The electrification of Himesh Reshammiya

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A new book charts the journey of electronica from nightclubs to autorickshaws, says Nishita Jha

Illustration: Bugeye Design, Belowcarlos Coelho
Illustration: Bugeye Design, Belowcarlos Coelho

WHEN THE US banned the sale of alcohol, a new seductive enemy threatened the order that prohibition was supposed to restore. It caused chronic foot tapping, wild swinging, lewd dancing and was rumoured to have chased away a bear in Serbia. If Jazz was then both passion and noise, today in India, it is electronica.

HUB, the recently launched anthology of music (by Goethe Institute, artiste management company Music Gets Me High and musician Samrat B of electronic band Teddy Boy Kill), tries to make sense of the noise. Through a visual chronology, its defense of psychedelic culture and artiste features, HUB explains India’s love for electronica.

Just about everyone involved — from emerging artistes, music promoters, venues to equipment providers — is profiled to create one of the more important elements in the book; a virtual network for an emerging music movement. The ever-growing Goa-trance scene aside, the electronic scene in India technically goes back nearly 30 years to Bappida’s techno beats. We haven’t realised it but electronica surrounds us — “Every auto and truck driver that has ever played a Himesh Reshammiya song in India has been exposed to house and techno beats,” says Sahej Bakshi, 23, a DJ with Dualist Inquiry. More recent has been the growth of bands such as Midival Punditz and artistes like Talvin Singh and Karsh Kale who have been at the forefront of pioneering a new sound that blends retro musical motifs with new-age beats — a more aesthetically informed version of Bollywood’s ‘remix’ industry.

It is, however, in the past two years that the emergence of electronic labels and promoters such as Audioashram and Music Gets Me High has caused the subculture to go viral. Increasingly, ‘artistes’ record and upload tracks from their home studios. Listeners, unlike before, can log on to Myspace or a Soundcloud profile to decide if they like a certain music.

Hermit Sethi, who has worked with music promoter Submerge for seven years, says easy accessibility is also a reason people dismiss electronic music as ‘noise’. Add to this the fact that a DJ plays with ‘created’ sounds. “It may not need years of riyaaz, but electronica requires a distinct musical sensibility. Electronica artistes are playing with a variety of classical music, bhajans, ragas as well as contemporary sounds. What emerges is a whole new product.”

Interestingly, electronica emerges as the sound of the future because of its synthesis between human energies and technology. With names like Shiva Soundsystem, Tatva Kundalini and Digital Chamatkar, electronica artistes are trying to get Indians to wake up to their own cultural consciousness. “The world has known we’re cool for a long time. It’s time for us to realise it,” grins DJ Snare Oogaya, 21, who believes music and dance (especially through the concentrated frequencies of electronica) help him access Shiva consciousness.

In a music scene that has shied away from embracing its inherent chaos and rage, choosing to churn out mass-produced Bollywood hits and cutesy pop songs, electronica seems to be making some right noises.

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