Contending with a COVID-19 world, DJs and electronic music producers test mellower tunes, best enjoyed indoors
As a result of the pandemic, through most of 2020 and even now in 2021, we're seeing the emergence of mellower, fluid electronic music that might bear an energetic influence, but is likely best enjoyed at home.
At the start of the previous decade, from 2010 onwards, India arguably saw a huge boom in electronic dance music, with everyone from heavyweights Swedish House Mafia, Skrillex and Deadmau5 performing, to globetrotting producers such as David Guetta, Nicky Romero, Martin Garrix and more making sure India was a regular on their annual touring schedules.
For all the pyrotechnics, fantastical stage productions at festivals and more, it’s been about a year since it’s all (largely) come to a halt owing to the coronavirus pandemic. Some dance parties resumed once lockdowns were eased in varying degrees around the globe, but the live music industry was never the same in terms of inspiring swarms of crowds dancing away their nights.
Up on the stage, the DJs and producers who helm proceedings with plenty of buildup-and-drop tunes worldwide were now homebound, far removed from crowds for the foreseeable future. The result, as we’ve seen through most of 2020 and even now in 2021, is mellower, fluid electronic music that might bear an energetic influence, but is likely best enjoyed at home. In interviews from April onwards, artists have mentioned that they’re adapting to the times.
A case in point is Dutch DJ Nicky Romero, who released his latest track ‘Into the Light’ on 15 January with fellow producer Timmo Hendriks and US singer David Shane. It’s a sound that’s conducive to home listening as well as the club. “Right now, I’m inspired to make music based on my current circumstances. Interestingly enough, this time at home has helped me center and explore different types of sounds and styles that I hadn’t for many years,” he says. Going into progressive house hues, there’s certainly a marked sense of ease on the track. Romero adds, “The stillness of life right now brings out an entirely different creative element.”
Veteran star DJ-producer David Guetta may have released a record called New Rave with fellow producer MORTEN in July last year, but he also released an uplifting electro-pop tune with Sia called ‘Love Life’. But as someone who’s always been in demand in the pop and club music worlds, Guetta told me in an interview that he’s been more motivated to make “feel-good music” since the pandemic struck and muses that it will change the kind of music we hear in the DJ world when clubs and festivals open up again. He adds, “Now is an especially good time to go back to the basics as a producer. I feel like this period of not being able to travel and be on tour is the perfect timing for that. It’s been amazing to spend time in the studio, experiment, reflect and refine my sound as a producer.”
Experiments are definitely part of the plan for India’s electronic artists as well. Moving to Goa from Mumbai, producer Aditya Ashok aka OX7GEN spent some part of 2020 working on a space exploration-themed set of downtempo, “escapist” songs, while halting all previous drum and bass-heavy tracks. “I shelved all the OX7GEN stuff I was working on before this and just wanted to find new production ideas and writing techniques.”
One of the more seismic sides on the electronic music front is trap, bass and dubstep. Its earliest champion remains desi bass king Nucleya (who moved to Goa before it was cool, might I add). In July, he took part in a digital VR concert experience called retroFUTURE with fellow producers Ritviz and Anish Sood. He released ‘Vajantri’, a typically bass banger with Singapore artist Perk Pietrek, and the Hindi song ‘Tere Bina’ with singer Avneet Khurmi, but he’s clearly biding his time with the follow up to 2019’s Tota Myna EP, even as he busies himself with the next season as curator for Bacardi Sessions, the music release series previously known as Bacardi House Party Sessions. He also sounds off how the pandemic is a ripe period for producers to explore other forms of dance music, which is “groovy but also emotional at the same time”. He added in his interview ahead of retroFUTURE in July, “Once we’re exposed to this kind of music, it becomes easier to digest it, which means, in the future, none of the DJs have to necessarily play this hands-up-in-the-air sort of music all the time, which is a good thing.”
Other dancefloor reigning bass music-oriented producers such as MojoJojo aka Akshay Johar and Sound Avtar aka Piyush Bhatnagar have already shown an inclination towards lighter, more measured electronic productions. While MojoJojo stuck to uptempo with ‘Duniya’, his next track from an album project called AndarRated was the folksy, cheerful ‘Sone De’, with singers Tyesha Kohli and Akshay Oberoi. He said about the release, “It is a composition that I wrote when I was most vulnerable and uncertain, but I also hope the song gives a sense of comfort to listeners and keeps them company during those late-night solo listening sessions. ‘Sone De’ is a gift to all listeners and fans who may be looking for an occasional pick-me-up during their day to day conundrums.” Sound Avtar too, turned his focus towards empathy, patience and gratefulness with his July 2020 release ‘Your Love’, a relatively soft tune for someone who’s notorious for turning dancefloors upside down.
Bhopal desi trap producer Paranox aka Parakh Mathur has also built his reputation for surging, topsy-turvy sets that are party-ready. His recent releases ‘Dosti’ and ‘Dreams’ are certainly the beginning of experiments, one that he says will extend to work with indie pop and hip-hop artists. He explains, “I was previously inclined to adding a commercial touch so that it got played more in clubs and festivals, but right now, I can actually make what I want to.” Moreover, learning from tutorials online and delving into sound design and resampling songs will ensure that there’s fresh material throughout 2021. He adds, “Since clubs are gradually opening, I’m hoping that by the end of 2021, I can play this stuff out loud.”
In a way, the pandemic has been a test of artists’ versatility. Some may have been left stupefied for a while but they quickly realised there’s a way to make easygoing yet moody electronic music. Romero’s advice to artists who are now at home and have their studio monitors, keyboards and headphones for company is simple: “Focus more on what makes you feel something in the studio and the sounds and styles which make you enjoy being an artist. Right now is the perfect time for reflection and experimentation, and the perfect moment to really hone your sound without the pressure of appealing to trends or live crowds.”
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