Few individuals have championed the Asian electronic underground to the extent that Nerm Chauhan has. From his days of fronting Indo-punk band, Charged signed to the legendary Nation Records and headlining Swaraj's club night to his groundbreaking Electro East show on BBC's Asian Network, Nerm has been at the forefront of the burgeoning alternative music scene. The weekly, two hour Electro East show is a platform for Nerm to showcase his penchant for dark electronica, drum n' bass and dubstep. With only half the tracks on any particular show being by an Asian or having a Desi influence, the only criteria of what gets airplay on Electro East is that it has a true punk philosophy. Perhaps our favorite definition of "punk" comes from the Sex Pistols biographer himself, Jon Savage, who described it as a construction of almost every previous youth culture that existed in the West since WWII "stuck together with safety pins". Needless to say, the exclusive electronic stuff that gets played by Nerm is wide in scope and rebellious by nature.
Right around 2000, the concept of Shiva Soundsystem, as a collective, developed around Nerm's DJ sets and the artists that collaborated with him during those gigs. It was around this time that he also met and found a kindred soul in Essex boy, Dee Dhanjal (D-Code) and they shared a common taste for Prodigy, Prince, the Sex Pistols and warehouse parties. With a slew of drum n' bass productions championed by the dons of the scene (Fabio and Andy C among others), D-Code is the primary tune maker in the Shiva Soundsystem camp. With a production style that now blurs the line between drum n' bass and, genre-of-the-moment - dubstep, D-Code stands unrivaled as the most sought-after remixer and producer in British Asian music today, arguably because he rarely ever champions Asian music in itself.
We got glimpses of Phasmatis In Machina (Latin for "Ghost in the Machine") on the India:One release that was the first drum n' bass compilation mixed and recorded exclusively for the Indian market. Mixed by Nerm and comprised of tunes largely by D-Code, it introduced underground heads to all the lesser known personas that comprise the SSS family including Silent Source, Soldgie, Chan1, V.I.V.E.K, Deepz, Audio Dakoos, Prash Mistry and Drifta. Phasmatis In Machina is the final and complete product an amalgamation of the various vibes that these artists have been putting out on their own. Far more experimental in scope than expected - "Fray" featuring Elio D'anna on guitar and Orifice Vulgatron, better known as Pavan Mukhi of the Foreign Beggars camp on vox, comes as bit of a shocker with its death metal sound. Elsewhere, Mumbai's very talented Shaa'ir & Func jump in on the extremely slick and cinematic "Finger Puppets" which sounds like something off their latest album rather than a production by brothers Silent Source and D-Code who usually have their beats squarely in the drum n' bass arena.
The most massive tunes on this album are "Outlaw" and "Glitterstep" two tracks which may have started a trend of meshing punk and dubstep into punk-step and "Erotica", that revisits, to our content, the fists-in-the-air, drum n' bass aesthetic of previous D-Code and Chan1 productions such as "Mutation" and "The Rebirth". Clearly, punk flows through these guys' veins and is not just an influence in what they do. The three tracks are reason enough to listen to Phasmatis In Machina in its entirety. "Glitterstep" is a landmark in British Asian music one that truly defies the rules of what it should look like and one that really does sound like every underground youth culture stuck together with safety pins.
Until now, Finland's dubstep scene was a fledgling one to say the least. Tes La Rok made a name for himself being championed by the likes of experimental tastemaker Mary Anne Hobbes. Now, producer Jussi Leväsalmi, better known as 501, brings on the exotic, wonky, dubstep flavors with "Circle of Fire" and "The Signal". Two of the best dubstep tracks Ethnotechno.com has heard this year, don't sleep on this man - look out for more of his upcoming work on Chase & Status's label.
V.I.V.E.K and Deepz take on the atmospheric side of drum n' bass and dubstep with three tracks, all of which we have heard prior to this release. For those of you who prefer your electronics of the headphone variety will instantly like these. "Love" by Chris DeMello, also known as Drifta, is an epic, trancey, drum n' bass tune that appeals to the more emotive amongst us.
Things get downtempo with the ambient electronics of "From Wood" by Infinite Scale and "When In Time" by Nerm, an unusual look for the SSS founder but one that, with its gorgeous strings, remains lodged in our aural memory long after the CD stops spinning.
Phasmatis In Machina, as a compilation of new and old SSS releases, shows us a collective at the near top of their production game. With D-Code and Nerm leading the way, there is still more that these guys can and will accomplish. If you're either looking for an intro to the SSS sound or need all of their big singles in one package (although we wish "Tubla Ethics" was on here too), Phasmatis In Machina will certainly do the trick.