interview by dimmSummer
transcribed by laura
listen: Streaming MP3 40kbs mono
ET: This is ethnotechno's interview with Jayant, here in Delhi, India. Can I ask how old you are? Because you seem to be quite a young lad. How long have you been producing music or DJing? What happened first? DJing and then producing? Was it a natural progression for you?
Jayant: I'm 27, and I started when I was 16. I was a really bad student. I never got into the whole studying thing. I did fine art and stuff, but at 16 I had a huge turning point because I wanted to just pursue music and I didn't know what I had to do. I wanted to learn music, or teach it, I just wanted to be in music. So I started working for a gift shop kind of situation, a local summer job kind of a thing where I used to sell mix tapes and sell greeting cards and gifts -- it was like a small gift shop and they sold music also. I used to mix music using two tape decks and sell it for really cheap. Then I started doing little house parties for school kids. I didn't know the whole concept of DJing, then when I heard a radio interview once on AIR FM (All India Radio), this is back in '96...oh shit, that's a really long time ago. (laughter) And then this DJ, he mixed two songs, he said "OK, fine" and took two songs -- it was UB40's "Can't Help Falling in Love" and "Sweat," so he just mixed two songs and I was like, "Wow, what is this?" But I was listening to a lot of '80s electropop and stuff, but I didn't know the concept to say "OK, now I want to start DJing." So in '96, me and a few people started working for a couple of local mobile DJ outfits and stuff like that. I trained myself -- I used to work on pitch-controled tape decks -- there was no concept of CD players in India then, no CDs then. Go to the studio and record, stuff from vinyls, put it onto DATs or chrome tapes, it was like this really cool thing. It used to cost a bomb. So then I just started DJing and here I am.
ET: Well what about all this Indian stuff? When did that come about for you? Was there any idea for you to do the same thing, or did you have to meet other people and then see what they were doing? Or did you have a similar idea, mixing sounds from this land with the sounds you were getting from the West?
Jayant: The first track I ever heard with Indian vocals was actually Astral Projections' "Mahadeva" so that kind of kicked off a "Wow, what is this?" And there was no Asian Underground then. The only time you heard cross-cultural or cross-musical experiments was when some jazz band used to have a flute player with them, or some really famous classical artist jamming with a rock band, you know, something like that. But that almost never happened, it was very rare. You heard stories about Pandit Ravi Shankar playing with George Harrison and stuff like that, and it was only stories. You find music over here...pop was always big here, and rock was always big here, so the whole electronic scene in '96 was just like an explosion when Goa trance just hit the city. All these labels like Cosmosis and Hypertrax and all these guys, they all came in and you could hear African beats mixed with trance beats. So that was kind of the beginning for me, that's when I heard a lot of it. Chillout is doing a lot of Indian classical music, very psychedelic. And people here didn't have any clue what was going on, they were just hearing it, saying "Wow, what's this?"
ET: When did you meet the Punditz, then? Did you already know them at this point?
Jayant: I heard of Punditz in '97, '98, in the heydays of Cyber Mehfils, when Cyber Mehfils were the most radical kind of situation. So I was really impressed, because by then I was experimenting with taking tabla samples and dropping it into mixes and making loops and using two, three decks at the same time -- you know, just remixing live a lot of Indian popular music, Bollywood music, and making it into tech-house tracks. So I played at this club called Someplace Else, one of the most underground clubs.
ET: It was someplace else.
Jayant: It was someplace else. (laughter) It was one of the favorite places I've ever played in my life.
ET: What year was this?
Jayant: This was '98, '99.
ET: So this is right before you met Punditz.
Jayant: Yes, that's where they did a Cyber Mehfil first -- there, and I got an opportunity to play with them. And that's when they said "Wow, this guy has to come and do something or play with us." And Tapan said "Would you like to play for a Mehfil?" and I was like "Sure!" And since then I've played for almost all of them. So that was a turning point for me. And Tapan gave me my first set of software... I used to work with Fruity Loops, I was making a lot of stuff, but I had the demo versions so I couldn't save my files. So once I started a track, I had to finish it!
ET: Is that how you work now? You pretty much start a track, and you just finish it, you don't sit on it?
Jayant: Yep, yeah. And I told the Punditz the stuff I'd been making and he was like "Come on, I'll give you this, you can start off with this" so he gave me Fruity Loops and Acid and... you know what I mean. (laughter)
ET: Yeaaaaah... So then were you just interested in doing remixes? Around the same time you probably heard about Talvin Singh. I think he probably came here and saw this whole other wave of these people doing this kind of music.
Jayant: The whole Anokha wave was also happening at the same time. And for me, that time of my life was just so hectic with DJing that I never had the inclination to just sit down and start making music because firstly, I never had the time for it. I was enjoying DJing to the core, I still do, I love it. And then the DMC Championships were happening, so it was pretty tight for me. I was doing some wedding parties, house parties, then doing my own thing at the club. There was this place called No Escape -- now they were the first place to open, Deeraj's Shalom and the Laid Back Waters -- a fun joint kind of a place where all of us used to just come and hang out and play music. So it just happened. I was playing in some pub the night before that, and it was kind of an empty club, and Talvin entered. I'd met him before with Guarav somewhere...outdoors, actually. It was kind of funny, the first time I met him outside i started jumping and Guarav was like, "Dude, you need to chill out man. Chill out!" (laughter) So then he said "Come, do you want to come and play with me tomorrow?" so I was like "Yeah!" And so I did a one hour set or something and the place was packed -- like, I've never seen that place so packed. That night was something else.
ET: Well, was this the only place that this kind of stuff was happening, at No Escape?
Jayant: It was a good venue. In Delhi it's very difficult to find good venues and people who actually support independent music and electronic music. Other than the mainstream clubs, there's no way out. The mainstream always rules over the rest of the other genres of music.
ET: There's no escape.
Jayant: There is no escape!
ET: How would you compare it to, say, now? Here you've got Laid Back Waters, you've got Shalom -- I guess all those clubs are started by one guy, but also you can do pretty big events at Elevate now, which is a pretty big club. So comparatively, do you think it's getting watered down, or do you think it's getting better and better and better here?
Jayant: Well, it's getting better for sure, but it's kind of in a confused state right now because everybody's trying out a lot of things and everyone is...they're open to it. And luckily the mainstream has taken a bit of a back seat because the general public, they don't want to go and hear the same music at every freaking place they go in. They won't have a good time. And the band culture has really kicked in, big-time.
ET: So would you say that there's a happy medium being found between the electronic music and...for example, the Punditz's shows now tend to be live -- like they'll have a flute player and a tabla player and a sitar and whatever come in, and plus electronics... so there's this nice happy medium between electronic music from two years ago and now the live band thing coming back and they're kind of smack in the middle of that.
Jayant: Yeah, come to think of it, it would never have happened if only the classical community... it was very stiff & rigid community, now they're a bit lenient because they want to experiment. It's not frowned upon in the classical community any more if you're collaborating. Earlier you had to collaborate with someone who was as creative or as talented or as popular or as big as you are. Now if you're good, if your music's great, that's what gets people together and that's what everyone is looking at. It's like a fresh wave of music.
ET: What do you derive more joy out of -- making your own tracks from scratch, just searching for samples out of a whole bunch of nonsense and throwing stuff in and seeing what works and what doesn't work, or doing remixes where you have an original track, you know the vibe of the track, and you have a whole bunch of quality samples that you just kind of go to town with? Do you get more joy out of that, or do you think there's more joy in trying to explore things, or do you think the exploration is the same in both?
Jayant: Yeah, exploration is the same in both. For me, remixing is more fun. It's more fun because you already have the emotion and the concept and the song written out, and then it's like a war of wits, what happens if you think of the song the way you want to make it. So that's fun.
ET: When you do a remix, do you have carte blanche, like a free rein over how you're going to approach it? Or do people come to you and say "Oh, we heard this other track, we want a house track just like it, or an electro track just like this, or..." Do you have a lot of freedom in what you do, in how you approach it?
Jayant: Fortunately til now, yes. But a lot of times mostly everyone just leaves it to me, you know, "You do your thing." But for me it's good to know what the original composer is looking for or feeling also at the same time, because you have to give that respect to the composer. It is his song, right? And he's given you the opportunity to play with that, and go around and see another view of it. But it's nice to know sometimes "OK, I know I am looking at this direction, but it's entirely up to you, you might not want to go there, but see if it works out." So most of the time I also look at the same direction, but I never do it. (laughter)
ET: What's the best compliment you've received about one of your pieces of music or remix?
Jayant: ... "Slammer." (laughter) "BRO, It's a slammer."
ET: So that speaks volumes for you, yeah?
Jayant: Yeah. I'm not really good at taking compliments also.
ET: Why not?
Jayant: I look away.
ET: So you're shy. You get embarrassed?
Jayant: Very. Very.
ET: Explain the process of how you start a track. Do you have an idea already in your mind or do you just have a free-form, free-flow of musical thought and then if something arises then you kind of build around that?
Jayant: Honestly? I'll tell you a secret -- I just open three or four instruments and I bang the keyboard. (laughter)
ET: And if something's there, then it's there...
Jayant: Yeah, that's it. I start with a theme or a beat, keeping one element of the song in my head and just play around with the beat, just maybe the hi-hats, and keep listening to it over and over again, and things just start coming out. Once I start it, I start four or five projects at one time. One hits, and it's mostly overnight. And then I just keep working on the arrangement -- like, seven, eight hours.
ET: So then after you're finished with it, do you just go play it out to see how it sounds?
Jayant: Always. Always. That's like a pattern of mine -- if I've done this, then I go hear it. I'll go to one pub or a club and play it, and I'll go to another one on the same night and play it there. Then I'll see how it's sounding, then I'll probably take it to Punditz's studio and hear it there also. I get inspired by listening to the song in different ambiences.
ET: A lot of your music is very diverse in scope. There's IDM, there's the drum and bass...almost every genre and sub-genre of house there is, you've probably hit. So, do you say "I'm doing an IDM track now" or "I'm doing an electro-house track right now"? Or is it again, you just kind of let it flow?
Jayant: It's very free-flowing, I never know what kind of track I'm going to make each time. I finish it and I say "OK, fine, this one's here." But I can't compare one track to the previous track, all my tracks are so different. Sometimes I feel like that I don't really belong anywhere. (laughter) Like it goes from breaks to psy, sometimes really chilled out, sometimes really uptempo, housey. I try to create two or three or four different styles in one song, so they are a bit lengthy -- averaging 9-minute tracks. But anything less than that doesn't feel right for me.
ET: You know, it's funny -- listening to a lot of remixes and your tracks, they are lengthy buy they're never boring. There's always moments of interest.
Jayant: Yeah, it's nice -- even I get bored listening to the same thing over and over again. I like to twist things a bit when I'm making my track, and it has to raise my eyebrows for it to make me feel good about the song. So it's like a challenge for me to do something completely opposite to what I'm doing. Maybe you might not feel the beat changing, but maybe the emotion has changed, maybe the emotion's changed but the beat is the same -- you know, something like that. It's not really a conscious effort that I have to put through, but it kind of comes out.
ET: Once you finish a track, do you ever look back on it and say "Wow, that's a great track" or do you just move on to the next thing? You know, when something hits you on your own track, do you think "Wow, this is amazing" and then maybe about a month later it doesn't hit you any more, like you've kind of drained it all out? Does that ever happen with you? Do you ever get bored with what you've finished and then you're always on to the next thing?
Jayant: I'm kind of vain, so I really enjoy all my tracks I've made. So, I don't know. No comments. (laughter)
ET: Nah, that's great, I think it's a really good thing.
Jayant: For me, it's great that I get compliments from musicians who I think are some of the greatest musicians. When Anoushka Shankar gives me a compliment and says "OK, I like this song," that's like, wow, that's a big thing. When Punditz come up to me and say "Dude, that's a really cool track" and then they play it off in their sets, that's like the biggest prize -- they're playing their set and they drop one of my tracks, that's like a million-dollar present, that's the coolest thing. For me, music, if it's not being played, that's the most uncool thing for any musician. When somebody plays your track or your song or somebody texts you a message saying "That's a really nice song," that makes me really happy...