Decoding Mikhail Mehra: A Series of Fortunate Events
9 April 2013
Mikhail Mehra hardly displays the yellow-eyed, spotty-tongued form you might expect from someone who's job profile includes raising inebriated hell with the likes of artists like Skrillex, Datsik, Skream & Benga (to name but a few) even while he personifies them via video formats, on the road and onstage. At only 22 though, it makes sense that his fountain of youth shows no signs of running dry just yet. You’d be right to presume he’s not been hanging around breathing in the dust and smoke, not for a few years anyway but believe it or not, Mehra's entirely Bombay-bred. Right from the familiar jargon that creeps into his speech every now and then, to the fact that we discover commonly known acquaintances in under five minutes - the true sign of having been schooled in this cramped city.
It does make that inevitably ubiquitous question arise though - what made the crossover to the league of extraordinary artists so conceivable for Mehra? As he told us his story, it seemed that for someone who's seen the more disillusioned side of the lacking-in-direction-teenager-syndrome, it took a series of fortunate events. The kind that might make Lemony Snickets convulse in disbelief at the sheer benevolence of fate and determination.
"You know when I was 18, I was just wasting time in the city, playing poker doing stupid shit,” says Mehra. “I'd been in and out of a few different schools, asked to leave from one and my parents really wanted me to give studying in America a shot. At the time, I wasn't really into the idea but my passion for film made me think studying film in USC would be the right move to make." Considering he was well on the path to studying astrophysics, lets consider his loss of interest in the theory of it as fortunate event number one.
"Unfortunately, I missed my application deadlines so I found this school in San Francisco and decided it was as good a fit as any,” he continues reminiscently. “It was while I was there that a bunch of my friends exposed me to the rave culture that would sort of set me on this path. It was around 2009 and EDM was still completely underground, elements of dubstep were just about creeping in and I loved every minute of it.” Tally number two on the fortunate event markings on the wall then.
“So I had this one friend who pushed me into the scene more than anyone,” he continues. “Xian, an upcoming DJ himself at the time who still helps me out with a ton of audio stuff, lived 3 doors down from me in the same dorm and can be given the credit for making me really get into the music (by playing me 'Night' by Benga & Coki). We were hanging out one day and he was all ‘hey, you’re a film guy, I’m a DJ, why don’t you come and film some shit at one of my gigs.” Considering Mehra didn’t even own a camera at the time, he considers himself lucky to have had a skater friend George who was nice enough to lend him one for the occasion. The result? “My first gig video, but it was terrible,” he’s quick to add.
Still, from Xian’s smaller-scale DJ performances to literally touring with 12th Planet to Miami’s Ultra Music Festival is a quantum leap of sorts. “I guess I really enjoyed the experience of shooting in that kind of environment, it was like things I loved coming together. So I just started tracking down the promoters of all these epic shows I wanted to go to and I’d send them a mail. At this point, I’ll have to thank my Dad for my e-mail skills. I can be mad professional when it comes down to it and I owe that to him. So I’d be extremely formal and polite and just tell them I work for this company (His own company Motion Eccentrica which he steers single-handedly) and that we wanted to come shoot the show for a documentary we’re making. Usually they’d be really cool about it and even give me a guest list so I could come with a crew if I needed. When it was done, I’d make a recap video instead and send it to them. Most of the time, they loved it so it really got me on their radar enough to want me at their events.”
Modest mouse as he his, there was obviously something about his work or its ethic that’s built him such a solid reputation in one of the toughest industries in the world. “Success is relative. I guess if I had to think of one thing I did do really well it’s that I was always super quick at making these videos. Plus there was an element of honesty in my work. I decided early on that no matter what, if I didn’t like someone’s music I just couldn’t shoot them. I mean, when you edit you’ve got to hear the same song 500 times so it wasn’t a hard decision to stick to either.”
Unsurprisingly, staying sober became one of this wunderkind’s biggest challenges but he seems to have found an easy enough solution to it all. When he’s not on the road, his idea of relaxing involves pajamas and some back-to-back TV shows; the demanded debauchery can be saved for tours. Then again, there was the little matter of his being far too young to enter most of these shows he was shooting too. “Oh that one was easy enough,” he laughs off dismissively. “I just scanned my Indian passport, changed the d.o.b. and stuck it back on top. Somehow, I really don’t know how, it worked for me for 3 whole years. Actually, I only got caught once!” Lets call that tally number four then, or are we already on five?
So now that we’ve got a fair idea of the build-up, lets investigate that epic drop, the best parts of the EDM wave he’s been riding for the last few years. “I think Ultra Music Festival 2012 was probably my biggest job yet. At the time, things were getting stale enough for me to consider taking a breather. In my head I couldn’t fathom taking anymore ass-n-titty/headphone pictures for a while but Ultra made sure I’d go out on a high note. I ended up covering Flux Pavilion, complete legends, Skream & Benga who are absolute pioneers in my opinion and then 12th Planet & Skrillex all in the same festival.” This is the video he considers the real gamechanger however. Judging by the slick editing, we can see why. But lets not forget the more cloaked parts of his repertoire. Mehra legitimately appears to have covered almost anyone we’ve ever dreamed of catching live with his visual narratives - be it in music video formats, promos or recap edits of a live show. Think Noisia, Mount Kimbie and Ben Samples. He’s even recently been signed on by Cash Money Records for whom he recently recorded an episodic take of the Stafford Brothers’ high-octane life (watch it here).
You’d think maybe someone who’s managed to collect this much under his belt between 18 and 22 might want to stick to the place that’s made him a video-making force of nature but Mikhail’s roots run deep. Deep enough for him to have made his way back to the motherland for a few months to ‘set something up,’ making him especially worthy of coverage right now. Fair warning to curious readers - he gets mysterious about this one and there’s no digging deeper. “It’s not completely mysterious” he laughs, ”I’d just rather wait till things come to fruition, the surprise is better that way. Anyway, I was down in Bombay between November and January and there’s definite potential there. Like I respect what someone like Nikhil Chinappa’s done/doing for the scene. He’s a real DJ’s DJ, he’s been doing it, he’s been pushing it and it’s really cool but I definitely think there’s a huge gap somewhere for the whole stream of electronic music and music in general that exists today. I want to see more of it in India so I started Oji.” Oji as in the releasers of the inscrutable video that’s been doing the social media rounds of late, trying to entice us bass-hungry folk into guessing which huge act this new event company’s planning to unleash on Indian audiences soon. At least we know who’s behind it now. Either way, his goal is as simple as its wording: “it’s not a philanthropic mission or anything, I’d just really like to bring some good shit down back at home.”
Ultimately, I ask about future plans without much concern for his response. Partly because my mind’s still reeling with the insane experiences Mehra’s managed to accumulate in a few short years in L.A., and partly because he’s already achieved so much, even if he decided to join ranks with the Trailer Park Boys he enjoys watching so much we doubt we’d be any less impressed. Which is probably why it’s easy to remain unflinching when he responds with a quick “find a nice girl, have eight kids and retire? Someone pure vegetarian you know, old school shit. Maybe seven kids though, lets not push it.”
8, 7, 32, it doesn’t really matter. Having got a taste of how he thinks and executes, it seems likely that slow-rolling will never really be an option one way or the other. So despite the tallying and despite his own description of his journey as “all kinds of serendipity” one thing’s for certain - it’s not just good fortune that builds a career like this one. It takes skill, it takes determination and sure, a few fortunate events never hurt anyone. Sleep easy, lemony snickets.
Some more snippets from Mikhail’s repertoire:
One of his favourites - Smog Records X Get Darker, This is Dubstep 2012 [Featuring Craze and Benga]
Words: Mandovi Menon