OnRecord: The Su Real Interview - Saavn

We exchanged a few emails with Su Real to get the lowdown on the current state of South Asian club culture. Su Real is currently midway through his #Winning tour, which takes him to 12 cities across the subcontinent to celebrate his victory in the recently-concluded music production reality show, The Remix.

The Indian appetite for alternative music and culture has grown exponentially in the decade since you moved to New Delhi – you’re now the winner of a reality show, which would have been unheard of 10 years ago! Do you feel that you’re part of a wave of momentum that will carry alternative music and ideas to a much larger audience?

I’m riding the wave for sure. I’ve had a small role to play. So much of this is part of the same global trends in pop culture and the Internet. What I try to do here in India is contextualize all of it. If you check out my mixtapes for Bobby Friction’s show on BBC Asian Network, or my Desi Bass column for Red Bull – the wave is already here. I’m just a guy trying to give it a name.

You can hear it everywhere: just listen to Nucleya, who’s now contributing to Bollywood, or Badshah, who’s the don of Bollywood music right now, or every one of Guru Randhawa‘s ‘moombahton’-backed hits. Some more examples: Akasa of Sony Music (and my fellow contestant from The Remix) — her new viral single “Thug Ranjha,” or the also viral smash hit “Udd Gaye” by my buddy Ritviz… the wave is all around us. Surf’s up yo! 

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Image by Irina Usova | Cover image by Steve D’Souza

12 cities – now that’s a marathon tour! With more than half the shows now complete, what have you learned from the #Winning tour thus far, and what are you excited for in the remaining shows?

I’ve learned that people can be very singular in their thinking. However, it used to be “please play some Bollywood”, but now it’s just straight up “Dhak Dhak kab bajaoge?” (If you don’t know what I’m referring to, you’ll just have to watch The Remix!)

What’s exciting for me on long runs of gigs like this is that, as a producer, I get to make a remix or a new track, and then as a DJ, I can test that track on the crowd and get an immediate response. Then I’m able to take that feedback back into the studio and tweak the track. I’ve already started putting out a few of these and some of =these tracks might end up on my next album.

How are audiences different, and how are they the same across the 12 different cities in which you’ve performed, and will be performing?

Each city definitely has its own particular set of hits that are in favor, and hits that have faded out of popularity, as well as past hits that have come back into fashion.

It’s fun to play around with these emotions – by presenting the same songs in different contexts, in different arrangements, with different drops. That’s where the excitement comes in for me.

For example, I have some popular hip-hop songs bootlegged with classic bhangra dhol rhythms. But yeah, clubs everywhere are the same these days, as in the majority of people just wanna get wasted and have a good time. That usually works in my favor 😂!

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Image by Polina Schapova

Your DJ sets are relentless, visceral, and exhilarating – and it seems like the energy you expend on stage is matched by the reactions in the crowd. What is the ideal Su Real experience – what do you want your audience to see, hear, and feel?

Live gigs have to be a full body experience.

People don’t realize, I come from a punk rock background. In my college days, I played guitar in punk bands and toured around Canada. My homie, and the premiere hip hop DJ in India, DJ Sa, once joked: “don’t trust a DJ who’s dancing”… the implication being that if the DJ is dancing, then s/he’s not doing any real DJ work.

Well, I tend to disagree! I guess you never know what Su Real is gonna do next 😂. All I know is that if I’m not dancing and having a good time during my set, then I can’t expect other people to.

It’s true, sometimes I get carried away, and maybe my mixing suffers, but that’s what live energy is all about… sometimes if the crowd is really lit and singing along to a popular song, I might just cut out the sound for a while and let everybody sing out loud.

The music is secondary, the act of being together as a community, of dancing and celebrating life, that’s what breathes life into the music.

Is there a well-known song that you haven’t remixed yet, that you’d like to?

This is a lengthy list! So many ideas, so little time. That’s why The Remix show was fun, I actually got to remix songs like “Dhak Dhak Karne Laga” and “Tirchi Topiwale” that were my childhood favorites. Lately, I’ve been busy going through this wishlist, so I actually don’t wanna reveal too much!

What makes a great remix? How do you maintain that balance between familiarity and surprise?

What I like to do in my remixes is tease people into the surprise… I do that with my DJ mixes too. Just leave little crumbs for people to follow.

It helps to pick the right track to remix also – the original needs to mean something in the current day and time. It needs to have a set of references and associations that listeners can relate to. 

Who are the DJs and producers that you look up to and respect, both within South Asia and internationally?

It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Nucleya. He’s been very supportive for a long time — I’m talking about years before The Remix, years before he even blew up in popularity. I remember sitting with him in his home studio, and him showing me a few things about how he produces his tracks. It changed my game! I owe him a lot.

Internationally, I really look up to Diplo and Skrillex, as they’ve truly paved a path for underground music in the mainstream. 

As someone who’s been the game for a while now, what keeps you driven, focused, and optimistic?

Honestly, I feel like I’ve had a lot of success as a DJ, and now as a remixer, but I still, quite plainly, do not have that one, undeniable hit to my name. What am I focused on? It’s this hunt, this quest for just one big hit. Woh gaana joh jab log bajaye ya gaye to koi kahega “ye Su Real ne banaya!

To be honest, I don’t mind if I become a ‘one hit wonder’ and I never do anything decent again. I’m ready to sell my soul, get the devil on the phone! Haha!

For more Su Real, check out his artist page on Saavn.

 

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