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House On Fire

The Indian electronica scene will get its biggest boost when Sunburn Festival 2008 kicks off in Goa later this month, headlined by some of the best known international DJ’s, including many from the massive house music label Defected

Rolling Stone IN Dec 10, 2008

“I had a great time with my family at Sunburn last year. The production, organisation and sound were great,” says Simon Dunmore, the founder and head A&R of Defected Records, a premier international house music label that marks its tenth birthday next year. This is high praise indeed considering there are few people as well versed in dance music as Dunmore. The jazz, soul and funk aficionado began DJing in 1982, and was converted into a house music disciple by 1988’s Summer of Love movement when acid house raves spread across the UK like wildfire. A year later he was into A&R, discovering and signing new talent for renowned imprint Cooltempo and fulfilled the same role for dance music label AM:PM, before setting up Defected in 1999.

Dunmore’s experience at last year’s inaugural festival proved the catalyst for a flurry of activity for Defected Records in India. “It went from asking for a couple of tickets to me DJing at the Sunburn after party at Zanzibar on Baga beach to sitting in my office with Nikhil and Pearl and chatting about tying up three weeks later,” says Dunmore. Defected has released two India-focussed compilations: Submerge In The House, a tie up with Nikhil Chinapa owned Submerge, India’s leading electronic dance music website and promotions company,  and Goa In The House, a double CD mixed by Dunmore, ATFC and DJ Pearl (also Chinapa’s wife). It culminates in  Defected hosting a stage at Sunburn 2008. “There are definitely people in India that know about house music, and also a house music community,” says Dunmore explaining the reason behind his recent India focus,“I went onto the Submerge site and was amazed ”“ it was as knowledgeable as anywhere like London or New York, people were talking about up front records, and it was as authoritative, and cynical as all the other sites. Submerge In The House sold well, we were encouraged by that, so spoke with Nikhil about hosting a stage at Sunburn.We talked about doing a Goa In The House release to coincide with Sunburn and it seems like a good idea to use one to promote the other. Everyone associates Goa with trance, not house but there are bars and clubs that play house and we wanted to represent that in the global dance music community.”

”˜Community’ crops up time and again whether talking to Dunmore, Nikhil or Pearl and the Defected boss attributes house music’s popularity in India to international study, cheap travel and the Internet (in particular Submerge). “People come to Europe and America to be educated, or through travelling, and take their experiences of house music back with them,” he explains. “I played in Jakarta last night and the guy who booked me was educated in America, and wants to recreate his experiences in Jakarta. And the Internet means the world is moving in smaller circles, the global dance music community is getting much tighter.’

Sunburn’s already becoming an annual pilgrimage for India’s growing band of EDM fans, who connect online via communities such as Submerge. “Sunburn is made up of 75% Indians, and 25% international tourists, and Submerge is India’s EDM core – we have 10,000 registered members from Hyderabad to Delhi to Bombay, and members who have never met before have been discussing meeting up at Sunburn six months in advance,” explains Chinapa.

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DJ Pearl is India’s premier house music icon: the slight woman, with wavy hair, big brown eyes and an infectiously sunny smile, is engulfed by the super-sized sofa we’re seated on in Defected’s four-floored London HQ. As a metaphor for how far EDM and house music in India has come, it speaks volumes ”“ five years ago interviewing an Indian house DJ in the heart of London’s creative quarter would have been outlandish. “Technically Pearl’s a great DJ, she’s got a really good vibe and looks like she’s having a good time behind the decks – she’s very adaptable and plays with great authority. She plays house with emotion and soul, not R&B and soul vocals, but funk,” says Dunmore.

Yet in December 2008, it feels entirely natural in India, for its young in particular to embrace EDM, far more than the late 20th century’s other great youth music movement, hip hop. Minimal house and techno is the aural wallpaper for Mumbai’s fashion launch parties, house soundtracks play 24×7 at bohemian beach shacks from Goa to Kerala, and of course trance has long had a foothold in India. “Now access to EDM and house music has at least opened up, whereas I discovered house in Holland, clubs and DJs in India are mushrooming, demand has grown so much,” Pearl explains. “On a larger perspective it’s miniscule, a very tiny niche but a small percentage can be a large number in India and the interest is definitely there.”

EDM’s gradual evolution in India ”“ Nikhil estimates that Submerge membership has increased by 60% since last year’s Sunburn ”“ mirrors its growth as an underground, alternative youth movement in America and Britain. Twenty years ago, in the UK particularly, it was viewed as a dangerous counter-culture, vilified by the establishment and mainstream media, and took ten years to become an accepted part of youth culture.

And though EDM and house remain a part of a fledgling scene in India, the infrastructure in the shape of forward thinking venues (Bombay’s Poison, Aurus, China House  and Blue Frog, and New Delhi’s Elevate and Six Month Story), increased interest beyond Metro cities like Mysore and Cochin, and festivals such as Sunburn, provide a glimpse of the future. “More international acts have played in India since Sunburn than in the last four years. Submerge has just finished a tour with Armin van Buuren [voted the world’s No 1 in DJ mag] and Gareth Emery is scheduled next,” explains Chinapa. “Earlier this year we toured with Copyright, Norman Doray and Richard Durand. There’s greater knowledge of EDM and there’s a higher level in interest in music than ever before.”

As interest in EDM and house music has grown in India, so has international interest in EDM and dance music from India. DJ Nasha spent a year with New York’s bass-science collective and club night Sub Swara, Shaair & Func toured the UK earlier this year, while EDM agitator Mukul Deora hosts the London launch party for his EDM-label Dudup in January.

Pearl has already graced the decks of two of the most well known clubs in the world this summer at Defected parties ”“ Ibiza’s Pacha and London’s Ministry Of Sound.  No wonder she’s after the 12ft by 4ft canvas that takes up one wall of  Defected’s HQ, painted by Japanese graffiti artist Dragon on the night she made her Ministry of Sound debut. “My whole mission in life has been to get dance music into India, first and foremost, now maybe it’s time for me to take the dance music of India outwards,” she says.

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“House music might have started in America and Chicago but Americans haven’t ruled house music world forever, it came to England with the summer of love, Scandinavia is on fire at the moment with Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso, there was the French revolution with Daft Punk and Stardust,” explains ATFC, who has been playing and producing house for two decades, “Over the years house music has jumped from country to country, there’s an Australian insurgence with Dirty South at the moment, and it’s certainly going to happen with Asia and India, it would be madness to suggest otherwise. We’re already seeing Indian DJ stars like Pearl and it’s really exciting to see what India’s going to come out with – every area has its own vibe and has reinvented house and when it happens, it’s makes house music richer.”

The very start of that process as ATFC, Pearl, Dunmore and others like Shovell, Shapeshifters  and Copyright who will be playing at Sunburn,  will testify, is experiencing a house music epiphany – that almost spiritual moment on the dancefloor when the music makes sense and you’re in nirvana. Simon Marlin of Shapeshifters, the production and DJ duo behind 2004’s global smash and UK No 1 record Lola’s Theme feels that this is just the right time for DJs to be visiting India. “Everybody wants to go out and have a good time. We’ll do what we do everywhere else when we DJ but India’s such an emerging scene, so what we do is an unknown quantity,” says Marlin.

UK’s top trance DJ John 00 Fleming who will be part of Sunburn for the second time says that Indian audiences are very open-minded. “They don’t like just the obvious stuff and commercial hits so I will play the magic ones in India instead of reaching for the emergency section at the back of my playlist,” he says. Fleming feels that Indian DJs are not always led by trends and commercial appeal. “They have their own styles, and I’m sorry to say that’s not the same of my own country where everybody jumps onto the flavour of the season. If it’s retro house then almost everybody does it, if it’s minimal they jump to minimal but Indian DJs don’t have that herd mentality.” He feels it  is `naiveté on the part of clubbers and media’ that not many international artists have heard about  India’s thriving electronica dance culture. Fleming will do a set with Digital Blonde as well at Sunburn 2008.

“Who knows what I would be doing If I hadn’t stood on top of a speaker stack pumping my hands in the air in a club Bournemouth to a New York house DJ?” says ATFC, recalling the over 20 years ago as vividly as yesterday. “House was a dirty word for me, it was the devil’s music, but that night I saw the light. It could well happen to someone at Sunburn, and it’s very exciting.”

Additional reporting by Neha Sharma


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