Nucleya :: Horn OK Please
A nation's wealth is usually measured by a number of economic indicators, at the forefront of which are its GDP and GNP. Rarely does India come in higher than the bottom one-third of world rankings according to those indicators. There is, however, a currency according to which India would certainly rank in the top 5 countries worldwide in terms of influence. That "soft power", if harnessed to its fullest extent, has the potential of being India's biggest export. Many of us grew up with tales told by our parents about locals breaking out into Raj Kapoor songs on the streets of places like Moscow and St. Petersburg at a time when most Western forms of pop culture were banned in the Soviet Union. Indian visitors to Afghanistan were often serenaded by Kabulis in Hindi, a far cry from the Dari and Pashto, which they call their own. Even today, the chances of catching a German-dubbed Shah Rukh Khan emoting on your screen on any given day on RTL, Germany's largest cable television channel, is pretty high. The phenomenon I speak of, is of course, Bollywood.
While its film format has remained popular in far flung countries over the years due largely to the escape-from-reality and melodrama it promises, Bollywood music has only recently started to gain a massive international following and that is largely due to a single timid South Indian personality from Chennai. Even Rahman's best work has largely gone unrecognized outside of India. The likes of next-gen composers Salim-Sulaiman and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy are far from getting the accolades they deserve outside Mumbai. As these, and more, music makers from the sub-continent build their repositories, their experiments with and exposure to technology also increase. Yuppie filmmaker of the moment, Farhan Akhtar, commissioned the MIDIval PunditZ and Karsh Kale for the recent Karthik Calling Karthik soundtrack. The awareness and interest in electronic dance music is growing within India and it was only a matter of time before Western audiences were able to look beyond the arrangements and themes of Bollywood music and see the natural progression into its potential for dance club and chart status.
Treading, and blazing his way through, both of these paths is perhaps India's finest contemporary producer, Udyan Sagar, also known as Nucleya. Branching out on his own after forming the acclaimed underground electronic duo Bandish Projekt, Nucleya has of late played a big part in putting dubstep on Indian dancefloors and headphones with his productions. With Horn OK Please he takes on the untampered-with bastion of Bollywood and does a more than commendable job. This 7-track set, named after the most ubiquitous of phrases found on the backs of trucks and commercial vehicles of all sorts in India, achieves the unthinkable. High-energy dance tracks built around Bollywood samples and arrangements that will certainly play out well in India's clubs.
Nucleya's biggest achievement on this album is his fusing of his optimal underground electronica sensibilities with mainstream compositions of yesteryear. Each of the original songs are classics in their own right and most are considered semi-sacred to the Bollywood purist — from Bappi Lahiri's we-don't-know-if-he's-taking-the-piss title theme of 1982's cult status, rags-to-riches tale Disco Dancer to the R.D. Burman composed ode to highly suspect substances (picturized by the inimitable Zeenat Aman swaying in ecstasy), "Dum Maro Dum". Both of these tracks and original vocal samples are given Nucleya's finest 4/4 meets dirty synth treatment.
He knocks it out of the park with the openers - "Aao Huzur" - made famous by the pseudo-mystical German lounge artist Karunesh and Buddha Bar - but it actually originates all the way back to 1968 via Asha Bhonsle's rendition in Kismat. Revisiting the sound of his earlier dancefloor stompers from 2008, "Laila Sawtooth 16" and "Mehbooba Madness" (the later now out on
dimmSummer's Ethnotechno.com: Revolution Rising India version on Universal Music), and "Boom Boom" give us discerning electronica DJs enough fodder to get us through our next requests for Bollywood. This is Bollywood, our way.
The first special mention goes to "Chandan Sa Badan" which transforms the much-loved lilting melody of Mukesh and Lata into a breakbeat fuelled kicker of a track, rounding it off with a dubstep rhythm. Few producers have the guts or talent to make someone as revered as Mukesh sound this tweaked and grimy.
The second special, and closing, moment of the album is Nucleya and Sound Avtar's (Piyush Bhatnagar) tremendous refix of another Bappi Lahiri masterpiece, "Raat Baki" from the Amitabh Bachchan starrer, Namak Halal. A booming, made-for-the-dancefloor bassline and infectious synth line make this one an instant favorite. Bhatnagar's fast becoming a household name in underground circles and also has to his name, two of the best remixes in recent memory — "Rain" by Rita Morar & Steve 'Fingerz' Carty and Gaudi's "Bad Boy Bass". Keep a look out.
Horn OK Please shows us that there has been no scarcity of remix-friendly Bollywood music — it just took someone as cutting edge and innovative as Nucleya to bring it to us, and our soft power is better off for it.