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Lords of dance
Once being a DJ meant playing at weddings. Today, the tables have turned. Clubs where once only Bollywood ruled now pack their calendar with EDM acts. International DJs draw bigger audiences than rock 'n roll acts. TOI-Crest tracks the rise of the superstar DJ
The past few months have seen big names from the DJing world descend on India. Whether it's David Guetta - the Parisian DJ whose smash hit I Gotta Feeling with the Black Eyed Peas was heard everywhere from Tokyo to Texas - who played to thousands of delirious fans in Delhi and Bangalore, the '90s enfant terrible Fat Boy Slim or whiz kids like James Zabiela and Avicii, Indians are lapping up electronic music like ice lollies on a hot summer day. Just like the rest of the world. DJs now sell out venues that were earlier meant for rock 'n roll acts. Tickets for acts like Deadmau5, Tiesto, Skrillex, Guetta and Avicii concerts are snapped up in a matter of minutes.
Electronic dance music - or EDM, as it's called - is believed to have orignated in the US (Chicago's underground club scene to be more specific) but India is no stranger to it. It may not have had a mass base but it has flourished in small urban pockets and on the beaches of Goa for the last twenty years. Goa Trance eventually became synonymous with with drug-alcohol infused parties, but today people know that EDM isn't just about dopey trance parties. It includes a subset of genres like techno, house, progressive house, drum and bass to name just a few. Indian electronica acts like Midival Punditz, Jalebee Cartel, and BLOT are regular fixtures at international music festivals. From festivals like Sunburn, which served up EDM to a large Indian populace, to clubs - big and small - no weekend is complete without some international DJ playing at the deck.
A few years ago, playing anything other than Bollywood meant a slow and painful death for a nightclub. Today venues like blueFROG in Delhi and Mumbai and Pebble and E-Zone in Bangalore pack their calendar with EDM acts knowing that the crowds will come. Fans, mostly fresh-faced teenagers, throng venues - whether in the metros or in cities like Indore and Jaipur - with the top 10 Beatport chart imprinted on their brain and remember each drop. If in the past being a DJ meant playing at weddings, today it's the coolest job in the world. Guitar chords aside, teenage boys are learning to count BPM (beat per minute) instead.
Music schools now offer DJing courses right next to drum lessons. What changed exactly? How did the land of Bollywood get invaded by this new genre? Pearl Miglani, popularly know as DJ Pearl and a major reason why India suddenly finds itself in the midst of this DJ revolution, says the change didn't come about overnight. "There have been pockets of support in every city and this has made us one of the most important destinations and markets for this music, " Pearl. EDM is a passion she shares with husband Nikhil Chinappa which led to the couple setting up the Sunburn fest and EDM record label Submerge. Today, international labels and DJs can no longer afford to ignore India. Unlike Europe, India offers them fresh ears. Dave Seaman, who has played at every dance music festival worth playing at, has made four visits to India in the past four years. The audience at his gigs has multipied more than four times.
"When I came here for the first time, EDM in India was in its very early stages, " Seaman, who performed in Chennai, New Delhi, Pune and Bangalore last month for a Submerge-organised Legends Tour, recalls. "Not too many DJs had been here. Today, most of the top guys stop by. It's an untapped market, just like Central Africa, " the 44-year-old says.
Purists would argue that the electronic soundscape in India is predominantly commercial and that's reflected in the kind of DJs that travel to India. Seaman says that is the case with the whole world. "It's my personal point of view but the sound sweeping the world is a commercial sound, very unlike the underground sound that we're accustomed to. But it's the circular nature of trend. As soon as it becomes popular, it ceases to be underground, " he says. So mainstream, in fact, that even Justin Bieber has debuted a 'dubstep-like' track in his latest album.
Commercialisation isn't necessarily a bad thing, says Pearl, who chose to fly down trance DJ Eddie Halliwell in the same month as Seaman. "The commercial scene is bound to grow with the likes of Guetta and Avicii leading the charge, " she says. "Commercial dance music serves the purpose of popularizing electronic music with new audiences. "
It doesn't mean the end of underground either. "The underground has evolved alongside with DJs like Richie Hawtin, John 00 Fleming and other legends nurturing new talent. This will ensure that quality music will not fade, even in the face of overwhelming commercialization. If you look back at the clubbing histories of most nations, there is a very obvious cycle of commercial and non-mainstream music having their day under the sun, " she explains.
The DJ phenomenon isn't just restricted to international acts. Even Indian DJs have benefited from the craze. DJs like Aqeel, Whosane, Suketu and Akbar Sami can guarantee any club owner a packed night. And it isn't just Bollywood hits that get played. House mixes of rock songs or even Avicii will find a spot on the playlists whether they're playing in Bhopal or Bangalore.
Aqeel, who balances a successful career as a DJ and a club owner, feels that DJing today is a serious profession. "Earlier people used to think it's all about partying or drinking but today the competition is really stiff, " says Aqeel, who gave Bollywood remixes a new twist through his albums.
The recent nightclub crackdown in Mumbai - police stopped music at blueFROG just 10 minutes after Halliwell started playing - and the ludicrous restrictions in Bangalore (no dancing or live music in public) means that not all is well with the clubbing circuit.
"It's the clubs and DJs that are affected, " bemoans Pearl. "DJs learn at home or in makeshift studios what they should be learning every day of the week in front of live crowds. There is no better way to learn the art of deejaying than to be faced with a demanding crowd, technical glitches and a tough management and be able to balance it all. I'm hoping the cultural gap narrows and everyone to develops open minds to the music choices of all people. This music needs to be felt, not just heard, hence the loud sound systems, " she adds.
DJ TIESTO | $65 million (Played in Hyderabad in 2008)
PAUL OAKENFOLD | $55 million (Played to a sell out crowd in 2007)
PAUL VAN DYK | $50 million (Last played in India in August 2011)
JOHN DIGWEED | $45 million (Played three dates in December 2011)
ARMIN VAN BUUREN | $40 million (Started his set after 1 am in 2010)
SASHA (DJ) | $40 million (A firm favourite among progressive house
lovers was last seen in India in 2011)
JUDGE JULES | $40 million
(One of the first who made
the trek to India)
PETE TONG | $30 million Legend in the industry performed at Sunburn 2011
DAFT PUNK | $30 million each
MOBY NET | $28 million
DAVID GUETTA | $25 million World's No. 1 DJ did a two-city tour in March
FATBOY SLIM | $22 million Made his maiden India trip in May
STEVE AOKI | $20 million
FERRY CORSTEN | $18 million (Has made a couple of trips to India)
THE CHEMICAL BROTHERS | $15 million
CARL COX | $15 million (Performed at the very first Sunburn)
BENNY BENASSI | $14 million
DEADMAU5 | $12 million
CALVIN HARRIS | $10 million
ATB AKA ANDRE TANNEBERGER $8 million
SKRILLEX | $8 million
AVICII | $6 million The Levels sensation performed last December
GARETH EMERY | $5 million (Was last in India in April)
SWEDISH HOUSE | $4 million each
ERIC PRYDZ | $4 million
MARTIN SOLVEIG | $3 million
KASKADE | $3 million
DARUDE | $2. 5 million
MARKUS SCHULZ | $2 million (Performed in India last year)
AFROJACK | $2 million
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