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Ravana Tenheads serves Ghalib and dubstep on the same plate

Unassuming in looks, unapologetic in music, Ravana Tenheads serves Ghalib and dubstep on the same plate. Here’s an artist you should listen to, straight from Delhi’s thriving underground

brunch Updated: Mar 07, 2015 18:47 IST
Satarupa Paul
Satarupa Paul
Hindustan Times
Ravana Tenheads,Ghalib,Girija Devi

I’ve spent most of it partying,” he says simply when I ask him about his life so far.

The 38-year-old is easy to miss in a crowd, or even when he is at the console spinning his discs. In plain clothes and even plainer demeanour, the only things that stand out about this underground artist are his long salt-and-pepper hair, his signature music and his stage moniker: Ravana Tenheads. Then of course, he has 10 SoundCloud accounts, but we’ll come to that in a bit.

“My real name is Shravan. In 2002, when I became a DJ, I had to have a stage name. A friend suggested I remove the “Sh” from my name. That’s how Ravan was born, it evolved into Ravana and subsequently into Tenheads,” he says.

Born in Mumbai, brought up initially in Banaras, Shravan moved to Delhi when he was eight. A lack of faith in the education system meant he took to music instead as a teenager. “Metallica and heavy metal first got me interested in music,” he says. All these influences later formed the base for how most of his music shaped up: dark, heavy and downright unapologetic.

A dubstep artist, Ravana Tenheads mixes heavy bass lines and beats with "Third World" ambient sound samples and most uniquely, with vocals that range from songs by Girija Devi and Parveen Sultana to the Radia tapes to his mother’s voice to speeches by P Sainath, Osho, and Vandana Shiva to dialogues from Gulzar’s 1988 TV serial Mirza Ghalib. It is this last bit that forms his brilliant and highly trippy Ghalib series.

"The idea came last year when I was hanging out at a friend’s place. He had several books of Ghalib’s poetry. I don’t read at all, but I am a fan of documentaries and 1980s Doordarshan serials," he says.

"I remembered having this serial on Ghalib on my hard drive. I went back home, played it alongside a mix of music by various artists, and it just gelled together so well!" He went a step further and made what he now calls ‘conflict music’ out of Mirza Ghalib dialogues and music by a British electronica artist of the 1990s called Muslimgauze.

"Ghalib’s was a time of upheavals and revolts, his poetry reflected the tension in the society of that time. Muslimgauze made music on Middle Eastern conflicts of the 1990s. Same emotions, different eras. I just brought elements of both together, added my touches, and found a vent for my own angst over life and society."

"Why are you angry?" I ask him. "I worked for three years in one of these big corporate places," he says. "You look at their people and you see their dazzling cars, their nightly drinks. They don’t worry where their next meal is going to come from. But these corporations suck the life out of them. Then there’s the dirty, dirty politics. And of course, the helplessness of being a citizen of this country."

Shravan says that now that he has found his foothold in music, he’s finally found a meaning to life and a way to live it. "I do a gig once a month, I do odd data-entry jobs once in a while, I live minimally and I save most of what I make and invest it all into my music. I hardly go out now, I party large once a month, I hang out with my friends at a park," he laughs.

After DJing for several years, Ravana Tenheads made his first track in October 2011. “Funnily enough, it was thanks to Metallica again. When their show in Gurgaon got cancelled, I went over to a friend’s house. He had a 10-year-old Apple computer which he sold to me for just Rs 3,000. I made my first track on it.” Since then, he has made over 150 tracks, all of which can be found in one of his ten SoundCloud accounts.

“Initially, I had only one page: Lankesh. As my music developed, I realised I could categorise them into different groups, so each group became a different account.”

So while Shoorpanova, dedicated to Shravan’s sister and girl power, has female vocals, RavanaORama has tracks that denote harmony, “because what is good without bad, or Ram without Ravan?”

Kumbhakarna becomes active once every 3-4 months when he uploads one single track. “It is my darkest, heaviest, and most intense SoundCloud page,” he says. “There’s another account called Scratchoski with tracks of classical music and scratchings by me.”

I point out that old school musicians may not call that music. “Old school, new school, how does it matter? We who belong to the underground belong to no school. We hate schools. And colleges too. We’re like anarchists,” he laughs.

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From HT Brunch, March 8
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First Published: Mar 05, 2015 13:35 IST