Beyond the Disco

The ‘second generation’ of electronic music production in India forays into art space

01 April 2010
Nikhel Mahajan and Avinash Kumar at Parallel Dimensions (2009) at Lodi Restaurant.

AS A TEENAGER IN MID-LATE-1990S America, I used to think electronic music was strictly the reserve of all-night events held in dirty industrial warehouses and deserted forest clearings. These nights were always referred to as parties and never raves—years of bad press had given the word ‘rave’ seedy drug-culture connotations. Parties were advertised on brightly coloured laser-printed fliers that were passed on at other events by teenagers in baggy pants and Adidas tennis visors. The event locations were not disclosed until the night of: attendees had to call info-lines, phone numbers printed on the backs of the fliers. While this last-minute scramble lent to the proceedings a certain air of mystery, the real reason for this secrecy was to keep the police from gate-crashing. An ocean and a continent away in Europe, more liberal attitudes towards nightlife meant that electronic music had long since penetrated the mainstream.

It’s now normal to hear electronic music in commercial nightclubs across the world. India has a burgeoning electronic music scene of its own, with venues such as Mumbai’s Blue Frog and record labels like Delhi’s DadA Music helping electronic beats stay afloat in a scene previously dominated by Bollywood remixes and American hip-hop. And although the masses in India are becoming increasingly accustomed to hearing this music, the genre still remains, for the most part, restricted to nightclubs. And while electronic music is now widely associated with dancing and revelry, it certainly didn’t start that way.

Electronic is rooted in the tradition of ‘art music,’ a descendant of Western classical that challenges structural conventions and oftentimes requires attentive listening to be appreciated fully. Nowadays, some six-plus decades after the emergence of electronic production technology, this music has begun to regain acceptance in the notoriously critical art world, especially in the West, where the tradition of sound art, or sonic art, can be traced back to the early part of the 20th century. In India, electronic sounds are still inextricable from both popular and club music, although these notions are beginning to change. People are now beginning to take note of the flexibility and infinite musical possibility that electronic production offers, and partnerships between musicians and visual artists are being forged that may help electronic music move into spaces where it would previously have been rejected.

Margot Bigg  is an independent journalist who writes on travel, culture and the arts for publications in India and abroad.