"There's nothing worse than watching a DJ who looks bored and doesn't interact with the crowd" : DJs Khushboo and Sean


 Sitars, tanpuras and dhols mashed up with dance floor beats, rocky guitar riffs and catchy vocal. International music with eastern influences, is what music fans can expect at the MTV Just Grind bash that takes place at Mikano's on 11 July from 8 pm.

This is the first time that MTV Just Grind is planning an initiative of this kind. It will showcase the refreshing sound of Swaraj. DJ Khushboo will represent it from Sonik Gurus, Nerm from Shiva Sound System and Sean Dinsmore from the Dum Dum Project (DDP). Formed in 1997, Swaraj consists of 20 DJs, musicians, producers and visual artists.

Indiantelevision.com's correspondent Ashwin Pinto caught up with DJ Khushboo as well as Sean to find out what Mumbaiites can expect to hear at the show, how the Asian beat has evolved over the years as well as how the club scene in Asia and India compares with the UK and US.

What can Mumbaiites expect from the show?

DJ Khushboo: The latest cutting edge Asian fusion sounds from the UK. Expect heavy dance floor beats, strictly no chill out music. There'll be live music from Sonik Gurus incorporating vocals, a beat boxing flute player, keyboards, bass and harmonium.

The Sonik Gurus sound is very funky and eclectic, real uplifting party music. Also, darker eastern drum 'n' bass and break beats from DJ Nerm and Bollywood and Bhangra inspired Hip Hop from DJ Cavo of The Dum Dum Project.

Sean: Expect the unexpected! Swaraj is about no limits. So you will hear the cutting edge of Asian sounds from the US/UK. The Dum Dum project will come with a hip hop/bollywood/bhangra masala.

When did you guys join Swaraj and what was the goal?

DJ Khushboo: I started Swaraj in November 1997. We began life as a four man DJ collective and have expanded into a 20-person crew incorporating three bands, many producers and musicians based in London, New York and Bangkok.

I am glad to say that we're in the process of achieving my goal, which was to set up an innovative international club night and record label. We wanted to promote and develop the new Asian sound coming from the UK to a point where it is no longer underground but a major mainstream force.

Of course we can't do this on our own but we are the longest running Asian fusion night in the world and we've played a big role in pushing the sound at home and globally.

Sean: DDP has been a Swaraj resident since 2001 and at that time it was the only real alternative Asian club night going in the UK. The goal was to break barriers and create a new sound.

"In the case of DDP we have always been on the fringe because we're from New York City and our sound has always been more streetwise us sounding slower, more funky"


Would you say that the Asian beat sound is today more sophisticated as opposed to say five years ago?

DJ Khushboo: Definitely! Just come to Mikanos and check out what we're doing. Most of the music you'll hear on the night is our own, it's our own sound, which we have been developing over the past few years and it's extremely sophisticated.

When we started, there were a handful of producers and the sound was basically Asian drum 'n' bass or bhangra, and the two scenes existed independently of each other. That has all changed and there's a stronger scene now, the production values have gone through the roof over the last year or so in particular.

For us at Swaraj, it was a case of getting in the studio and developing our own fresh sound and ideas and this takes time. My vision for Swaraj and Sonik Gurus in particular was to make a sound that has as strong production values as the Basement Jaxx's and Daft Punk's of this world.

Luckily, being a club promoter I meet a lot of producers and musicians so when was able to pull together guitarists, dhol players, flute players etc and really sculpt the sound I was looking for.

Sean: It is hard to say. It's certainly more eclectic! Five years ago it was all about Asian drum n bass. Now it's integrating elements of Bollywood, bhangra, hip hop, and even r & b and garage. It has grown a lot!

Are lyrics given any importance or is it just a matter of creating invigorating sounds?

DJ Khushboo: Certainly commercially there's nothing better than a good song but the beauty of dance music is that there are very few boundaries musically and some of the most moving pieces of dance music are instrumental.

But at Swaraj the sound is becoming more song-based now as we develop as producers and collaborate more with singers. Just about every Sonik Gurus or Dum Dum track has a strong vocal element now. The nature of the Shiva Sound System sound is such that there is less emphasis on vocals.

Sean: In the case of DDP lyrics are very important… from singing by Asha Puthli and Bhagavan Das, to rapping by The1shanti - it's all part of our sound.

Is there any message contained in the music you'll create?

DJ Khushboo: Yes - "Swaraj - it's your birthright"

Sean: Yes there are many, but the overall message is one of unity and oneness.

There has been criticism from some quarters that fusion has basically led to confusion. The purity and uniqueness of different sounds is being lost. Your comments.

DJ Khushboo: I think that's nonsense. There is room for all kinds of music whether pure or 'fused'. Fusion leads to new genres of music being created and all music is derivative of other kinds of music anyway, just like all aspects of culture, which are fluid and ever-changing.

So, it's a bit of a chicken and egg situation but not something I worry about too much. Personally I think it's very healthy to explore different genres of music. That's at the core of the Swaraj ethos.

Sean: Personally I think that's nonsense...there will always be classical, devotional, etc. They are part of a great tradition. What we are doing is something new, and fearful people always attack new ideas. Those with open minds will embrace it! I get nervous whenever people start talking about "purity". I am American, and all we are is purely mixed. The small-minded would say we're mixed up. Ha! Ha! Maybe they are right.

What musicians and groups have played a major influence in the lives of you'll?

DJ Khushboo: In terms of Swaraj/Sonik Gurus I am influenced mainly by the bands and producers around me but I have had a very varied musical education too.

Being a teenager in London in the eighties my first musical love was Indie guitar music from the UK and I have always been into classic guitar based stuff - The Beatles, Red Hot Chili Peppers etc. Then I got heavily into dance music in the early nineties, I had lots of friends who were DJs and was going out clubbing a lot. Then in the late nineties the whole Asian fusion sound kicked off.

You can hear all these influences in the music of Sonik Gurus, which is my way of condensing all these ideas, and in a way periods of my life into one sound and time.

Sean: For me it's the Beatles, Ravi Shankar, the Asian underground movement, R.D. Burman.


"I get nervous whenever people start talking about "purity". I am American, and all we are is purely mixed"

Are you'll planning to collaborate on an album?

DJ Khushboo: We're collaborating all the time. Sonik Gurus have just remixed Dum Dum's Punjabi Five 0 track which looks like it's going to be a big record in the UK. Dum Dum will soon be remixing Mo Bhangra Blues for the Gurus too, as will Shiva Sound System.

The next Swaraj compilation will be a platform for more collaboration and we'll definitely be developing the whole Swaraj collective in terms of record releases. We've already been collaborating in the club nights, guesting on each other's performances. In London, the Swaraj nights are becoming more elaborate in that way, I can't think of any other club nights where you'll hear so much original music and see two or three live performances in one night.

Sean: hmm… you never know. Sonik Gurus just remixed Punjabi 5-0.

In addition to having a blast do you'll also see music as being a spiritual cleanser to a certain extent?

DJ Khushboo: Definitely, music is spiritual without doubt. It's therapeutic too, like any artistic process. Producing music is a very rewarding process for me. But for me music is like magic too. A single note can make you feel happy, sad, thoughtful or any other emotion. I don't understand people who don't listen to music. That is weird to me.

In what way is the music that your groups Sonik Gurus, Shiva Sound System and The Dum Dum Project create different from other Asian or Indian fusion music?

DJ Khushboo: Our sound is more commercial than most other Asian fusion music and it's coming from the club and the street. The key to our sound is English lyrics with strong catchy vocal and musical hooks.

That doesn't make it any less valid or any less ambitious than the more high-brow stuff, just more accessible. It's like the Swaraj nights too, we're different from most nights because we have a unique mix of people at the events - crudely speaking, 50 per cent Asian and 50 per cent non-Asian. The music is accessible to all these people, we don't believe in ghettoising our music or ourselves.

Sonik Gurus are musically very ambitious, we can turn our hand to many different styles of music and composition. We have three singer/songwriters in the band and some very talented musicians so we push our music in many different directions. We work with classical Indian musicians too and would love to work with all the top classical musicians from India, I can see that happening in the next year or two.

Sean: In the case of DDP we have always been on the fringe because we're from New York City and our sound has always been more streetwise us sounding slower, more funky. But I love Asian drum n bass also, and have always played it as a DJ.

"We're in the process of achieving my goal, which was to set up an innovative international club night and record label"

To what does the Dum Dum project attribute the success of the single 'Punjabi 50'?

Sean: Originality and timing! It just came out as the bhangra scene was getting a lot of attention in the UK and US. Actually it still isn't officially released yet! Stay tuned.

What tactics does DJ Nerm use to vary his performance in order to avoid sounding repetitive?

DJ Khushboo: Nerm is a technically very gifted DJ so he can turn his hand to mixing any tempo and style of dance music. He's the kind of DJ who likes to take you on a journey in his set so he'll generally mix up breakbeats and drum 'n' bass with the occasional bhangra track which the crowd always love.

Like all the Swaraj crew his performances are quite theatrical and we all like to get behind the decks in each other's sets to jump about and have a laugh. That's all part of the entertainment but it comes naturally to us because we love what we do. There's nothing worse than watching a DJ who looks bored and doesn't interact with the crowd.

Growing up in a western environment to what extent did you'll manage to keep in touch with Indian culture and its values? Is it a push and pull situation?

DJ Khushboo: Yes but it's the same for any immigrant community. You do stay in touch with Indian culture, some people more than others, but you also forge your own culture and identity by fusing the two together. That's why clubs like Swaraj are important, they're a forum for that expression and exploring these ideas. I know that sounds a bit pretentious but more Asians in the UK are realising now that we have our own unique culture and it's rapidly expanding in all directions. Music is a key factor in that change and people need places to go to hear that music.

Is the club scene very different in the UK, US as compared to Asia and India? In what manner has it evolved?

DJ Khushboo: The UK and US's club scenes are bigger and more evolved than in India and Asia. It is inevitable as so much dance music comes from those countries and has done so for 30 years or more. This is changing though as dance music becomes ever more global. Swaraj has performed all over the world in Cape Town, India, The States, all round Europe and South East Asia.

There are no major markets that aren't open to us really. It's a major cultural and commercial force in the West, it's mainstream music now unlike 30 years ago. This is Swaraj's second time in India now, when we started the night I always thought it would be great to play in India and it is something I have actively pursued since but back then these doors weren't open to us. Now it's a different ball game and we've got all sorts of potential spin-offs off the back of this event.

Similarly Dum Dum have a regular club night in Bangkok. India and Asia are potentially massive markets for Swaraj's music and I am very excited about releasing music over here.

Sean: It is totally different in the US and UK, but way ahead of its Asian and Indian counterparts. The scene is more experimental in UK, more hip hop/r&b based in the US. Asia and India seem like at least five years behind, despite the best efforts of channels like MTV. It comes down to the cutting edge sounds that don't make it to the TV especially the underground sounds.

What role have music channels like MTV played in creating awareness about dance and fusion music?

DJ Khushboo: MTV has played a vital role all over the world in creating awareness of dance music. I actually used to work for MTV in London before I started Swaraj so I know a lot about their reach and influence. MTV India is the number one music channel in the country and so I jumped at the chance to work with them on the Mikanos event.

They have been playing our music on the channel and have hooked us up with Radio Mirchi who have also been playing our music. They were also great last year when we played at Fire & Ice and filmed that event too. With all the added Press interest they've supported and promoted us really well in India.

Sean: Ha! I think I just said it. It's like this: Years ago there was a huge divide between east and west even urban and rural us. Now kids in Thailand and Moscow dress in baggy clothes and quote Eminem and 50 cent rhyme for rhyme!

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