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Su Real: The Accidental Party Starter

The Delhi producer’s debut album, ‘Trapistan’, proves he was destined for the dance floor

Kerry Harwin Dec 17, 2014
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Su Real | Photo Credit: Sachin Soni

Su Real | Photo Credit: Sachin Soni

There’s a familiar narrative when we read about electronic music producers in urban India, or at least those who are reaching be­yond the bounds of mainstream EDM. Often, they studied in the US or UK and brought back a bit of the zeitgeist with them. Some­times, they simply benefited from regular exposure to the eclectic and international sounds they grew up with on their parents’ record player. It’s not hard to get them to talk about the international festivals they’d love to attend or to speak about Berlin as if it’s an electronic wonderland, with streets paved in gold and bass.

While India’s producers weave their global bass dreams, Suhrid Manchanda, 34, better known as Su Real, sits in a dark and smoky home studio in the deepest reaches of Del­hi’s western suburbs. If you offered him tick­ets to a festival featuring all of his favorite artists, but he’d have to spend 10 hours on a plane and then sleep in a tent, he’d regret­fully decline.

Instead, curtains perpetually drawn in his West Delhi lair, bits and pieces of production gear scattered across a massive table suggest chaos to the outside observer. But as soon as one of Su Real’s marathon production session begins, it becomes clear that each piece of kit has a purpose, even if the purpose seems to be spending an entire night obsessively play­ing with one synthesizer until it emits just the sound that’s going to characterize your next Su Real single.

But it wasn’t supposed to be this way. Though he was born in New Delhi, Su Real grew up predominantly in Malaysia and the UAE. But in 1998, Su Real set sail for McGill University in Montreal, an epicenter for un­orthodox rock music. This is where Su Real started on the path that would, despite his best intentions, lead him to dance floors and festival stages across the subcontinent.

Playing in small time Mon­treal rock bands and working at the KCUT, the McGill University radio station, pushed Su Real to expand beyond the noise rock and post-rock sounds of bands like Godspeed You! Black Emperor, opening him up to reggae, hip hop, and electronic acts. But equally impor­tantly, the time prepared him to step into a life on the scene when, after completing his un­dergraduate degree, Su Real began an MBA in New York City.

“I went to New York ostensibly to study,” he says, “But that was just a cover to get me through immigration and stuff.” Within a few months, Su Real landed himself an intern­ship with World’s Fair, a now defunct label group that handled services such as market­ing, publicity, and distribution for indepen­dent labels who wanted to focus on the music. Su Real managed to turn his fa­miliarity with the then nascent music blogging into a full time position, eventually becoming the Director of Online Publicity, sharing an office with pioneer­ing hip-hop label DefJux, pro­moting a posthumous J Dilla re­lease, and working with artists such as Del The Funky Homosa­pien, Dizzy Rascal, Flaming Lips, and British Sea Power. “It was,” Su Real laughs, “a fuck­ing shitload of bands.” But even as Su Real’s party star was rising, he began to become dis­enchanted with his work. “It’s a weird thing.” he observes. “When you have a dream or an ambition for a long time and you achieve it and then that’s the top of the lad­der and you can’t keep going up. I wasn’t at the top of ladder, but I glimpsed what was. And it just seemed like more of the same.” Moreover, the mid 2000s were dark days for the industry; “It was kind of a depressing time to be in the music business,” Su Real ex­plains. “We did so much work for so little financial reward. Because along with the blogs came piracy.”

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Dealing with family issues and eager to get away from the temp­tations of New York’s rock and roll lifestyle, Su Real made the deci­sion to decamp back to the moth­erland. “Someone told me India was still shining and there were opportunities here,” he jokes. “I said, ‘Fuck it, let’s go back.’ Every­body knows that if you’re already privileged and have a little bit of money in the bank, life can be a little easier in India.”

He adds, “I thought I was gonna go to the hills and smoke a lot of hash and do some yogi shit. Thought I’d do some work with NGOs. I just wanted to fucking get away from… the endless bar­rage of new content. I had enough of FOMO [Fear Of Missing Out]. YOLO hadn’t come around yet.”

But Su Real’s life back in India didn’t turn out to be quite the respite from madness that he had hoped. Not expecting to find a burgeoning electron­ic music scene in Delhi, Su Real was shocked to hear the ground­breaking sounds of DESU and BassFoundation at the then new Café Morrison. “I was just really getting my mind blown because I would never have imagined dub­step and weirder bassy things. I did not expect to see anything like that here,” he recalls.

But then, in a move that – one could reasonably argue – changed the face of New Delhi nightlife, Su Real heard about a new bar: “Someone told me about a lit­tle place that had just opened in some hidden away corner of town called The Living Room [TLR].”

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TLR was the venue that – with Su Real overseeing event pro­gramming and working as the resident DJ for his legendary Disco 31 party nights – started the most recent round of Hauz Khas Village renewal. But being a bass ambassador to a small group of Delhi party kids has never been enough for Su Real, who is also well known for impressively cu­rated mixtapes that range from genre tutorials (Trap and Twerk) to compulsively thematic collec­tions, including a series of Hal­loween mixtapes and an encyclo­pediac four-hour and 20-minute paean to ganja.

Since TLR’s shuttering and re­opening, Su Real has been work­ing independently, both DJing and – over the past six months – spending long nights locked in the studio, refining his produc­tion skills. The investment has paid off, with a debut Su Real album, Trapistan, which released in November. The album, rooted in the hip-hop inflected electron­ic trap genre, takes stylistic de­tours into a bevvy of bass styles, a mix that is drawn both from Su Real’s taste and from the demand he perceives across the country: “I was – I’m gonna say it – the first to really play and push the genre in India. I felt those ex­pectations from my friends and fans around me to do trap music with an Indian twist and help the genre expand. …I want to make something that makes sense for the crowds here. Something that has the westernized beats they love with the unforgettable desi touch.”

He points to Delhi-based dub­step producer Nucleya as a major influence in the production of Trapistan. “With Koocha Mon­ster [Nucleya’s most recent EP], he just hit the nail on the head so perfectly,” Su Real says, a bit wist­fully. “It really has that perfect blend of global bass culture but at the same time being so unde­niably Indian. It’s beautiful to see kids just going mad to Nucleya when he plays.”

And so, back at the party and now signed to Mumbai-based KRUNK artist management and booking agency, Su Real is busy preparing for an album launch tour and shooting music videos for about a third of the tracks off of Trapistan. As he puts it, “I guess the yogi shit wasn’t real­ly for me.”

As he ends the interview, Su Real jokingly makes a statement that’s both slightly obnoxious and probably true: “Whatever the next big thing is, you know Su Real heard about it before you.”

 

This article appears in the December 2014 issue of Rolling Stone India.

 

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