Nucleya: The Making Of India’s Biggest Brand In Electronic Music

9 June 2016

It’s not much of a stretch to say that most Indian electronic music exists either at ‘EDM’ events and festivals like Supersonic and Sunburn, or on the flipside, in the sort of hipster-niche vacuum of your Bandras and Hauz Khas Villages. It’s the difference between mainstream and alternative, so-cool urban city culture and small towns and (this point is especially important in India’s case) the difference between class. It’s in India that you see these differences most obviously – from (seemingly) superficial changes in fashion and taste to much more pervasive and telling signs like shifts in language. What has reached most of India is recycled content from MTV and Vh1 and lets be honest, bad, formulaic electronic dance music.

In a recent interview with Anupama Chopra however, Udyan Sagar a.k.a Nucleya sheepishly claims to be one of the few original Indian producers who has broken past all those divides - and for the intent of this feature, we have to agree.

Irrespective of what you think of his music, Nucleya has made himself heard. From opening for Skrillex and Major Lazer to playing a short set at a small pub in the posh parts of Delhi and playing the main stage at NH7 Weekender - the growth of Nucleya as a brand and the overwhelming popularity that comes with it has been extraordinary.

Nucleya has become a case study for successful homegrown music circuit that isn’t Bollywood. How does a guy making fusion/Indian influenced electronic music manage to pack halls in towns that aren’t Delhi, Mumbai, Pune or Bangalore? To convince people to get his lyrics (“fuck that shit”) tattooed on them for the rest of eternity? How does he have young kids across the country from Jalander to Chennai yelling his lyrics back at him? Sure, Nucleya’s music does ascribe to some formula most of the time, but Nucleya has repeatedly denied calling his music EDM and has stated before (and we tend to agree to an extent with him here) that his music is a genre unto itself.

It could be the familiarity with Indian samples or the fact that his music is easily accessible and far from pretentious, but we believe that a large part of Nucleya’s success also comes from the right strategies in getting people to listen to it, early on. We called up Udyan and his manager at OML Tej Brar to understand how and why Nucleya works as well as he does.

“…and I got bored of that, so I started making something else…”

Off the bat I have to say that Udyan was one of the nicest, almost disarmingly modest people I’ve ever had to interview (surprising considering how many unknown bedroom producers have a chip on their shoulder). He’s been making music for almost 15 years now: “I got into it making experimental electronic music and got bored of it. Then I started producing drum and bass; and I got bored of that, so I started making something else. I did house music for a long time after that, but at some point I realised that many years had passed and I wasn’t making enough money. So then I started making Bollywood remixes.” This was soon before Nucleya moved on to bigger, collaborative projects like Bandish Project and Order Of The Essence (with B.R.E.E.D.). It was at one of their gigs where he first met Tej Brar, his long-time manager.

He was 33 and a resident DJ at Kitty Su when Brar took over “The general consensus seemed to be that he was a little past his prime and that this was really as good as it was going to get. I disagreed and asked if I could take him over and manage him. I asked Udyan to send me all the music he had ever written, and we ended up selecting 6 tracks out of them, which went up to make ‘Koocha Monster’.”

“I’m just like as surprised as anyone else…”

Since then, Nucleya’s managed to take his music out of the bubble and create a sound that manages to cross over the Eastern-Western divide to a wide range of audiences. But this wasn’t a conscious decision: “The only funda behind Nucleya was to pay my rent and be as creative as I could and showcase different music styles as an artist. I’m just as surprised as anyone else about why is my music working. I have no idea.”

Despite the immense popularity, however, Nucleya’’s never become complacent success, which is apparent in his almost sheepish tone of voice and is something Tej can also attest to: “Every time we achieve a goal there's a new one that shows up on the horizon and I love that. I think Udyan is going to achieve things that him and I cannot even fathom right now. If he pushes the boundaries he could truly be the bridge between mainstream India and electronic music as a culture.”

“Whether they like your music or not is second rate, it has to reach them first…”

Udyan told me at multiple points during our conversation that one of the keys to his success was giving music out for free, emphasising that any substantial income would in any case be generated from merch, live shows, “and hopefully streaming in the future”.

“People need to get music somehow, you know? In the easiest way possible. And when you give your music out for free, people share it and it replicates itself really, really fast and at the end of the day, that’s what you want. I know a lot of artists who’d do really well if they just got people to listen to them.”

Tej tells us that they wanted to give ‘Koocha Monster’ out for free for three reasons – to make it easier for students without access to online payment methods to hear the music, to make it more easily sharable and lastly – to encourage a sense of loyalty in Nucleya’s fans. – “When his audience base received something for free that they know took a lot of hard work and years to produce, they value that gesture.”

“Reaching out to smaller cities is the only way your audience will increase.”

The only way to get yourself out of the very real alternative-music bubble, according to Tej and Udyan, is to play in smaller cities. It’s something that’s worked tremendously for them, and Udyan even tells us about his last tour for the launch of Bass Rani where they played in over 20 cities across India: “That’s when the audience will increase, you know? Otherwise you’ll have your cool underground hipster audience in Bombay Delhi and Bangalore, so four hundred, five hundred – maybe thousand people, max. Nothing will move beyond that.

For the Bass Rani tour, we went to Jalander, we went to Bhubhaneshwar - we did a lot of these smaller places where the audience is actually really incredible. The kids here don’t get to go for these shows so when they get a chance to enjoy themselves it’s just mad. This is something everyone should do because otherwise India’s market will just go to waste. It’s happening, it’s happening at its own pace.”

“Colleges were definitely the number one thing for us…”

Udyan also mentions the huge, untapped market that are college audiences: “I do think it’s a huge huge audience we’re talking about. I mean as an artist I’m not aware about the market and I don’t know about the market. Like I had this gig at a place called Lovely Professional University, and took it casually thinking bada maza aayega. I went there and to my surprise there were some 35/40 thousand kids there. And even more surprisingly they knew all my fucking songs” he tells us, laughing. “This is what all artists need to do!”

Nucleya isn’t just targeting college audiences – he’s also found fans in even younger kids, most recently at the YoutTube Fanfest where he played to still school-going teens, who were at the event with their parents. –“I thought ‘kisi ko samajh me nahin aayega’ but my manager convinced me to go and I was blown away. They knew everything. They knew all my songs, it was amazing.”

“I will do projects that I feel comfortable doing or a project that will challenge me as an artist.”

Bollywood - the great big temptress of the Indian entertainment industry always seemed like the next logical step for Nucleya, especially considering how much its music has been influenced by Western trends, most recently, EDM. It’s an idea that Nucleya’s open to, but not at the risk of his creative agency – “The thing for me is that I will do projects that I feel comfortable doing or a project that will challenge me as an artist (in a good way). Like I don’t want to be in a situation where I’m asked to make music like someone else, you know. I want to work with people who will give me enough creative freedom and space to sort of contribute to the project.

“I just need to meet deadlines…”

Nobody is immune to how much deadline’s suck, including Nucleya. With a new album due for September, it’s crunch time for the producer, who’s put all his live performances on hold to get things done on time. “With the way things have blown up, there’s so much on the line now that I just need to meet deadlines. I’ve given myself a couple of months so that I can finish my album. I need to get it mixed, mastered, the artwork, collaborations and album tour needs to be in place, the branding and any endorsements in the pipeline needs to be fixed and the merchandise needs to finalised.

We asked him if we can expect any big collaborators on the album and while Udyan couldn’t give us concrete names, he assured us that he’s got some surprises in store: “I’m actually working with national and international artists. I can’t give you definite names till everything’s finalised but there are some very big names in there.”

The poster boy for success in India’s music space gives us a little insight on what he thinks of the scene, currently as it is – “It’s definitely slow paced but its much better than before. What we need to do now is get as many people to make music, not just like DJs and producers but also bands, you know? To make clever music, interesting music, not like anything else. But we need to figure out a better way to get people to listen.”

So what needs to change in the industry? Tej rightly states that we can’t expect any evolution to take place without making positive attempts from within: “I've always been an advocate of creating change by starting with yourself. If you want to see something happen, you need to do it first and encourage others to do the same.”

Words: Diya Gupta
Image Credit (main): Nishan Matta Photography


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