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Electric effect

music Updated: Dec 12, 2010 02:23 IST
Isha Manchanda
Isha Manchanda
Hindustan Times
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Earlier this year, Frisky Radio - an independent online electronic dance music (EDM) station with offices in the US - launched Frisky Radio Loves India, a programme especially dedicated to Indian electronic music. Before that, the station had Arjun Vagale of Jalebee Cartel, India, hosting a show called Deep Fried Jalebi.

In December 2009, Max Mueller Bhawan hosted an international festival and convention called Global Grooves. This November, Global Grooves merged with last year's indie music conference, Unconvention, to become Sound Bound India 2010. It brought together musicians and supporting professionals from across the world to discuss the business. (Ironically, the conference's tag line was "More Music. Less Industry".)

At the same time, another conference on Indian electronic music started, and tanked on the second day, due to lack of permits in Goa. SoundBound also hosted the release of HUB - a first-of-its-kind anthology of Indian electronic music - by Delhi-based music producers Samrat B, Ritnika Nayan of Music Gets Me High.

It's been a long journey for electronic music in India. From Goa trance (personified by Goa Gill) to farmhouse parties in the late 90s (places from where Midival Punditz started their careers), to the mid-2000s when collectives like the Delhi Electronica Supply Unit moved into venues like Cafe Morrisson, Delhi - all this brought electronica into the mainstream.

The 1980s, indeed, changed everything. On the one hand, there was Goa trance. On the other, disco took over Bollywood. Samrat B, the driving force behind HUB, says "Goa trance got morphed into further genres of psy, minimal and house by the mid 90s and the first wave of electronic finally hit us."

Bollywood caught on to the bandwagon as well, with the arrival of digital recording devices and synthesisers in big Mumbai studios. Chartbusters such as Disco Diwaane are proof of the early existence of electronic traits in our music. Today, all its music is digitally mixed, mastered. "Cult movies like Kamal Swaroop's Om Dar Badar (1988) featured moody psychedelic mash-ups of electronic sounds, bass lines, drum machine beats and vocoders..." writes Samrat in his opening essay of HUB.

No study of electronic music in India is complete, however, without talking about the legendary Charanjit Singh, possibly the premier of the acid house genre. A Bollywood music producer and a musician in a wedding band, Singh would do in 1982 what the rest of the world couldn't even conceive of till the late 80s. His pioneering record, Ten Ragas To A Disco Beat, a juxtaposition of 10 classical Indian ragas on synthesisers and machine rhythms on equipment now considered vintage, was released in 1981.

The discovery of Charanjit Singh's record made by collector Edo Bouman (he set up the Bombay Connection website dedicated to rare Bollywood recordings from 1955-85) in a small music shop in Mumbai in 2002, made everyone sit up. Singh was undeniably ahead of the curve, despite ludicrous rumours of how Ten Ragas is really a record by The Aphex Twins.

The 90s was the decade of the Rave and the farmhouse parties. Parties where "trails of toilet paper through a forest was not just a coincidence but directions to a party meant specifically for you," says Ravina Rawal, editor of MTV Noise. "You felt special hunting down a party like that," she adds.

"We played at these raves for a good part of the 2000s as well", says Gaurav Raina of The Midival Pundits, one of India's best-known electronic music acts. With the partying, however, came the contraband usage and the crackdown. The party moved indoors into clubs.

Did this legitimisation make the music lose its edge? "Perhaps," agrees DJ Ma Faiza, "but the scene salvaged itself. People are getting more and more into electronic dance music."

Through the 90s, the UK underground music culture also fed into our own. The Asian electronic scene started with musicians such as Talvin Singh, Nitin Sawhney and record labels Nasha and Outcast. The sound was a fusion of drum and bass, down tempo fused with Indian elements - classical instrumentation, Bollywood samples and diasporic lyrical content through digital manipulation.

With more than 100 venues, 60 plus artists, producers and record labels, electronic music in India has come a long way.

"In India, we're really fixated on EDM and are barely aware of any other genres," says producer Akshay Sarin. That, according to him, is one of the things the 'scene' must address in future. There is also the hope that venues across the country invest more in indigenous talent than just flying in top DJs across the globe. And of course, the government adding the Right To Party to its agenda.

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