Midival Punditz Record Fourth Album
The Delhi electronica duo return to folk in their follow-up to 2009’s ‘Hello Hello’
The earliest memory that Gaurav Raina, one half of Delhi electronica act Midival Punditz, has of making music involves mixing on audio cassettes. “The internet was just opening up,” says Raina, “And we were starting off as DJs and looking for a different sound.” After 16 years of sharing the stage, the duo is so much at ease that they often end up finishing each other’s sentences. Says Tapan Raj, “What he’s saying is that we were experimenting with a lot of new sounds. When you start off as a band, unless you find your own sound or voice, there’s no way to distinguish it from all the noise that is there. So we found a sound that came to us naturally, and one we could identify with.”
The sound they are referring to was one that brought together western underground dance music and Indian folk. Outside India, Karsh Kale, Talvin Singh and the Asian Underground movement were already giving this genre global attention. In New Delhi, the Punditz popularized dance music nights called Cyber Mehfil and came to be known as the T-shirt clad duo behind the console, who mixed drum’n’bass with dhol-driven dance and sampled cryptic catchphrases such as “Bombay’s a grid, Delhi swings.”
In the last four years, the two musicians have tried to find their own, individual sound. Raina has been touring with his solo project Grain, while Raj has been DJing solo. Occasionally, once or twice a month, they get together to play a DJ set as the Punditz; and reserve their live sets for the festival season. Their upcoming album is a result of this: “This album actually came about because both of us were getting bored of a live show. We thought we needed some new spice so we designed the new album around a show, rather than the other way round,” says Raina.
After the decades of camaraderie, they are confident that they are the best judge of each others’ work. “The formula is when I come up with a track, Tapan is the guy who shoots it down or says yes, and vice versa,” says Raina, “When you write a track, you are like ‘Oh my god, it’s amazing,’ but the other person has a more objective point of view and can say that I don’t feel it and that’s fine. That’s one thing that we have— if one of us doesn’t like a track, it doesn’t go on the album.”
There have been many moments like these in the last eight months, since they started work on their fourth album. “We are very lazy. We had life to deal with,” jokes Raina about the follow-up to their 2009 album, Hello Hello. “We are not so hectic upon ‘Album toh nikaalna hai har saal.’ It’s when we have a lot to say and we get down to saying it,” adds Raina.
Having recently recorded 10 tracks that clock in over an hour, the two probably have a lot to say this time. Says Raina, “Since it’s (the album) based around a show, it’s actually a nonstop album… it’s all sewn together… each track is kind of a certain mood and then it goes into another mood.” Punditz, who will perform at the Pune edition of Bacardi NH7 Weekender in October, are eager to test out their material live.
With their self-produced, untitled album, the duo come a full circle. “This album has a lot of folk music on it. We wanted to go back to our roots. Like when we started our first album [self-titled; 2002] we were looking at song-based electronica. There was a lot of folk – Indian bhangra, Rajasthani folk or folk music from UP. So we have gone into a lot of that this time,” says Raj. As part of their live act, the duo have recently been seen sharing stage with folk ensembles such as Rajasthan Roots, whose vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Kutle Khan features on their new album.
A snatch from this song with Khan, titled “Baanwaray,” will debut on television as part of the new travel and music show, Sound Trek, this month. “The song gets a makeover from the album version,” says Raj. Shot at the Falaknuma Palace in Hyderabad, the show sees the Punditz collaborate with burra katha artists from Andhra Pradesh. “It’s a very interesting and animated artform from Andhra where they recite folk stories about heroism. It’s almost like Ram Leela where you have singing, dancing and spoken word. So we took our new track from the album, merged it with their track and jammed on it,” adds Raj about their “spoken word-meets-alaap” track.
Like all their previous albums, this one too is high on collaborations. Besides Khan, longtime collaborators — guitarist Viraj Mohan and flautist Ajay Prasanna – join them once again on the album. Others such as vocalist Malini Awasthi from the Lucknow gharana can be heard on the “thumri-meets-Led Zep” track titled “Nadiya” and another chilled-out number called “Laagi”. Carnatic guitarist Baiju Dharmajan too has contributed on a “Floydian” instrumental number. And the list of collaborators doesn’t end here. When American producer Todd Michaelsen and LA-based rapper Juan Fear step in, the resulting tracks are nothing less than dancefloor bangers. “That’s what Punditz is all about. A lot of mixed influences,” says Raina, “We get influenced by a lot of different styles of music and for us, making an album is all about reciting those influences in our own way and putting it all together like a puzzle.”
With influences as varied as psychedelic greats Pink Floyd to German electronica rising star, Apparat, who performed in India last year, this one is a big puzzle that is likely to find all the pieces by December this year. “We wanted it sound more Indian, but at the same time we were feeling happier and bouncier. It has a large sound. It’s not as intimate as the earlier albums,” says Raina, “Folk has a lot of energy, while classical has a lot of lament, beautiful moments and thoughtfulness. This time we were not in that space [classical]. We were in a very happy, jumpy, bouncy space.” The seasoned musicians assure that there’s something for every Punditz fan on this record: “There’s a lot happening,” adds Raina, as he talks about the “happy, chick-friendly, electro house” track “Maya.” He adds, “It’s when all the girls get bouncing… You have to cater to them y’know.”
Punditz Pick Five:
The electronica duo pick their favorites from the new crop of artists
Gaurav’s Top 5:
Tapan’s Top 5:
This article appeared in the September 2013 edition of Rolling Stone India.
Midival Punditz perform with The Raghu Dixit Project today at Hard Rock Cafe, New Delhi.