interview by dimmSummer
transcribed by laura
listen: RealAudio 40kbs streaming
ET: This is ethnotechno's interview with Niraj Chag and Ges-e. We are in London at some big-ass party and both Niraj and I are about to lose our voices, so bear with us. Why don't you tell us a little bit about Eastern Drum and Breaks, how long it took you to get all the tracks together?
Ges-E: It's taken the good part of a year, maybe a little longer actually, just basically setting up a whole record label and looking for the right tracks. I had loads of tracks to choose from as well, so it was quite difficult. But basically just getting producers to finish tracks is a mission in itself...as you know, Niraj! (laughter)
ET: Niraj, what do you have to say about that?
Niraj: I have no comments on this above-said notion that I was late with my track.
ET: What's the track all about?
Niraj: It's a drum and bass number, with crazy bols, mad chopped-up-ness and wicked beats.
ET: Who did the bols on it, Aref?
Niraj: I just used samples, from a whole bunch of different sources...which I can't say whether they're legal are not, not in front of Ges-e! (laughter)
ET: You guys find that a lot, like you get a dope track and then there's somebody who won't let you use their vocals, and it just fucks everything up and you gotta find somebody to redo it?
Ges-E: Yeah, but you just have to kinda get on with it. Sometimes the old-school method is the best method, just get on with it, you just put a record out. Lots of bootlegs have been put out which have then in turn become quite popular and sold thousands of copies. So it can work for both parties, really.
ET: What do you guys think of the drum and bass vibe here? Is it still going strong, has it gone back underground?
Ges-E: It's seriously heavy. About a week ago I was at Movement and it was seriously heavy. We walked in and it was myself, Nerm, Badmarsh and a friend of mine, Ruki [Rookie?], who went down, and as we walked in they were playing Badmarsh and Shri's "Signs," the drum and bass Calibre mix, and it was really good. It's all fresh, Metalhead's kicked off again, Grooverider's going his night at Herbal, Grace's Sunday after-hours...it's always been there, but it's just kind of come back again.
ET: The whole Asian scene seems like a resurgence, I even heard that some people who fell out of it want to get back into it.
Ges-E: Like every other scene, you have peaks and then you have points where things are not so productive, but at those moments, people are in the studio, maybe, just researching and putting ideas together. What everyone else should remember as well is that there aren't very many producers out there. There are only a handful of us around the world that make this sort of music, eastern breakbeat or Asian breaks or whatever. So there's only so much you can expect, really. How many albums can we do?
ET: Niraj, how do you feel about the saturation of the Buddha Beats and the Buddha Bars and the Buddha Lounges and these comps that come out once every two weeks? It's pretty much the antithesis of what you guys seem to be doing. What are your feelings on that? Is it exposed here as much as it is in the U.S.?
Niraj: It's pretty similar to...I've been travelling quite a lot lately and it seems to be happening everywhere, this kind of ubiquitous trend. I think it does devalue music to a certain extent because ultimately people get saturated with the same things. Most of them have all the same tracks, really if you look at them everybody's accessing the same tracks, so the kind of exposure that new talent's getting is minimized by this. That's one thing which concerns me more than anything -- it's cool that there's a lot more music out there but when it's the same tracks on every single compilation and the same names coming again and again and again it's like...
Ges-E: It just gets a bit boring, which is one of the reasons why we set up Nasha Records, it was basically a response to this. There are plenty of compilations out there, anybody can do a compilation. I've had many opportunities over the years to put these compilations together -- it's not what I want to do. I'd rather research and find new music and make new music myself and work and collaborate with other friends of mine and put something fresh out there. I DJ out, I DJ all the time, pretty much every week, and I need music that's pretty hard-hitting or dancefloor-friendly. There's a lot of music out there which is more chilled-out or laid back -- we've got plenty of that, we've got plenty of chilled-out beats, but what we need now is more stuff on the dancefloor, people want to dance to this stuff so this is one of our main aims with the compilation.
ET: Now both you guys were on the Outcaste "New Breed" CD which came out quite a number of years ago. What was going on with the whole Outcaste label? You guys kinda disappeared after that, and now you're coming back really strong with the Nasha label.
Niraj: For me it was all cool and we both went our separate ways and they had their agenda and I had my agenda and we wanted to seek different things, so we just separated. I still work with them under a whole bunch of pseudonyms, I've done some stuff for their flamenco compilations, bits and pieces here and there. They've licensed tracks from the Dum Dum Project, we did the Taro thing for the second flamenco compilation, and we still think they're a great label, it's just that I think what they're about is continually evolving, and same with me, and we just evolved in separate ways.
ET: So what is your way that you've evolved? After years of not seeing you, you kinda popped up again on the Yoga Chill CD, and you're here and there under pseudonyms...
Niraj: Yeah, I went underground and I tried to work out ways that I could ultimately make money out of music. In that time I worked out whole new avenues for making music and making money out of music. You'll see a whole bunch of new things happening, from Dum Dum Project to a whole bunch of commercial pop releases that I've produced and co-written, hopefully you'll see a lot more of my name now because I've just been building the groundwork of what I want to do in the near future. So it's just been a putting the legs on the table exercise.
ET: What do you guys feel about the whole pop bhangra market, which has kind of overshadowed what was going on 7-8 years ago with the Anokha crew and the Asian Underground? Has the Asian Underground resurged as a response to the whole bhangra thing, or as a response to the chill thing? Why is there a renewed interest in these serious beats?
Ges-E: The whole bhangra thing, it's always been there just like our music's always been there, it was there before Anokha happened. I remember in '92 I was at Bass Clef where Joi used to do their night on a Thursday night, and we used to put on things in Brick Lane a long long time ago, so our scene has been there a long time, and so has the bhangra thing, it's been there a lot longer than our scene has. I suppose it was just time for the bhangra scene, really. They were really hungry to break the commercial market and they were talking about it from back in the '80s, they wanted to do the whole pop market and they just couldn't do it. Finally with Panjabi MC and a few other tracks, they've kind of broken through. But our scene, our aim wasn't to make popular music, it was just to make music that we like, music that we want to put out -- dance music. I wouldn't call it happy music and party music, it's a little bit more serious, I suppose. But it's dance music, nonetheless. People like both.
ET: Are you guys both from the UK, born and bred, or originally from back in the subcontinent? What's your story, and why does your music have to have the Asian influence? Are you guys doing stuff that doesn't have an Asian influence?
Niraj: I was actually born in a village in India...nah, I was born in Southampton. I was born in a medium-sized down in the south coast of England and I started experimenting with Asian fusion stuff when I came to London, more so. I saw so many subcultures and so many different scenes. In Southampton I was experimenting a little bit but I had no avenues for the music, so I would be doing more standard drum and bass, standard breaks, what everybody else was doing. I didn't really have an identity, I was just forming an identity and I saw in London what was happening and it really helped me find my niche, I suppose.
Ges-E: I was always into dance music. I started DJing when I left school and I got into the whole radio station vibe and doing clubs and I was involved in music from that time, when I was 15, 16. I used to play a lot of hardcore music, which became drum and bass, I used to play hip-hop and that sort of music, hip-house or whatever. I just knew if you put a tabla rhythm to some of these beats, they would just work naturally. I grew up listening to a lot of Qawwali music, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Aziz Miah, we had that around the house a lot, we didn't actually grow up with the whole Bollywood industry, my parents weren't really into that whole scene. It was like a natural thing for me, really, I just wanted to give back something from where I was from, I suppose. It was just a natural progression growing up in east London, growing up in Brick Lane, I suppose it's a kind of acceptance as well. I wanted to be a part of the whole drum and bass scene, the whole dance culture, but I wanted to give a little something different and I knew I could, and that's what I tried to do.
ET: So how long have you been at this?
Ges-E: How long have we been at this? Since about 15, I suppose.
ET: How old are you now?
Ges-E: I'm 28 now, so how many...
ET: Thirteen years.
Ges-E: Thirteen years, there you go.
ET: How about you?
Niraj: Part of the music industry, or part of...?
ET: Just about maybe you chasing this music and trying to express yourself via whatever you would find as elements and then making it to a level where now you're producing stuff that people are really listening to.
Niraj: I suppose really I started when I was about 12. I used to play in a band with my brother, at Asian weddings and that whole scene. I did the minimal amount of work, which was pressing start and stop on the rhythm composer, the TR-707 drum machine. Then I went on to keys after that, and then I went on to play bass in a band, then I just dissolved it and found my first...it was a hip-hop band, actually, called The Scrappies, I was around 14, 15, and that dissolved within 6 months but we did a couple of gigs and then I went on to do the Outcaste stuff, that was what happened initially.
ET: Now you're signed to Artful Dodger, right?
Niraj: I've signed a publishing deal with Stop, Rock and Roll, which is Mark Hill's company, which is effectively Warner Brothers. Mark Hill did Artful Dodger, he did the first Craig David record, so we're doing a whole bunch of mainstream high-profile productions and writing for these artists as well.
ET: Your background in hip-hop, is that why you and Sean get along so well? Because he started off in a hip-hop band, The Toasters, way way WAY back when...
Niraj: Do you remember The Toasters?
ET: It was before my time, but the name comes around, bubbles up sometimes, people say "Oh, The Toasters..."
Niraj: Yeah, it was weird because I started out with Sean, he started Dum Dum Project in New York, and I did a remix for one of his records when he signed to Silva Screen here in London. He was looking to collaborate, and he was really into what I was doing and I was always into what he was doing and we ended up just collaborating. We both wanted to go into a more vocal-driven, hip-hop direction, and that's exactly where Dum Dum Project is headed.
ET: What would you say about the impact of the Eastern Drum n Breaks CD, because the music has gotten quite watered down with all these chillout compilations, and a lot of people are going that route, because it seems that's what people want to hear nowadays, but then there's a small contingent who still want that hard edge.
Ges-E: Yes, it's all good man, we're just trying to aim for the club market. It's not all dancefloor stuff on the compilation, there are some mellow tracks as well, more chilled out and even some very interesting electronic tracks on there which are not necessarily dancefloor, so we've got a mix of everything, but it's important to have dancefloor elements, it really is.
ET: And then you want to listen to it over and over and over and start moving.
Ges-E: There was a period where we weren't playing too many tunes because there weren't many out there and obviously there aren't many labels pushing that sort of sound, so it's been difficult, but we're still working away.
ET: So are there any younger people that we should keep an ear out for?
Ges-E: Activ8or, InvAsian Crew, we're working with ADF, they do their own thing as well, so they're definitely guys to check out. There's lots of little groups in east London, rappers and MCs and producers who are doing things, and hopefully we'll get some of them put on the next compilation, so it should be interesting.
ET: You guys know of any names you're keeping your ear on in the U.S. right now?
Ges-E: We've got a track by Navdeep called Amrit on the compilation which is a beautiful track and I think it's a beautiful way to end the compilation. There's this beautiful vocal line and a really mellow drum and bass part. I finish lots of my sets with that track and it's really beautiful, so Navdeep is definitely one to check for. And also the Bandish Projekt, who are originally from Ahmedabad in India, who have moved to Dubai now -- they're another outfit who are really coming up with creative, really interesting beats.
ET: Is there anyone that you're paying attention to?
Niraj: In the States? Is DJ Sanj from the States?
ET: I think Sanj may be from the States, yeah.
Niraj: I've heard some of his stuff and it really stuck out to me, a couple of his remixes. I don't know much about him but I just heard a remix and I thought wow, this is a really really cool mix. He had the balls to just be pure bhangra with it. Speaking of the whole U.S. thing, I think we're one of the few cliques that have really integrated what the U.S. is about and what the UK is about. Sean and Shanti are from the U.S. and I'm from here, so it seems to be a really good marriage, the hip-hop stuff. Shanti's a great MC and Sean knows hip-hop really well from The Toasters and Unity2 and from my background here with the whole Asian scene here, I think that has led to a really interesting marriage which I hope is going to be successful. It already is successful, actually, so fuck it. (laughter)
ET: I wish you guys the best of luck. You guys have your own things going but you're still working together and it's just really nice to see that. A lot of people get in their own tribes and can't...
Ges-E: It's always been and it always will be about a collective effort and a whole family vibe. It's very important to maintain that, that's where we'll grow. We need to have a strong foundation so that we can build on that and the younger crew can come on and feel safe and welcome.