With increasing international exposure aiding popularity of international music and genres, DJs in India are enjoying the golden era of club music in the city and the country, overall.
If the image of ancient India had dhoti-clad charmers making snakes sway to their tunes, modern India has an alternative. The number of upcoming DJs bred in desi clubs and music festivals have hundreds of people grooving to their tracks. Techno, EDM, hip hop… they’re all ‘turntabled’.
“The scene in India is on a real high at the moment. Underground music has never been as accepted as it is today. This is a result of the massive push by DJs who have been promoting quality electronic music in India for over a decade and have nurtured it to what it’s become today,” says DJ Manny, a member of BLaNK.
BLaNK is an ‘Open Electronica’ group founded in 2009 and comprises members — DJ Manny, DJ Skip (turntablist); VJ Alive (visuals); and Nirupama (instrumentalist/vocalist) — from Chennai, Bangalore and Delhi.
“We have DJs like Skip, who is putting India on the map by winning third place at the IDA world championships in Poland, and many other DJs from India, who are now touring the world performing to international audiences, making the scene in India truly global,” he adds.
Among the home-grown talent that Chennai has witnessed, Vijay Chawla is a promising DJ. A former resident DJ at Bike and Barrel and then at Speed, he has also been the one behind electronic music website — www.dancive.com — “a hub for Electronic Dance Music lovers, artists and listeners all over the world” as described by his Facebook page. “Chennai is at its peak right now as the clubs are open late which is good not only for the clubbers and the businesses but also for the DJs as they get to play longer sets and experiment with different genres and people also get to hear more than what they know,” feels Vijay who was one of the fortunate few to turn a passionate hobby into a career.
Behind the scenes
A DJ is not just someone who belts out music, he/she is a brand and, as surprising as it may sound to many, it involves a lot of hard work too!
One of the earliest entrants into the scene was Chennai boy Tuhin Mehta, a professionally qualified sound engineer, who has two decades of experience pioneering club-world in India. He, better than anybody else, would know how much of effort is actually involved.
“One of the common myths is ‘DJs don’t really work; it’s not a real job!’ What most people don’t get to see is the amount of work that goes into a performance — the countless hours spent looking up new music, the mind-numbing process of sorting through the figurative mountains of music that is being released on a daily basis just so that we can dig up a few musical gems that have the potential to become dance-floor anthems at clubs and other venues. The almost countless flights and sleepless hours just travelling from city to city and to top it off, having to always look and sound our best at every gig, all of that takes a toll on us.” This comes from a man who is an international ambassador to the Berklee College of Music.
Though creating a brand and niche for DJs is important, Nirupama of BLaNK feels it is something that happens without a conscious effort. “We’ve never been great at marketing ourselves. We’re lousy tweeters, subpar facebook-ers, but we end up putting all of that energy and thought into the music we make, and the gigs we play. The ‘brand’ that is created is just a by-product of these efforts.”
But, she agrees, that is not how the world of music works. “Simply making music is often not enough. You’ve got to tweet your way to the top. The branding and packaging can certainly help garner support and more audiences, and are useful tools for artists — but music comes first.”
That statement holds true for Ishani Majumdar as well. Being a woman landed her gigs, confesses Ishani who is one of the first female hip hop DJs in India. But it is the talent that prevailed over the gender advantage/disadvantage. Explains the DJ who recently played in Chennai at Havana, The Club at The Raintree Hotel: “Being a woman, the only challenge was to be taken seriously. Not that I had to — in India being a girl helps with getting gigs whether or not you’re good at what you do, but I focused hard on honing my talent and technical skills in my earlier years because I wanted to and because I didn’t want to be just another pretty face behind the console.” And she stayed true to her word and worked her way to the top, opening for international acts like Justin Timberlake’s official DJ, DJ Mark Da Spot, as well as DJ Power A.K.A The Soul Controller, the official DJ to Reggae sensation Junior Reid.
As much as DJing is a dream job for many — scouting for new music, mixing and playing — it still finds the ‘lucrative’ adjective elusive. “DJing in India is definitely very lucrative for some, but for the majority it is a struggle. Therefore it’s advisable to have a back-up plan and to finish your education before dabbling in it. It’s best to start with it as a hobby and then see if it can be taken to the next level,” advises Ishani.
Skip of BLaNK gives a few suggestions: “Income opportunities as a DJ are limited unless you make it big. Once you do, you open up avenues for revenue like DJ schools, showcases, session artists as a turntablist, setting up record labels, programming/curating for spaces, etc. I started my own School for DJs called Urbanatic School of DJs in Delhi two years ago and have had tremendous support from DJs all over the world.”
Tuhin adds to the list too: “One can diversify into things like event management, artist management, product development and also get into the record industry by working for record labels. The good thing about music is that it’s not limiting in nature.”
Besides, Tuhin and his fellow DJs find great opportunities in indigenous music festivals that help them to reach out to a larger audience and connect with like-minded people. “The whole ‘festival’ culture has aided in the boom of dance music in the recent past. Opportunities like VH1 Supersonic allow artists — emerging and established alike — to present their music to a wider audience and often to audiences who probably have never heard of them. It allows the artist to create an image and an experience for the audience which in turn fosters the growth of their individual ‘brand’ and identity.” VH1 Supersonic is an electronic dance music festival that will take place in Goa starting today, which will have international and local artistes connecting through music with fans and each other.
Despite the opportunities and expanding frontiers, DJing for many (parents mostly) still continues to be taboo, mainly for the untrue perception that the profession gets packaged with. Let’s break a few myths here: First, DJing IS a profession. And it involves a lot of hard work. Like most careers, you get good money once you have established yourself. One you continue to be a DJ even when you are “old”.
And Skip spells out the most clichéd myth about DJing: “Sex, drugs, rock & roll — not true! Biggest myth ever!”