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Playing It By Ear

Engine-Earz gives dance music a new spin by mashing it up with everything from qawwali vocals to live instrumentation

Rolling Stone India Aug 10, 2010
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Justin De Souza

In just a year since its formation, Engine-Earz Experiment from the UK is grabbing attention with their dubstep derived music and extravagant live shows. With a fast growing fan-base and equally strong support from the UK music community, this project is now looking forward to the release of their debut album and an upcoming India tour.

“I last visited India when I was 11, so I’m very excited to return,” says Prashant Mistry, producer and the brains behind the outfit. “My parents are Gujarati and came to the UK from Uganda, escaping some terrible upheavals. I’m the first generation to be born here, so I give thanks for the opportunities I’ve been blessed with in this country and the determination they went through to get me and my brothers here.” Mistry’s Indian connections strongly reflect in the music as does his urban upbringing which adds a noticeable funk element. “At the core of our sound are the heavy impact beats and bass that are often heard in drum and bass mixed with real, organic instruments. I believe that an energy expressed in one instrument or sound has an equal expression in every other type of sound, whether this is an emotional Qawwali vocal, a roaring bassline, or lush violin. Passion can be expressed across any form. The only difference really is the cultural context. We all grew up around rock, electronic and classical music so its a lot of fun!” states Mistry whose musical diet while growing up included a mashup of Indian bhajans, Rage Against The Machine, Nirvana and Prodigy, among others.

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Drawing nods from some of the top names in the industry has added another dimension to their profiles, like when Basement Jaxx reviewed their music on radio. “Mistry also worked with Nitin Sawhney and took away some valuable lessons from the encounter. “Working and performing alongside Nitin Sawhney taught me that we often underestimate our potential as musicians, and when pushed can achieve amazing things. I remember that he requested my keyboard be set up next to his on stage. Now, if you’ve seen Nitin play piano, thats a pretty scary prospect! I felt much happier when he allowed me to finish the show with a ground-shaking synth bass I had created” he beams.

After kick-starting a production outfit and a studio called Catch22 Music where they recorded, produced and worked on high profile remixes for various artists, the band went through what Mistry calls “the real journey.” “It made us think about how sound and music affect people. Through this period, the world’s political landscape was changing rapidly and we developed a passion for studying how the systems of governance really worked, and most importantly how we could make a difference in a positive way. The first song was ”˜Kaliyuga,’ and this is where it all really started,” he reminisces.

From raves to sit-down concerts, Engine-Earz Experiment is all about sharing the musical experience with the audience. “It’s important to us that each show is individual. When we play at electronic music events at clubs where the focus is more on the dance floor, I operate the electronics, synths and mixing desks; then we have live drums (Sam Sowerby), tabla and percussion (Kabir Kainth), our MC (Data), and the Qawwali singer (Shahid Abbas Khan).” The band changes its setup, though, for larger events like a recent show they played with Shaa’ir and Func, Bandish Projekt and Arun Gosh at Queen Elizabeth Hall in London. “For a show like that we bring in guitars, live veena and more organic tones and textures that would not work in a nightclub environment. We always perform with live visuals, which helps to create a fully immersive live show. I wouldn’t be able to choose which I enjoy more, they both allow for different dynamics and energy,” he explains adding that there are special shows such as the Glastonbury Festival that helped them shape their album sound. “It was soon after our first BBC Maida Vale session. We headlined the BBC stage and performed at the Bassline Circus the next night. The experience really cemented us as a band, and listening to so many different types of music together in one weekend definitely helped sow the seeds for the album,” states Mistry.

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With their debut album, Symbol, up for release this year, Mistry hopes to see the band only moving forward. “We love performing live, it is a dream come true for all of us. Hopefully we can become involved with composing music for films and computer games as well as collaborating with many new interesting artists and producing more albums. Though, I think that if the music we write can unite and inspire people in some way, then many of our goals will have already been realised,” he concludes.

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