dharma: the day of the desi DJ dawns
The world of the urban
disc jockey has arrived in India. And it is not just about the underbelly
of sex, drugs and rave ‘n roll. Sumit Bhattacharya
explores the underground language and lifestyle of these new age ‘Beatniks’
monitor blimps first. The castanet of the incoming signal fades away as
a sleepy form reaches out to read the SMS. “Liquid grooves growl
under sounds from the urban jungle. Be there at Zonkos tonight. DJ Dracula
fights it out with Psychotic Microbe.” “Shit, it’s 8
(pm) already?” DJ Kitsch suddenly springs into action. He has his
own SMSes to send, e-mails to fire, messages to post on Internet bulletin
boards. He has a gig coming up the next day.
This is the world of the urban disc jockey, or the DJ. And here in India,
the ‘scene’ is as close to a postmodern urban tribe as it
can get. It is a generation for whom Kaaza, Soulseek (peer to peer file
sharing software) and the Web are lifelines, Reason is a software, Tchaikovsky
is Psychovsky misspelled, medieval has only ‘i’s and ‘getting
sorted’ means arranging for the drugs — ecstasy, cocaine,
LSD, charas. “There is a lot of ecstasy and acid that goes with
trance music,” admits Mumbai based 20-something DJ Pearl, who’s
among the handful of women DJs in the country. “But there’s
more to DJing than trance,” she adds.
DJing can be as easy as inserting a CD and looking cool and as complex
as playing with live musicians, changing samples faster than ramp models
change clothes and improvising on the spot. “Everyone wants to become
a DJ now. Because they think it’s easy. Few mix tracks, and fewer
produce their own tunes. They just rehash CDs,” says 23-year-old
Sanath Bindra, aka DJ San. He stays in his sprawling house in Jangpura
in New Delhi and drives around in a fluorescent green Maruti Esteem. “I
first started on the computer, playing around with DJ software, I did
some parties and that’s how I got my equipment,” says 18-year-old
Madhav Shorey, aka DJ Haze, who has been DJing since class VII, played
in the finals of Mumbai’s War of the Djs contest and has dropped
out of his class Xll studies in Delhi’s Air Force School to get
into music full-time.
DJ Pearl: “I freelance, so I play just a few nights a week. I suppose
I’ve just become a nocturnal person and my body clock has changed.
After every few weeks, though, I need to just take some time off and sleep
all night. You need a lot of resilience to be a DJ.” And for 26-year-old
DJ Saranjit Singh, who plays at the Big Ben in the City of Joy, “The
scene here in Kolkata is not as happening as in the other metros, but
it’s slowly catching up. When people think of DJs, they immediately
associate it with sex drugs and booze, but it’s not really true.”
And these are just a few of hundreds of DJs spread all across urban India.
From the guy who inserts the mega hits CD into your shaadi party dancefloor’s
music system to the glow-in-the-dark T-shirt toting frequent flier between
Tel Aviv, Berlin and Goa, DJs come in all shapes, sizes, and money. There
are mobile DJs, nightclub DJs, remix DJs, House DJs, Drum ‘n’
Bass DJs, Trance DJs… the list can go on ad nauseam. And it’s
not a just-for-kicks party; some of the big spinners — Dj Whossain,
DJ Sunny Sarid (who has his own event management company), DJ Rummy —
can charge as much as Rs 10 lakh per night. No surprise then that “How
many kilos do you need dude?” is DJ San’s reply when asked
about a rough estimate of how many DJs there are in just Delhi. “And
the media people are also bought off. So, they only highlight a few names,”
adds San, who is now jamming with a jazz/lounge music band called JAB
(Jazz and Beyond). He says he has played gigs “with four thousand
people in the crowd.”
But does the music sell? “It’s the in-thing now — remixes
and DJ music. So, we sign DJs up and help them produce their albums. Most
are one-hit wonders, and you have to latch on to an already-famous track
to hit big time,” says an executive at of India’s top music
labels, on condition of anonymity.
It’s a world
where a cool name helps. So Nikhil becomes DJ Nick, Shravan becomes DJ
Ravan, Jai becomes DJ J. And it’s also an expensive affair. A console,
the DJ’s instrument, can cost anything from Rs 50,000 to over 2
lakh. Add to that a PA system and lights, and the bill becomes scary.
But for most, it is the computer that is the first toy. “I got hold
of a computer magazine CD with Soundforge (a sound editing software) and
got started. I hope to start producing my own music soon,” says
19-year-old Delhiite DJ Nick, who is doing his graduation through correspondence.
He plays around Delhi, mostly private parties and hopes to “produce
my own tracks soon.”
“The scene began perhaps 15 years ago, and it sort of grew with
the technology and the hype. College kids were attracted to the lure of
glamour and money. Now, everyone wants to play internationally and produce
their own tracks,” says DJ Rummy, one of the capital’s old-timers,
from Hong Kong. “You have to know people around, must network well,
must handle your PR well — all these go into making a good DJ,”
he adds. And the dream of playing internationally is within grasp of the
desi DJ now. For example, Pune-based Ma Faiza’s website lists her
itinerary for the coming months. And it reads like this: March 28-April
3: Festival of Art, Portugal. April 7-10: Boombamela festival, Israel.
April 11-12: Ravevolution Israel. April 22 Atisha, Hamburg, Germany. April
25–May 27: India.
Although people like DJ Rummy deny that the musicians and the DJs make
up a close-knit community, but the fact remains that the scene, especially
the rave crowd, is well-knit. They’re rich and they like to party.
“Everyone knows everyone, maan, he drawls. “You go to a party,
meet people, chill, have a good time and you exchange contacts. Next party
you meet the same people again, and that’s how you get to know everyone.
You have to be in the scene, dude,” says twenty-something Delhi
party animal Adip Khanna. “But you can’t write about the drugs
and shit, dude, the cops have busted the scene in Delhi, maan,”
he warns. “The scene is much better in Mumbai. There, people listen
to you for what you play, and there’s a lot of good stuff happening
there,” says a dreadlocked Abhishek.
The rave party network spreads from farmhouses in Chattarpur and Alwar
Road near Delhi to Khandala near Mumbai to as far as Pulga, a remote village
in the high mountains of Himachal Pradesh. “A lot of parties happen
in the hills, with the foreigners, especially Israelis, hosting their
own parties,” says twenty-something Rajiv Khanna, who often heads
out to Parvati Valley in Himachal in his steel black Skoda Octavia to
party. But for the electronica addict, the hub is Goa. “That’s
where the scene is maan, that’s where you meet the right people,”
adds Khanna. A rave party, for the uninitiated, is a by-invitation do
with loads of drugs, mineral water (ecstasy causes dehydration and you
can die of it), huge screens with computer animation and laser lights.
“You mix, get to know the people, arrange your own parties. More
gigs come your way, you make more money,” says DJ Sach. “Entry
fee is Rs 500 per person, plus you make money on the pills and stuff going
Net profit from a private rave party can be as high as Rs 1 lakh. For
a college kid who gets to live out his fantasies plus the dough plus the
dream of playing in an international Love Parade, it couldn’t get
better than this.
With inputs from Leo Mirani in Mumbai
(Some names have been changed on request)
The modern day avatar of disco grooves
Break beats: Staccato rhythms
Scratch: Percussive sounds made by rubbing fingers
Rave: Psychedelic parties with loads of drugs
Drum ‘n’ Bass: Very fast grooves on steroids!
Mixing: Taking an element of one tune and infusing
it into another. For example, you can take the bass line of a tune
and add it to another tune. The mixture is yours to patent! Case in
Point: The hit punjabi track mundiyan tu bach ke from the bollywood
movie Boom was made by mixing the bass line of a 1980s
television serial called Knight Rider with a traditional Punjabi Bhangra