He started playing upside down, literally. Arjun Dhas first picked up a guitar in 2002. His brother joined a band and got his first guitar. “He is left handed so I started playing it upside down,” says Arjun. His subject matter, civilization collapse, global warming and global monetary collapse, is just as upside down as his music.
The self-taught guitarist developed a style of his own. Arjun’s musical career which started in 2006 with the bands Tantrum and Swords of the Spirit has evolved into a mode of communication, with time.
“I always look at music as something more than a form of entertainment and as a medium to communicate with,” he says. “I always like to look deeper into things, at what goes on behind the scenes. I spend time reflecting on the purpose of our civilization. I am interested in psychology and how the human mind works, and the impact music has on people. I spend time online studying psychology, philosophy and history,” he shares with Nation.
In 2008, he went to India. “I wanted to get back to my roots and explore some Indian classical music,” he says. It was by living and exposing himself into the Indian culture that he developed his own style of music. “I jammed with Indian musicians such as Sanjeev Thomas (currently AR Rahman’s guitarist). I picked up a lot from temple music, festival music and from the culture, as a whole.” While in India, he founded the Nevi’im ashram in Chennai. “This provides a conducive environment to explore and facilitate experimental music,” he says.
After returning to Sri Lanka, Arjun, along with his brother Vije Dhas collaborated on a project with The Foundation for Civilizational Transformation and Conscious Evolution, and The Synthetist Mission. This project addressed contemporary issues such as civilization collapse, global warming and global monetary collapse. ”This project was an attempt to communicate these complex issues through music. This was a purely instrumental project, different from my previous work which had lyrics. The message was explained to the audience before playing and then I tried to articulate the issues and emotions through music. This is where experimentation with different genres of music and my experience from India combined to solidify my technique,” he elaborated.
He continued to make strides in the industry and in 2010 established the heavy metal project Nevi’im, which celebrated the fifth anniversary last year. “Metal helps people release tension, anger and frustration. I experienced its therapeutic effects as a person writing and playing music,” he says. The current members are Arjun Dhas, Vije Dhas (bassist), Sithija Dilshan (drummer) and Tony Jayathilake. Their debut single ‘Walk on’ was nominated for best rock song at VIMA (Voice Independent Music Awards) in 2013.
“Walk on is about dealing with traumatic experiences by facing trauma consciously and then learning and becoming stronger. I tend to draw on from my own day-to-day experiences. This song was inspired by a discussion I had with a friend.” In November 2013, he was awarded the indigenous title of ‘Sasthrabhimani’ by the South Asian Academy For Good Governance, in recognition of his contributions to the field of music. Then, in 2014 Nevi’im released the first extended play called Death of an avatar.
A solo extended play, Kaleidoscopic Fantasy, consisting of experimental music by Arjun was released in March 2015. It was received well by the enthusiasts and is currently trending in the ReverbNation charts. In November 2015 he collaborated on an album with the band Syndicate. “Right now I am taking a step back and reflecting on what role music is going to play in our civilization in the future,” he says.
His passion for experimentation extended to cooking for a long time. “I am very passionate about cooking, this started way before I even picked up a guitar. Up until recent, I approached cooking the same way I approached music. I was very experimental. Then I realized this could make people sick. This made me want to learn the rules before I break them, so I went to culinary school last year and did a City and Guilds diploma in cookery.”
Arjun also plays the role of a teacher and his students are always in for a unique experience. ”I try to teach my approach to music. This is playing without being held back by rules, and technical and theoretical aspects of music. This is where you reach a state, where the mind is calm, and you are communicating from a step beyond your identity,” he shares. This could be referred to as right brain approach to playing music. “I have never studied music professionally. In school I used to hate studying music and I used to be the guy who ended up getting the lowest marks,” he concluded with a smile.