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The 11th Bass Camp Festival Takes Off Across Four Cities

Event promoter and electronica artist Sohail Arora aka EZ Riser on how he curates the festival and the future of drum ‘n bass in India

Rolling Stone India Sep 27, 2013
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Sohail Arora

Sohail Arora

The rupee might have collapsed, but Sohail Arora, member of Mumbai drum ’n bass group Bay Beat Collective and founder of event management agency KRUNK, says that there hasn’t been an off season for him or his artists this year. “We’re all booked out until December,” he says. Not a bad place to be in considering six years ago, when Arora started out with BBC, all that kept him going was his love for drum ’n bass and dubstep. “I played for a Bento box and two beers at Zenzi, pushing drum ’n bass just for the love of it. Now, it’s become cool and trendy and we get paid for it.”

Ahead of the eleventh edition of the Bass Camp festival organized by KRUNK, featuring glitch hop artist Mr Bill from Australia and jungle music producer Snareophobe from UK, Arora discuses the drum ’n bass scene in the country and the road ahead.

How do you go about curating the Bass Camp festival?

When Bass Camp started, the idea was never about bringing down just the famous names. It was about underground music and a festival that people would attend irrespective of the artists playing there. I wanted to curate all forms of bass music with different styles from different parts of the world. I started with someone like Klute from the UK drum ’n bass scene going to classic drum ’n bass artists like Concord Dawn and London Elektricity and then we got a glitch hop artist like KOAN Sound from UK and did a dubstep event with UK’s Jazzsteppa, which was a live drum ’n bass event. 

Mr Bill playing at High Spirits, Pune at the 11th edition of Bass Camp festival this year. Photo: Payal Jairaj

Mr Bill playing at High Spirits, Pune at the 11th edition of Bass Camp festival this year. Photo: Payal Jairaj

How did you choose Mr Bill?

I hadn’t curated too many Australian artists. I didn’t want to restrict it to UK-based bass music scene. I’ve been following Mr Bill for a while because he’s been running this 26-week collaboration series where he’s teamed up with all the great glitch hop artists in the scene. He’s done one song with each artist and put it out for free. I’ve been also following his tutorials. For me, it’s really inspiring that someone was giving out his techniques of producing music away so openly. He’s not insecure about anything and there are very few artists like this. Artists like Mr Bill are in the scene for the same reason [as us] ”“ to spread awareness and Mr Bill is right up there.

Is he going to collaborate with someone here?

Not this time because we don’t have the time, but the idea is to introduce him to everyone. A lot of the collaborations in the past have also happened through introductions. Even in Pune, we’ve invited all the DJs who are part of the local scene. The Pune Bass Camp festival is happening in collaboration with The Local Scene, a series started by High Spirits, where the venue invites a lot of the local DJs to perform on Thursday evenings. Glitch hop is still a new genre and all the upcoming DJs in Pune and Bangalore have just taken to it.

Glitch hop is just the electronic form of hip hop, where instead of using a drum beat in the hip hop track, producers use other sounds such as typewriter key taps etc. It’s a genre that originated in Germany and evolved to a level where it’s melodic and experimental at the same time. If you hear Dualist Inquiry’s last album, there are a lot of glitch hop influences there ”“ a lot of influences from artists like Opiuo who’ve performed in India before. A lot of Indian artists are influenced by this genre. Frame/Frame who’s just released his EP is massively influenced by glitch hop. He’s also bringing his own identity to it. Given the rise of artists taking to this genre, it benefits when we bring down someone who’s from this scene.

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Can you sit through an EDM album and listen to it?

Yes, I’ve been listening to Sanaya’s [Sandunes] album on loop. I’m biased obviously. I’ve also been listening to Frame/Frame. I really like Your Chin, who is one of my favorite artists from Bombay right now. Obviously, some artists are more accessible.

Who else have you programmed for the future Bass Camp festivals?

I’ve already locked our December artists. All I can say is that it’s going to be drum ’n bass maybe. We’re going to do a lot of dubstep artists later in February. The idea is to mix it up and not just stick to one style. There are some legendary names coming down.

You traveled all over Europe recently and were at the Outlook festival. Who were the artists who stood out?

At Outlook, we saw everyone ”“ all my drum ’n bass heroes ”“ Goldie, Dub Physics, Alex Perez and DJ Die. We also saw this dubstep legend called Mala and an amazing artist called Jackmeister, who I’d never heard about. There was a really cool band called Sub Motion Orchestra. If you remember Gentleman’s Dub Club, who performed earlier this year in India, these guys were similar but more chilled out.

I saw Mount Kimbie at the Øya festival in Norway. I got a chance to meet them so that was fantastic. I also caught Cashmere Cat, a young producer from Norway, who’s doing really well in the electronic scene worldwide. He makes very melodic, really intelligent music that has a happy vibe.

In terms of reggae, we saw a lot of the reggae and dub crews like Mungo’s Hi Fi who have also performed in India before. Besides getting a sense of the organization and production of festivals, the biggest realization for us was how the culture of reggae and drum ’n bass heavily works on sound systems. Artists have custom sound systems built by different crews on different stages. A lot of the reggae crews perform with their own sound at the venue because they want to showcase their sound on that particular system. So they carry their own system. The sound system culture is from Jamaica. Back in the 1960s, artists like King Tubby performed with their own sound system. This culture is bigger with reggae and dub music and not with drum ’n bass and dubstep. It’s nice to see all these elements at a festival.

Also, we played a boat party in Croatia, so it was four Indian crews with a captive audience literally. There were 300 East Europeans who had nowhere to go and we played one of our best parties for five hours. By far, this was one of the life changing gigs for BBC, Reggae Rajahs and Delhi Sultanate.

Speaking about cultures, since the drum ’n bass and reggae scene here is very new, is there a particular sound that’s evolving and working for audiences here or are we just borrowing a lot from the West?

I think it’s too early right now. The drum ’n bass scene here is about four or five years old. The bass scene in the UK is 25-30 years old. The reggae scene in Jamaica is from the Sixties. We’re obviously getting exposed to a lot of this music. You definitely need that exposure and how it is adapted is up to each artist. The way to go forward is to bring in your own sound, which takes years for artists. For example, if you listen to a Punditz sound, you know it’s the Punditz. When you listen to a Dualist track, you can kind of recognize it as well. It’s time for awareness now.

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What’s the sound that’s working here right now?

I think Indian audiences are really open. When I play a party in Bombay, I’m really happy with the response each and every time.

Is it because they don’t know any better?

It’s not that anymore. The internet’s bridged that gap. Maybe the numbers are not high, but the audience definitely knows their drum ’n bass. But the numbers are definitely increasing ”“ 60,000 people at Sunburn festival is as big as [the crowd at] a European festival. That’s why so many people are doing festivals. The energy was so insane at the last drum ’n bass party we did at H20. It didn’t feel like I’m coming back from London, where I played good gigs to a shit gig. When Alex Perez came down from the UK and played at Bonobo for the Outlook launch party that we did, he said he felt like he was in Fabric [a top club in London].

Is this a rich kid’s party? Drum ’n bass and dubstep?

No. Drum ’n bass in fact I would say is a poor person’s genre. A large section of people who come for drum ’n bass parties are those who used to listen to metal and now enjoy electronic music. Lots of musicians have evolved in this manner including me and I was part of Skincold (an experimental metal band from Mumbai). You don’t want to live your life thinking you only like metal or one genre of music when you’re exposed to so many other genres. I don’t think it has anything to do with money. Most of the parties we do are free entry. Bonobo and H20 are priced at Rs 200 bucks.

So how does the promoter make money if he’s not relying on ticket sales?

The revenue model in India does not rely only on tickets. It’s sponsorship driven. Here, festivals are 100-percent sponsored and a lot of money is being pumped into festivals. With Bass Camp, we have Vans on board right now and we had Adidas before. The first six editions of Bass Camp ran without sponsors. I did not make any money. I broke even on most of them. They were ticketed at 300 bucks. Now, costs of bringing down artists and the kind of artists we bring down have also changed, so our ticket prices have also gone up to 800 bucks. But we have four artists playing on the same night, so that’s value for money. In Delhi, we have six artists playing. So tickets are important, but it’s not our only revenue model. It cannot work on just tickets especially with independent underground festivals. It’s different when you reach the level of an NH7 festival.

But do you think that the audience that attended Bass Camp festivals for free in the past would be willing or be able to shell out Rs 800 a pop?

A lot of the guys who could afford only our free gigs for years surely have jobs now and can afford an 800 buck ticket. We’re also running offers where we’re giving away free passes. We encourage audiences who can’t afford to still be part of the festival. At some point, people do need to pay for these gigs.

The Bass Camp Festival will be held on  

27th September 2013

Blue Frog, Mumbai

Time: 10.30 pm | Entry: Rs. 800

Line-up: Mr. Bill (Australia) | Snareophobe (UK) | EZ Riser (Mumbai) | AlgoRhythm (Mumbai)

Visuals by Wolves

28th September 2013

Blue Frog, Delhi

Time: 9 pm | Entry: Rs. 800

Line-up: Mr. Bill (Australia) | Snareophobe (UK) | EZ Riser (Mumbai) | Tarqeeb (Delhi) | FuzzCulture (Delhi) | Frame/Frame (Delhi)

Visuals by Shadowblink and Yidam

29th September 2013

The Humming Tree, Bangalore

Time: 9 pm | Entry: Rs. 300

Line-up: Mr. Bill (Australia) | Sulk Station (Bangalore)

 

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