Electronic fusion band Delhi 2 Dublin are currently on tour through North America with their latest album, Turn Up The Stereo. The band embraces a wide range of sounds, including EDM, ska, and bhangra.
So is it "world" music, then? Nah, just a great mix, says the band's co-founder, Tarun Nayar.
Formed at the Vancouver Celtic Festival in 2006, the five-member band kicked off the day-long yearly concert that happens in Ottawa (on the so-called "Hill" in front of the Canadian Parliament) on Canada Day, July 1st. Their self-titled debut from that year reached #3 on the Canadian World Music chart. Along with recording and remixing, the band have kept up a hefty international tour schedule that's seen them play large and small gigs alike. They've performed at the prestigious South by Southwest Festival in Austin, as well as the celebrated Bumbershoot in Seattle. In 2011, they participated in Birmingham’s Shambhala Festival, played another Canada Day showcase at Parliament Hill (including visiting guests the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge), and burnished their Celt credentials when they played Dublin’s much-loved Whelan’s Pub later that summer.
Turn Up The Stereo is the band's third full-length release -though it's the band's sixth, if you include their many lively EPs and remix projects. Partially inspired by a trip to Bali during the album's recording, the recent work is a mix of straight-ahead pop, loud Ibiza-style dance and EDM, floating ska, aggressive Bhangra, and hippie-like electronica. As one reviewer noted at the album's release, there's a distinct lack of "Dublin" here -Celtic sounds gets a beautifully strong, solitary moment in "She Moved" -but Stereo honestly plays more like a party record than an earnest, Alan Lomax-style cultural exploration. And it's perfectly in keeping with their website's challenge: "Where else are you going to see a kick-ass fiddle player rocking out with a kilt-wearing Korean flanked by two bouncing Bhangra percussionists and a vocalist who looks like he would be at home in a Bollywood music video?" Where else, indeed?
The album's bouncy opener, "Our House", features heavy beats, background vocals that give a nod to Bollywood, and a whirling fiddle line that combined to perfectly reflect the band and its ethos. Co-produced by Vancouver-based DJ duo The Funk Hunters, it's a sunny introduction to a lively fifty-minute whirlwind of sounds. "Code Red" is an aggressively zesty bhangra thumper, while "Strength Of A Lion" recalls the sleek, bloopy electronica of William Orbit. New York-based DJ, producer and multi-instrumentalist Dave Sharma co-produced Turn Up The Stereo, which was released in Canada this past August -and though Delhi 2 Dublin played the famous Brooklyn Bowl that same month, American fans will have to wait until February 2013 to experience their latest Indo-Celtic sounds
Tarun Nayar, who plays tabla, produces handles the electronics for group (and recently released his own album, 22 Degrees of Beatitude), is currently on the road with bandmates Andrew Kim (electric sitar, guitar), Ravi Binning (dhol), Sanjay Seran (vox), and Sara Fitzgerald (fiddle). The energetic troupe brings their unique, dance-friendly live show to Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Minneapolis, and several dates through California before returning to home turf (British Columbia, that is) the end of November. Nayar recently shared ideas around fusing cultures, the band's wide-ranging influences, the vitality of social media, and why the term "world" really doesn't mean anything in the twenty-first century.
What initially inspired you to fuse traditional Indian and Irish sounds?
We were inspired by opportunity - I was asked to write some music for a St. Patrick's Day party about six years ago by Dugg Simpson, the ex-director of the Vancouver Folk Music Festival. I play and compose Indian music, and he wanted to do something a little different with the evening, so he asked me to (contact) some Celtic musicians and fuse the two sounds ... I thought it sounded cool, and worked up some tracks with a few local Vancouver musicians. It went really well. The crowd was super into it, and we started getting booked for more and more shows... and here we are six years later.
Both Celtic music and the folk music of Punjab are bittersweet; there's a feeling of joy and elation, but also this ever-present melancholy. It's amazingly easy to play an Irish reel on top of an Indian beat, and the folk music of both cultures likes to swing rhythmically. Some people think the ancestors of the Celts shared relatives with tribes from northern India. So there's that too. And don't forget, this is the music of two of the great drinking cultures of the world.
How challenging is it to combine sounds while maintaining a strong identity not tied to a specific culture?
We honestly don't think about this -we just write music that we like. We never think intentionally about "combining" sounds -we just play the instruments that we grew up playing, just as any band does. It just so happens that we grew up playing tabla, dhol and fiddle, and not bass, guitar and drums. Other than that, we're just like any other band. The Delhi 2 Dublin thing is almost an afterthought. Some songs have no Delhi, some no Dublin, and thats a-okay with us.
Delhi 2 Dublin are (L-R) Andrew Kim, Tarun Nayar, Sanjay Seran, Sara Fitzpatrick, Ravi Binning. The band maintain a lively online presence. "We don't fall into any real genre, so we tend to slip through the cracks of the traditional music business," Nayar explains, "but online stuff helps us reach people directly... we don't have to rely on the more "normal" infrastructure of labels and distribution and media to get the word out about what's up."
Your latest album seems heavily influenced by EDM & dance music trends -what were you listening to when you made it?
All of our albums are heavy on beats, but obviously trends have changed a little since we wrote our last album a few years ago. We listen to everything, but on the electronic side, it can range from the whole Mad Decent sound (Diplo, Buraka Som Sistema, Das Racist, Dillon Francis), to more bass-oriented stuff (Burial, Benga, Breakage). We listen to a lot of global electronica by the likes of DJ Cheb i Sabbah, Gaudi, David Starfire, Adham Shaikh, and then to a ton of more mainstream stoner-hop stuff like The Weeknd, Frank Ocean, Lana Del Ray, and Kid Cudi. Also, "Blind Faith" by Chase & Status was probably the single-most influential track on us this year. That song kills it.
Your work also seems heavily influenced by Bollywood films -how big a role does cinema play in your songwriting?
We're actually not the biggest fans of Bollywood music, but obviously a few of us grew up watching the movies... no getting away from that in an Indian household! It's funny you ask this question really, because one of the approaches that was new for me in the production of this album was inventing videos in my head for each track, and then writing to the video; it really helped me focus in on certain themes and feelings for each track. We throw (out) a ton of ideas in the writing process, and dreaming up music videos helped me lose what wasn't important and focus on the stuff that helped the imaginary video. For example, the track "Tabla Boy" was written to a slow-motion surfing video of Teahupoo, a crazy surf break in Tahiti.
What do you make of the label "world?" Your own work seems to defy easy categorizing.
I think "world" is a pretty North American term these days. in Central, South America, Africa, Europe, people don't use the word as much. Everything is world. Shit, look at Psy! Is "Gangnam Style" world music just because he's singing in Korean? He's sitting at number one on charts all over the world! In North America, people are a little behind. Cultures aren't quite as mashed up as they are in many other places, and there's a tendency to want to keep things separated: black music, white music, and "everything else" -that would be world. I think ten years from now the term won't even be used any more, because it will have lost its utility.