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Why EDM is the music of the decade

Megha Mahindru Dec 18, 2012
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Swedish House Mafia in Noida. Photo: Clique Photography

Nobody understands the business of music better than Madonna, who roped in French electronica DJ and producer Martin Solveig to produce “Gimme All Your Luvin’,” the smash hit off her 2012 album MDNA that was played on repeat on radio stations and at consoles all this year. EDM found a bigger endorsement at the American Music Awards last month with the inclusion of a brand new category ”” Favorite Electronic Dance Music Artist. Its first time winner, David Guetta, who was touring Brazil at the time of the awards, addressed his fans via a video link saying that winning the award signaled how big EDM had become in the West.

Closer home, it is evident that the audience for EDM is rapidly swelling, going by the number of international artists who have performed in the country. Electronica superstars including Guetta, Tiësto, Armin van Buuren, Avicii, Afrojack and more recently Above & Beyond and Swedish House Mafia, have all performed in India. Guetta performed at the Eristoff Invasion Festival in March this year, drawing an audience of 33,000 across Delhi, Pune and Bengaluru and returned to perform in Goa this month, while Tiësto and Buuren are also expected to return to India in 2013 to play multi-city tours. The recent Swedish House Mafia concert at Noida’s Unitech Golf Course saw a turnout of 15,000, according to event organizer and electronica producer Nikhil Chinapa.

As Arjun Vagale, cofounder of Jalebee Cartel, one of the biggest electronica acts in the country puts it: “Dance music is the music of the decade. It’s the new ”˜it’ thing like rock was for the 80s and pop for the 90s. Even ads on television have club mixes.” Despite the occasional rave being busted and the genre being trashed for entertaining drug users, EDM has come clean and has stayed on top, thanks to deep pocketed sponsors and affluent audiences. Says Vagale, “The rock scene started with practically no money. All the biggest festivals were held at schools and colleges with absolutely no sponsors. EDM started differently”” in night clubs which had sponsorship deals with alcohol brands. Rock was always indie in spirit in India and later, it just became difficult to get returns.” Fans of dance music are not as cash strapped as say metal music fans, who have been known to organize online crowd-funded initiatives like one to help thrash metal band, Post Mark, from Manipur to travel to Bengaluru to catch their idols Metallica’s concert in 2011. Kris Correya of Mumbai-based dubstep and drum n bass act, Bay Beat Collective, says, “We have one of the biggest youth markets in the world. Our massive population has a sizeable amount of working people ”“ between 23-45 years of age. These people have the spending power.”

Akon and David Guetta at the Eristoff Invasion Festival 2012. Photo: Naman Saraiya

But up until 2003 when Submerge.in kicked off and before the Sunburn festival was launched in 2007, Indian electronica audiences relied on the odd club gig to catch their favorite DJ. Vijay Nair, CEO and cofounder of Only Much Louder, the events management agency that organizes the annual Eristoff Invasion Festival that has brought down electronica superstars such as The Prodigy in 2011 and Guetta earlier this year, seconds this. “Electronica is a trend worldwide and it’s now hit India, but I’d say Nikhil Chinapa and Submerge have built the EDM scene in the country. The timing of the Sunburn festival [December] also couldn’t have been better,” he says. According to Submerge cofounder Nikhil Chinapa, Sunburn saw an attendance of 8,000 people over two days in its first year. Last year, the now-three-day Goa festival saw close to 100,000 revelers. Correya reasons that festivals such as Sunburn draw a crowd because they’re as much about music as lifestyle. “Only 50 per cent of the audience comes for the artist lineup. Others just want to wear beach clothes, drink up and come for an overall dance holiday,” says Correya.

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The EDM boom is also validated by the growing number of artists. Until 2007, the electronic scene in India was shaped by a handful of artists such as Delhi acts Midival Punditz, Jalebee Cartel and Mumbai’s Shaa’ir +Func. By 2010, there were enough artists for electronica musician Samrat Bee, better known as Audio Pervert, to compile Hub, an Indian Electronica Anthology that featured over 60 artists including Bengaluru’s Tempo Tantrick, Mumbai’s Gods Robots, Chandigarh’s Hari and Sukhmani among others. Barely two years into the game, electronica artist Sahej Bakshi aka Dualist Inquiry has already performed at The Great Escape festival in 2011. He played around 100 gigs last year turning into one of the most hotly tipped acts in the country. Given that DJs have a busier annual roster; it seems like a lucrative career choice. Vagale of Jalebee Cartel, who kicked off his solo project Re:Focus this year, plays between 80-100 gigs a year “after being picky” and is already booked for 14 gigs this month. According to Vagale, DJs charge anywhere between Rs 60,000 to 1.5 lakh depending on the club’s capacity and the audience they play to. While the number of bookings have gone up for most bands across genres, thanks to more festivals and gigs ”“ acts such as Bengaluru’s Swarathma and Shillong’s Soulmate perform an average of 50 shows annually ”“ EDM artists earn as much as bands do today.

Most clubs in Indian metros, which used to book retro music gigs during the weekend, now reserve the slots for DJs. A DJ, at least in India, demands less investment in terms of production costs and artist fee compared to an entire [four-piece or more] band. Mumbai-based electronica act Shaa’ir+Func’s Monica Dogra agrees that the economic viability in booking an EDM act versus a band adds to the genre’s popularity. “Most EDM acts don’t need a drummer or keyboardist to create a fuller, lush sound,” says Dogra, “It’s practical and a sign of the times.” In Mumbai, Blue Frog books as many as six DJs over Friday and Saturday every week. Says Jehan Johar, Programming, Blue Frog Mumbai, adding, “It does seem that DJs are busier than bands these days. DJs as individuals do earn more than individual band members in most cases. It’s all a function of supply and demand. Venues can afford to pay DJs more because they seem to be making more money on the nights that DJs play, especially because EDM fits more on weekends than weekdays.”

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In Delhi, Suhrid Manchanda, who goes by the moniker DJ Su Real, recalls his four-year-old club’s shift from retro to dance music. “I was the resident DJ at the Disco 31 nights at T.L.R. where we would only play retro, disco, soul, funk and old school hip hop.” About two years ago, a young girl in the audience wrote a message on her phone for the DJ, recalls Su Real: ”˜Can you pleeeeeeez stop playing music my DAD listens to?’ “We’ve since moved Disco 31 into the future, Disco 3001 perhaps,” he says adding that EDM nights draw thrice the number to T.L.R. compared to the footfall on rock or blues or jazz acts.

While the 11pm deadline in Bengaluru is a big dampener for a thriving music scene, Guru Somayaji, who is in charge of programming at the Bengaluru club, CounterCulture, says that his venue draws an impressive audience for both electronica and alt-rock gigs. Adds Somayagi, “There has definitely been a rise in EDM gigs and artists in last few years. Some years back, if you asked me for a personalized set list, I doubt any electronic musicians would appear in it. Now we’ve heard dubstep, drum and bass and there’s just so much to choose from and at least one EDM artist makes it to the list.”

What’s also interesting is how EDM has jumped the wall between various genres. “A lot of metal fans are crossover fans of electronic dance music and vice versa,” points out Dev Bhatia of Unmute Agency. Suhrid Manchanda, creative director of T.L.R, a music venue in Delhi too agrees: “Other than DJs and straight-up electronic music producers, a lot of rockers and singer-songwriters are also expanding and developing their work with electronic gear and that’s the biggest mark of the influence of EDM in India, where rock has reigned supreme for so long,” he adds.

Dualist Inquiry performed with Swarathma at Weekender. Photo: Monisha Ajgaonkar

Folk rocker Papon aka Angaraag Mahanta has relied on electronica to add to his shows since the time he set up his group East India Company in 2007. More recently, Vasundhara Vidalur of the Delhi-based group Adil & Vasundhara warmed up to electronica after her contribution to the Delhi-based audio-visual collective B.L.O.T.’s (Basic Love Of Things) new album Snafu on the track “NDX”. Vidalur is keen that her group works out a woody take on electronica for their shows.

Next month, Bengaluru’s Swarathma, known for their spirited folk rock, will release a new EP featuring remixes by artists such as Bombay Bassment and Dualist Inquiry, to add electro-dub step and hip-hop to their songs from their second album Topiwalleh that released this year. Swarathma’s bassist Jishnu Dasgupta believes that the surge in EDM is part of the overall surge of alternative music in India. “Just as EDM has seen an upsurge, so has Indian rock/metal music with a clutch of great Indian bands and international acts coming down for college festivals and vice versa,” adds Dasgupta. Having said that, he also admits to Swarathma gaining fans after Bombay Bassment’s mix of “Topiwalleh” was released online as a free download.

The signs were up on the wall early says Samrat Bee: “Afrika Bambataa had made a comment which was pretty pre-monistic. [He said] That the new millenium and its culture will be digital and driven by heavy beats and synthesizers.”

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