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'Electronic music is intelligent music'


WARM CANTO: Kevin McHugh, known for fusing house and techno music with multimedia and urban installations, will offer a new sonic experience in India

Ambivalent, one of the biggest names on the EDM DJ circuit, will play in India next week.

Arjun Vagale grinds his teeth whenever anyone equates David Guetta, ostensibly ranked the No. 1 DJ in the world, with electronic music. "Guetta isn't EDM, it's pop music!" he exclaims. Vagale, a part of Jalebee Cartel, India's premier electronic music act, is one of the many artists and fans who are struggling to hear and play music that's not on the Billboard charts.

If rock was the flavour of the '90s, then EDM or Electronic Dance Music has captured the millennial musical landscape. There are more clubs and venues supporting electronic music gigs than rock acts, and even the domestic EDM scene has more record labels and a more organised structure than indie rock.

As successful as the electronic music revolution in India has been in the last few years - Guetta made his Indian debut in March, Fatboy Slim is coming next week and every weekend sees some popular EDM artist spin at a club in Delhi or Bangalore - the focus has been on getting commercially popular artists. Even Sunburn, India's definitive EDM experience, regularly banks on the 'ranked' popular DJs and acts to bring in the crowds.

And it's this popular tag that Vagale and company are trying to shed and move ahead. "The whole scene has been very commercial of late, " complains the Indian DJ and producer, who has played his tunes in every major European city, including techno mecca, Berlin.

"I want to play and promote music that isn't played on the radio or television and even in clubs, " says Vagale. "There has to be a distinction, and we're trying to tell people that there are different sounds out there. Try something away from the mainstream sound. People need to have an open ear and enjoy new sounds. "

Vagale recently set up UnMute, an artist management and booking agency that has on its roster ten of the brightest and most talented techno DJs in India, including acts like Kohra and BLOT. UnMute also represents Global Underground artists Anil Chawla and Dale Anderson, who play regularly on the Indian circuit. Vagale has also recently established a Delhi arm of the ILM (I Love Music) Academy, which offers students courses in DJing and audio engineering.

Probably the biggest name coming to India amidst this techno renaissance is American DJ and minimal techno maestro Kevin McHugh aka Ambivalent, who plays in New Delhi and Mumbai next week. Ambivalent, best known for fusing house and techno music elements with experimental multimedia and urban installations, is an established name on the international circuit, and will be a new sonic experience for India.

McHugh, 36, who likens electronic music to the 'obdurate' art created by the minimalist artists of the '70s, shares Vagale's views on commercial music. "Guetta is just pop music and it sucks the oxygen of everything around it, " he says. "It's a media fallacy that new trends in pop music have anything to do with house music, and I congratulate the publicists who've engineered that notion. David Guetta has as much to do with house music as Madonna did with punk. "

Electronic music - according to McHugh, who shuttles between New York and Berlin - is physical and simple. "Electronic music is intelligent in its absolute dispensing of complexity, " he says. "Pretense tends to force itself in occasionally, but pretense rarely survives a raucous dance floor. "

Having studied the history of Indian art at New York University, McHugh's maiden India trip is likely to be an immersive experience for him. "I always feel like India has more to share than I could ever absorb. " His views on the current Indian scene are much like his views on everything else, refreshing and honest. "As far as the scene and what it needs, I would have to say that no place needs any more than it already has. The instant availability of music from anywhere in the world and the ability to make and share it as quickly has meant that the doors are wide open. The box has been opened, and there's no putting the contents back inside. It's now up to everyone to decide what they want to do with it. "

Ambivalent plays at the blueFROG in New Delhi on May 4.
and Mumbai on May 5

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