiler Room, Warp, Bleep, Livin' Proof and now at the helm of his own label, OTIH Records, he has refused to be boxed into one category, constantly evolving. A mainstay of the London music scene, Raji Rags skips across genres gracefully, epitomised by his long standing NTS radio show. The British-South Asian creative has already lived many lives, and now it is time for the next one.

'Congratulations' is the debut EP from Raji Rags. A culmination of his influences merged together, the EP spans breakneck percussive rhythms across five tracks, melding together string arrangements and orchestration with hip-hop methodology. It's full of vigour and purpose, not a note out of place, melodic and layered, the EP is gratifyingly hard to categorise.

'Obligatory Ambient Intro', the opening track with the self-aware title, is a gentle introduction to Raj's world, opening with a room mic capturing the sound of instruments being set up. The plucks of double bass from Peter Bennie accompanies a lush violin from Raven Bush before dissolving into pads and a hymnal choir.

"Collaboration has been key on this record," Raji Rags says. "It's been essential to my process." Bush and Bennie add instrumentation to three of the five tracks; both are members of the band Speakers Corner Quartet (fellow OTIH label-mates) and there is a collaborative track with Taiwanese producer, Sonia Calico as Raj spent parts of the creation of this EP living in Taipei around the time of the birth of his son, Kiran.

'Kiran's Bike', the first single of the EP, weaves in live violin from Bush with warped synth plucks, rolling bass and saturated sine waves. A perfect soundtrack to Kiran's bike rides around South London.

'Making Love To A Ghost' brings in eerie chords reminiscent of ghost-like theremins, and ever increasing layers of drum patterns and percussion alongside growling bass. 'Bullet Train' with Sonia Calico, is full of sharp corners and hi-hats that hiss, a breakdown that distorts bowed double bass to beyond recognition and stuttering note echos from Koto synths before returning back to the driving and shuffling Taiko and Darbuka drums.

'Enchanté' rounds off the EP with another beat-less excursion, all shimmering and twinkly synths, underpinned by a deep, layered sub-bass before a playful violin from Bush nestles deeply into the groove. Cut-up from jam sessions between Raj on CDJs and Bush on violin, then chopped and re-arranged by Raj, interpolating the tracks that Bush improvised over into MIDI, creating additional arrangements using AI midi tools, with Bush finally replaying these new arrangements on violin to inject back the human element - 'Enchanté' showcases the workflows which Raj dove into to create this record.

"I'm a perfectionist and I'm not a trained musician, so it makes things both extremely challenging and interesting to complete," he says of the time it took him to make each track. "If I fuck up a DJ mix in a club on the weekend, it's not the end of the world but if something doesn't feel right in the music I've committed to record, that feels a lot more personal and exposing. If

people realised the lengths I've gone to make these tracks and musicality the way they are, it has been overly excessive, to be honest. But it's part of the journey."

Producing became an obsession. "For the last three years," Raj admits, "I've gone to sleep every night watching a YouTube production tutorial with this stupid looking sleeping earphone headband on my head."

'Congratulations' is an affirming new era in Raj's evolving hybrid sound palette and maturing collective character. "Since I started producing, I've gone through the toughest years of my life," he admits. A global pandemic struck, his son was born, coupled with personal health scares (the EP artwork is taken from Raj's own MRI brain scan) and an infamous legal battle swirled around him. He took that energy and poured it into this project. "This EP is a reflection that I'm still standing when I genuinely thought I was going to lose everything," he says.

The EP's title takes on a double meaning as Raj wants to "trick the algorithm" to see whether having a title that usually conveys acclamation for birthdays, weddings, child births can be deployed on social media to help promote a DIY self-released EP. 'Congratulations' is a testament to the importance of finding simple joy in our days.

Congratulations - you've made it. Congratulations - you're alive. Congratulations - now let's try and trick the algorithm.

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