Interview With Menwhopause & Ska Vengers Producer: Miti Adhikari
21 February 2012
Miti Adhikari is a UK based producer and recording engineer; a staple part of the legendary BBC Maida Vale studios where the iconic John Peel sessions were first recorded and artists such as The Beatles, David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zepplin made history.
In a career spanning over 30 years he has worked with an astounding number of contemporary musical legends; Radiohead, James Blake, The Foo Fighters, Nirvana, Elastica, Pulp, PJ Harvey, Mogwai, Coldplay, The White Stripes, R.E.M, Blur, Morrissey, Skunk Anansie, Fun Lovin’ Criminals, the list just carries on…
Miti left India in the 70s to pursue a career in music in the UK but the last couple of years have seen him drawn back to India, working with bands including Menwhopause, Supersonics and most recently The Ska Vengers. We caught up with him to find out a little more about his contact with Indian bands, what he really thinks about the music scene in India and how he thinks the industry will develop in the future.
Tell us a little bit about how it all got started for you in the audio industry.
I played in a band in Calcutta in the 70s and I used to make recordings of our rehearsals on a reel to reel tape recorder. One person who knew about my activities was the BBC correspondent Mark Tully, who was a family friend. When I was coming to Britain in the late 70s, after the band had disintegrated and my future in doubt, Mark suggested I apply to the BBC for a job as a studio engineer. I took his advice and when I got the job, part of the training process involved touring the various BBC studio complexes. One of these was the little known about Maida Vale Studios, where I stumbled on a world of studios, musicians, composers, orchestras and electronic music. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. This was the life for me. When I was posted there a year or so later, I began a journey of learning about recording music from the giants of the craft. 30 years later, I still do sessions there and am involved in passing the knowledge and skills to the next generation.
An early 80ʼs session in Maida Vale Studio 4
The number of people youʼve worked with over the years is staggering. From Nirvana to Elastica and Radiohead to more recently James Blake and Indian bands Menwhopause and The Ska Vengers. Not to mention your sessions at the BBC. Was there a reason in particular you decided to work with Indian bands?
I had been dabbling in electronic music for a few years when I started collaborating with my cousin Neel Adhikari (Span, Five Little Indians) on a bunch of fusion tracks. His friend Ananda Sen of the Kolkata band Supersonics, heard some of the mixes and asked if Neel and I would consider producing their upcoming album. Once I had heard their rough demos, I knew that there was something new going on in India. Previously, all I had heard in India was really bad poodle rock covers bands. The Supersonics could have held their own in the London music scene.
The recording of their album Maby Baking which we did in the old HMV studios in Dum Dum, Kolkata, was an eye opener for me. It connected me to a generation of Indians that I was unaware of. It was very exciting to be involved in what appears to be upwelling of creativity. And when the Supersonics album was so well received, I realised there was an audience out there.
The Supersonics sessions
The Menwhopause album project, followed pretty soon afterwards through their connection with the Supersonics. The one big difference was that I only met them face to face halfway through the project. The material was already recorded by them and I had to make sense of what they were trying to achieve. The wanted the mixes done in a month but I warned them that it was never going to happen. In the end it took about 6 months. But, it turned out really well and we are all very proud of it. And I am really proud to know them as people.
Youʼve lived and worked in both Europe and India. Are there any differences in recording/production approaches?
When I first started getting involved with the Indian scene just 5 years ago, recording and production processes were very basic. Things have progressed since then, but there is a long way to go. In London, there is an industry with its traditions and knowledge. In India, the only craft base that exists for music recording and production, is in the film industry. When music is made to be married to pictures , a different set of ethics exist.
Have you come across any fragile musician egoʼs over the past? If so, how do you deal with them?
I think youʼve answered your own question by including ʻfragileʼ and ʻegoʼ in the same sentence. Most people of an artistic leaning are inconfident and try and cover it up in various ways. I have learned over the years that trying to understand and interpret this artistic stammer is the way to create something memorable.
Any studio antics with a band in particular that you could share with us?
I could, but I wonʼt as Iʼm still friends with all of them!
The Ska Vengers are currently causing a bit of a stir in India. Their album will be the first of its kind in many aspects. How was it working with them?
The Ska Vengers album was done entirely remotely. They recorded the tracks in Delhi and then uploaded the recording projects to me in London. I would then do a mix and email it back to them for their reaction. After they had absorbed what I had done, they would collate all their comments and send me an email. I would then integrate their comments and suggestions into my mix and send it back to them. This process went on for six months until everyone was happy.
I was in Delhi for a couple of days two weeks ago and I met the members of the band for the first time at the launch party for the album. It was weird because I felt I knew each one of them really well! I had examined their music and performance bar by bar but never met them face to face. Happily, it turned out that they are all super people with loads of energy and interests, and we really got on well.
Is there anything youʼre particularly happy with?
At the launch party at TLR, there were a hundred or so people all excited and talking and drinking. When the album was played, it cut through the hubbub really well. It is an album with a message but itʼs also very danceable. When I heard it in its true envoironment and it worked, I gave myself a high-five!
How was it that you first got in touch with the band?
They got in touch with me. I think they really liked my work with The Supersonics and Menwhopause and thought it would work for them. Delhi seems to have a scene where all creative people know each other, and play in each others side-projects. Itʼs really healthy and invigorating. For years Delhi had nothing going for it whatsoever if you were interested in the arts. Now. It appears to be vying with Mumbai for attention.
What inspires you creatively?
It is really hard to define what gets my juices flowing. It could be a guitar riff or chord change or just the sound of someoneʼs voice. When this elusive thing lights up like a picture in my head, I know that the piece that Iʼm working on will be good.
How do you keep up to date with advances in technology/studio equipment? Any favourite magazines/websites?
I tend not to rush off in many different directions trying to follow the latest gizmo or gadget. I keep an eye on trends and when it appears something is going to genuinely point the way forward I will look into it. Iʼm also very lucky that I work closely with some of the finest producer/engineers in the world and you tend to pick up a lot from conversations over a beer or two.
Itʼs no secret that thereʼs a general decline in CD sales. In your opinion whatʼs the future of recording? How can musicians use this to their advantage?
Music will always be recorded. I donʼt believe that peoples hunger for music will be satisfied by just that fleeting moment at a live gig. So, recording will always exist. What is done with those recordings is the 64 million dollar question of the moment. I believe that there is too much mediocre or sub-standard music around which is why people donʼt place any value to the stuff they download or copy. If they hear something exceptional, then they want to own it and have it as part of their lives and their own history. This is where I believe the music industry is digging itʼs own grave. By putting out sub-standard material and devalueing the whole industry.
Any interesting upcoming projects you can fill us in on?
I am currently finishing the mixing of the music for Qʼs new film. It is an adaptation of Tagoreʼs ʻTasher Desheʼ and Neel Adhikari and I collaborated with people like ADF, Sam Mills, Susheela Rehman, Anousheh and others to create a mash-up of Tagoreʼs music. Married with Qʼs uncompromising interpretation of Tagoreʼs classic, it should raise many eyebrows. Iʼm also hearing uncomfirmed rumours that Menwhopause are waking from their slumber, like those toads in the Australian desert, and have started the process of recording their next album. Hopefully they will want me to work on it with them.
Mixing at Abbey Road Studio 3
THE SAME 3 QUESTIONS:
3 most inspirational artists:
3 favourite albums of all time:
In Rainbows - Radiohead
DogManStar - Mighty Math
Blood on the Tracks - Bob Dylan
Favourite 3 artists of the moment: