Sub Swara Rising
It started in 2005 when three guys ran a club night together in New York City’s West Village, at a place called the Sullivan Room. They moved on to another West Village venue soon after, this one a mammoth dance emporium called Love. A year in, there were four of them: all men, all young, […]
It started in 2005 when three guys ran a club night together in New York City’s West Village, at a place called the Sullivan Room. They moved on to another West Village venue soon after, this one a mammoth dance emporium called Love. A year in, there were four of them: all men, all young, all obsessed with good music. The sound system at Love was excellent at the time – the best, perhaps, in all of Manhattan; a fact that would later prompt Time Out New York magazine to suggest this might “account for the crew’s obsession with detail” during their performances.
These days just two remain in that crew: Dave Sharma and Dhruva Ganesan. Together they constitute the live electronic band they call Sub Swara. The others have since moved on, moved away (“Life takes people in different directions,” Ganesan explains, “and we’re all still very close with the previous members”), but the duo is going strong nevertheless, touring currently and promoting a new album.
Much like their music itself, the name Sub Swara is a meant as a nod to the idea of union, of India and the West coming together sonically. Sub refers not just to sub bass, but to the Sanskrit word meaning ”˜all.’ And Swara, Ganesan explains, stands as the “tonal centre” of Indian music.
Their debut album, Coup d’Yah, was released in 2008. It took them two years to pull together and through it, Sharma has said, Swara managed to create a signature sound; a “unique global footprint, leading with heavy ragga inflection, thick beats, wide basslines, and live organic instrumentation ranging from the drums and wind instruments of India to the marching horns of New Orleans.”
Now, a follow-up: an album called Triggers, released on Low Motion Records last November. You can also download it directly through their website subswara.com/music. “A lot of people said that we moved away from the “ethnic” flavour of our past album,” says Ganesan, “but all those elements are there, actually in greater volume, just more embedded in a more eclectic fabric.”
He’s been there since the group’s inception; born in Chennai but raised in Cleveland, Ohio. Ganesan’s mother runs a dance company in Ohio, has done so for years, featuring Bharathanatyam-driven dramas mostly. “And my father was a musical scholar in his free time,” he tells me. “He didn’t really play instruments but studied Hindustani and Carnatic music through and through and also had keen interests in Western classical music and opera.”
Ganesan learned to play piano at age six, before moving on to a greater passion: the drums. It took, he jokes, “years of begging,” until his parents finally yielded. “That,” he says, “was the start of it all.”
These days both he and Sharma live in Brooklyn, New York. But Ganesan is planning a brief return to India this month. “Sub Swara owes much of its original sound palette to India,” he says. “So many of our percussion elements were recorded in fantastic studios in Chennai and Mumbai. We’ve never performed there as Sub Swara but have performed solo sets over the past few years here and there.”
Sharma isn’t expected to join him this time either, and no gigs are planned. “I am visiting family in India, that’s all,” Ganesan says. “But we would love to perform together in India given the right situation. And,” he adds, “if the people are willing.”
(Hilal Nakiboglu Isler lives, writes and teaches in the United States)