Beyond Borders: Pawas & Chymera
An idea, an initiative, sometimes serious and sometimes fun. These are words I find most apt to describe the recently concluded second edition of the “Intelligent Dance Music” workshop hosted by the Bangalore Goethe Institut at Max Muller Bhavan. The brainchild of veteran Indian DJ and producer, Pawas Gupta association with Indivibe, it was a step in the right direction. This was the second edition of the workshop featuring Brendan Gregoriy who is known around the world for his brand of melodic, sophisticated house and techno under the alias ‘Chymera’.
IDM 2 followed from the roaring success of the first edition which featured another returning Indian prodigy, Daso and a pleasantly surprising appearance from the legendary Dr.Motte who is credited as the founder of the infamous ‘Love Parade’ festival in Berlin. Border Movement had the opportunity to cover the workshop have an interesting chat with the much travelled duo.
Pawas, who was born and raised in Pune began his early years as a DJ in India, when the underground house and techno culture was alien to our country. Thirteen years ago, he emigrated to the then (maybe even now) bastion of cutting edge electronic music, Germany. Having set up shop in Cologne, one of Europe’s most effervescent and vibrant cities; Pawas has since slowly been progressing up the preverbal hierarchy and has turned heads, both as a DJ and as a producer due to his signature sound which he likes to call “intelligent house”. With releases on labels such as Flash, Diynamic, Kaato music and Trapez, he is now a familiar name in the German electronic circuit. However, Pawas still has his roots planted firmly on Indian soil and is inspired to make a difference through education and awareness.
He was joined by Chymera, an artist that probably needs no introduction. Born and raised in Cork, Ireland; Brendan began his musical foray as a guitarist. During his college years he moved to Limerick, where he chanced upon a friend who happened to be a DJ. Charmed by the art of mixing two tracks together and of course, by the music, he decided to take the leap as a DJ, moving to Dublin and has not looked back since. A few years later he shifted base to Barcelona and in 2010 also made his way to Berlin. His meteoric rise since has seen him release tracks on labels such as Ovum Recordings, Connaisseur, AEON, Cocoon and Komplex De Deep to name a few. At present, his tour roster boasts a worldwide schedule which included Bangalore as the sole Indian city at the behest of The Goethe Insitut and Pawas.
As the chairs in the impressive auditorium at the Max Muller Bhavan greeted their enthusiastic occupants, there was a palpable sense of excitement in the air. The audience, although comprised of a mixture of DJs, producers and musicians, were also speckled by a few who were there just for the experience of it.
Pawas kicked things off with a rather fun and eye-opening account on the evolution of the art of DJing and its transition from being a nascent underground skill to what it is today. He described how DJ culture evolved from 1992 to 2012 mainly due to the contributions of legends such as Kool Herc, Grand Wizard Theodore and Grand Master Flash. A treatise on the progression of music and the collective metamorphosis of electronic music culture followed and with some fun facts thrown in as well, it made for a rather interactive history lesson.
Pawas also emphasised the importance of the contributions of Detroit artists that made the techno sound what it is today. Paying tributes to legends such as Jeff Mills, Mad Mike Banks, Kevin Saunderson, Richie Hawtin and Derrick May. He also spoke about how soul played an important part in the fledgling house environment and the contribution of demi-gods such as Frankie Knuckles, Kerri Chandler, Larry Heard and Moodyman. The evergreen debate of vinyl versus CDs versus digital formats was touched upon as different opinions from experienced as well as young artists were also voiced (let’s face it, there never is a clear winner here). The importance of learning how to beat match hands on, rather than using digital aids was also impressed upon the audience.
Brendan, who quite hilariously preferred to answer in binary to Pawas’s questions up until that point then took over to offer his insights on generating textures, tones and melodies and the use and importance of MIDI controllers in production. He began by offering a brief insight into digital audio workstations of yesteryear such as Jeskola Buzz. A DAW that is still available today where one has to generate audio by punching in hexadecimal code. He went on to describe sequencers and their role in digital music production. Starting with the first ever analog hardware sequencer the Electronium; he chronicled successors such as the Moog 960, Korg SQ 10, Atari Notator and their vital contributions into transforming how melodies and/or patterns are generated and produced.
Brendan (always preferring a more hands on approach) got down to business, by demonstrating how a software sequencer can be used and inculcated to one’s workflow. Using Ableton and the inbuilt Max for live step sequencer, he eloquently illustrated different sequencing techniques, introducing randomness into a sequence, chord progressions and general pattern arrangement – this had everyone’s undivided attention. Of course, he made it all look like a piece of cake! That’s not all, as a special studio live performance from Chymera was also arranged at the Goethe Institut following the cancellation of his scheduled performance due to unforeseen circumstances. We had the incredible privilege to see first hand what goes into preparing a live set. From the importance and use of MIDI controllers to the selection of samples and loops and after a brief question and answer session, IDM 2 concluded amidst loud applause from the audience for the two techno stalwarts. A short break ensued followed by a live performance from Chymera which eventually left everyone who chose to stay back, spellbound. Take a bow Chymera.
Intelligent Dance Music 2 was more than just a workshop. It united musicians and artists in a common creative space, illustrating the importance of the roots of electronic dance music and where it originated while bringing a sense of togetherness along with it. We sincerely hope there is more of the same to follow!
I managed to catch up with Pawas and Brendan prior to their workshop. Here’s what they had to say:
Pawas,’Intelligent dance music’ is your brainchild. What was the motivation and purpose of the workshop?
Pawas: The purpose of the workshop is to introduce new artists to India that people have not had the opportunity to see before with the focus being on artists who perform live. Also, the aim is to educate DJs, producers and anyone else about different aspects of DJing, music production and electronic music culture.
How was the transition moving from India to Germany and how different was the scene in India compared to Germany?
P: It wasn’t easy at first. I moved to Berlin in 2004 and there was nothing really happening in India back in the day and when it did it was really limited. The scene was dominated by trance and Bollywood and when I moved to Germany it was a whole different world.
It was really difficult to get into the industry there, and took me 3-4 years to get into it after a lot of struggle. I used to go to every club with my mix tapes and demos and didn’t know how else to approach them. There was no Facebook or Myspace back then. So that’s how I went about it and the first club I got into was Stage Club.
Hi Brendan, how does it feel to be India?
Chymera: It is my first time in India. I am very excited to be here!
Pawas, you’re from a musical background having been trained in classical tabla. How important is it for a producer now to have a certain musical background?
P: Well to be honest, it didn’t really help me that much. It did help me in terms of a having a certain sense of rhythm and groove. I never really needed to use complex patterns in electronic music, however a little knowledge about music helps for sure.
Chymera, could you tell us how you began producing music? What did you work on back in the day?
C: Well, I was on a computer, but I was using a program called ‘Jeskola buzz’, where you punch in stuff in hexadecimal code to produce sound. This is something I’m going to touch on in my workshop as well. This is how I used to learn how to make music, because I couldn’t play stuff. So my workflow was more mechanical.
So what is your studio set-up like in Berlin?
C: I’ve got my main workstation, which runs Ableton-live as my main sequencer. I also have a bunch or hardware synths that I like to use and a couple of analog synths. One of my favourite synths of all time that I love having in my studio is the Nord lead. Along with this, I also have quite a number of VSTs that I use.
One of the topics in the workshop is about DJing techniques. How important is it to be a DJ before you learn how to make music? Or is it irrelevant what you do first?
P: If you are DJing before and producing after you already have a certain set of ideas and arrangements in mind that you can translate into music while you produce. So it really helps you a lot if you are already DJing before. But, I’ve also seen guys who start as producers at first who have a little difficulty in arranging tracks and minting a flow, but in a way that is also cool, because that’s their style.
I’m going to ask you probably the most debated question in the industry today. Digital vs vinyl? What do you think?
P: I mean, I can’t be radical about these things. In the beginning I was really headstrong and used to release and play on only vinyl. Until of course some labels could not press vinyl as it got really expensive and I started getting a lot of promos in a digital format as well so I eventually made the transition. It was natural.
For young DJs and upcoming producers, do you think it’s necessary to learn the whole hierarchy of ways to DJ? By that I mean vinyl, CDs and Traktor?
P: No I don’t think so. For me, as long as you know how to select a good set of tracks and you are playing good music it really doesn’t matter. In fact there are a lot of old school Detroit guys like Omar S who (I’m sorry to say) is technically not that great as a DJ but the track selection is spot on. Even Moodyman for that matter. So no, I really don’t think it matters what you lay on as long as you learn your basics. That is very important.
In the workshop you will touch up MIDI controllers as well. How important is it to have MIDI controllers in your general workflow as a producer?
C: I think you can do without it of course, but I really think it bridges the gap between hardware and software. This is mainly because you have something tactual that you can press and hear the result. In the studio, I use maybe 1 MIDI controller that is mapped to a few parameters that I need. But as for my live performance MIDI controllers enable me to do so much more, so I mean it’s subjective.
Lastly, are we going to hear a Chymera/Pawas collaboration anytime soon?
C: Maybe, why not! He’s going to be staying in Berlin so possibly, yes.
P: Well we’re going to be neighbours so maybe we will. Although you do know that there will be more cooking than music!