Building Communities With Boiler Room's Head Of Music Raj Chaudhuri
3 March 2016
The Coalition begins tomorrow and as some of you may already know, Wild City is co-curating the music stream for the event. The day will feature a number of talks and panel discussions on various aspects within the music industry – from how to run a solid live show, to how to recognise and place talent within the industry as a manager.
We’re particularly excited for ‘Future Communities’, a discussion that aims to highlight the importance of a loyal community in the evolving landscape.
One of the panellists on board is Bleep.com’s label manager, Boiler Room’s head of music and founder of London’s now iconic hip-hop night Livin’ Proof – Raj Chaudhuri, a.k.a. Raji Rags. We can’t overstate everything he’s done for the international music community – right from booking some of Boiler Room’s most iconic first acts (Thom Yorke, Danny Brown, Four Tet and many more) to his role in London’s hip-hope scene with Livin’ Proof (his passion for the genre really translates in his recent dissection of Dill1651970's1651973'Donut1651980' below).
To call his knowledge of music ‘vast’ would do him injustice, as you’d gather from this interview, and he’s dedicated his career to making underground music accessible to people worldwide.
We got in touch with Chaudhuri before his talk tomorrow at The British Council, and DJ set with Space Dimension Controller at Bandstand. Read on to know a little more about a typical day at the Boiler Room headquarters, what he thinks a spirit of community means for the growth of an industry and that one time he played detective with Action Bronson:
Tell us a bit about a day as head of music at Boiler Room.
A day in the office usually involves a lot of meetings, emails and talking about and listening to music. When it is out of the office, it can range from setting up a broadcast from a concert hall, meeting with artists, filming for documentaries, setting up strange venues and building sets and various other random things coupled with a lot of travelling.
I say that like i1653396's me doing it all alone. Ther1653427's an amazing team that makes it all click together. 1653481'm a tiny part of what makes it happen.
It genuinely never gets boring.
India’s still at a nascent stage where the scene is relatively small within its own bubble - since we’re talking about building communities, how do you nurture and develop this into something meatier?
I think the key for anywhere in the world - and I really mean anywhere in the world - is that a country develops its own sound and style. This happens naturally as the environment dictates the community and how they ingest musical influences.
Where global music becomes really interesting, is when a local scene interprets music its own unique way. If house and techno music never evolved, everything would just sound like its from Chicago and Detroit; hip-hop would only sound like its from New York, and so on.
Imitation is always flattering, and sometimes it’s necessary to incorporate the form and structure of how that music initially developed. But when it morphs and adapts into something new in a separate location is when it becomes really exciting...
Despite being of Indian descent - I was born in London and immersed in that bubble. I actually know very little about the contemporary Indian music scene but am definitely keen to know and hear more...
Image courtesy Deal Real
You’ve been a key hip-hop promoter in London with Livin’ Proof. What was the motivation behind the nights; did you feel like something lacked in the scene?
There are 4 of us that run Livi1655078' Proof (although the wider family is much bigger) and it was started at a time where we were all fans who saw the hip-hop scene implode quickly within London.
It sounds dramatic but it really did implode. Within the space of a year or 2, every major hip-hop record store, pirate radio station, and even major vinyl distributors and club nights all ceased business around the same time.
We all knew each other from a record store called Deal Real that I worked at. We used to host weekly Friday in stores, where we would all DJ together and unknown UK MCs would come and do open mics alongside a load of US rappers who would pass through every week (from Kanye to Wu Tang to Mos Def - literally whoever was hip-hop and was in town that Friday would pass through). For a short while, it was the only place to be if you liked hip-hop and lived in London.
When that record store shut - we had nothing to do and nowhere to go.
We started Livi1656116' Proof in a tiny bar around the corner from where that shop was, mainly because we wanted somewhere all those Friday regulars could hang out. It was free entry and it felt like a house party every time.
How has Livin’ Proof evolved since it began? What were some of its landmark events?
Basically, hip-hop has become very big again and we’ve grown with it.
8 years ago when we started, the hip-hop scene was1656565't in the best place. We were mainly DJing old classic 90s hip-hop because we thought that was better than the rap music being made at the time.
When hip-hop started getting exciting again - we embraced it and we became the first night in London to champion the new wave of US rap artists that now dominates the charts.
We put on ASAP Rocky and Danny Brown’s first UK show; booked Hudson Mohawke early to play hip-hop sets years before he started working with Kanye. We did early shows with Schoolboy Q, ASAP Ferg, Action Bronson, Joey Badass.
We were very close to getting Kendric1657711's first show too! That would have been my dream booking to be honest…
Now hip-hop has grown and feels genuinely more exciting, our night has grown at the same rate. London has lots of new hip-hop club nights nowadays but for a long while, we was the only option playing the music that we play.
What do you think defines a good club night?
A sense of community - knowing you are at a place with other people who are all there for the music and the music only. Oh, and good resident DJs. A good crowd and community means nothing if the DJs are rubbish.
I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that Boiler Room has changed the way music is heard and has in a way made the world a much smaller place. What are some of your defining moments as head of music there?
There are way too many. Before I actually worked here full time, I booked some of the early bookings that were big landmarks in Boiler Roo1658805's early years. Hudson Mohawke, Danny Brown (Boiler Roo1658861's first proper rap show), Thom Yorke...
I really like seeing Boiler Room used as a platform for smaller artists. Like Broadcasts w1658999've done with Nissennmondai, Konono No 1, the Collections show with Budgie. 1659298'm very proud of these shows even though they are not the biggest.
There was a show I did with Action Bronson with a GoPro camera stuck on his head. It was incredible but unfortunately some idiot stole the camera when Action finished the performance.
Action called me up and said we needed to find the camera at any cost. I agreed. We worked way too hard to make that show and idea happen together so we were pissed off.
We went through all the footage from our cameras and found the guy who took it. I asked around with everyone I knew in the crowd and did some detective work - found his address, work place, even his email.
It was a stupid idea to steal in a Boiler Room event with cameras everywhere. I got in touch and told him w1660131'd release the footage of him stealing the camera on Facebook to Boiler Roo1660207's 1million+ followers and Action Bronson’s 250k+ followers unless we got the footage and camera back immediately.
It was returned in a cab a few hours later. I enjoyed playing detective. It made a change from all the music stuff I normally do.
Boiler Room has also expanded from being club focussed, and is now hosting events that put together the likes of Actress and the London Symphony Orchestra. Your Upfront series with classical, ambient and underground hip-hop labels is also getting a fair bit of attention. What’s Boiler Room’s thinking/booking process when not just doing club nights?
I wish there was an easy answer for this, it would probably make my life and all of the music teams life much easier. However, i1661099's not a black and white process at all.
We have a diverse global music team and we do1661192't just sit around listening to house and techno. We like bands, rappers, classical music, grime, ambient - music from all around the world and from different genres - some of it straight up, some of it weird as hell.
Ultimately, we just try and put on good music and there’s nothing more to it than that really.
Slightly tangential – any thoughts on this?
We all think i1661697's hilarious. We met the guy who did this at ADE. We sat down with him and drank beers with him all night.
We do1661816't take ourselves too seriously. A few years ago, a viral video went out with "Boiler Roo1661906's Funny Moments" with subtitles over some of the best bit. Blaise (founder of Boiler Room) got in touch with the guy who made it saying he loved it. That guy moved from Scotland to London and he now works for us full time!
You’re head of music at Boiler Room, a prolific DJ and running your own club night in one of the most bustling cities in the world. What role do you feel most comfortable in and why?
Without question, DJing...i1662415's the most fun and least stressful thing I do. I love my job but i1662483's non-stop and can be very hectic. It is very rewarding, but it does come with many challenges along the way.
DJing to a good crowd on a good sound system is as rewarding as it gets, with none of the downsides.
Looking forward to being in India, anything you’re keen on checking out, or been keeping an eye on recently?
1662845'm most looking forward to making a quick little getaway and seeing my family. I do1662929't see them enough and tha1662956's what India most means to me, to be honest.
Finally – and I know this is tough – but what’s your favourite Boiler Room yet? (if not yet, then at the moment)?
Ha - impossible to say. It changes daily.
Better to look forward than to look back anyway. 1663248'm not going to be happy until I get Kendrick Lamar on a Boiler Room...
**The Coalitio1663349's music stream takes place tomorrow at the British Council. Head over to the website for details. Raji Rags will be performing at Bandstand tomorrow night with Space Dimension Controller - details here**
Interviewed by Diya Gupta
Image credit: Alex Zalewska