exclusive interview with the Tapan Raj

interview by dimmSummer
date: 11.16.01
painfully transcribed by dimm
listen: Streaming MP3 40kbs mono
print-hugger: print

ET: This is ethnotechno's interview with-

TRAJ: I'm Tapan from the MIDIval PunditZ.

ET: OK, Tapan, why don't you tell us a little bit about yourself? Tell us where you're from, and tell us how you got into this whole Asian Underground/drum and bass scene.

TRAJ: Well, the Punditz have been making music since four years. And that's when Guarav and I, my partner Guarav Raina who is right now in India, that's when we started it all, four years back. We have been buddies since we were in 4th grade, junior grade. After that there was a point when we were on telly together and Guarav was RJ-ing for a radio station and I was engineering in the studio which was hosting the equipment for getting the radio show recorded. After that we were able to get our hands on some equipment and we were already in love with music and said "Let's try what we can do." That was like a stepping stone for us, to be able to construct our musical emotions into recordable format. And then we were like, let's experiment more and see if this is the format that we want to show our emotions through. That's what a human does, right? Expresses himself in the profession that he does. That's when we went out and bought some equipment of our own and then we started producing music and that's the time when we realized that there are other guys doing this kind of music as well in other parts of the world. Like the UK was the big scene of Asian electronic music and they already had a camp over there, a collective of really talented people and Talvin was the pioneer who started that whole collective in the sense of getting all the right heads together. It's not like a cult or a collective in the sense of it being political, just like-minded people who were making music and wanted to express themselves in that medium. Then we exchanged connections and we met up with Talvin and he was interested in a record of ours and he's been one of the big influences on our music because that's when we felt 'We are not alone.' We were doing that in India, making remixes, original compositions of something. We didn't want to say OK, we're going to make rock music because both of us have been into rock bands before, and I was drumming for a rock band in college in Delhi, and Guarav had been a drummer since high school.

ET: Did you do Hindi rock songs or did you do American or UK rock songs? What kind of rock and roll did you play?

TRAJ: Just straight rock and roll. Led Zeppelin was a big favorite for us, people like Cream...college rock music. And then it was like, let's see what we can do, because both of us had known each other since we were kids, we said OK, let's get on with it, let's see what we can do, and we did. We were really happy with what we came out with, we were like, 'Yeah!' So the initial recording that you'll see will be a track which has not been released... If you go through the musical theme at that time, all influences that we ever had, blues, jazz, rock, Indian classical, Hindi film music, jungle, drum and bass, you see all of that. It won't be everything thrown in like that, but you'll see all those elements. And then we said OK, we are a band now, actually. And someone told us, 'Your music is Asian Underground music.' We said 'No no, it's OUR music' and then we realized there was a name, that the guys in the UK have already named it, Talvin has already coined the word 'Asian Underground.' We were making our music and we were not really well-versed with the nomenclature, what's going on in the club music scene.

ET: It was just music for you.

TRAJ: Yeah. In India you don't learn of all these...whatever is happening in the rest of the world as early as the rest of the world. In the UK, the news is out first, and then it comes out in the U.S. -- 'This is called drum and bass, this kind of a beat.' That's really where we started from, from scratch, learning what was going on. Soon we realized OK, we need to make our own music. People keep putting it into categories, so maybe we'll make a gospel track, or make a rock track, or a blues track, or any kind of track. Right now what we're making is our emotions, the influences of the kind of people we met, the kind of social surroundings in Delhi, that's what it is. In the last three years it's been so overwhelmingly dominated by Indian classical music, understanding our roots, because even in India you can come straight out, by the time you're 21, and then start figuring out what you're all about, what is the true sense of you that you're trying to express. Soon we were like, OK, we need to call ourselves a band and we have to record our own tracks and it's interesting, it was a smooth transition because we were like, we need to do our own thing, make sure the studio is running. And then in '99 November, Diwali bash happened at Anokha and that's where we met Karsh, and we met Ajay Naidu and we met Osmani Soundz and we met...

ET: Osmani Brothers.

TRAJ: (laughter) Osmani Brothers. That's an article that came out in India, that said Osmani Brothers. That's where it all began and everyone was just like, we are not alone out here. Without knowing each other, all of us just connected immediately. It was like yeah, this is what's going on over there, this is what's been going on over here. And then there was a point when everyone met and then went back their own way. We came back to India. Karsh had already taken out his 'Classical Science Fiction,' then he came back over here. I'm sure his music has also been influenced by the kind of people he has met. And for me, for a lot of us, Anokha '99 was the time when it happened, when everyone met each other for the first time. Even Rekha came down over there, and then we went back and did our own thing. We were making our album, Karsh had got his album out and everyone else was working towards their own album. That's when it really happened, it was really a magical moment at that time. Each part of the world, this is going on in its own way. India has its own flavor, UK has its own flavor, U.S., you can see, has its own flavor.

ET: That makes it massive.

TRAJ: Yeah. There's a term for everything. Asian Massive, Asian Underground...

ET: I like Massive. Massive is good.

TRAJ: (laughter) Both are good. It's just, each culture has their own way of calling their music and you may get caught up in that -- it's called Asian Massive over here, it's called Asian Underground over here, is this more Asian Underground or is it...? You know? Things like that will keep happening. At the end of it, the guy who's making the music is really just making his own music and he doesn't really care.

ET: For him it's just music.

TRAJ: It's just, does he like it? He's not going to be worried about things like, 'Did you like it as an Asian Massive track or as an Asian Underground track?'

ET: Nobody thinks that.

TRAJ: Exactly.

ET: On the website I read that you scored the track for Mira Nair's film -- did you score one song or did you score the entire film?

TRAJ: In Mira Nair's movie 'Monsoon Wedding,' we had given one track, and I still haven't heard the entire soundtrack. I believe Sukhinder has done a lot of work on that. The movie is going to get out next year in India and that's when we'll get to see it, unless we can get a screening for ourselves. We are dying to see how our track is looking in the movie. And as we're talking, there are going to be more people upstairs who have already seen a screening of the movie, then we'll know.

ET: How much music do you have? I know you have some unreleased material. Is there a reason it's unreleased? Is it because you're having a hard time finding a label to accept your music?

TRAJ: I wouldn't say it was a problem getting the music out or speaking to labels who are interested. What bothered us really was the kind of interest that they showed. Like when we approached a couple of companies in India two years back and they were talking about, we had done a mix of a track from the movie 'Noorie' and that was part of the sampler CD that we had given to some of these record companies, and one of them turned around and said 'Why don't you only make remixes?' And we were like, this track we put on that, that's not what we want to make. 'The material's good and I know it will sell, but if you make remixes only, I'm sure that will sell.' We were looking at him like, he's interested in our work, but the kind of interest that he's shown doesn't interest us. And now we've met Six Degrees, which is quite a minor company, and Karsh has already taken on a record with them. So we're speaking to them, we expect by January we should be giving them our masters and things should be going ahead in that direction. But it's not difficult finding a label in India, to answer your question. It's difficult finding the right label. It's the same as everywhere, but it's in a different flavor that you'll see it in India. 'Make only remixes!' (laughter)

ET: So what is the scene like in India? Is it something that's still developing, like we discussed earlier, that the scene maybe hit India later?

TRAJ: You know, in India it won't be called a scene, really. It'll be like, people are getting out to hear music. That's what keeps it pure in India. Some people start calling it a scene or a movement and things like that. In India people take it for granted that we're going out and it's not like something which is exotic for them. They've heard Indian classical all their lives, when they're growing up, when they go to school in the morning every day, so it's in their blood. Over here in the UK, it's not like that because all of them have not been exposed to something like that. So here, they'll hear a raag laced with hip-hop or with drum and bass and they're like 'Wow! Fusion! Exotic!' You know, something new, it's like 'Wow, this is what I really feel like! I've met my brothers!' But in India it's taken for granted, it's what they hear, for them it's like music. It's like, when you go to China you don't eat Chinese food, you just eat food, right?

ET: Is there any sort of divide between the people who listen only to classical music in India and then there's the younger people who listen to this new kind of music that borrows from classical Indian music, with tabla and sarangi and sitar sometimes...how do the older people feel about the way the younger generation is interpreting their music?

TRAJ: I think in India it's accepted to a huge level. Our folks sit down with us and tell us 'That track that you made is so beautiful, and in the middle it goes like that, why don't you change that?' They know the whole piece, but they will be purists as well -- 'They're bastardizing it.' But you're not bastardizing your own music, you're taking that classical piece without knowing the way to go, then you bastardized it when you made your own track. You haven't, you've done justice to it. Then you're open to it. If then people say it's messed up, if they give it a good listen, then you'd look upon it like...in India, they'll say the right thing, because they've heard it, it's their culture from India. There'll be purists, and there'll be guys who accept it completely. And there'll be guys who only like this, so there'll be purists in both the aspects -- people who can listen to Indian classical music and then listen to this, and there'll be people who can only listen to classical and can't listen to this because they think it's messed up.

ET: So that same idea applies to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, the Michael Brook remix where all the Asian Underground artists came together and...for example, if you go to amazon.com and read the reader reviews, about half like it and half say, 'You know, he must be rolling in his grave, how dare these people bastardize his work.'

TRAJ: There will be purists and there will be people who are willing to accept. But it's all about having the right attitude in which you project the music. A lot of people are projecting the music as if it's a political statement that we have to bring all the Asians together, we are revolting or rebelling or there's something happening like that. But on the other hand, we're making music, that's all we're doing. We're not making music to do this political movement. There are bands like that who only do that for a living and that's what they've devoted their entire lives to. Look at ADF, look at Rage Against The Machine. That's all they do and that's why they formed the band, and that's credible. But there will be people who monopolize the situation and make a political statement to be popular, some people go and do that lame thing, which is not something that we like to think about.

ET: So you played drums. Did you play any other instruments? Do you play tabla or any other Indian instruments?

TRAJ: No, I don't play any Indian instruments. But the drums and seeing how it's progressed and people accepting that drum is the new way, tabla AND the drums and the electronics put together. And that's what Karsh has devoted his life to -- tabla in all forms. Could be electronic with drums, without drums, Indian classical -- this music is all about percussion, really. That's where the body of our music really is. I think that's the common element, the rhythm and the mood, that's all that this music really is about.

Fade into "Fabric"