TFT: Where does your music come from?
Sahej Bakshi: From an intense need to express myself, to be able to translate internal thoughts and emotions into something tangible.
TFT: Where does it go?
SB: Much earlier, it just used to stay on my computer’s hard drive and not go anywhere. Then I started uploading it online to a handful of plays, and now it seems to take on a life of its own once its released. I couldn’t be happier about this progression.
TFT: What drives you to create?
SB: The process of inspiration and creativity are part of an inextricably linked cycle for me, as one seems to complete the other. Everything seems to come full circle when I can ‘recycle’ what I see, feel and experience into music.
TFT: Take me through your process...
SB: It varies every single time. Sometimes I’ll sit down to experiment and see where it goes, and other times I’ll be watching TV or running in the gym when all of a whole song pops into my head. Once the process is started, its all down to my intuition and gut feeling, and I keep changing the song to sound more and more like how I hear it in my head. Sometimes a song is done in 3 hours, and sometimes I keep chipping away at it for 3-4 months. Lately, my productions have gotten very detail oriented, and so I’ll often have 130 layers of sound that need to be mixed in precisely, and that’s what takes a lot of time.
TFT: What would happen to you if you couldn’t make music anymore?
SB: I often think about that, because that’s a worst-case scenario that I can hardly comprehend. I don’t know what would happen to me if I couldn’t make music anymore. It would destroy a central part of me, and it’d take me years to rebuild and figure out what to do next.
TFT: Making remixes versus producing your own tunes?
SB: I think the original tunes are more important in the sense that they help establish an artist’s identity, though its hard to say which has been better received. The process for each is quite similar, except that an original track has to be conceived from scratch, while with remixes its like hitting the ground running, since it often involves a lot of rearranging, along with some composing from scratch.
TFT: Do you go into the zone while playing?
SB: Yeah, definitely. I have to get ‘into the zone’ when playing live, and I don’t think I can do my best without doing so. The key to playing a great gig to stay extremely tuned into what the audience is seeing, feeling and thinking. That’s actually quite hard to do by simply looking at them, so it becomes necessary for me to be very internally focused on how I’m feeling at all times during a set, which I use as a measure to gauge where to go next, musically. The best scenario is when all of my predictions of what the crowd wants to hear are right, and the energy on the dance floor keeps going up, up and away.
TFT: When playing a live gig, where do you draw the line between what you want to play and what the audience wants to hear?
SB: That’s an interesting question, which I sort of answered in the previous question. I think there’s no foolproof way to guess exactly what the audience wants in every situation, so I just have to turn inwards and play what I think will be right, based on my experience of playing lots of gigs. If I think too much about what everyone else wants to hear next, then I begin to get confused and make wrong choices. Its a bit of a complicated mixture really, but while I’m focused on how I’m feeling, I do have to keep tabs on the mood and energy of the crowd. If I ever do ever make a mistake in selection, it has to be rectified quickly, or I’d lose any momentum gained up until that point.
TFT: Are Sahej Bakshi and Dualist Inquiry the same person?
SB: It’s a subtle difference, but even though the two are the same person, they are not the same thing at all. I very consciously chose not to start performing as “Sahej”, because I felt like I wanted to remove myself, the person, from the picture, and make it much, much more about just the music. I imagined what it would be like to read the name ‘Dualist Inquiry’ for the first time. To me, it would feel like it could be just an idea in a cloud, an entity or organization that makes the music, and not necessarily an individual. I think that’s what I’ve always wanted it to be, and what it sometimes is, because there have been times I’ve listened to some of my songs and heard things I didn’t know were in there. I definitely did put them in there, but probably did so in a moment of subtle intuition or subconscious decision-making, and that feels like it came from something bigger than myself. It’s like a reservoir of thoughts and ideas that I, the individual, have to tap into, in order to make music.
TFT: Some of your songs incorporate vocals, some are pure sound. Talk to me a little about that?
SB: Back when I had just started producing about 3 years ago, I would almost exclusively make only instrumental music, and that was probably because I was figuring myself out as a producer. Now that I have a better grip on myself and my productions, I’m far more open to collaborating with vocalists than ever before, and I’ll definitely be releasing some of this collaborative material this year.
On another level, I feel like both instrumental and songs with vocals have a very important role. When I listen to vocals, it’s like reading a book. It’s quite literal, because you’re directly hearing the words that were sung by the singer. While listening to instrumental music, I find I can think a lot better, since the music becomes a backdrop to my thoughts. To me, instrumental music is thinking music. Music that lets your thoughts roam free, while still giving them subconscious nudges in different directions.
TFT: Why did you come back to India, where the EDM scene is still struggling?
SB: I don’t mean to sound overly optimistic or anything, but I really don’t think the EDM scene is ‘struggling’ in India anymore. Sure, we have our share of problems, like cops/authorities not understanding what we do, a corrupt system, or the flawed and antiquated nightlife laws in our country, which make running a clubs or festivals harder than it should be.
However, I do think that as a generation and society, we have reached and crossed a crucial tipping point over the last few years. A huge number of kids and adults have discovered the joy of attending music festivals, of going out to gigs and clubs at night, and I don’t think any of them would give up the basic right to step out at night so easily The proof of that lies simply in the number of new festivals, clubs and artists establishing themselves at a greater rate than ever before. It’s quite frustrating when we are treated with suspicion by the cops/authorities, or when our gigs get shut down, simply because what we do isn’t in line with “traditional Indian values”. What I really wish they would realize is that we are every bit as Indian in our hearts and minds as they are, just not in the exact same way. Times have changed, and each generation must be allowed to come into its own, and not be heavily challenged or repressed by the previous one, just in the name of morality or tradition.
In a nutshell, it’s a great time to be here. I am so glad I returned in 2010, because it is so rewarding to be part of building something, and to be seeing a huge proliferation in nearly every measurable way. Whether its the number of international artists coming to India, number of local artists, sizes of festival crowds or the overall number of gigs happening all over the country, everything points towards growth, and that’s the journey we all have a part to play in.
TFT: Do you ever dream in music?
SB: Haha yeah, sometimes. Mostly it’ll be random and nonsensical beats, but a couple of times I’ve woken up with a whole new song in my head. You know how you start to forget your dreams the moment you wake up? The same thing started to happen, but I jumped out of bed and hummed the tune over and over till my computer started up and I was able to lay down the basic idea. That song ended up on my album, and I’ll leave it to people to guess which one it is when the album comes out!
TFT: What is the single best thing about making music?
SB: Ah, that’s a hard one to answer. It’s like eating a perfect meal, or having an amazing night’s sleep after a long day - it just feels so good! It’s a very internal feeling, something that I need to be happy and fulfilled. On some days, it’s like the release of a valve on a pressure cooker, and on other days it seems to remind me of why we all exist in the first place.
As told to Simone Dinshaw, a writer living in Bombay.
Dualist Inquiry is the brainchild and solo project of Sahej Bakshi, a producer, guitarist and performer based in New Delhi, India.