United by Bass
Dubstep in still struggling to break into the Indian scene as the genre wobbles its way across subwoofers in the country
“You don’t know what dubstep is until you hear it out on a massive sound system with the whole room skanking together in one motion,” says Delhi-based DJ/producer Jon Jaggi. “You become a part of this fluid collective united by bass.” If you’ve yet to have such an experience, try to imagine wobbly, almost melodic bass lines, paired with syncopated halftime rhythms and punctuated with sparse snares and sub-heavy bass drops. If that doesn’t work, it might be time to check out some of the dubstep being produced right here in India, where local musicians are giving the London-born sound a homegrown twist.
Dubstep emerged in the UK at the beginning of this decade and has since boomed in worldwide popularity, with tracks creeping onto the set lists of DJs from a range of musical backgrounds. The genre’s journey in India began a couple of years ago, when DJs such as Ajesh Shah (AKA Dubbawallah) and Jaggi started bringing sounds that they heard overseas back home to the subcontinent. By the end of 2008, when musical duo Order of the Essence dropped a dubstep-only set at Goa’s Sunburn Festival, people outside the core electronic music community began to take notice of the unique sound. “People absolutely fell in love with the music,” says Udyan Sagar (AKA Nucleya), one half of the pair. This performance, combined with an increase in interest in dubstep worldwide, has helped accelerate the spread of the music in India. But the movement is still nascent. “For dubstep to really grow India, we need more people making tracks and more DJs playing tunes from local talent,” says Jaggi. “That’s when the culture really starts to become well rounded.”
And just that is starting to happen. Here in India, seasoned producers, including Sagar, are releasing dubstep tracks, inspiring more and more local producers to experiment with the genre. One such producer is Mumbai-based Piyush Bhatnagar who has been producing dubstep for the last 18 months. Earlier this year he paired up with Delhi’s Prashant Bhatnagar to form a duo, Deaf Bass Twins. Both their tracks and Sagar’s have already hit the airwaves of BBC Radio 1, introducing listeners from around the world to Indian-made dubstep in the process. Piyush emphasises that a distinctly Indian sound has emerged over the past year. “We experiment with lots of Indian samples and instruments,” he says. “The result is a very fresh and new genre that hasn’t been heard before.”
A second wave of producers is also starting to develop in the footsteps of the more established players. Take, for example, 18-year-old Sarvesh Shrivastava, a sound engineering student who although new to electronic music, has already started producing dubstep tracks. He plans to team up with his peers to create a collective to “showcase the hidden talent” in Mumbai. “It’s all about experiments and collaboration of these bass-heavy genres with pure Indian classical music,” he explains.
Similar mergers of sound have been happening in Britain and the US too, where what BBC Radio 1’s Bobby Friction has coined ‘desi dubstep’ has been well-received by fans of both dubstep and Asian electronic music. Sagar points out that “almost all the Asian electronic producers all around the world who were very active with making Asian Underground music in the Nineties are now shifting to dubstep.” Non-desi dubstep artists have also begun incorporating Indian elements into their music. The most commercially successful are arguably London’s Chase and Status, whose Bollywood-infused “Eastern Jam” has become a success worldwide and has since turned up on the set lists of almost every India-based DJ with a penchant for bass.
Although many artists overseas are incorporating elements from Bollywood and Indian classical music into their tracks, dubstep in India has begun to take a shape all its own. Sagar believes that there’s a distinguishably Indian approach to production that’s not found outside the subcontinent, which he attributes to the differences in both cultural and musical influences between people who’ve grown up in India and those who haven’t. “We are a very emotional race, and the sentiments reflect in every kind of music that we produce,” he says. “I’m not saying that the music being produced in UK is less emotional, it’s just that the sentiments are different, probably because of the difference in culture and background.”
Then there’s the question of musical influences as well as accessibility. For any musician producing tracks with Indian classical influences, being based in India means access to a large talent pool of classically trained session musicians. Thus, local producers who want to add classical elements to their tracks don’t have to rely on samples alone. This results in a wider scope for collaboration, creating a space for classical musicians and electronic producers to combine their talents to create a unique sound, be it a blend of classical and dubstep or something else altogether. “For us, the Indian musical elements come in play to a great extent, as we have grown up with Bollywood, classical and folk music,” says Sagar. “Hints of these can always be seen in the new genres of music coming out of India.”