Indian Electronica Gone Awry
Combining elements of India’s rich musical heritage with electronic basslines and danceable beats affords producers ample opportunities for creating incredible, unique sounds. Talvin Singh unites these disparate elements well with his edgy, experimental tracks. Thievery Corporation and Karunesh have accomplished this fusion on a few of their more downtempo songs.
Few musicians, however, capture the styles of the Asian massive sound and release it to the rest of the world as well as the New Delhi-based duo MIDIval PunditZ have done. Though they’ve only released two albums of their own, the pair composes songs for UK-based dance troupe Angika and contribute to numerous compilations, including Bill Laswell’s Tabla Beat Science collective. Their songs have appeared on NPR and on the soundtracks for the films Monsoon Wedding and Closer. While they’re exporting their rich rhythms, they’re also exposing an international audience to more traditional Asian sounds. The 2002 hit “Bhangra Fever” brought out the Punjabi dance sound, and “Raanjhan” sampled the singing of the beloved Pakistani songstress Abida Parveen for those yet unaware.
Still, when marrying the disparate musical styles of classical India and traditional analog instruments like the sitar with the heavy beats of digital drum and bass, musicians need to strike a balance, weighing their own desire to experiment against the heritage of the music they’re incorporating. In much of their previous work, MIDIval PunditZ has accomplished this well. A few of those producers who’ve taken and retooled their beats for Remixed have not.
Which doesn’t discount the album as a whole. The first track, “Ali”, is especially worth hearing, as it retains samples of tabla drum beats and flute chords while increasing the pace and mixing in a harder dance-floor groove. Though the band’s Led Zeppelin influence comes through at the end, adding a hard edge to an otherwise uptempo song, the mix doesn’t lose the song’s roots entirely. “Night” continues the album nicely with a progressive house remix by Bandish Projekt that maintains a steady beat while incorporating sitar samples and a haunting chorus.
Without these elements of traditional North Indian music, however, the songs sound too similar to other less-than-notable nightclub tracks filled with build-up and otherwise unremarkable loops to leave much of an impression. Groovio’s This Thing Mix of “Kesaritya” is a lengthy, trance-heavy track more concerned with quick beats than respecting the integrity of the grooves already set up by the MIDIval PunditZ.
Another of the more forgettable appearances on this album is the hard acid take on “Dark Age” by Audialize. Though it retains a flute sample in its opener, it quickly loses the driving bass and diverts to a frenetic, almost farcical techno rush. Fortunately, “Dark Age” is one of several songs on the album to get double-play, and the Karsh Kale downtempo consideration of the song redeems the compilation. It’s hard to recognize that the two remixes developed out of the same source, as this calm version sounds more as if it belongs on a yoga mix CD than at a nightclub. Perhaps Kale’s own experiences as a classically-trained percussionist kept him from allowing the electronic loops to swallow the tabla beats or take precedence over the lilting vocals.
Ultimately, this album acts more as a gallery for the remix artists and their electronic skills than it pays homage to the talents of MIDIval PunditZ. Though the lengthy seven- to ten-minute long tracks run the spectrum of electronic genres, this is too much of a mixed bag to recommend to non-DJ devotees. Its saving grace comes in that it’s a digital-only release through retail stores like iTunes and eMusic, allowing buyers to pick which songs most appeal to them—perfect for listeners only interested in a song or two, as I was.