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Interviews |  16 Jun 2017 21:30 |  By Mallika Deb

'Higher State of Consciousness' by Josh Wink just changed my life: Ash Roy

MUMBAI: To the known and unknown, techno music has a psyche essence in it. It is an art; it is a philosophy of the soul. The sub-genre of electronic music, they say techno music is the ‘Devil’s Music’. Radioandmusic spoke to one of the phenomenal DJs and producers from India, Ash Roy (ex Jalebee Cartel) who has significantly shaped the Indian electronic music for more than two decades now. After eight years of Jalebee Cartel (2004-2012), now, Ash is one-half of the duo Bit of Both and also pursuing his solo career as Ash Roy.

Going back into the history, formed in 2004 Jalebee Cartel was challenging enough to put India on the global electronic music map since its inception. The live act by Ash Roy (vocals and percussions), Arjun Vagale (laptop, mixing, electronics), Ashvin Mani Sharma (laptop and synths), and G ‘Force’ Arjun (bass guitar), featured Jalebee’s originals, which were funky, twisted along with ethnic sounds driven in an eccentric way that took India by storm. As everything comes with an expiry date, the group disbanded in 2012. “We split up because everyone wanted to focus on their solo careers. All good things must come to an end. It was time to move on,” states Roy.

While discussing his evolution musically, the ideology of Bit of Both, he shared that the idea is the same as Jalebee but with the two of them. People who do not know, Bit of Both is the live electronica outfit of Ash Roy and Ashvin Mani Sharma also known as Calm Chor.

Born and raised in Calcutta, Ash Roy started DJing back in 1995/1996 in his homeland Calcutta (he likes calling it Calcutta, not Kolkata). During the late 90s, there were just three clubs Pink Elephant, Anticlock and Someplace Else in Kolkata (then Calcutta). It all started off by playing for one of his friend’s party on a terrace where he used regular cassette players, a mixer, and a lot of cassettes as equipment.

Walking down the memory lane, Ash narrates, “After that gig, a lot of people wanted to book me for their private events, but I wanted to join a club and play professionally. However, I wanted to join Anticlock and play there as the set up was really good with two turntables, two CD players, a mixer with huge collections of records and CDs. Initially, I just practised and learnt to use the equipment and then developed my mixing skills. I clearly remember it was a busy Saturday night at Anticlock, and the owner of the club asked the other DJ to leave the console and let me be all by myself. I was petrified, a packed dance floor…nervous. I thought that my colleague will be back soon but that never happened. The song he had played was going to end soon. I had no choice. I quickly pulled out a record and started mixing it with the previous track. It was just spontaneous. Since then there was no looking back. I knew that the console is my home. I’m the most comfortable in there. That one record ‘Higher State of Consciousness’ by Josh Wink just changed my life.”

Back in the day as a resident DJ, he used to play everything, but later he started specialising in House and Techno. After a few years as a resident DJ at Anticlock, he moved to Mumbai for a year and a half. While in around 1998, DMC DJ completion took place to India and All India Finals were in Mumbai. Ash went to witness the finals as he wanted to also be a part of the DMC. Post this he again went back to Kolkata and re-joined Anticlock as a resident and practised ‘Turntablism’ dedicatedly. “Day in and day out I practised. In 1999 I won the DMC Regional Finals Vinyl and CD round and went to Mumbai for the All India Finals. I didn’t win the All India Finals but it opened a lot of doors for me,” declared Ash while discussing his early life, how he started his hurdle.  Just after that Ash moved to Dubai and got the opportunity to join a club called ‘Diamond Club’ as their Resident DJ where he opened gigs for International DJ’s like Boy George, Brandon Block, Graeme Park among others. That was the moment in time when he got influenced by the genre House and Techno. After spending two and half years in Dubai he was back in Calcutta for a year and then again he moved to Delhi in 2003.

Ash Roy is considered as one of the pioneers of minimal techno, electronic music. While explaining the approach of electronic music prospect in India, he put in plain words that initially it was really difficult as a lot of people were not open to it. “There was a huge psytrance scene but no live electronica or house/techno scene. Midival Punditz, who are good friends; was pushing their sound of Asian Underground in Delhi and we were just starting out. It took us a while to get that audience,” says Roy. Over time, a lot of festivals popped up and they started booking some quality acts as well as a lot of commercial EDM acts. Now, India is one of the biggest hubs for electronic music with a number of festivals and a number of international artists that want to come and play here, which is spectacular according to Ash. “I was always up for it because the commercial EDM acts were an entry level for the youth to listen to electronic music. It was only a matter of time that they got out of EDM and started listening to quality live electronic music or house/techno,” added he.

After Jalebee Cartel, exploring musical limitations altogether, Ashvin Mani Sharma (another half from the duo Bit of Both) and Ash Roy launched their underground record label Soupherb Records. “Once done with Jalebee Cartel, I decided that we need to start our own platform where we can push the music we like to play. So we decided to launch Soupherb for the like-minded people,” Ash put in plain words. Three years of running the label and concentrating on their solo projects they thought of getting back to making Live Electronic Music, hence the inception of Bit of Both in 2014. Coming back to the purpose, as Bit of Both, they released their debut album ‘Prequels & Sequels’ on 22 January  2016 where they have collaborated with a lot of artists including Grain (Gaurav Raina, one-half of the Midival Punditz) Kohra (Madhav Shorey), Brighu Sahni, Anushka Manchanda and Elle.

Talking about fusing elements in live performances Ash shared while producing they had a lot of ideas and they put them all together. “It totally depends on the mood of the song as to what instruments will sound good on it. While I was a child I learnt the Tabla. With Jalebee and with Bit of Both I try and fuse other percussion instruments such as the Djembe, Darbuka, Timbale’s, Roland Handsonic and Korg wav drum. It’s not like I got formal training in the other percussion instruments, but I try and fuse it in such a way that it complements the song. Basically, everyone plays their part. I handle vocals and Percussions and Ashvin handles the electronics like mixing, sampling and synths.”

Influenced by Pink Floyd, Depeche Mode, Chemical Brothers, and Ustad Zakir Hussain has been some of the influences in Ash’s musical expedition. At this moment they have started working on new material for Bit of Both, plus working on individual solo projects as well.

And, the killer news comes in a row. Ash Roy will be playing at Awakenings Festival 2017 for the first time as well. He will be playing two sets, one at the Official Awakenings Afterparty at Paradiso on the 24 of June and the other one at the main festival on 25 June. Radioandmusic asked what is he looking forward at Awakenings. For Roy, it is a dream comes true. He elatedly responds, “Dreams do come true. All you have to do is believe in yourself and your music. It came as a surprise. I was in shock. I’m absolutely honoured to play for a proper Techno Festival. My playlist will have a mix of some of my unreleased tracks and some tracks from other producers. Definitely looking forward to both my sets as well as listening to some of my favourite acts.”

Meanwhile, talking through how different is it performing in abroad, in a completely different sound, compared to India Ash put in the picture that in India we still have a limited audience. The audience is huge in abroad and people have more exposure to electronic music. They do get longer hours to play abroad, but also, the vibe is the same. “Back in the day, people used to come to clubs as it was cool to hang in a new club or just to socialise. Nowadays, people come for the music and just to dance. Only now people in India listen and research on electronic artists and they come to the gigs for their music,” he put across.

Having played at several venues and festivals across India, also abroad, Fusion Festival (Germany), Freqs of Nature Festival (Germany) and Sisiyphos (Berlin) have been Roy’s favourite. Also, as Bit of Both, they recently showcased their music at IMMA at Reunion Island and for him, it was one of the proudest moments among many. “Just being invited by IOMMA was a big thing for us. Though our performance was just 30 minutes since it was a showcase we had a lot of fun. The audience was full of delegates from different countries such as promoters, musicians, festival owners and it was a little challenging,” signs off Ash standing his ground.