THE RISE OF ELECTRONIC MUSIC IN NEW DELHI
Circa 2004 – New Delhi was witness to rock and fusion music with the live music scenario dominated by such flavors and bands. The venues for live music were few and the concert infrastructure quite unorganized. Yet, for new music to thrive outside the commercial realms of Bollywood and Indian pop, New Delhi remained poised and unexploited. The capital city didn’t have a thriving nightlife when compared to Bombay or Bangalore. The underground circles of upcoming musicians found it tough and often frustrating to continue for the lack of venues, likeminded people and the required infrastructure.
Slowly yet surely these very people would fill the gaps and potholes to change the atmosphere which would finally give way to a larger change, positively effecting thousands of people, musicians and audiences alike.New Delhi would emerge as the most thriving city in India in terms of live music, venues and collectives with sonic nativity and global
tastes. How did this happen? Who was responsible? What changes did New Delhi’s music culture go through?
All artistic, culturally hip trends and groundbreaking voices emerge out of fringe subcultures around the world. Born out of a need to break traditions and re-evaluate older ideologies of music and the arts, a similar experience and innovation happened in New Delhi. In a city of millions and counting, where music remains the traditional source of entertainment that’s not often seen as a field of progressive artistic endeavour, this ‘audio revolution’ of sorts gave birth to a nouveau culture of electronic music and sound. Nascent and with immense ‘cabal’, electronic music would not only earn its legitimacy, but go on to define the most progressive face of New Delhi’s youth culture.
With the advent of affordable technology providing endless sonic possibilities and quality composing/recording tools (outside the usual guitar, drums, bass etc) a number of musicians and producers from Delhi would emerge as the key players representing its music scenario in the years to come. Musicians,producers and DJs found the much awaited window of acceptance into nightclubs, discotheques and eventually, bigger outdoor events. The spread of electronic music technology would became progressively evident with the quantum rise in home studios, use of synthesizers, software and hi-fidelity mixing gadgets in Delhi as well as the rest of the metropolises in India.
Increasing numbers of musicians junked their previous ‘rock’ and ‘native’ roots to embrace the new genres and sounds emerging from bedroom studios and underground parties. In the following years, as electronic music and technology made its landslide presence felt in New Delhi, one would increasingly see a laptop and/or a synthesizer alongside a guitar and drums on stage. ” When I returned from the UK after finishing my degree in music management in 2007, I found New Delhi as the most untapped yet the most exciting place to start work ” recalls Ritnika Nayan Shrivastava, founder of Music Gets Me High and erstwhile manager of Jalebe Cartel (one of India’s most successful electronic music bands).
“The way electronic music technology impacted the newer generation of musicians is amazing and heartfelt. It helped them become independent and adventurous with sound… Something which was missing when we were growing up and learning from rock and jazz music” recalls Gaurav Mathur, musician and studio owner in New Delhi. The metamorphosis of this change, took time with its unpredictable course. From the insurgency of dance music for the youth of New Delhi to the guerrilla actions of underground and independent producers and DJs, it all added to a sense of belonging and a feeling of pioneering something uncharted in terms of music and reshaping mass culture.
An often cited fact is that the Midival Pundits from New Delhi, circa 2003, caused the initial sparks into live electronic music, which lead to a cascade of independent musicians, bands and producers to feel motivated to push forward their own brand of electronica. The
duo of Gaurav and Tapan, and their Asian moniker of drum and bass and breakbeat along with longtime partner Karsh Kale, would be
looked up as a pioneering sound from the capital city.
The Pundits and their increasing success in India, the US and UK would eventually get overshadowed by the sheer number of emerging producers and DJs who continuously charged the atmosphere with newer sounds, beats and genres to the dance friendly audiences. JalabeeCartel clinched commercial success and numerous international gigs, performing techno and progressive house, and adding fine accolades with their releases on foreign labels. The emergence of various collectives in New Delhi has helped transform and vitalisethe entertainment value of electronic music events.
A far change from the underground and unkempt condition of erstwhile parties, collectives such as Audio Aashrama, B.L.O.T. and Qilla Records fuelled the trance and psychedelic genres in a bigger and commercially viable way. These collectives and their roster of artists would perform live or DJ sets in venues across the country, increasingly making their moniker highly visible in the capital city. A sense of competition set in contrast to a vastly untapped playground, and when compared to cities such as Berlin or Barcelona – it gave these collectives the confidence to clinch venues and convert spaces into live spheres for an increasing volume of people as audiences.
DJ San and his collective titled Threshold attempted various genres fused with Indian classical vocals and instruments creating more thana hundred gigs in just three years. Delhi Electronica Supply Unit, formed in 2008, amongst a handful of likeminded party people, would remain the most exotic series of events in terms of introducing ground-breaking sounds, virgin bands and DJs in more than 20 concerts between 2008-09. Teddy Boy Kill & Audio Pervert who formed in 2008, further recharged the standards of live electronica, representing a global sound without native trappings.
Bass Foundation, Reggae Rajahs and The Ska Vengers would become the keystone acts holding the drum and bass, dub, reggae and ska bastion – all emerging from New Delhi. Artists such as Delhi Sultanate and MoCity would bring quality MCing to the dance floors coupled with politically charged lyricism. Jayant a.k.a Jitter, Hamza & The Windhorse, Buffa Pirate, SONR, Khirkee Gharana, Deaf Bass Twins, Electronic Fakir, Tatvakundalini, Ravana… The list gets endless and meanders into the larger picture, which is about culture and its inevitable infusion with technology. A generation of artists and musicians who have embraced digital technology as their artistic tool and medium.
“It all started changing, almost too fast around 2010… Just about when Hauz Khas Village came back to life” reminisces Subir Singh, a graphic designer and electronic music enthusiast. Post the Common Wealth Games in 2010, with the infrastructural and rapid transport make-over of New Delhi; an increasing number of people started connecting socially via nightclubs, live music venues and pubs all over Delhi. These pre-existing spaces were increasingly edged over by newer ones in inexplicable yet visible ways. South Delhi is witness to the biggest rise in terms of venues offering round the week musical performances and more keenly attuned to electronic music flavors. The venues and involved management were soon to realize the true potential of live music and the power of electronic sounds and beats that would lure thousands of young people to provide the much welcome business and hereto financial gains.
This change seems almost revolutionary when looking back at what was the dim scope of things, around the turn of the millennium. This ‘spill over’ phenomenon would give rise to more events and concerts in New Delhi – now clocking at an average of 6 to 10 a week (sometimes up to 15 to 20 in winters) eventually eclipsing other cities in sheer numbers of venues, events, audiences and all viable angles included. The advent of visual arts and projection via computers has risen alongside electronic music and its propagators. The decoration and illumination of venues and nightclubs fueled by programmed lights, laser optic projections, innovative materials and live graphic manipulation and performance, though very nascent in India, is quickly making itself useful as a pageant for electronic music gigs.
“The standards of visual design and use of digital tools for creating visual spectacles has just about started rising in India… It will reveal its true results in a while. It’s not just about showing the odd random graphics on a white silk curtain with some house music in the background, that most people are used to” speculates Vinny Bhagat, who having returned from Australia with a degree in Audio Visual Applications, is rediscovering the scope and vastly idle spaces in terms of visual representation in Delhi.Alongside such digitally bolstered visual arts, the city would be spectator to the introduction of graffiti, the related street art groups and the reach of independent cultures stemming from the lower economic stratas.
Street Art scene in Hauz Khas Village in Delhi (2010)
All Things Big & Small
The capital city has often been denounced for its socio-economic hegemony and the shady rapport between the ‘authorities’ and the ‘party’ people. Gradually breaking into the existing and orthodox facets of Delhi via music, visual arts, independent
filmmaking and screenings, poetry slams and such related events; a sense of change is being ushered in. Almost paving parallel paths for independent voices to speak out and empowering the involved people.
The increasing presence of international migration into the capital city, has influenced change in socio-cultural patterns and perhaps coerced a fledgling global outlook. Further, foreign cultural agencies working in the city, especially Max Mueller Bhavan (Germany), Pro Helvetia(Switzerland) and British Council (UK) have fostered and curated several projects based on experimental arts, music and sound installations, and transmedia technologies.
The deep impact of hip-hop, laced with native voices/lyrics and mashed with the globally concurring dance routines (B-Boying) has attracted thousands of young boys and girls from the slums and impoverished areas of the city. Known as ‘Slum Gods’, this army of groove inflicted youngsters are empowering their creative needs, and uniting themselves in a cultural sense, which was previously not possible outside upper or middle class stratas.
One of the SLUMGODS in action
Life in the Fast Lane!
I used to organise one or two shows a month, back in 2006. Mostly rock or metal. Now, sometimes I have to organise two separate shows a night. All kinds of music that is” recalls Manu Saxena, founder of Fender Music Academy, accounting for the marked rise in live music events and the steady scour of local magnets, music promoters, booking agents and artist representatives – each claiming its upstart share of the market, in terms of the quality of music and the ‘hippest value’ of their work.
Artists and bands from other cities have increasingly performed in Delhi, more than any other city in India in the last 2 to 3 years. Some have even shifted base to the city to bolster their creative pursuits. Based in the city and just about one year old, Wild City aims to open up the floor, offering music and information about what’s happening both in India and abroad. The duo leading the team at Wild City, Munbir and Sarah express their viewpoint by saying “we hope to become the place you come to experience artists that you know and love, but also to discover new exciting music.”
The city looks poised to host large format festivals, in-spite of the endless red-tape imposed on live entertainment facilities. “I
see ground and possibility after the deluge of audiences in large numbers who throng together for internationally acclaimed acts like Prodigy, David Guetta and Fatboy Slim, as seen in the recent years. I would love to curate an all indigenous music festival in Delhi. International artists do matter to certain audiences, yet I’m interested in evoking a sense of nativity via electronic music ” comments Ankur Pandey, an electronic music producer and composer with a strong identity based vision for the future.
As more and more electronic music acts and DJs enter the landscape, a few rear their talents brighter than others. Dualist Inquiry evokes inspiration via his enigmatic and euphoric production. Kohra spins deep and stimulating audio and beats on the minimal canvas. HashBack Hashish packs a solid statement via techno. Nucleya digs deeper and re-invigorated into the dub side of the audio-stream. Leonel Dentan (Da Saz) hosts the largest collection of analog synthesizers and DIY audio gadgets in town. Switch Bitch alters post rock, into hybrid electronic forms. Basic Love of Things (BLOT!) blends several technologies into one definitive audio-visual experience. Midi Bob remains as eclectic and obscure from audiences.
UnMute, declares its elite brand of electronica to the underground. East Stepper comes of age with sounds and skills attempting to redefine on ‘Asian’ inflicted dubstep. Each of these artists driving a different vision, yet adding to the city’s vibrant and ever changing cultural windmill. In the years to come, one can speculate, and with excitement that New Delhi will voice its native and independent culture via electronic music and arts, even perhaps surpassing the longstanding gleam of Bollywood and the certain clichés associated with Indian cultural icons. The increasing proof of this lies in the fact that the city is growing in all aspects and given the current status of the city as an art haven, the growing number of credible artistic ventures and viable cultural contracts will follow.
Still a long way from matching the size and scope of music (and the involved business) in cities such as Berlin, London or New York, the combined efforts and gathering forces of the artists and the community looks tremendously hopeful for further growth. More exciting than any other city in India in terms of artistic adventures, live music, digital and performance based arts, New Delhi stands at the apex of defining a new cultural headline, for the rest of the country and to the world outside.
Written by Samrat Bee