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The Serious Business Of Desi Bass: An Interview With Su Real

“As soon as you are trying to play your first paid gig, you're trying to make a career out of your music - meaning you are putting out a product for consumption.”

Like any other industry, the business of music has certain topics of conversation that, as a journalist, are much smoother to approach than others. Family, influences and artistic opinions are of course, far easier to broach than what is arguably the greatest taboo topic of all – money, and the economy of music. If an artist wants to make a career off his music it opens the floodgates to a barrage of awkward questions and presumptions (“sell out!” being the time tested go-to catchphrase).

Su Real, however, doesn’t approach the questions and ethics surrounding business and music with any hesitation at all. Whether you're in complete agreement or not, his unabashed approach isn’t just refreshing, it’s necessary (and deserves a lengthy article on its own). After all, what's the point of getting your music up and wanting to perform if nobody's going to listen to it?

It serves well to highlight the ideas and approach towards pushing his latest full length creation – ‘Twerkistan’, a medley of hard hitting bass and catchy dance beats that can be clumped in with the Nucleya-championed new genre of sound that is ‘desi-bass’. If you’re even remotely interested in independent Indian music, you would seen the videos, endless posts and borderline guerrilla marketed artwork that preceded the album. And if you’re a newbie trying to get your own music to people outside the Bandras and Hauz Khas villages, Su’s insight might prove useful.

We got in touch with Su after the release of ‘Twerkistan’ and talked about the intricacies involved in creating and selling the riotous album, India’s burgeoning desi-bass movement and why sucking it up and making a living doesn’t always need to equal compromise:

What are you up to right now?
Crushing coffee beans for my morning French press. It's usually not advisable for me to communicate with the outside world before I've had my first cup of the day.

What was the idea behind 'Twerkistan' and what does it mean to you?
The idea was to fuse current trends in dance music with various desi styles, sounds, melodies and lyrical ideas. Similar formula as 'Trapistan', but more developed - this time around also shifting focus to twerk dance culture. 'Twerkistan' and 'Trapistan' both represent metaphorical lands that many yung urban Indians inhabit, nowhere-lands with blank slates for ground on which we can build the foundation of a new reality perceived via the gravitational vibrations of the booty.

Tell us a little bit about the album art and the overall image you're trying to convey?
The album art was designed by Kunal Lodhia, one of my favorite Indian designers. I sent him 2 references - Nicki Minaj's 'Anaconda' cover and Savita Bhabhi. We figured the erotic temples of Khajuraho would be an appropriate setting. He painstakingly drew the work by hand with incredible detail before scanning it and doing his voodoo with the colours. In the end, the art was ready well before I was done with the album, which was actually great because it helped me contextualize all the tracks and try to make the album a cohesive whole.


Art credit: Kunal Lodhia

Was the decision to include both Hindi and English lyrics a deliberate one?
Yes definitely. I wanted to have way more tracks in Hindi but this is a good start. My Hindi's getting better but I’m a long way from lyricizing like Badshah or DIVINE. But I find ways around that. On tracks like Dum, Pagal and Kabaddi I do my little trick of taking one short phrase in Hindi and playing around with that. On other tracks like Jhook Gyal and Thuggee I had my buddy Karma help me craft the lyrics in Hindi based on the desired concept. That was a particularly rewarding process and I hope to do it more in future.

How would you, being a part of it, describe the ‘desi bass’ movement in India right now? Why do you think audiences connect to it at such an immense level?
I think yung India is straddled between two worlds right now - the old India with traditional values versus the new India, which is more expansive and inclusive and looks towards an uncertain and complicated, but nonetheless exciting, future. Most desi kids are forced to choose between the 2 worlds - by their parents, by their peers, by their teachers, by society at large...I think desi bass hits a raw nerve because it destroys the dichotomy. These two worlds are not mutually exclusive and can co-exist. We can respect our ancestors, traditions and religions while still being involved in global culture, technology and the progressive values associated with them. The DNA of the past is contained in the offspring of the future. Desi bass, by fusing the sounds and melodies familiar to India with modern western dance music, reveals a new landscape of being for yung India where they can explore and establish their own identity.

Where do you see the future of electronic music and nightlife in India going?
Honestly I'm a pretty pragmatic person. Development in the cultural sector in India seems to be largely dependent on direct and indirect government influence, like leaves tossed about in a gale. When the government in power is more interested in making money - and hence letting people make money and enjoy the money they make - we see a relaxing of the reins (like what lead to the explosion in F&B sector in the last few years). But when the government is more concerned with power and politics as it is right now, we see earlier curfews, licensing hurdles, limitations to freedom of speech, etc. I guess we just gotta ride the waves!

How do you think more producers can get out of their niche bubbles and get their music out to the masses?
I'm no expert, and I don't like to preach. Everyone should be free to make their own art the way they see fit. I only start to have issues when I see artists having a difficult time reconciling their music with the music business. It's a fundamental difference in your perspective of the purpose of your music; are you making it to please yourself or to please others so that they can pay you money?

For better or worse, artistic minds tend to grow up sheltered from the harsh realities of the business world. But once you start thinking of your art as a career, you have to accept and adapt to the real world outside. For example, graphic designers and film-makers are accustomed to thinking of their work in terms of their clients' needs - so why not musicians? For better or worse, I've found many homegrown musicians also trapped by outmoded ideas like "originality" and not "selling out". In my humble opinion, after two decades in the game, as soon as you are trying to play your first paid gig, you're trying to make a career out of your music - meaning you are putting out a product for consumption. That product is going to be bound by the rules of economics, which although hazy, are far more steadfast than the presumed unwritten rules of music.

Without the social context of the west, many Indians tend to presume that what their favourite Western musicians are singing or rapping about is genuinely how they feel and who they are as people. This is misleading. We live in a world where the very guys who used to sing anthems against The Man 30-40 years ago, now in their old age are being financially and symbolically propped up by the very Man they railed against. We live in a world where timeless classics are composed by committees. Wake up, smell the coffee and deal with it.


Su Real and Nucleya. Image credit: RC Photography

What musicians/producers/bands are doing it right in India according to you?
Well "doing it right" depends on that person's objective and their audience. I can give lectures till the cows and their gau rakshaks come home but I can't presume to tell anyone how to live their life or run their career. I have some insights that can help tormented artistes figure out where they stand within the industry because I'm fortunate to have had years of experience on the music business side, helping other artists develop their careers. Set realistic goals while keeping in mind the world waits not for thee.

What homegrown music do I like though? There's a ton of great music coming out of the subcontinent these days - Nucleya, Mojojojo, Ritviz, Mr. Doss, SNKM, Spryk, Bandish Projekt, Dub Sharma, GOBO... lots of yung producers stepping up to the plate. Good scene.

What else can we expect from Su Real over the coming year?
Right now working hard to wrap up a few more music video for 'Twerkistan'. Already working on lots of new music. Collabs with Mojojojo, Sid Vashi, Avneet Khurmi, Fuzzculture, lots more on the docket. Still keen to finish my 'Mollywood' EP that I've been working on on the side for a while - more moody R&B/hip-hop stuff. And then the final instalment to the 'Trapistan'/'Twerkistan' trilogy - 'Murdabad'.

**Head over to Su Real's Facebook page for more information and updates on tour dates, and download 'Twerkistan' here on iTunes**

Words: Diya Gupta
Image credit (main and thumb): Irina Usova Photography

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22 September 2016

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