NEW DELHI: Disc jockeys are thriving in India’s lively electronic music scene as rising incomes draw more people to nightclubs and western influence grows.
Remixing, cueing music and scratching vinyl records are new-found passions for young Indians who aspire to be DJs, a career that until recently was misunderstood and often ridiculed.
In a tiny nightclub in India’s capital city New Delhi, lights spin around DJ Nasha whose pulsating music has the hip-shaking crowd yearning for more original remixes.
Late after midnight as he fades the set, enthusiastic fans surround him for a look at his console and flood him with requests for lessons in the art of mixing.
‘This acceptance and love has come after years of rejection,’ said Nasha, 32, who like other Indian DJs uses only his stage name — which means ‘intoxication’ in Hindi.
Dressed in shocking red trousers and sporting wiry hair, Nasha is among India’s most popular DJs and performs at international music festivals, playing a new genre of Indian songs blended with electronic music.
On weekdays he trains aspiring DJs for a fee in his studio in Goa, a party destination on India’s western coast.
Other sought-after Indian DJs include Aqeel, Suketu and Pearl who travel extensively abroad, perform at high-profile parties, and enjoy celebrity status for gigs.
More than a decade ago, when Nasha chose DJ-ing as a full-time job, his family did not understand why anyone would choose to go to clubs and play blaring western music before a tipsy crowd.
‘Go get a real job,’ was a frequent suggestion.
In the past five years, however, flashy nightclubs have mushroomed in Indian cities to cater for the young and affluent who choose to unwind in pubs, splurge on drinks and enjoy music.
A recent report by the Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry stated that the music business is booming, with rising incomes leading more and more Indians to spend on leisure and entertainment.
Clubs, discotheques and lounge bars are crowded with chic Indians who understand and appreciate a DJ’s skill and are willing to pay high entry charges to listen to their music.
The interest in DJ-ing is also visible at schools where hundreds of young Indians enrol every year to learn the art of mixing.
‘It is now considered cool to be a DJ in India,’ said Nucleya who started mixing music in a musty basement using audio tapes as he could not afford to buy compact discs or a vinyl turntable.
Nucleya says his years of struggle are history and he is now paid well. His line of work is even respected by his family.
Performances by popular DJs are well-publicised and covered extensively by the media. Clubs often invite foreign DJs to play alongside the Indian stars.
‘A good DJ is like a magnet. He has the power to attract people to the club,’ says Abhishek Nanda of Manre, a swanky club in New Delhi.
But not every DJ is lucky enough to make it to a nightclub.
Most home-grown disc jockeys have no formal training in music or in remixing. They play the easily accessible non-stop CDs of Bollywood music and popular sets released by international DJs.
‘Be it a wedding, birthday or even a baby shower, DJs are hired to keep the party going,’ says Rohan Vijay who runs ‘MusicMix,’ a small DJ training school in Mumbai.
‘People in India love dancing. They could go to a posh club or even host a small party in a matchbox-size apartment, a DJ is now a must-have for any party,’ Vijay said.
A student at MusicMix, DJ Fire is a 19-year-old school drop-out who thinks the job could be a ticket to fame and fortune.
Fire plays Bollywood music at religious festivals organised in the congested slums of Mumbai. He cannot understand the lyrics of the English songs but says he plays them as people enjoy fast music.
‘I am a DJ for the slums and the poor. They have a right to dance too,’ said Fire.
A handful of DJs trained in classical Indian music use it as a base to produce new remixes and launch music albums.
Mayur, who performs under the name Bandish Projekt, plays the tabla, a type of Indian drum, along with trance, techno and hip hop genres of music.
His unique blend has won him critical praise and he has been invited to several music festivals in Europe.
‘Soon there will an Indian DJ on every corner of the street but only people with understanding for music will survive and many might just fade away like any music track,’ he said.