So says Max Tkacz, who, along with Jack Byrne, make up the electronic duo: Brahj. Even though Brahj is relatively new, their EP, Fifty Fades to Grey has already climbed to number 40 on Beatport’s album chart, with two songs making the charts in their respective genres.
Most accurately described as trip-hop, Brahj’s first EP features high-energy songs at a down tempo, hip-hop style beat. Byrne notes that their music style draws from several different genres, including chill-out music, hip-hop, and EDM. He cites Pretty Lights, Griz, and Gramatik as influences, but it’s evident that Brahj has already carved out a sound of its own. Their newest bootleg, a remix of “Crystalised” by The xx, is a perfect example of the chill yet refreshing sound they have established for themselves.
While the two have been involved with music for most of their lives, they come from very different backgrounds. Byrne started playing piano as a kid and later took up the guitar, playing in bands in high school. As a computer science major, he picked up electronic music on the side. “It’s easy to do in college. You do it with headphones on in your room and I kind of just kept on doing it.”
Tkacz also started off playing the piano, but began producing electronic music at around 12 years old. Within a couple of years he was DJing at underground clubs in Detroit. “I couldn’t play in clubs legally, I was 16 at the time. So my mum would actually be driving me to gigs in abandoned warehouse districts.” From there he was signed to Motech records, the parent label of Meze, who Brahj is signed with now.
The two met at a welcome week party back in 2011, but didn’t start making music together until last semester. “This worked out because this is not like any other music we’ve ever made before. We were both doing unchartered waters,” he said. Tkacz noted the sense of competition driving their production process, “Because there are two of us, we keep each other motivated. We keep pushing each other.”
Clearly the process has paid off, because the music duo has gained significant success in their four short weeks of existence. Besides doing well on Beatport charts, they’ve gained a sizable social media following, and have also proved to be a milestone act with their label. “Our label gave us a call. [They said] this is the best EP that Meze or Motech, which has been around for ten years, has ever done,” Tkacz said.
But success has not been an effortless endeavor. Tkacz and Byrne are often in the recording studio on North Campus for hours on end. Tkacz noted that they had been in the studio for 13 straight hours the previous weekend. “It’s like we picked up a 16 credit class,” Byrne said.
In addition to creating music, Byrne and Tkacz control most of the marketing and creative promotion of Brahj. “Any media, any photos or images you’ve seen that are Brahj related, we’ve made ourselves,” Tkacz said. While the label is usually responsible for this, the duo has decided to take a do-it-yourself approach.
In contrast to their serious approach to music making, the name “Brahj” came about in a humorous way. Tkacz explains, “It started off as this sort of self-deprecating bro humor.” As a way of finals-time procrastination, “Brahj” became a joke between the two. “We’d take famous house artist and change their names: Afrobrahj, Swedish Brahj Mafia,” Tkacz said. When it came time for the two to name their project, Brahj was an obvious choice.
Even with Brahj’s recent success, the two have no plans for slowing down. Their second EP is expected on Beatport in a little over a month, and they will be working on a live set for future shows in the meantime. “We’re going to try and play the original songs live. We want to have all the parts and stems and play them out live, in the sense that you’re never going to hear that song again,” Tkacz explained. This emphasis on performance value will translate into designing their own audio-visuals down the road.
The two are also working on a more collaborative project, an EP called “Brahj and Friends” that will feature many of their musical friends. “I play guitar, but so do a bunch of other kids in my house. And we all play differently, so I will just play the track and loop a certain part and just have them jam out to it,” Byrne said. Tkacz explained further, “It’s just a hobby for them and they have a good time doing it—but that’s how we got started.”
In addition to music-related projects, Tkacz expressed interest in developing a line of snapbacks and women’s leggings under the Brahj name. “A lot of musicians that I meet are just artists in general. They draw, they do this and that. I’ve always liked clothing and fashion design,” he said. From a marketing standpoint he notes their potential benefit, “They can be fun… [to] have a hot girl wearing leggings rather than some dude wearing a tank.”
It’s clear that there’s no limit to what Brahj has in store, and the two have set a high standard for themselves. Tkacz sums up the work ethic and passion embodied within Brahj, “If money didn’t exist in the world, and you get to pick your career for life, I could just sit in there and make music with Jack and that would be awesome. I just love doing that. Maybe sleep once in awhile.”