Finger-drummer, multi-instrumentalist and content-creator Gnarly is the type of musical-polymath that can only exist today. Each of her Instagram posts, Youtube videos and online tutorials rightfully draws thousands of views, awe-struck comments, and fire emojis — and her tips and talents help inspire a digital generation of music-makers.
Based in London, her influencers are truly global — drawing on jazz, soul, funk, hip hop, UK bass music, and neo-soul as well as her own Sri Lankan heritage.
A early adopter of the ROLI LightPad Blocks, now impressively making beats on LUMI Studio Edition and flexing her classically-trained background with Seaboard RISE 2, we thought it was about time to catch up with Gnarly on all things Myspace, MPE and... May the 4th.
Gnarly's love for the Star Wars galaxy inspired her to create a reimagining of the The Force Main Theme on the Seaboard RISE 2, in time for May 4th — the unofficial day to profess your love for franchise. Originally recorded in 1977 with John Williams and London Symphony Orchestra, Gnarly's 2023 version uses the Teenage Engineering OP-1, Native Instrument's Maschine to build up the track while using the RISE 2's 5D touch capabilities to add the iconic melody.
How were you inspired to start making music?
I’ve always been very passionate about music and knew I wanted to [make] music from a very young age. I started playing the piano at the age of six and continued to play, learning other instruments along the way. I learnt music tech and how to produce as a teenager by studying music at school and through to the University level.
What was the first track you finished and how has your music developed since then?
The first track I finished would have been when I was around 12 in secondary school (this would have been like 2004). I used to write songs and rap — and the first time I made a track I had to use a digital camera to record the audio and then sync that to the instrumental using Audacity to post on MySpace. Since then I’ve learnt how to produce music using various DAWs, proper recording techniques, and sound engineering. Everything about how I create has evolved.
What was the first piece of hardware you purchased and how did it help your production?
I think the first thing I ever bought myself was an M-Audio 49 KeyStudio. I managed to get a Music Technology scholarship in Sixth Form which came with a copy of Logic Pro 8 so that was the first small set-up I had at home.
What was your first experience like using ROLI products?
The first piece of ROLI gear I tried was the LightPad Block, and I was so impressed by the MPE capabilities. It was the first time I had ever used anything with that kind of expression. Since then I’ve tried the Lumi Keys and the RISE 2.
What does it allow you to do that none of your other gear does?
It’s a game changer when it comes to expression, modulation and pitch bending. I’ve never been very good at using a traditional pitch bend on MIDI keyboards but with the RISE 2 it makes it so easy to get precise bends.
What is your favourite feature on the RISE 2?
My favourite feature on the RISE 2 is the Bluetooth MIDI. I love being able to use things without having to connect wires!
How do you find MPE and how does it differ from how you produce without it?
MPE really helps you as an artist and creator to translate the expression you want you’re your mind by using your hands and the device. It feels really intuitive and for me finding hardware, software and plug-ins that are more intuitive are very important to my workflow.
Did you have fun exploring Equator2 and which sounds did you like?
I feel like every time I open Equator2 there’s something new to find or tweak on a preset so I’m still enjoying exploring it. Some of my favourite sounds are Under Amazon Skies EP, Nylon Guitar In A Golden Room, Ambient Horizon, Dreamkeys, and Bamboo Garden Granularium.
Do you have anything you would like to plug to the ROLI community?
If you want to up your production and finger drumming game come and learn with me on Patreon.
Gnarly's 3 top tips—
1. Less is more. Leave space for different elements or layers in your track to come through.
2. Turn quantize off — play your notes in and make adjustments to the MIDI after if you need to. Natural human groove makes a huge difference to the vibe of a track.
3. Creatives are perfectionists. It’s probably never going to be perfect! So release the tracks, post them up, and let people hear your work.
Follow Gnarly on Instagram, Youtube, Facebook and Spotify