exclusive interview with Navdeep

interview by dimmSummer
date: 2.12.02
transcribed by derek beres
listen: Streaming MP3 40kbs mono
print-hugger: print

ET: This is EthnoTechno's interview with DJ Navdeep, DJ-at-large in NYC. And hopefully that will be Doctor Navdeep, right?

NAVDEEP: We'll see. Hopefully.

ET: You just popped a track in, what was the name of the rapper?

NAVDEEP: The rapper's name is Tribeca. He's based in the Bronx and does a lot of underground hip-hop, signed to Major League Entertainment. He does straight hip-hop but I'm going to put my own twist on the track, to be released on vinyl on that label.

ET: Will it have an Asian influence or straight up drum-and-bass, hip-hop cross mix?

NAVDEEP: When I try to go about making a track, I don't have an idea before I make it. I get it in my head, make sure I feel it inside. From there on if I feel some type of tabla or Asian influence element, I'll put it in. But it's hard to predict. I don't go about it as, 'Ok, I'm going to put a tabla element in this track...' I think it should naturally fit into it. Wherever the song takes you, it's just a matter of adding elements that are relevant. Sometimes where the track goes isn't really in my control when I'm mixing it.

ET: Do you ever have a producer or record label come to you requesting an Asian style, and do you feel pigeonholed if they do?

NAVDEEP: I definitely think if you're labeling yourself as part of a certain scene or genre people on the outside are going to have typical stereotypes of what they're going to get out of you. So yeah, there's definitely people who say 'Give me something with that Asian vibe on it.' But my stance is, well that Asian vibe is part of me, obviously, so when I make a track it's not to give it an Asian vibe, it's to give it that Navdeep vibe, what it is that I feel in that track. At least as of yet, no one's been dissatisfied with whatever my interpretation is, so hopefully all will go well with this one too.

ET: On our stream, we're playing a couple remixes of yours, including the popular Dido remix. Is that something that was done for Dido or on your own whim?

NAVDEEP: Yeah, that was just because I felt the track. When I do remixes, if I feel the song internally, I'll crank something out. I actually made that before Eminem released the track because I always liked Rollo & Bliss, and through them I found out about Dido's track. That was made just for me to listen to and then I played it out when I spun and got a very positive response from it. So then I decided to distribute it to whoever wanted it.

ET: Has Dido or anyone associated with her ever heard it?

NAVDEEP: Her manager heard it, and he loved it. He contacted my manager about it, but that never materialized. By the time it reached him they had already received enough other remixes of her track. At this point that's something I've put in the past and am making stuff for artists who are exclusively released under labels.

ET: Are you contacted only for remixes, or for your original work as well?

NAVDEEP: Well, the way that I evolved, I first started playing drums and tabla, and then progressed to DJing. Around the age of 16 or 17 I started spinning records, and have found myself wanting more to spin other people's records. From there I did start making remixes of songs that I like to spin, my own little interpretation of them, and got more recognition that way. And from there on, it progressed to making my own stuff.

It depends on what context you're looking at it in. People definitely like the remixes I've done for other artists. From that regard, it makes sense that they know me from remixes and are going to approach me for that. But when I tell people I have my own tracks they're very open to listening to them and wanting to distribute those tracks. I think it's more how you're perceived initially. People who have heard my original work have also approached me with regards to making music for advertisements, commercials, things that could possibly go onto movie soundtracks or independent films... so it is how people know of you and exactly what they've heard.

ET: How many remixes have you done for artists who have asked you to do it?

NAVDEEP: At this point they're still in the works. The main one is Karsh Kale's remix of "Home." This one coming up for Tribeca will probably be coming out shortly. The other ones have been smaller, independent releases. It's all coming to fruition now.

ET: So you have your own CD in the works?

NAVDEEP: Yes. I released an independent EP last year, Sound Clinic Sessions I. It had two of my own original tracks and two remixes. The Dido remix, and a remix of one of Bally Sagoo's track, which was a hit in the clubs here. Now I have a lot more original tracks. Whether it's going to be released as Sound Clinic Sessions II or by another name is still up in the air. If you want to check out some of those tracks, you can listen at www.360navdeep.com.

ET: Why is there "360" in front of your name there?

NAVDEEP: 360 meaning how many degrees are in a circle. All of my influences are from all over the place. If you listen to my music and live set, I try to incorporate as many genres and influences that I have, so that for me is full-circle, full-cycle, 360.

ET: Isn't it also because Navdeep.com is a materials website (laughing)?

NAVDEEP: That also! That was a chemical company based in Bombay. I'm still trying to get a T-shirt from them because I like their logo, but for some reason I don't think they've ever had anyone ask for a T-shirt with Navdeep Chemicals written on it (laughing).

ET: Is that a common name? I've also seen another DJ called Navdeep.

NAVDEEP: I've seen whatever it is of him online, and I know he makes music totally different from mine. It's my name, so that's why I chose it as my DJ name, because my music represents me and my personality, so it's not because I have some alter-ego. My music is who I am and what I am.

ET: How long have you been doing the Mutiny Party?

NAVDEEP: I came on in December 1998. The party has gone on since 1997. Vivek Bald & Rekha Malhotra are the originators of the party It started as a fundraiser for a documentary that Vivek is doing called "Mutiny," talking about the South Asian movement, second generation Indians making music in the UK. From those fundraisers, various artists were invited who were very influential in the UK, such as Talvin [Singh] and others. It became a club night from that.

I got involved because I came to see Talvin perform in November 1998. While I was there I heard some beats that I had in my own collection, and liked what they were playing. I knew Rekha from her other party, Basement Bhangra. She didn't know I mixed electronic music, so when I found out about the party I told her and she asked me to hit her off with a demo. I had one in my walkman, so I gave it to her and told her to call me if they liked it. She called the next day and asked me to spin at Mutiny in December 1998 as a guest. From being a guest there was a positive response. She brought me back in February as a guest again. There was even more of a positive response and she asked if I wanted to be a resident.

ET: So it was back in the day of mixed tapes.

NAVDEEP: Yeah, I still am a fan of mixed tapes, even though now my demos are on CD. There's more of a raw sound, and there's only one take. There's no editing, so you get to hear the DJ purely live.

ET: You have a big hip-hop influence in your life. If there's one DJ to bridge the gap between the hip-hop scene and the Asian Massive scene, you're the guy. Do you have any aspirations to create this bridge? I see some similarities between these two cultures and that there could be a huge following for something like that.

NAVDEEP: I agree. 100%... not even just bridging hip-hop culture with whatever Asian sounds are being produced right now, I just want to bridge everyone together. I do have strong hip-hop influences, and my sets are proactive: I like to scratch a lot, do some construction live, various tricks on turntables, more to put on a show for people rather than passively DJ. There is an audience more from the hip-hop side than the Asian side to see my shows. It's just exposure, getting the right sounds out, and getting people who aren't initially aware of what Asian sounds are you have to present it in a way so they can digest it. Once that happens, it catches like an infection. Eventually it will be bridged, there's no doubt in my mind. As more and more people venture into making music it will naturally evolve.

ET: Nitin Sawhney always has at least one hip-hop track on his releases, combined with Indian sounds. There are producers like Jay-Z and Timbaland who have used it, but it's minimal. I'm talking about hearing it full-on -

NAVDEEP: That's going to happen. I know a lot of people who feel what Jay-Z and Timbaland have done are not in its purest form, but you have to understand where they're coming from. They haven't been raised on a diet of classical Indian music, so they're going to do it however they hear it... I think it's great. If people finally understand what a tabla is, that it's not a bongo, then it was a positive impact. Or even if Jay-Z uses a flute with an Indian sound, it gives more exposure to a school of music that people in the West aren't as familiar with.

ET: Hip-hop is huge now. Do you feel that this South Asian music can be as big, or is it something that will be tucked away in the world music section?

NAVDEEP: It's definitely going to happen. If someone listened to early 80s hip-hop, I don't think they could have foreseen how big it is today. Same thing applies to implementing our South Asian influences with certain electronic influences or "western" influences. We're just at the beginning of that. It's grown enormously in the few years it's been initiated in. There's artists who are going to be influential in pushing that timeline, just as there were artists who were influential in pushing the timeline of hip-hop. That's more up to the artist and what they give to the audience. If it's something that audience can digest and begin to understand, it's going to explode astronomically... You have to give the audience time. It's a matter of educating them and presenting something they've never heard before. You have to be patient with regards to their progression and how quickly they'll appreciate what the artist is trying to do. That's the beauty of making new music. With the Internet, now music is accessible to everyone around the world... You're going to inevitably have a new, unique sound evolving.

ET: What we just heard in the background is a Midival Punditz's remix of Talvin's "Jaan," which was used in a Phillips CD burner commercial. The Punditz have this huge responsibility in India as being leaders because they're like the bloodline straight to the source of the music. And you just came back from India. Tell us about what it was like meeting up with the Punditz, as well as the new sounds you found in the streets and what you're going to do with those sounds.

NAVDEEP: First of all, big up to the Punditz, they're my boys and I love them. I didn't get to see Gaurav because he was in Bombay, but I chilled with Tapan in Delhi. We're even collaborating on a track together, across the globe through the use of the Internet, which is very cool. I don't think they feel they have this burden to push it from the heart of where Indian music comes from. They're exactly like anyone else who is making music over here or in the UK, thinking outside of the box and trying to express all the different influences they have musically.

NAVDEEP: I came back with a lot of abstract sounds that I'm going to be using in my tracks. I had my mini-disc player with me everywhere I went. I have recordings of random women singing on the street, of what a bazaar sounds like when people are trying to sell you a T-shirt for 50 rupies, even the sound of traffic there because someone from here cannot understand the immense noise with the traffic is there: the rickshaw bell, the horn, scooters... just to give it a more authentic feeling... Sound is sound, and you can hear music in everything. I can hear music in a scooter blowing its horn. How you communicate that to the audience is what is of importance... India's a great place to explore all sorts of sounds that people in the west can't really get a hold of.

ET: That's the same way Bjork works. She walks around and gets all these weird sounds and then produces an album a year-and-a-half later. It's amazing what she does. Is she an influence on you?

NAVDEEP: Bjork is definitely an influence. She's pushed artistry to a new level. Growing up I listened and looked up to her. Another huge influence for me is Moby. The stuff he was making in the 80s and early 90s really cultivated my sound. No matter how 'dance' or how hard I'm trying make it sound I'll always add a melodic element and that comes directly from Moby's music.

Other influences, from the New Wave scene: Depeche Mode and Erasure. Hip-hop wise, I don't even know where to start the list: Public Enemy was a huge influence, musically as well as politically, early Cypress Hill, Gangstarr, Eric B. and Rakim, Pete Rock and CL Smooth. It's a matter of finding music and showing others so that maybe one day that can tap it as well.

ET: How did you come about to gain your vast scratching knowledge?

NAVDEEP: Scratching, just like any other instrument, requires practice. You have to hone your skills to make it sound clean. There were certain tricks that I picked up pretty quickly, and others you get with time and practice. I found a lot of similarities between scratching and playing tabla. I like to use my left hand to manipulate the vinyl and use my right to manipulate the fader on the mixer. A lot of people think that scratching comes from moving your hand on the vinyl really fast, but most of the work comes from the fader. When I play tabla, I use the left hand to play the bass and the right to play the higher drum. Those motions were already coordinated from playing tabla, so when I started scratching I incorporated those same movements and feelings by applying tabla-based concepts to it.

ET: Have your parents heard your music? How do they feel about it?

NAVDEEP: They're very supportive. My dad's played harmonium from a very young age, and played the Indian banjo as well. Growing up I would play tabla while he played harmonium, so that was the classical influence. My mom sang, and even my siblings both play harmonium. So the whole classical raag influence was very prevalent. Everyone in my household who has heard my stuff is very appreciative. The fact that my parents feel it's a sincere interpretation of those sounds and not exploiting it is a positive thing. They know that I was born and raised in America, but I do have this other background that I'm very proud of and know a lot about.

When you look at an image you use both of your eyes but it still appears as one image to you. If you shut one eye, it's still the same image if you were to use your other eye. That's how I view music. It's not a matter of being two separate entities. Music is music, whether I hear it in my left ear or my right ear it's still one sound to me...

Fade into "Amrit (Nectar)" -original composition