Apr 4, 2015

Cabbie recalls

Being a cab driver in Calcutta, or India as a whole, isn't an easy job. Underrated, yes, but definitely not the easiest. There's the navigating through our wonderful pothole-filled roads, the abuses hurled at you by customers and pedestrians alike, with the latter crossing at will, the lack of tips because of the failing economy and the most important, no family time. Life on the road can be fun when the destination is picked by you. Unfortunately, that luxury comes too few times in our lifetimes. 

You get to meet some pretty interesting people in your travels though. Once, a Bengali man from Bowbazar willingly parted with his wife's special mutton curry because my 5-year-old son was sitting in front with me and the two hit it off discussing the India-Australia match that we lost in. It was really more for him than me, but the gesture was much appreciated. Then there was the lady in the burkha who got on near Park Circus and smoked a cigarette when no one was watching. Every time we stopped at a red signal, she'd hide it and politely smile at me. I'm no one to comment but I admired that woman's guts. Even my wife, who enjoys the occasional bidi, refuses to light one in public, let alone in broad daylight. But I think my favorite customer was Naushik, whose mother has entrusted me with dropping to school and bringing back home five days a week. He tells me, with animated gestures and eyes, about the lunar eclipse taking place that evening and the play of the earth's exact position in the solar system that leads to this phenomenon, about the differences in the way the girls at his school behave compared to his boyish ways, about the jazz music that his father often plays in the evening and dances with his mother to. As eloquently as possible, he paints me a picture of his world and the characters in it and the roles they play. To me, that's more than enough.

Late into the night, after the last shift by obliging a customer who was heading in the direction of my home, when I tell my own son the stories I heard that day and the people I met, he's mildly jealous. Excited, always, but craving experiences of his own to tell me in return. It makes this job seem not so bad after all.

Mar 31, 2015

A conversation with myself

Maybe it's a problem of our times but at 23, I find myself being slightly uneasy and skeptical about spirituality in any form. I've sometimes had conversations about it and even tried my hand and meditation a few times and often fallen asleep, which is supposed to be a great result.

But when my aunt, Neerja Poddar, who works with access consciousness and hypnotherapy, asked me to attend a session, I found myself wanting to explore. Understandably, I had no idea what these two terms entailed but I had a hunch it could work, especially since her Reiki powers saved me from possible death many years ago when I was burning up with 106 fever.

So I reached her chamber, was asked to pick a partner from whom I felt the right energy to receive and lay down. What happened for the next 45 minutes isn't something I expected or understood. But to me, that wasn't too bad a thing. As my giver accessed various parts of my brain by placing her fingers in specific positions on my head, I started to feel calm. No clear visuals stood out in my mind but the blankness was appealing.

During one of the positions, I started seeing a purple dot, growing and then shrinking and then growing again, while dark waters surrounded it and I watched out of a sailing ship experiencing turbulence. That was the best way to describe it to Neerja, the facilitator. She explained that the purple implied infinity and the boat was  preventing me from reaching that infinity. Using the clearing statements of access consciousness, she asked to destroy anything coming in the way of this and as soon as I said yes, I felt lighter and the negativity went away. It's wonderful that certain thoughts and emotions can be removed so easily from one's system!

The same process worked at different parts of the session when for instance, I felt choked and she had already sensed that I would. Soon enough, my breathing was back to normal. We then switched places and I became the giver and my partner the receiver. 45 minutes later, she was a different person too, in the subtlest of ways that no one can pinpoint to.

It wasn't the kind of healing one would expect, especially since it's working with one's own mind and energy and body. But it's fascinating to see the effect, and I sure did when I couldn't stop yawning that night.

Thank you for the wonderful experience, Neerja Poddar. It's been a beautiful introduction into a fascinating process of making the world a happier, better place! 

Oct 9, 2014

one cup too many

One, two, three, fifty!
I lose count sooner than planned.
Churning inside me,
The ajwain, goat milk, and ginger honey reside.
A strange concoction, I must admit,
Brewing quietly inside me.
I cannot, for the life of me,
Pick up another cup.

(No sooner did I write this that I included a chai budget for my trip.)

cold feet

Outside my damp room
A mystic sits.
Tunes from the heart afloat.
I cannot but be in awe.

In the distance there is laughter-
Amidst the ongoing silence of the hills.

Like the city girl who left her home-
Below, another wordsmith sits,
Taking in the sights and sounds.

Like me, he doesn't know
What he's here to find.

A place where forlorn lovers loved,
A shelter for my soul.
She strums away her restlessness,
The voices take me home.

Fluffy visitors

The clouds have arrived
At my doorstep.
The incessant knocking sends shivers down my spine.
Knock, knock, knock, they go.
"Come on in," I say.
They fill me with delight.
The guitar brings me little warmth,
As my hair takes on the smell of damp clothes.
The drenched walk up long and unknown paths-
Don't spell out happiness at all.

Too soon did we leave the spot,
There would be rainbows where we lay,
Between the tides and gentle breeze,
So many more conversations were to flow.

Yet the undeniable comfort of this monkey cap-
Soft against the cold, stone wall;
It sends me back to my happy place
Merely by sitting atop my head.

To the wonders of synesthesia

My dreams shall smell of black magic tonight
Fragrant memories of a not-so-distant past,

Between garbled talk and confessions,
I swim towards the shore.
No shark fins chasing after me.
It's just how dreams ought to work.

Jun 16, 2014

Thievery Corporation by two: a conversation with Rob Garza

Unfortunately this interview happened over the phone. But when I found out that I was interviewing Rob Garza, one half of ThieveryCorporation, my heart was in my mouth. 9.45 am, the call promptly arrived and the next 20 minutes were some of the best of my life. That I eventually met a drunk him at the after-party and chilled is a whole different story.

Rob Garza
 What are you expecting from your India trip?

To be honest, I don’t know what to expect but I’m looking to go over, have a great time, share my music and just enjoy being there.

Have you heard any Indian music?

Not so much. I’ve not heard too much electronic music from India but of course, we have people like Anoushka (Shankar), whom we have collaborated with in the past. To be honest, I’m not so up to date with the current electronic scene.

How hard was it for you to create your own identity as a solo DJ after Thievery Corporation?

I think it’s actually been quite easy. After I moved to San Francisco, people started asking me to DJ, which I hadn’t done in a while. When they started asking me, a few years ago, I said ‘Yes’ and then I started saying ‘Yes’ more and more. And then as people found out I was DJing, they started hearing it and actually liking the music I was playing at the clubs. I was doing remixes and some original productions as well. People have just been inviting me and really encouraging me. It’s been great.

Is it more satisfying than Thievery Corporation?

You know, they’re both two different types of satisfaction. It’s always great to go out with a band and play live. But there’s also something kind of liberating in being able to go out by yourself, play other people’s music and just get into the atmosphere of the room and everybody’s just enjoying and getting off on the music. I really enjoy that too.

Has Thievery Corporation taken a backseat and only features as a few tracks in your DJ sets or are you and Eric still working together?

No, we have a new record coming up early next year. I’ve been recording with Eric and we’ve been doing a lot of stuff in the past year. Thievery Corporation is still in full form.

How do you decide what works for Thievery Corporation and what goes into your solo sets?

Well, Thievery Corporation has a specific sound, a certain kind of fingerprint. The solo stuff that I’m doing is more electronically inclined – little bit more up-tempo, deep house oriented.

When it comes to collaborations, what do you look for in artistes?

First of all, I’ve to be a fan of their music. The other thing is just getting along with them. There are some people who you meet, respect their music and really get along with them. Sometimes, you don’t know exactly what it is but it just makes a great collaboration and that way, I’ve been very lucky to have collaborated with some of my favourite artistes.

Do you have any lined up at the moment?

Right now, not so much. We just finished the new album and it’s still more about our love for Brazilian music and bossa nova – jazz from the late 60s. For the next album, we’ve probably get into some more collaborations.

And when it comes to picking vocalists for each song, is there a line of reasoning?

I think that there’s so many – we’re big fans of musicians and vocalists from all over the world. We have some Brazilians vocalists we love, David Byrne from ‘Talking Heads’. It really depends on the song – we have to really hear the song and then think of a voice and it comes more spontaneously. We don’t really think of it.

You call yourself an ‘international music explorer’ on your website. Care to elaborate? Does travel play a big part in your life?

I’m travelling pretty much every week to different parts of the globe. I love being in new places, meeting new people and playing music. Musically, even since when we started Thievery Corporation, travel’s been one of the inspirations for what we do. As an artiste, the music always comes first but it’s that sense of exploration that affects what we do and how we do it.

Do you remember the Nepal gig when you played for trekkers climbing Mt Everest?

That was a great gig. It was for a group of young ladies who were trying to raise money to get to the top of Mt Everest. I played outdoors, it was a beautiful world and I loved playing in that part of the world. The Himalayas were just stunning. That was one of my favorite gigs.

What’s the process behind naming your songs?

That’s a good question. I don’t know how that happens but usually, at the end, when we have to send the track out, we just come up with something while trying to be clever.

When you’re not touring or in the studio, what are the other things you enjoy doing?

I really enjoy just spending time with friends and family and going to the beach and mountains. When I’m not playing, I like listening to music.

What’s the songwriting process like? Is there intoxication involved?

(laughs) Sometimes we’ll have a few drinks, a little smoke. But in general, I just get into the studio and start playing around with instruments till stuff starts to happen. I don’t really like think about it. It’s just a natural, organic process.

Is it groove-based or sample-based? How does a track build up?

It’s more groove-based for my solo stuff and for Thievery Corporation. It starts with the groove and then it goes off from there. When we started in 1995, it was more sample-based but now, not so much.

How do you remember the early Thievery Corporation days?

I think when we started was really exciting because we were just doing it to have fun. We never really thought that we’d ever have a career of it. We were just making our music and decided to release some vinyl and then people started following us around the world saying that they want more vinyls. All of a sudden, we were traveling and getting to see different parts of the world and playing our music. So I remember those times with a great fondness. I’m still very happy doing what we do.

How do you keep yourself passionate about music over the years?

Well, there’s the challenge. For me, in this case, my DJ set and getting back into electronic music has kept me passionate. I started off being an electronic musician, making techno records when I was 19 in 1989. With Thievery Corporation, we really got into the organic side of music exploring that side of things which I really love. Getting back into producing has made me passionate again because it’s the side I wasn’t exploring for a long time and now, I feel so much great creative energy in me.

But are there still days when you feel uninspired?

Of course, it’s like life. There are days when you say ‘Nah, I don’t feel like doing this today’.

Which Thievery Corporation track are you most attached to?

That changes all the time. But one that we did with David Byrne called The Heart’s A Lonely Hunter – that’s because it talks about walking into my spaceship and being beautiful forever. I always love hearing it and always love playing it.

The interview was published in Deccan Herald on November 25.

The parallel worlds of Sampology


 I met Sampology in the pouring rain. It was ‘Hangover’ by Buraka Som Sistema that had pulled me to his stage and despite being fairly transparent, the audio visual experience from that floral shirt wearing young man still remains vivid. I told him I knew nothing about him backstage but had tons of questions to ask. He was nice enough to answer them:

Essentially, how does your mind work?

I come from a hip hop background and what I like about hip hop is that it takes lots of existing things from different areas and then combines them to make something new. Like just remixing and reworking things. I like juxtaposing things - taking something out of context and making it new.

So how does the visual aspect come in? Do you do that yourself?

Yeah so I take bits of existing footage and reapply them to music. I like things to flow through the set so one visual leads into another section while making sense.

Is it very drug-induced?

Not really. For some people it is but for me, a lot of the time, I’m editing in my studio and it’s really late at night and I’m sleep deprived. And in that state, it’s kind of like I’m tripping. So sometimes, when I’m really tired, it helps.

What’s your education background like?

I don’t come from a visual background. I come from a DJ/music background. I’ve been DJing for the last five years and then the technology became available for me to DJ with videos as well and I jumped straight on it. At that point, I didn’t know anything about videos. I had ideas of what I wanted to do and then had to figure out how to do it.

Are you always surfing the internet?

Yeah, I’m always surfing the net. Now you can find everything on the net. Back when I started in 2008, I’d go to this old VHS tape store back home and I’d keep going through those. And the owner of that store and me share an affinity for early 80s Bollywood movies. I like geeking out.

Where do you pick your music from?

Everywhere! I mean I worked in a record store in Brisbane for four years so that kind of influenced me. Icome from a hip hop background but when I started playing in bars and live music venues, I didn’t really like playing one style of music for an hour. I like things moving between genres.

What do you think of Bangalore?

I love it. I got in two days ago. Yesterday, I went to the market and found an antique shop and bought a bunch of records because in Australia, Indian records are very expensive. It’s my first time here and I bought a lot of 60s and 80s records. People are really nice here. There’s a big Indian population in Australia so I’m used to the food.

What did you think of India when you were making the special 3-minute visual package?

I’ve been into Indian cinema for the last five years. I’m a big fan of Mithun Chakravarty, Amitabh Bachchan, RD Burman, Sanjay Dutt and Bappi Lahiri. I love the cinematography - the big dance sequences how everyone is organized and the camera operator is so still is amazing. I realize that the era I’m talking about is really cheesy but I love it. All the Indian cover versions of Western tracks - some of them are actually better than the originals in terms of how the drums come in. I’m learning more now about newer bands here because my knowledge is more specific to the early 80s films for their soundtrack and stuff. But while I’m here, I’m going to try and catch some acts.

Does travel play a big role in your music?

Yeah it does. I think that if you’re doing any kind of art, traveling helps a lot. It’s just inspiration because I sample a lot of stuff.

Any albums on the cards?

I released an album last year in Australia and am working on releasing one next year. But I’m also doing a full Bollywood set in Australia early next year for some cultural festivals. It’ll be a full audio-visual set with the audio being contemporary remixes of Bollywood cinema. And then I want to come to India with it. To be honest, I wasn’t sure how the Bollywood segment would go down because sometimes, when you go to a country and play their stuff to them, they either love it or hate it.

Is there a non-musical side to you?

Umm, not really. It’s either music or visuals. At the moment, I’m scanning old magazines and making them into moving GIFs.

And do you feel that your brain is always working on overdrive?

Yeah. I’ve noticed it in the last few years that I’ll be having a conversation with someone and some situational topic will come up and I’ll instantly compare it to a scene in a movie. And it’ll be a bizarre non-famous reference. But it’s from working on the shows. Like I’m always trying to draw parallels!

The article appeared in Deccan Herald on December 12. 

Chatting up the funny-toothed dubstep pioneer DJ Rusko

DJ Rusko

The thing about DJ Rusko is that he can talk A LOT. But that works for someone like me who loves finding out the back story to music anyway. I’m quite late in posting this interview but here goes nothing:
Has India lived up to your expectations? What impression of it did you have?

One thing I try and do when I go to a new place that I’ve never played before is try not to research at all. I know a lot of people Google where to go and what the crowd’s like but I spend most of my time playing shows in places I’ve been to before. So I already know the venue, the crowd, what they like. So it’s very rare these days that I get to go or play somewhere that I’ve never ever been to. So the best thing about it is the surprise. Even when I get to the venue, I’m not going to look at the crowd or anything. I just blind myself completely till it’s time to go on and then it’s the biggest surprise ever! When I’m writing new music, as I’m doing at the moment, I purposely try and not listen to other people’s music. Or you’ll end up making music like them. I try the same kind of blindfold there too.

You’ve been in reggae bands and played the saxophone and piano. How did dubstep happen?

Reggae is the middle path. When I was growing up, I played in rock and all kinds of bands. But I’ve always been a big fan of reggae and dub. So before I started making dubstep, I was playing the saxophone in reggae bands and producing reggae. The first dubstep tracks that people heard of mine and I put up were just dub-reggae tunes I was making. And people were like ‘huh, what is that?’

So was it much of a transition?

No! It wasn’t like I heard dubstep and decided to make it. There was no such thing then. People called the reggae that I was making ‘dubstep’.

Are there live elements in your performances?

No, my whole thing with the DJ set is that I try and play 100 songs in 100 minutes. My hands are a blur when I’m up there. I hate the DJ thing where they come on stage in sunglasses, press play, f*** around and look really cool.

How does your brain work in coordination with your hands?

Part of it, surprisingly, is muscle memory. Sometimes, I’ll walk off the stage and have no memory of what I played. It’s like I’m hovering above stage and watching myself sometimes. It’s that automatic.

Describe the feeling behind the consol.

That’s why I try and do the blindfold thing. Because walking up to the consol for the first time, having no music playing and putting in the CD is the best feeling in the world. So if I have no idea what to expect, it makes it even better.

Off the consol, what are you like? Is music always playing in your head or around you?

I listen to very little EDM. I listen to jazz and classical and stuff. I’m on the road a lot but I try and do it in blocks. I’ll do two months of playing every single night and then two months with no gigs at all, just in the studio. I know a few people who play a few gigs, then go back to the studio and then some more shows. But I can’t really do that. I’m pretty much the same person both in the studio and at gigs. It’s hard when I’m not playing shows because I’m used to that energy. So I need to do things to match that energy. I skateboard a little in California, where it’s sunny so you can actually skateboard. But I need that adrenaline, the rush everyday.

And cooking offers that?

Cooking is more of a necessity because living in Los Angeles, there are two things that I cannot find – good English food and good Indian food. My favourites are tadka dal, chickpea…I don’t want to embarrass myself by pronouncing the names wrong and stuff. I got really frustrated and so I just learnt how to make it myself.

You shifted from UK to USA five years ago. What are the differences you’ve seen?

The crowd is much, much bigger. Dance-wise, both are pretty much the same. But in US, it’s much louder. People really scream and shout and let you know that they’re having a good time.

And what prompted you to make the move?

Dubstep was just beginning in American when I moved. It was popular in Europe but in America, all they really had was us UK guys, going over there and doing a two-week tour, play Chicago, New York, LA and then go back. Every month, one of us would do that. It was supply and demand but also a business move. I thought that if I moved there, I’m not just going to play those cities but also the tiny cities. So for two years, I was the only dubstep DJ touring America. I played the first year doing shows everywhere. I did the first dubstep shows in so many cities – Denver, Houston Texas. I just kind of got there first.

But are you really business-minded given that you give out all your music for free?

I want as many people to have my music as possible. I get my money from the shows. If a 1000 people have my music because they got it for free, more people are going to buy tickets for my shows. The way to get more people in the shows is if they like your music. It kind of is a business move. People get it for free anyway; I just make it legal.

Let’s talk about the commercial DJ wave. Is it diluting the real sound?

Not really. It could get burned out because there are a lot of people jumping on it, if you know what I mean. There are a million house DJs, a million dubstep producers. There’s so much more of everything that it’s harder for someone to come into the game. I think I’m kind of lucky that I was there from the start.

Have you seen 24 Hour Party People?


So in the film, there’s the music cycle theory where at any given point, one genre is peaking while another is dying? What’s going on in the music world now?

I think dubstep is getting a little quieter and drum n bass is coming back bigtime! Drum n bass was huge in the 90s and early 2000s. It was THE sound. And then dubstep came along and took that audience. The same people who liked drum n bass liked dubstep for the same reason. At the time, in the mid-2000s, drum n bass wasn’t doing anything new. It was still good and really popular. But it was a sound. It didn’t really change. And people got a bit bored of it and got excited by dubstep. And that’s what’s happening with dubstep now – it became too formulaic. It used to be a mixed sound, where you’d hear a dubstep song that sounded like jazz, a dubstep song that sounded like heavy metal. And then it all became the same thing – the same Skrillex-y, noisy rubbish. So people got bored of it.

How would you define your sound? Have you consciously stayed clear of dark dubstep?

Just dark music in general. I like things fun, upbeat and silly. Even in my dark band, it’s not dark, serious music. Most music I make has always got that happiness to it.

Did you pioneer ‘brostep’?

I guess that was the sound that everybody copied. Dubstep was my sound originally. That’s why people talk about it.

In that case, do you see it as a ripoff?

No, it’s inspiring people. It’s humbling. It’s nice to think that so many people liked what I did with dubstep that they wanted to take that and run with it. It’s very flattering. But that is the sound that got burned out. People need to make something different now. That had been the processed sound of dubstep for a long time now.

What’s your drive to keep experimenting? Drugs?

Honestly, yes but no. Inspiration wise, I like to switch it up. The music that people here is like 10 %. I play in a rock band back home, sax for my friend’s band, and this. So really, my drive is to keep it totally varied. People only hear the dubstep-y stuff that I make. I want to keep experimenting. There are still lots of places to go. It’s just that people got so used to that brostep sound being dubstep that if you try and do something different with it, people are like ‘huh, what is this’. They forget what it originally was.

You’re quite the globetrotter. What have been some of your best gigs?

Exit Festival in Serbia (2009) with Caspa was 500000 people. That’s probably the biggest show I’ll ever play in my whole life. That was insane. I’ve never played a show where you couldn’t see the back of the audience. Like it went on like the sea and the horizon. Playing in Japan was really strange because they’re just so polite that unless you tell them to clap or shout, there’s complete silence. That’s really, really weird. But it was awesomely fun because it was like a challenge. I didn’t know what to expect.

You and Caspa ended on good terms?

Yeah, I was at his wedding last year. We’re still best friends. One was the fact that I was planning to move for a year or so before I actually did. But we still do the record label together on the side. We were friends before we worked together and then we were working together all the time. Just as friends, we figured that if we carried on working as Rusko and Caspa, we’d probably hate each right now and saying bad stuff about each other. Now we’re just best friends, keeping in touch. I talk to his mum and Dad to see how they are. It was almost really just a way to save the friendship.

Any regrets in your career?

Loads! I say ‘Yes’ to everything. That’s usually my problem. People suggest things to me, ask whether I want to do a show or a collaboration and I pretty much always say yes, which isn’t always a good idea.

What’s next on the cards?

I just started working on the new EP. I’m working with DJ Shadow, we’ll do some cool stuff. I’m just trying to work with people who aren’t EDM artistes. That’s why I chose Shadow because he’s this 90s hip-hop guy who’s totally out of the EDM scene. I’m just trying to do something weird! 

The shorter version of this interview was published back on December 30. Here's the link