Monophonik's Analogue Approach Stands Out In India's Electronic Music Landscape
Plotting all the possible trajectories of electronic music in India these days is akin to standing at the edge of the universe–the possibilities are endless. But as it gets easier than ever to procure the latest technology in sound and advanced equipment, the questions we’re beginning to ask are evolving too. What is the perception of electronic music in our country today, anyway? Do audiences truly understand all the things it constitutes? Is anybody thinking about ethical sampling and is there any point in creating sounds from scratch when there’s a sea of options to choose from already? Most musicians in India have been raised on the technology of today but there are a few determined to challenge our ideas of how electronic music can be produced and played. Shatrunjai Rah Dewan aka “Monophonik” is a prime example.
He’s been around the block for five years and he doesn’t fit any of our notions of what it means to be an electronic artist. He doesn’t use a laptop, CD players or vinyl players to perform as is the industry standard when it comes to the art of DJing. Instead, he channels modular techno through hardwired and patched analog-synthesizers and drum-machines. We caught up with him to better understand his drive for doing things differently, even as he puts out some of the most progressive techno in the country.
Hailing from New Delhi and currently residing in Mumbai, Dewan too was lured into the vast electronic expanse of sounds that landed on the shores of India in the late 90s and early 2000s that saw a drastic shift in his musical sensibilities. Digging up nostalgic memories, he reminisces, “It was a completely new sound I had been introduced to. I remember the switch in the music I used to listen to was quite sudden. All the Coldplay, Switchfoot, and Linkin Park on my iPod was suddenly replaced by the likes of Deadmau5, Armin Van Buuren & Tiesto”. Curious to explore how these tunes were crafted, he observed icons such as Deadmau5 and their approach to music production that basically negated the need for a laptop. Instead, they substituted the obvious choice with modular machines and techniques. His contemporary peers include the new kid on the block - Colin Benders, modular demigod Richard Devine and the world renowned Simian Mobile Disco.
Prep, Plan, Play
The novelty of Monophonik’s performance stems from the fact that he doesn’t just press play on a pre-recorded set or mix individual tracks and samples together–something numerous artists on the international playing field have come under fire for too. Instead, he recreates music on the fly using instruments that one would usually find in a studio set-up. Shahtrunjai explains, “I sort of wanted to take the same approach as an acoustic or rock band does, when they play live. Electronic music could be performed in the very same way, using the same instruments, which in this case are synthesizers & drum machines instead of guitars and pianos, and basically can be re-created in real time.” The degree of difficulty with pulling off even an average gig with a raw set-up is daunting even to accomplished DJs/Producers of today and is no mean feat in itself. Meticulous preparation and planning go into building the framework for his live-set up that involves connecting a dizzying number of cables and ensuring everything is in the right place.
The Price Of Passion
It is also inspiring to notice Shahtrujai’s dedication to his craft. Battling the factors of cost and availability are not easy at all for a young musician in a country and a society that usually stigmatizes and rubbishes ideas of being a professional musician. The paucity of electronic music related audio gear, professional equipment and tools did not bog him down. Describing his difficulties he says, “Sourcing these instruments isn’t easy in this country at all. Paying 30% customs and waiting for about half the year for my gear to arrive is just one of the few issues I face. Most of these devices are ordered either from the US or from Europe, they’re not at all available in India right now, although there has been a rise in the number of synth developers sprouting out of the country which is very assuring to see happen”. In fact, the dawn of the 21st century and the age of the internet have given birth to homegrown analog synthesizer manufacturers such as animal factory amplification and modular analog.
Another omnipresent hurdle is the problem of proper, club-grade sound systems available at Indian venues. Music that is thrashed out of warm, fuzzy machines needs to be represented and reproduced with a system of equivalent or superior quality for all of this to sound good in the end. Shahtrujai agrees. “Not all the clubs do justice to my music, but there are some that have gone out of the way, focusing on their sound systems,” he explains. “Some of the best sounds I’ve got in the country has been in Bangalore, Cloud 9 – Funktion One system, antisocial Khar has a pretty decent JBL Vertec array system, Blue frog Bombay had the best sound in the country with a fully integrated L Acoustics system. Usually, if the sound is really bad and unbearable, I get external vendors to install their systems for my shows.”
Monophonik’s prodigious talent and skill are certainly not to be overlooked as he only plans on perfecting and improving his live set-up in the years to come. He explains, “I’m working on a new live rig which is going to consolidate my entire set up into a small briefcase which will be powerful enough, to independently generate 12 different voices/layers of sounds at the same time. Each of which is fully programmable from within this case itself.” He also has an album in the works that would be released in a few months from now.
As exciting as the future looks, however, it’s perhaps most pertinent for artists like Shahtrunjai, and other like him, to get their due in the present. These artists are the ones, after all, who are conscientiously changing the face of the Indian dance music industry by fearlessly treading unexplored avenues and raising the bar for future producers. Without discerning audience support, it’s unlikely that they’ll be able to keep pursuing such organic approaches and if we don’t, our painstakingly constructed dance music industry runs the risk of falling flat.
Listen to some of the music the artist has played at gigs here.
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