For three and a half years, Neha Tolani aka DJ Neyhhaa has been spinning her choice of electronic music, tracks produced by the best international artistes in the sub-genres of progressive, tech and commercial house, at clubs that include Wink at the Taj President and Red Ant Café in Bandra.
In January, however, the 26-year-old took time off to enroll in a 10-week music production course at DJ Nasha’s Workstation, an Andheri-based institute. Now, six weeks later, whenever she gets free time from her day job as a flight attendant and DJing at nightclubs, she spends it in front of a computer screen, making music.
She does this by arranging drum loops, bass-lines and sound effects across a horizontal timeline in order to create a track, which she hopes to play in front of large audiences at electronic music festivals such as Sunburn.
“I’ve been playing other people’s tunes for far too long,” she says, with a laugh. “Now, I want to play my own stuff and, one day, perhaps even hear other DJs playing my tracks.”
Neyhhaa is one of many DJs across the country who, over the past year, have learned how to use digital music production software to compose or ‘produce’ music through digital means, in order to be recognised as legitimate artistes with their own fan-bases.
India’s love affair with electronic music began more than a decade ago. While the arrival of music channels such as MTV and Channel [V] in the mid-1990s exposed Indian audiences to electronic artistes like The Prodigy and Fatboy Slim, the early 2000s saw an explosion in popularity of Bollywood numbers remixed with influences of techno, trance and other electronic dance music styles.
Over the past decade, frequent visits by big international names such as Paul Van Dyk, Armin Van Buuren and David Guetta have drawn large crowds. Meanwhile, homegrown artistes such as MIDIval Punditz, Jalebee Cartel, Bandish Projekt and DJ Nasha (real name Ritesh Souza, known for his Bollywood remixes as well as his dubstep avatar, named B.R.E.E.D.) have gained immense popularity over the past five years.
Now, for the first time, India is beginning to produce electronic music, as opposed to merely consuming it. The main evidence for this lies in the rising number of people signing up for music production courses in DJing and audio production schools across the country, where student enrolments have risen by a minimum of 100% between 2010 and 2011. (See box: Where you can learn).
Neville Timbadia, partner of Bandra-based nightclub Bonobo, a popular venue for electronic music gigs, says that they usually encourage DJs who play quality original material.
“Artistes like Bandish Projekt have material that is on par with anything that exists internationally,” he says. “People also tend to pay a bit more attention to the music when they hear that an Indian DJ is playing his or her own material.”
Newbie DJs-turned-producers say they are seduced by the possibility of developing their own fan followings; veteran DJs say it is the only way to survive in today’s competitive electronic music scene.
“If you want to get somewhere, simply performing as a DJ isn’t enough anymore,” says Brian Fernandes, a DJ, producer and record label owner who has been in the field for 16 years. “Today, one has to be proficient at all aspects of music production as well, including composing, programming and sound engineering.”
A general growth in awareness about electronic music, thanks to music festivals as well as the growing availability of music and information available on the Internet is another factor.
“Earlier, people used to be suspicious of learning music production, because they didn't know what it was and thought it was too expensive and difficult to waste time on,” says Ryan D’Souza, founder of DJ Nasha’s Workstation. “Awareness has changed that attitude.”
Moreover, learning how to produce electronic music isn’t just for DJs looking to make a name for themselves.
“Electronic music is used everywhere nowadays, including ad films, radio stations and Bollywood music, so the benefits to learning music production are enormous,” says Arjun Vagale, member of Delhi-based electronic dance music act Jalebee Cartel, who recently launched a music production school in Gurgaon. “Even if you aren’t a DJ or a performing artiste, it is now a viable career option.”