Get To Know: Praxis (BASSFoundation)
19 December 2012
“What one wants is so fucking simple. Just a room with a big sound system and someone selling beers that won’t cost you an arm and a leg.” - Praxis
As a nerdy white DJ who moved to India to do a master’s in Marxist Indian political theory, there’s something simultaneously awesome and unnerving about sitting down to interview Praxis, a nerdy white DJ who moved to India to do a master’s in Marxist Indian political theory. Awesome, because there’s a lot to talk to about, and unnerving because it’s like looking across the table at a slightly more sorted version of myself, complete with a South England accent.
Praxis, of course, is best known around here for his role in founding BASSFoundation, Delhi’s groundbreaking bass music soundsystem and eponymous clubnight, along with Maarten Klein and Delhi Sultanate. For those of us involved with non-commercial dance music in India, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of the space they created for alternative electronic music.
BASSFoundation was what happened when Praxis realised that there was something missing, and then found likeminded people to help him do something about it. As he puts it, “I came to India … in 2007 to do a master’s. By that point I had reconciled myself to the fact that I wasn’t really going to be DJing at all. I mean, I’d been here before but didn’t really have any idea if there were even clubs out here. [I was] a bit naïve. So … I found out that yeah, there were clubs, but none of them were playing stuff I was really interested in.”
A chance encounter at Sunburn 2008 left Praxis, surprised to find a legitimate venue for dubstep on the subcontinent, chatting with Maarten and Delhi Sultanate about bass music in India. This conversation evolved into BASSFoundation’s first night, at Café Morrison, in 2009.
“When we started our nights here,” Praxis explains, “we played a lot of liquid drum and bass; melodic, sample driven, soulful stuff. Partly because that’s what we were into… but also because it’s much more accessible for people who haven’t really heard drum and bass. … We’ve moved towards the reggae side of things. I was always into actual proper reggae, like the roots stuff, and ska as well. And Taru has been and is always a dancehall vocalist, basically.”
While Praxis’ sets now tend to explore the boundaries of bass music, bringing drum and bass and dubstep together with garage, house, and techno, the BASSFoundation soundsystem has gone international. With gigs at Croatia’s Outlook Festival and a recently debuted BASSFoundation night set to continue in London, the crew is doing some very big things.
But back in Delhi, Praxis seems guardedly optimistic about the emergence of an Indian electronic music scene. He’s especially enthusiastic about Sandunes; “She’s killing it. … She’s going about things the right way - really learning the craft and not taking shortcuts. A lot of folk who are making … 'bass-heavy music' [in India] tend to be veering towards the noisiest, loudest, everybody-go-nuts-on-the-dancefloor type stuff. It's nice that some people are emerging who are making stuff that is a bit more thoughtful. East Stepper is another person who is really pushing things forward in this way, and of course Moniker (Wild City DJ) as a selector.”
With BASSFoundation having recently signed with Krunk, we’re looking forward to continued mentorship from some of the boys who made Delhi safe for bass.
The first piece of vinyl/music you bought with your own money?
See, I know what the first CD is and I know what the first tape is, and they must have been around the same time. One was Kris-Kross, Jump, and the other was Stone Roses, Ten Storey Love Song. … neither tragic nor particularly cool, but I think that’s honest.
The best set you’ve ever played?
[Long pause] Let me think about this.
It’s a bit of a corny one. I think the first BASSFoundation night. I think we did record it, and I think it wasn’t the best set I’ve ever played, but we were kind of stepping into the unknown. We didn’t really know if people would turn up – it’s a brand new night – and we didn’t know if they did turn up whether they’d really feel it. We hadn’t seen or been to a full on drum and bass or dubstep night in India. So we weren’t really sure about that. But it did fill out, it was rammed, and people got down fucking hard. So, yeah, that was pretty memorable.
The one song you’d want to listen to while you were blasting off into outer space?
I mean, I’m a real music geek, so this answer could be really boring. I guess you could have a space related one. Space Oddity is an obvious one. Maybe it’s just the videos, but some Daft Punk track would probably be appropriate. [Pauses, and then gets excited] Oh, Intergalactic, Beastie Boys. Fuck, that’s a tune. Yeah, I’ll go with Intergalactic. That’s got the energy that you need for a blastoff to get your adrenaline going.
The best album for making love?
I mean… oh god. I’m trying to think of something that’s not too obvious. I bet Su had a good answer to this one [Ed: 2 Live Crew Megamix]. Can I come back to this?
To be honest, it’d probably be Marvin Gaye or Al Green. Maybe Stevie Wonder, Innervisions. Although Stevie’s albums tend to have a few quite shit tunes in them, so I’d probably want to pause and fast forward through them, so that’d probably be a not great choice.
One track that’s a guaranteed dancefloor filler for any crowd?
Toots and the Maytals, 54-46. Big tune. It’s got a wicked intro as well. People recognize it and before the riddim properly drops, everyone’s already raring to go. And we’ve got a dubplate of it. We’ve got an exclusive from the man Toots himself.
Your favourite book?
You’re going to have to come back to that, otherwise I’m going to say 1984 and it’s going to be embarrassing.
Your worst/most embarrassing DJ experience?
Shortly after I moved to Delhi in 2007, I played at this horrendous venue. Yeah, it was a big, big mistake. It was a kind of lesson in how things worked. They clearly wanted me because I was a white guy, and they were trying to do an expat night. It was the cheapest, tackiest shit, like white girls drink for free type thing. They still do them. It’s shameless how the can get away with this racial profiling of nights, but they do.
The final straw was when I had just got on the decks. I was playing liquid drum and bass, more melodic stuff. … There were not many people there… but there was a table of big money spenders. You know, aunties and uncles getting into bottles of black label and shit. One of them made a request for Bhangra and next thing I know there’s somebody at the DJ booth telling me I had to switch with the resident DJ. I was like, fine, but I’m not coming back.
Your favourite city to spin in?
I’d probably say Delhi. People go quite hard here at times. London’s obviously great for obvious reasons. I mean, in India, it’s definitely Delhi. Delhi seems to be overtaking … I mean, people in other cities might disagree, but when we started Bangalore and Bombay were the cities, but now, partly because of the police shit and the legal stuff, but also just because Delhi has a lot of people who want to make things happen and Delhi is really going strong.
An artist or producer whom you admire or respect, but rarely feel compelled to listen to?
I’ve got loads of people who fit into that category. I just don’t listen to Prince. I never quite got my head around Prince even though I know he’s amazing. Kate Bush. A couple of Kate Bush tunes are heavy. I’m going to get absolutely killed if you write that down. She’s an amazing artist, but I don’t just sit around and listen to Kate Bush records.
WC: What about in dance music?
It depends what you mean by good. Even Skrillex is a good producer in some ways. I mean, his drums sound fucking hard. He produces polished pieces of dance music. I find them totally obnoxious to listen to, and it frustrates me that 90% of people who call themselves dubstep fans adore that kind of stuff, but that’s an example of that kind of producer. There are shitloads of people like that in hip-hop, especially. You can’t deny that someone like will.i.am is a great producer. Even Kanye West I’m completely bored of, but he’s a fantastic producer.
Bit controversial, but I actually don’t listen to a lot of drum and bass at home. It’s the main thing I DJ, but it’s fairly rare that I go sit down at home and put on a drum and bass album or a drum and bass mix unless I’m collecting tunes for a set or having a mix. I listen to soul and blues, and random shit… a lot of hip-hop. I don’t really listen to drum and bass at home.
The effect of zero gravity on the downbeat?
Is that an actual question? I don’t have a cool or clever answer for that. I’m going to have to email you.
**You'll be able to catch Praxis flex his DJ skills on Friday 21 and Saturday 22 December in New Delhi, playing alongside Nanci & Phoebe, The Ska Vengers and Reggae Rajahs. Details on these shows can be found on our events page here**
Words: Kerry Harwin
Image Credit: blueFROG