Entering a Mumbai nightclub during a Bay Beat Collective DJ set instantly transports me from the city’s predictable stiletto-sporting, Gucci handbag-wielding clubbing dynamics, to the grinding, sweaty vibe of the bass nights in Brighton and London that were the backdrop to my university days.
In everything from running shoes to chappals to jeans, the motley crowd at Bonobo – a rooftop bar in Bandra – is dressed to dance, and dancing they are. If metal fans are headbangers and psy-trance lovers are raising their hands up to the DJ or shiny-happy-Goan-skies, bass music has been made for the dance floor. The many beats of dubstep, drum and bass, and other bass-heavy genres means part of the magic is picking the beat you want to dance to. Bass music is rapidly picking up tempo as DJs across the country drop heavy beats and Mumbai’s Bay Beat Collective (BBC) has most definitely kickstarted a bass music movement in the country.
The energy of BBC’s club nights is a stark contrast with the collective’s unassuming attitude. Hailing from diverse backgrounds and pursuing varying career interests, Sohail Arora, one of BBC’s founding members was part of the metal band named Skincold during his engineering college years. Following this, he did two-year stint with the music programming team at Mumbai club The Blue Frog. More recently he founded Krunk, an alternative booking agency working with new, dynamic artists across the country including Mumbai electro rock act Shaa’ir+Func and Delhi electronica artist Dualist Inquiry. Kris Correya, the other half of Bay Beat Collective’s duo (Raffael Kably, the third founding member, is currently pursuing film production on a full-time basis, and is not playing with the collective at the moment), began his career as a freelance DJ following a diploma in mass communications. Correya DJ’ed for six years at Zenzi Bar, the popular Mumbai club that was also known for discovering and promoting new musical talent in the country before shutting down in 2011. Correya is currently setting up F Bar in Mumbai, which he describes as ‘a funky laidback lounge that transforms into a high energy bar.’
Arora traces the origins of BBC back to 2008, when he and Kably joined Correya at his weekly Zenzi Bar nights, and began playing to small crowds of not more than 15 people. By constantly spreading the word about their weekly nights, the trio formed BBC later in 2008, and were eventually drawing a crowd of 60 new bass enthusiasts every week. The momentum of bass music during this time was paralleled in two other major Indian cities. New Delhi’s BASSFoundation – a three-person bass-heavy sound system – and Bengaluru’s Vachan Chinnappa, worked alongside BBC to spread previously unheard music across the country.
It is within this context of a nascent movement that the notion of a collective gains particular importance. Says Arora, “As a solo artist, it may not have worked that well. The three of us needed to push it together, because the bass music scene wasn’t established yet. It needed to be a collective effort and it needed to be a national effort.” A collective not only helped BBC build a bass culture but also opened up possibilities for diversity and unpredictability in a DJ set. With Kably’s focus on dubstep, Arora’s love of drum and bass and glitch-hop and Correya’s exploring of more experimental forms of bass like drumstep, two-step and half-step, “there were times we would go to shows and we didn’t know what the other person was going to play. By now, we’ve expanded to literally every form of bass music.” Arora adds, “If you’re totally disconnected from the audience, it’s not going to work. For example, if we go to a place and realise it’s not a drum and bass sort of crowd, we’ll play some breakbeat or glitchhop, which are more accessible genres. If you want to be a good DJ, it’s very important to be a good listener and respect your audience.”
Bass-heavy music, unexplored in most cities or deemed inaccessible as compared with more popular electronic genres like psy-trance, techno or house, has only just begun to raise its head (and beats) above-ground over the past two years. Promoting gigs, therefore, is as important as being an accomplished DJ. Sitting in Arora’s Krunk office with a low bass beat playing in the background, I am reminded of the cafes, clubs and streets of Brighton city, known for its experimental bass music culture. The walls are covered with colorful and creative posters for various music gigs, displaying graffiti or digital style art forms closely associated with urban musical genres including hip-hop, reggae, and more recently, bass.
The culture of distributing flyers to attract wider audiences has allowed various forms of underground music to thrive across the world and also tied visual art and music together. “The whole bass revolution [in India] stands out because we were the first few crew to start this in Bombay,” says Arora, “No one promoted their parties with flyers, it was just done through Facebook, emails or websites. So we started actually making sure that we put out flyers for the gigs many weeks in advance to start creating a buzz.”
Besides popularizing the genre, it becomes increasingly crucial for artists to identify their own unique sounds. Indian classical sounds and Bollywood riffs have been mixed into UK-based dubstep tracks since 2002, leading one to presume the future of Indian bass music production lies in such “cultural” influences. While this is indeed the case with DJs like Bandish Projekt, whose remixes of Bollywood songs with a bassy edge have put him on the musical map, both classical and mainstream Indian music via Bollywood have had a far less monolithic link to BBC’s sound. “At the end of the day, we’re influenced by other artists in the bass scene, not classical Indian music. A group like us producing music will be very different from a person in England doing the same, because we come from a different background, with different influences and thought processes.” Being a group rooted in Mumbai, BBC points to everything from local trains to the food and art in the city as influences.
This idea resonates strongly with artists from postcolonial countries working with not just music, but in varied mediums. For example, many visual artists from the subcontinent have questioned a characteristically “Indian” or “ethnic” undertone to their work as the only means towards international validation. Similarly, musical artists are grappling with such questions of culture versus cliche. As Indian bass DJs increasingly find themselves playing to global audiences – BBC, BASSFoundation and Reggae Rajahs are making their way to renowned bass music event Outlook Festival in Croatia this summer – it will be fascinating to listen to the ways in which the “Indianness” of their music finds its path into the international bass scene.
Looking forward to the future of BBC, Correya’s response once again firmly places the successes of the collective within the wider bass movement. “We would like to be in a situation where this music has really gained momentum in India. As the sound gets more prominent, we’d like to be an influential part of it. We’re soon going to release music we’ve produced and we want to know we’ve made a difference to the Indian dance music scene,” says Correya.
This piece was originally published in the digital and print editions of Rolling Stone Magazine on 18 May 2012.