To the beats of desi bass: Su Real talks about identity, Twerkistan, and Nucleya
Suhrid Manchanda aka Su Real’s artwork for his just-released new album Twerkistan features a provocative portrayal of women akin to most hip hop, but then again, his album is named after the most ridiculously sexual dance move of twerking. His music videos, which he has a major hand in as the creative head, also revel in that familiar flavour of hip hop videos.
For his animated video "Soldiers”, Su Real plays cupid and DJ in a reference to 2014’s nationwide Kiss of Love protests against moral policing of public display of affection. Su Real says he’s not afraid of any moral police picking up his album though. “I’m trying to abide by the letter of the law. If people have a problem, I’m happy to apologise and remove it and appease them. But I think it’s important that we have the conversation,” he says.
Suhrid’s twist with being a producer and DJ in India started when he moved to New Delhi in 2008. Prior to that, he’d lived, studied and worked in places ranging from Montreal to New York City to Malaysia. He’s now part of an increasing number of desi bass music producers, who are sampling everything from Bollywood to folk music to Hindustani classical and Carnatic music along with quaking basslines and beat changes that are guaranteed to make dancefloors hyper.
At the top of the line of Desi bass producers is Udyan Sagar aka Nucleya, who has sort of mentored and supported Su Real for years now. Suhrid says, “He played some of my tracks in his sets. He plays a few tracks from quite a few other Desi bass producers — Ritviz, Sickflip — he’s been supporting us all to try to get a movement going.” Twerkistan — along with Su Real’s earlier material including Trapistan and Brown Folks EP — has been blasted out to huge crowds in the past month, because Su Real has been opening for Nucleya’s biggest productions yet, including performing to over 10,000 people at the NSCI Stadium in Mumbai in September. Suhrid says, “They (crowds) are obviously there to see Nucleya, but there’s a strong feeling that everyone wants to be a part of something bigger. Something that represents what life is like for Indian youth today — their aspirations and values.”
Of course, Suhrid admits there’s nothing new about an East-West fusion of music, but he points towards the massive success of a song like Major Lazer’s “Lean On” in 2014, which is now a regular at everything from street processions to weddings to clubs in India. Suhrid says, “Major Lazer, two or three years ago, I was the only guy playing their music in the country.” He adds that because of producers like Nucleya and the popularity of electronic music, the divisions between what’s commercial and underground music have begun to blur. That explains why Su Real can deconstruct and bass-ify everything from the Indian National Anthem to OP Nayyar’s “Mera Naam Chin Chin Choo” to folk star Raghu Dixit’s “Parasiva”.
There’s no reason to compare Nucleya’s (now) highly commercial electronic dance music with Su Real’s concoction of trap, hip hop and bass music, however. Their approaches to desi bass music too, are completely different. Suhrid explains, “Believe me, even on the streets of New York, I’m an outsider. Just as much here, on the streets on Delhi, I’m at home, but I’m still very much an outsider. Nucleya grew up here his whole life. He has roots here, he has an understanding of the youth that’s different from my understanding of Indian society and culture. It’s kind of a yin and yang.”
Suhrid’s fascination with Indian culture — as an outsider — definitely lays a mark throughout the 16-track banger that’s Twerkistan. From random samples of conversations and quotes that are delectably Indianisms (“Turban Shake” to “Kabaddi”, which will be his next music video) to recreating anecdotes such as “Rave Bust”, which is 12-minutes of media-bedevilling drug culture in India, punctuated by a scene like no other. Suhrid says, “An old-school DJ named Golu, he’s been DJing in Delhi, in the hills and now in Goa since the 1980s and 90s. He was telling me this story where he was DJing at a rave in Manali and just as the build-up to one track started, the police showed up. They demanded the microphone and started saying all these things — ‘tum sab ko giraftar karenge’ and stuff. But all the ravers were just tripping their balls off — they thought it was part of the song. They had their hands up and cheered and kept dancing.”
It’s about eliciting a laugh, but Twerkistan’s catchiest moment arrives way earlier than the album closer that’s “Rave Bust”. On his second single “Soldiers”, Suhrid, General Zooz (from reggae collective The Reggae Rajahs) and vocalist Tanya Nambiar identify as the “soldiers of love” and call out how “too much suppression leads to aggression/too much regression leads to expression”. Suhrid adds, “I like to make big songs where they’re dance tracks but they’re about something, you know?"
Watch the video for "Twerkistan" here: