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Nucleya Hits The Road With South Indian Dubstep

How the artist from UP, raised in Gujarat, turned South Indian street music into a monster hit on the dance floor

Lalitha Suhasini Nov 13, 2013
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Sagar (right) with Sound Trippin' co-host Karsh Kale.

Sagar (right) with Sound Trippin’ co-host Karsh Kale.

If you’ve watched the second edition of MTV Sound Trippin’, you may recognize Nucleya as the lanky, soft spoken guy who seemed to blend into the background every time his co-host, composer Karsh Kale, appeared in the frame. Udyan Sagar, 34, better known as Nucleya, has been making music for 15 years now, but made his breakthrough only recently with his EP Koocha Monster. The bass-heavy dubstep on Koocha Monster, some of which is driven by South Indian street music or “tappankoothu” as it is known, recalls the Sri Lankan electro star M.I.A., but is also distinct in its production and sound. Says Sagar in a phone interview from Delhi, where he is now based, “I wanted to do something completely new. If you go to any club in London, there’s a typical sound that you’ll hear as far as Indian sounds go, there’s either bhangra-influenced bass or tabla and flute on every other track.”

Not that Sagar hadn’t taken the Indian classical route. Born in Agra and raised in Ahmedabad, Sagar’s early music tastes were shaped by Mukul Patel, a London-based DJ, who he met while still in school. Patel played at the famous Anokha Club Nights kicked off by influential tabla player Talvin Singh at the legendary Blue Note club in London and introduced Sagar to Asian underground music,  which was dominated by the likes of Nitin Sawhney, State of Bengal and Asian Dub Foundation. Ahmedabad was also where Sagar found his first collaborator in his school mate Mayur Narvekar and formed Private Sochalay that would later be renamed Bandish Projekt in 1997. “We realized we wouldn’t go far with that name,” says Sagar, “It was an open collective and the music was an extension of UK’s Asian underground movement of the Nineties – electronica driven by Indian classical music 
and instruments.”

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Sagar remembers Bandish Projekt’s early shows in Ahmedabad at college campuses including IIM and National Institute of Design. “Students were open to new ideas, but we had a problem playing corporate gigs where the audience was more familiar with music played on the radio,” he says, “But by early 2000, we were making a decent amount of money – enough to not ask parents to buy us an audio mixer worth 30K.” Of course, the salability of radio music, as Sagar calls it and a change of location – Sagar, Narvekar and Mehirr Nath Choppra, the third member of Bandish Projekt moved to Dubai in 2002 – prompted them to release an album of Hindi film music remixes. “Mainstream music was in big demand in Dubai. I’m not very proud of the remix album. It wasn’t a direction that we wanted to go, but we just realized that Dubai wasn’t a space for experimental music,” he says.

In 2008, Sagar took the stage name Nucleya and began to produce music on his own. “I’ve played a couple of gigs in the South but have never had time to record or work with artists there,” he says. The South Indian music bug bit him in 2010 when he was approached to work on a remix for the Hindi film Ishqiya. “I wanted to make it a bit more Indian rather than usual cheesy disco remix and this was the time when I began exploring South indian music.” Sagar’s remix appeared on the soundtrack, but not in its South Indian avatar. “Street Boy is the track which was made for the film but it got rejected. I was disheartened, but I was madly in love with it, so I saved the track and ended up putting it on the Koocha Monster EP.” Sagar also stumbled upon South Indian instruments such as the uduku, udumi and dollu during the making of the EP. “I began work on Koocha Monster about two and a half years ago,” says Sagar, “All the instruments that you hear on the EP have been programmed and I discovered all of them by watching YouTube videos over and over again to understand the tempo and pattern.” The EP also features  the now well-known Tamilian folk singer Chinna Ponnu on  a song named “Bell Gadi.” “Someone posted a link to her video on Facebook. She was really enthusiastic when I got in touch and we booked the studio for an hour and finished the track.”

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Touring India with Koocha Monster is top priority says Sagar, who was waiting for his Schengen visa even as we spoke, so he could travel to Norway to perform at the Oslo World Music Festival this month. “The thing with these international fests is that unless you’re well known, you get a not-so-good slot and you’re playing to some 50 people,” he says, “I want the audience here to get to know my music first.” Sagar plays at all three editions of the Bacardi NH7 Weekender and is next up on stage at NH7 Weekender Bengaluru this month. “I’m also planning to release a seven-eight track album with a new artist on each track. It maybe more melodic,” says Sagar. Will he follow up tappankoothu with garba? “I’ve used Gujarati folk with Bandish Projekt. I want to do some interesting collaborations, maybe even include a cheesy Gujarati garba singer.” If this means a Falguni Pathak dubstep mashup, we are certain that Sagar is going to turn the dance floor upside down. 

This article appeared in the November 2013 issue of ROLLING STONE India.    

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