A man with "six hands" as OuterSound.com called him. Well here we have it, he is finally sitting down and discussing his beginnings, his background and his musical interests. It's this that has created the musical diaspora that he showcases when he gets you nodding your head and shaking your ass at that last Mutiny.
AV: How did you get started with Mutiny? How did you get involved with this project?
Nav: For Mutiny I came in as a guest in December of '98. I basically didn't know about it until a month before Talvin was coming, and I went to go see him at the Knitting Factory. I knew Rekha from Basement Bhangra because I used to go to it. So when I saw them at the Knitting Factory, I heard Vivek (Siraiki) spinning some really dope beats and I realized that I had a lot of those tracks myself, I thought "I spin a lot of those tracks also" so I went up to Rekha and told her that "I would totally like to spin at [Mutiny]." She asked me for a demo and actually I had a mix tape on me right there, I gave it to her and asked her to let me know what she thought. The very next day she called me up and said that her and Vivek really liked the demo and wanted to know if I would want to do the next Mutiny as a guest.
So December '98 ended up being my first Mutiny. After that they had me come in again in February '99. Since the crowd really enjoyed everything that I was doing each time they asked me, if I wanted to be a resident at Mutiny. And of course, I agreed.
AV: Since you had your mix tapes before Mutiny, were you doing work at any other party before this?
Nav: My sound has evolved; when I initially started mixing it was a lot of hip-hop and house but, a lot of it was for myself. I had done a few gigs up in Boston because I had some connections up there but it was more for myself. I was very into beats and scratching but, I never really found a space like Mutiny which was conducive to allowing me to play the type of stuff that I liked to play and show all the different influences that I had rather than being, pigeon holed into just being hip-hop or being just house. But, nothing as involved as this was there before.
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AV: So would you give Mutiny the credit for not becoming the typical "desi dj" remixing bollywood with hip-hop beats? Not getting stuck in that scene?
Nav: Well I mean the artists at Mutiny do stuff that is different than that. The stuff like straight desi remixes is not really the stuff I ever did. I think it was partly that Mutiny was a space that allowed artists to do work that was a little bit experimental. But, my stuff would have never worked at a "desi" party nor did I have any desire to want to do anything there. I mean that's not the only type of music I listen to. I listen to a lot of non-indian music and a lot of outside influences say from Moby to whomever. But, I can't really play Moby at a desi party. Mutiny was the space that finally clicked with me; they were actually willing to hear the kind of stuff that I liked to do personally. I have always had an idea of what I wanted my sound to be like and Mutiny was the only party that was allowing artists to make music that was a bit more cutting edge. So they get full credit for being a space and allowing people to be creative there.
AV: You mention Moby, so is there anyone else besides that who you would consider influences?
Nav: Well there are a lot of artists, I can go on and on from various genres like Moby, Prodigy, even Depeche Mode. Then on the Indian side, well I have played the tabla since I was 10 so already had the whole classical training. Even from a bhangra standpoint, a lot of the stuff that Bally Sagoo and Punjabi MC were doing really influenced me - they did a good job, I thought they kept the music pure with the Punjabi beats. On the hip-hop side the biggest influences for me were people like Public Enemy, Gang Starr, Pete Rock, Cypress Hill, andN.W.A.. For me, I had all these different kinds of music being inputted into my brain and I made my own interpretation of all these different elements. So the bottom line for me is that I just like beats, so if the beat is good then it doesn't matter what genre the music really is - if the beat is good, you will know it.
AV: So how did you decide to do the Dido remix? Why that particular song?
Nav: That was done because I felt her track.
AV: Even before Eminem used it?
Nav: (laughs) Yes, I had her stuff before that. The reason I knew about her actually, is because I have been a fan of Rollo & Bliss for a long time and the whole house scene. So, through Rollo & Bliss I found out aboutDido. I do like a lot of mellow stuff as well and I had heard that track by Dido and thought it was a good track. I did the remix mainly for myself. I felt like making a remix of her track and when I spun it out it got a pretty good response so that was cool.
AV: So, speaking of remixes how do you then approach them? How do think of how to compose them?
Nav: When I do a remix, there is no set system. I might think of one thing when I listen to the track but when I start making the remix it might end up being completely different. I just let myself go wherever I wish to go with it. For me one thing that is really powerful is to hold on to vocals and have it as a hook so that people can understand the song. So that is part of it when I do the remix. I listen to the vocals to see if there is anything that catches my ear. When I did Karsh Kale's remix particularly, I reconstructed the vocals to make it into a different hook. The hook was then taken from fragments of different verses and that's what I think the art of remixing is. It's taking a song and completely making it into a new song. Its like the original is great song on its own, the remix should thus be a great song on its own and it's only upon knowing both the songs when the connection between them should become apparent.
AV: So being that there are a lot of people out there that an artist should be someone creating original work not creating a remix. How would you respond to that bias, that a remixes are not original compositions?
Nav: Well there is a difference between doing a remix where you just drop a beat behind the track versus making a completely different track. Like I said the art of remixing is taking various fragments from a track and reinterpreting all the pieces and elements. For someone who only wants original work, I agree original work is great also, I have original work and a lot of the other artists do too. The thing that is very positive about remixes is that it's a great way to connect with other musicians. I mean Karsh and me are very good friends and the fact that he wanted a remix meant a lot to me. It was basically my product that he was also involved in because it was his original song. So when it comes to remixes that is the greatest thing, it's a great way to connect with other people and to sincerely show to another artist that you really felt their work and their song inspired you to produce this other product. There is a big difference between making a remix that is actually a completely new song on its own versus just say, taking a Hindi song and putting a hip-hop beat behind it. So it depends to what degree the remix is done. A lot of people view it as just dropping a beat behind the original song but, that's really not what a remix is.
AV: So how would you respond to the people who say this scene is a fad and will not get bigger especially since the whole bollywood remix scene is already so big?
Nav: Well main thing is that the music is different and the people that come are different. What I feel is that this scene is composed of people that are at a level where they want to hear stuff that they haven't heard before. They want to hear artists making original music, not just capitalize off of someone else's work. These people want to hear music they haven't heard before, things that to them completely didn't exist until they heard this artist spin it out in a club. I mean, everyone has their own bias as to what they are looking for when they go out. But, there are also people who go to both the scenes, to the bollywood remix parties and the stuff going on in this scene as well. So it's everyone's personal choice.
AV: Ok changing gears here a bit, mind sharing how your studio is set up at home. For the people out there who are interested in getting into this scene?
Nav: The main thing to me is, I keep everything in very good condition. With technology one can do a lot nowadays. As far as software is concerned, I like to use Pro Tools and Reason. And of course through MIDI one can make a lot of various sounds, even with a generic MIDI keyboard, you can use that to trigger various other sounds and make a completely original sound. I have a Mackie board I mix it all down on. I also have my turntables connected to the Mackie board. My tablas are also connected to my Mackie board and then I have the various keyboards and drum machines all hooked up also. So for someone getting into it my advice would be to start off with the software first. Mainly because the software is a bit more accessible and you don't need to buy these expensive big rack mountable components to make music. My advice would be to go out and get the software and experiment to realize if music production is what you would like to do. Then, move on to the hardware. Even now everything I do, I finalize and master on software and all the big artists out there use Pro Tools or some type of software into which they incorporate hardware and live elements.
AV: So, Mac or Windows?
Nav: For me actually its Windows, but everyone I know likes Mac. The reason for Windows is because there are a lot more programs available for it. Many of which, are easily accessible (smirks).
AV: So besides the tabla and the keyboards any other instruments that you play?
Nav: Well kind of going along with the tablas I also play the drums. I started playing drums when I was thirteen and have been trained in jazz drumming and also even in specific rudimental drumming which is just snare drum and stuff like that - which is used to work more on your hand techniques. I can also play the Dhol as well. That's something to look out for in the future because I will definitly play dhol in one of my sets. I play the harmonium also from the classical training that I have. And then after that once you have a musical ear and know what things should sound like, then the world of electronica is wide open to you. That's, what I think is remarkable about this genre is that you can make this out of your room. You just need a computer and if you really have a passion and a ear for it then its all there for you.
AV: This title Asian Underground or as its now called Asian Massive. How would you explain it to an outsider looking in? For a little while there all you expected when you heard "Asian Underground" was drum n base.
Nav: First of all it's not limited to a certain BPM. It's not just drum n base, or house or breakbeat. Basically I would say that it's a product of people growing up where they are exposed to a lot of different sounds. With the whole progression of the Internet it's a lot easier to get music from all around the world. So one doesn't even need to be from India living in America or England or wherever to make this kind of music, you don't have to be brown you can be brown. It's just a matter of incorporating elements that haven't been conventionally used in western music.
AV: So then for someone who is purist, who is very interested in hearing the "raags" or "bhajans" as straight up South Asian classical and responds to this scene as the bastardization of that original scene. How would you answer that then?
Nav: (laughs) Well, if you only want to hear the "pure" stuff then only listen that. I think the person who has that bias needs to realize that we are all classically trained. Karsh, Talvin, me have studied classical South Asian music for many years and we have just as much appreciation for classical music as the next guy. We appreciate it so much that we are trying to bring it to this new level by incorporating other elements. So yes its not technically Indian classical music but I don't think it's bastardizing it in anyway. But, if you still feel it is bastardized then well don't listen to it. I enjoy and listen to "pure" Indian classical also and plenty of the other artists do also; we all feel it in our hearts and we all appreciate it and by any means the last thing we would want to do is disrespect it.
AV: Your best dj in ny title? How did that actually work out? Did you have to enter a contest?
Nav: (laughs) The funniest thing with that is that, I still don't know who the person was who wrote up the article and who ever it is and if they are [reading], "thanks." To me the best part about that was that the writer actually gave the scene, the sound some credit. It finally showed that yes Asian Massive or Asian Underground is a legitimate scene / sound and is something worth checking out. To me that was the biggest deal because it gave credit to all the musicians involved in the scene.
AV: Well where do you think you are going to go musically? You mentioned jazz drumming will we be hearing that in future Navdeep tracks?
Nav: Musically where I am going to go, I can just say everywhere; there are so many different styles that I like and so many different influences that I have had. I will definitely be doing some jazzy drum n bass in the future. At the same time, I am really enjoying the sound that I have evolved which has this heavy driving beat quality to it. I am also making these mellow trip-hop tracks. Also, I am doing some work in hip-hop. I have this MC that is going to be working on tracks with me. He is a rapper himself on his own, an independent artist. He is going to be my MC for some tracks that I do; he is the main person that I am going to be working with right now. But I have a lot of other projects that are in the works right now. So its hard to say, basically you are going to hear everything.
AV: So share with us, what's coming up new from you then? What are you working on?
Nav: Right now I am working on a lot of different music. The first project I am currently involved in is with Tribeca. He is the rapper I mentioned earlier. He is on this label called Major League Entertainment. I am going to be doing a drum n base remix of one of his tracks and he is going to MC in one of mine. Then there is this female artist named Manjeet who I will be working with. She is classically trained and has a very mellow smooth R&B sound. We just recorded her vocals last week for trip hop track we are doing together - she is coming out with her own stuff as well. Then another artist named Bikram Singh. He is a Punjabi singer, who has done some Punjabi vocals for me already, and is coming out with a lot of his own work. So you'll definitely be hearing about him in the future. There also another artist named Aveer who is more on the rock side and I am also collaborating with him on a track. So there are a lot of different things coming up.
AV: You didn't mention Mutiny in there? Anything coming out with them?
Nav: Well me, Zakhm and Siraiki all have our own tracks. So, given when the time line is appropriate there will definitely be a Mutiny piece that will come out. Even, Anju is working on tracks and it should be good. We all definitely have our own sounds so it should be a great compilation.
AV: How do you imagine this scene to pan out? Where do you see it going?
Nav: It is going to grow. I mean this scene is still in its infancy and if you compare it to other scenes that have gotten huge they all start out like this. It's actually refreshing right now because the scene is small enough that one can meet everyone else involved in it. But, at the same time it's multinational. There is a scene in Delhi, in London, in San Francisco and yet it's small enough that you can get in contact with the people out there and I think it's great. The scene will definitely get bigger. There is no doubt in my mind about that.
AV: So that's basically all that I had to ask, any final words? Anything else you wanted to share?
Nav: Thanks would be the best and final thing to say, for everyone who supported me as an artist and the movement in general.
AV: And of course we can add, check out 360navdeep.com for Nav's newest sounds and updates.
Nav: (laughs) Yes, exactly 360navdeep.com! those are my finals words.