We had to rely for inspiration on the greats like Shubha Mudgal, Hariprasad Chaurasiaji and Ravi Shankar

The MIDIval Punditz are the pioneers in introducing underground dance music to India. The group consists of Gaurav Raina and Tapan Raj, who spoke to Megh Rao from SoundboxIndia about their musical inspirations and the rise of electronic music in the country...

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*How has electronic music changed since the time you started making music?
 When we started making music in the late '90s, it was more of a fun thing to do. We were really young and we were still in college. It was fun to explore how computers could actually make sounds and use them to loop beats and create tracks out of it, predominantly dance music. Back then it was all about experimentation and having fun, finding something new to do, breaking new ground. We were pretty much the only people we knew who were doing this in India. So for us, it was just as much an exploration as it was an inspiration. So now we all know that electronic music has become a very, very strong force to reckon with and it has become a huge genre that has so many sub-genres. It has come a long way since where we started, till now.
Tapan: And the fact is that when we were starting off, even the tools we were using were not as powerful as the tools that we have at our disposal today. Now we have reached a stage where even on your iPad or on your phone you can at least make a basic structure of your song. These kinds of tools were not available at that time and they were not that accessible or cheap. What we have seen is, as the tools have evolved the musicians and our colleagues who are working on these styles – even us, the places where we are sitting and writing music – it does not have to be in a full-blown studio. You could be sitting in a bedroom, you could be sitting on a flight, you could be sitting in a hotel room and you can pen down your ideas. With all this happening, what we have noticed is that a lot of artistes have started penning down ideas and they have become more open to writing original music. Earlier it was all about – I am a DJ, I am going to download music or go and buy some music, mash it up, go play, get a crowd and that’s my career. But now the big change we have seen is the fact that the audiences want performers to make original music and there’s a lot of it out there and there’s lots of exciting music coming out of India – from Delhi, Bombay, Goa, Pune, Rajasthan, Jaipur...so many areas. And that’s the most exciting part - that the venues are ready and the artistes are prolific and the tools are real good. I think Indian electronic music is going to see a huge explosion and we are glad to be part of it.

*Who were the artistes that inspired you in your early days of electronic music production?
 For both of us, straight out of college – we were both into rock music, actually. It was only after college that we discovered bands like Chemical Brothers, The Prodigy, Underworld, Fatboy Slim. This was the '90s rave revolution in music, where electronic music suddenly became a huge thing. It was amazing how rock and electronic music came together. So for us, that was really something mind-blowing and we were heavily inspired by it. At the same time, because we needed some context to where we are making this music and for who we are – that’s how the MIDIval Punditz sound came out. It was a mix of different things from our lives.
Tapan: The interesting part is that at that stage we were thinking that we are the only folks in the world who were making the kind of music that we make. Soon we noticed that there’s a whole camp led by the genius Talvin Singh in the UK and he had put together a collective of artistes under the umbrella of 'Anokha', with people like Osmani Soundz, Equal I, Lelonek and Karsh Kale, whom we were not aware of. We were not even aware of the fact that the kind of music that we like is called 'drum n bass'. It was a huge eye-opener for us! For the next few years, it was a lot of collaborations, it was a lot of music exchange from these folks and suddenly we just felt so happy that we are not the only guys and there are lots of other artistes. It was a lot of give and take of inspiration from all these artistes at that time.

*Who are the Indian artistes you like listening to?
Well, you know, this list changes a lot. Maybe ten years back is you had asked us this question, it would have been different, because there were not so many musicians coming out of India, so we had to rely for inspiration on the greats like Shubha Mudgal or the people from the old Bollywood music fraternity or from the classical group - like Hariprasad Chaurasiaji, Ravi Shankar and Zakir Hussain. All these people were the pillars and we used to rely on them for inspiration. But over the years, since the music explosion has happened, there are lots of artistes coming out. Now I think we can name just ten right here in Delhi that we are really excited about - Komorebi, Jitter aka DJ Jayant, Curtain Blue, Piyush from Jaipur, Nucleya, BLOT… and these are just a few names. I am sure there are many, many others. There’s a huge selection of artistes now in India that we are excited to listen to; we get inspired to go and attend the events and we are very happy about that, because earlier these options weren’t there.