Saturday, 30 July 2016


It's a pleasure to know this guy. He takes care of a record label, a webzine, and does PR almost single-handedly. He is also not very good at keeping umbrellas, but he's a genius in his own right. Kunal Choksi, hailing from the infernal depths of Versova is the man behind Transcending Obscurity, one of the world's premier underground music labels for extreme music. Transcending Obscurity was recently listed as one of the 'Top 5 Underground Labels you need to check out right now' by Metal Injection.

I've done this small interview with Chokslam to get some perspective on how it is to be the owner of an extreme metal label operating across the globe from India, and what he's up to lately.

Q. What is your favourite cuisine/dish of all time?
Hi! Thanks a ton for taking out the time to do this interview Pratika! It's probably pizza - a cliched answer, I know, but it's so good and something that I actually look forward to! Since you've asked, the best (veg particularly) pizzas I've had are from Alfredos (Pizza Mediterranea) and Joey's Pizza (devilishly good)! I also enjoy having pav bhaji and well made pastas.

Q. We know it's difficult to actually pull all of this off, considering it's you and probably just a couple of more people. How do you do what you do? And why? 
It's certainly difficult, especially when you're trying to do this in a legit way and not by doing it as some kind of part time hobby. My beginnings were quite humble where I actually stood at stalls with no lighting to sell CDs from my own collection in the last decade, simply because no one was doing this kind of thing earlier. In all modesty, I probably was one of the first to start this concept of selling international CDs (even merch) at stalls at shows here. No one sees the struggle but everyone wants to be part of the glory. At B69, I even ended up giving people entries by stamping their wrists and collecting their ticket money and also taking care of the bands' instruments rather than selling my stuff there haha. So yeah, it's been frustrating and I never really envisioned such an outcome for what I was doing. I just kept at it, tried to make it better, and yes, work very, very hard.

Why? It's because no one was doing what I was doing. It stems from the fact that no one was doing anything about the music when I got back into the local scene and attended the first comeback edition of Deathfest around 2011 or something. There were so many albums out but all of them were unheard of, and none of them had any distribution of any kind. With my international experience (Diabolical Conquest Records circa 2009), I knew they needed support so I started doing distribution for absolutely free and even paid for the courier and packaging out of my pocket. After that I started the Indian leg of the label. And then it's history as they say it and thankfully, it's grown to be a somewhat synonymous name in the scene here (at least). There were of course many detractors and my efforts were thwarted by many, but I did what I had to do. It is enough? Of course not. It's barely self-sustaining but I hope with better international exposure it will be in the next year or two.

Q. I've heard you're now into design and illustration. Can you tell us which bands you've worked with so far? 
I was always into art and was obsessed with all of it, but because of my engineering studies and business management and stuff, never got around to exploring it. It was after my sister passed away, that I enrolled in a FX School that taught all of this, just to get out of depression or cope with it. I don't have a lot of time to practice but I must say that I've learnt a lot and did about a dozen layouts for bands since a year or so from that period. I've so far done artworks for three of them - 1) Toxoid, 2) Dormant Inferno (India) / Dionysus (Pakistan) 3) Diabolus Arcanium (even the logo for this one). I'm currently working on an album artwork for the heavy metal band Knight; the album is called 'The Ventriloquist'. It's difficult but I have no qualms admitting that I'm new and have yet to improve.

Toxoid's album art by Kunal Choksi
Diabolus Arcanium's logo, designed by Choksi

Q. Transcending Obscurity also has a proper webzine. How do you manage your time with a label, active reviews and articles?
It's a real pain, to be honest. Thankfully I've found a good deputy editor in Shrivatsan (an old and loyal friend) and I've also assigned Chris Dahlberg from US to do premieres and such stuff. It's still a recent development but they're doing more than I can now in this aspect and for that I'm immensely grateful to them. Mind you, I have been writing since 2004 and it's been over a decade now and I'm still at it. The very intention was to highlight good music and I was always a keen listener from the start. So the foundation of Transcending Obscurity was always to promote good music out there and help spread the word - without ever relying on ads, now or ever, for any monetary benefits at all.

Q. How many bands have you currently signed onto TO and since when?
I'm more interested in the international bands now, to be honest, because I'm eager to spread my wings and expose more international metal fans to our music. Unless and until the fan base doesn't increase, we'll just be catering to the same audience and that's not good. But then there are much bigger and much more established labels out there so it's always a struggle to convince bands to work with you on an international level. With that said, the Indian bands happen to be the backbone of Transcending Obscurity and I've done my best to support them despite their scepticism and sometimes lack of support. I think overall I have 50+ bands working with me that are actively working on new music that I can put out. Sometimes I'm demotivated, sometimes I'm eager, but more or less, I'm happy to say that it's all worked out for the better. I'm getting mentally tired but there's much to do still...

Q. Tell us about what you did before you began TO.. Some details on Diabolical Conquest maybe?
I was just very underground. I was a critic and a harsh one at that, one that wasn't easily pleased. But life taught me lessons and I thought that my opinions aren't really 'helping' anyone. Yes, it allows people to make well-informed purchases but that wasn't enough. It was then that I decided to start a record label and my first signing was of the Australian band The Dead, which was hugely successful at the point of time. Back then, in the last decade, hardly any bands from our country were recording music so I couldn't do much for them.

But a few years later, when new bands sprang up like mushrooms and there was no real label to support them, I started a sub-label and simultaneously changed the name to Transcending Obscurity to reflect a better purpose. I was never an atheist, let alone 'satanic', but perhaps that name suggested that, but with 'Transcending Obscurity', the approach is different and more inclined to help everyone as far as possible. Some are deserving, some not so much, but at least their music has remained alive in a sense through our efforts. Bands did more than float 'demos' online on Mediafire links - here they got a professional release, reviews, acclaim, and more often than not, merch options. Even now some of the earliest albums we put out are at least recorded for posterity and available legally via the digital medium (if not physical).

Q. Whose releases are you busy with at the moment, and what should we look out for in the next few months? 
Releases from the ambitious Thane/Mumbai based death metal band Darkrypt and consecutively the batshit insane grindcore band from Bangalore Grossty are up next. There are a couple of other unannounced but committed Indian releases scheduled too but I'm not sure whether or not they'll be out this year. That's because simultaneously there are much bigger releases also scheduled and I don't want a clash of sorts to happen. We're talking about Mark Riddick's band Fetid Zombie, UK legends Warlord UK (for their classic album reissue via Transcending Obscurity Classics sub-label), the H.P. Lovecraft-influenced band from Netherlands called SwampCult, and last but not the least, the mighty Rudra. I'm also excited about an unannounced international grind band and also a Finnish death/black metal band. I wish my schedule wasn't so tight but I'm coping with it and trying my best to justify them all, especially with regards to thorough international promotion and innovative packaging.

Q. We heard you could be batman. How do you manage both lives? 
That's only a rumour. I don't want my enemies to come into my batcave and do something to Alfred or worse, steal my precious batmobile.

Q. Your honest opinion on the future of all of this you are involved in? I think it's gonna work out eventually if we all keep at it. What are your thoughts?
Well, so far so good. I'm extremely thankful to all those bands, fans, writers and my well-wishers for providing their support and I can only strive to not let them down. I'm putting in a great deal of effort and it drains my health (as well as my bank account lol) but I'm positive that in another two years, things should be on track, more or less. It's doing things significantly on an international level that remains elusive but that's my main goal. And of course, to somehow conjure up some extra time magically to continue my practice of playing guitar as well as drums, in an attempt to start my own band and record music sometime in the future. The standards are really, really high but I wouldn't have it any other way. Many thanks once again for your interest in my activities and I'm glad to have your support in all of this, Pratika. Godspeed!

Don't forget to catch Transcending Obscurity online on Facebook, Twitter, and for new songs from Indian and international metal bands, visit the YouTube channel. BUY music from Transcending Obscurity. Check out the complete list of bands HERE. Some stuff is also up for grabs on Instamojo HERE.


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