You have made your mark as one of the most exciting, experimental and edgy musicians in India. Could you start by telling us how and when you decided to take up music fulltime?
A. I always had music in my life, even while growing up. When I was a kid, my parents would play a bunch of older Bollywood stuff in the house—R.D. Burman, Anandji and Kayanji, that kind of stuff. When I was in school and met Mayur [Narvekar], we hit it off and started producing a few tracks together on an old computer (that I think I still have somewhere). Soon after, we started playing live together in Ahmedabad, and it just kind of took off from there.
Q. What kind of struggles did you have to endure along the way when you set out as an independent musician?
A. In the years when the Bandish Projekt was beginning to take off, there was basically no infrastructure for the independent music industry—the way we have nowadays, especially in Ahmedabad. This meant we had to pretty much do everything ourselves: organising farmhouse parties for gigs, distributing our music ourselves, and trying to reach out to anyone that could help us build the project further. Seeing all these platforms today with a bunch of different festivals, media platforms, clubs and promoters actively thriving off independent music is very heartening. Of course, when the Bandish Projekt ended, after 10 years of being a band, those were some tough years. My wife Smriti really helped, she worked while I focused on music and on how to get Nucleya off the ground.
Q. When you’re performing live as a DJ, how do you establish what kind of tracks will work where? How do you curate your set list?
A. The sets I have been playing over the last year or so now comprise about 80% my own original music from the three Nucleya releases. I only really use other peoples’ music as a quick transition between my own tracks, or drop a song if it's super current and popular. In fact, most of the audience gets annoyed if I drop other peoples’ music and not my own as they are really there to hear my stuff. I try to lay the tracks out in a way where it's a nice mix of stuff over the last few releases, and then often some newer stuff that is not out there, that I crowd-test before releasing.
Q. What do you think a DJ can do to make the audiences appreciate the complexities involved in the art of DJ-ing?
A. I don’t think the audiences actually need to appreciate the complexities in DJ-ing—they are there to have fun and dance, not really to watch how technically proficient I am. Nowadays, the set is much more of a show than just me showcasing my DJ skills. I really try to engage them on the mic, we have pyrotechnics, a full-blown visual show and a bunch of SFX that really add to the overall impact of the show.
“The sets I have been playing over the last year or so now comprise about 80% my own original music from the three Nucleya releases. I only really use other peoples’ music as a quick transition between my own tracks, or drop a song if it's super current and popular. In fact, most of the audience gets annoyed if I drop other peoples’ music and not my own as they are really there to hear my stuff.”
Q. A lot in your music is derived from random sounds one hears on the streets. What is it about these ‘found noises’ that so appeals to you?
A. That is the real music of India. It’s the stuff that is genuine to each part of the country that I draw from. My music is about taking those styles, sounds and rhythms and producing them electronically. It appeals to people because there is a level of familiarity already, because people hear these street sounds all around them, almost daily. I’m adding my flavour to that, producing an electronic-bass version.
Q. Today, Nucleya’s music is played everywhere—from gyms to nightclubs. What was your formula for building such a huge fan base? And what makes your music so popular?
A. One of the reasons is that we release our music for free. Almost all of the music I have ever made as Nucleya is available for free download from my Bandcamp page. We did this consciously because we knew that in India a lot of our fans don’t have credit cards or access to iTunes, etc. When you put a payment gateway between the music and the fans, it negatively impacts distribution. So, instead of this, we choose to give our music away for free. A lot of labels have made offers to us to sign with them but we prefer to stay independent and harness the power of the internet to get the tracks out there as widely as possible. When it's free, there is no barrier as to how fast the music can be distributed or how widely it can spread.
Q. Your music moves across different genres and yet carries the stamp of your signature style. Could you take us through your creative process?
A. It usually starts with me humming a melody into my phone or recording it on my computer webcam. It can also start with some Indian drum sounds that I really like. Then, from there I start to produce on Ableton Live and flesh out the idea I had. Then I’ll start arranging the parts to make sure the melody and hook really shine. Lastly, I’ll go into mix-down and mastering. I’ll often play versions of newer tracks at shows and gauge the crowd reaction, and if something is not working or needs fixing, I tweak it and tighten it up.
Q. How to choose the artistes and musicians you want to collaborate with?
A. I like to work with people that I think are really talented, and when I think I can really bring something to the table and contribute to the creative process. It doesn’t matter if they are already big, or famous, or successful, or completely unknown—if they inspire me creatively then I want to work with them.
Q. What is your opinion on original music and remixes?
A. You need to have original music in place before it can be remixed. Hence, I spend more of my time nowadays working on brand-new original tracks rather than remixes.
Q. How has technology contributed to your music?
A. Music production has been democratised now. Everyone can download a DAW (digital audio workstation) onto their computer and try their hand at production. I think it’s really great and has led to a lot of producers being very inspired and just going for it. This results in a bunch of really interesting new sounds and styles, which I think in turn inspires me to keep pushing the envelope. Also, the technology in the mixers and CDJ’s nowadays is just incredible—it has really simplified playing live.
Q. What kind of music do you listen to these days?
A. I check Soundcloud and Bandcamp pretty regularly. I like to dig and find new gems that are not perhaps that well known. I like doing that over big-room stuff or tracks coming out on big international labels. I also listen to a lot of classical music (both Indian and Western), as we usually have that on in the house for my son. I still love the older Bollywood stuff as well. I don’t listen to the newer stuff, but Bollywood from the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s still gets played in my house pretty frequently.
Q. What’s next for Nucleya?
A. We will have some singles coming out this year. Some will be collaborations and some just my own tracks. Divine and I have a song in Mukebaaz, which is Anurag’s new movie that I’m excited about. There are some super exciting plans in the live space that I can’t talk about too much, but definitely stay tuned as this season is shaping up to be the biggest one yet.
Ride To The Roots, a new documentary on Nucleya, produced by Red Bull Media House, will be premiered on VH1 on 15 August.