Before this past Sunday evening, Udyan Sagar, who records and performs as Nucleya, had never played a show on a moving vehicle. Now based out of Goa, Nucleya has ascended the ranks of the alternative Indian bass music scene with a signature sound that blends stirring percussive elements from Indian street music with fat bass lines and club friendly drops. Hanging out by the truck on Kalbadevi Road in Mumbai a few hours before the performance—which occurs on the final day of Mumbai's annual Ganesh Chaturthi festival—he does concede that he's a bit nervous. Mostly, though, he's excited by the prospect of debuting his new album, Bass Rani, on a truck shuttling across downtown Mumbai.
Each year, the Ganesh Chaturthi festival is celebrated in honor of Ganesha, a Hindu deity known as the "Elephant God." At the end of the 10-day religious celebration, revellers parade Ganesh idols down the streets, then immerse them into the sea at Girgaum Chowpatty, a public beach in South Mumbai. It's the kind of brightly colored, cacophonous procession that frequently lands itself on the front page of tourist magazines, but that is lamented by many a Mumbai resident for being unnecessarily loud, a traffic nightmare, and an inconvenience for people who like to go to bed early.
Naturally, it isn't every day that you see dance music producers like Nucleya—a fixture in clubs and music festivals across the country—perform at traditional Hindu festivals like Ganesh Chaturthi. For starters, the people at the parade steer more towards the "I'm just here to dance" variety than the dance music head demographic. Still, Nucleya tells me this show—like Bass Rani itself—is partly an homage to the fast paced-beat music coming from these very streets.
"The album's a combination of all these different thoughts and ideas I've had over the years—I wanted to further experiment with street music," he explains, the muffled sounds of said music bleeding into our conversation. Nucleya is releasing Bass Rani on his own, and he's making it available for free. As we speak, Nucleya slips in the names of a few of the traditional and non-traditional Indian musicians he's worked with on this record, including percussionist and frequent AR Rahman collaborator Sivamani, Bollywood vocalist and composer Vishal Dadlani, Tamil singer Chinnaponnu, and Mumbai MC Divine. "When I approached them, I thought they'd say no," he says. "Because it's so electronic. But it wasn't that way. We just understood each other's vibes."
Nucleya tells me that he's been toying with the idea of playing at a Ganesh Festival for a while, as he hears many similarities between his music and the music that's played at the event. "The street music beats that these guys play, I play them too," he says, clearly in thrall of the hundreds of individual performers that flood the Mumbai streets every year. Usually, you'll hear a variety of percussive instruments, like snares, bass drums, cymbals, bells, or the traditional beat combination of dhol and tashe; roving bands of percussionists will divide into "beat sections" and "cymbal sections," some of which can be as large as 20-people deep.
Occasionally, though, because it's 2015, you'll also hear dance music blasting from someone's laptop—and Nucleya's set will be a combination of both. On this record, he's stepped outside the realm of pure electronic production and recorded all his percussive parts with analog instruments, with help from his varied collaborators. "It's the first time I was doing this," he says. "Earlier it used to be just me in the studio."
Of course, DJing on a truck barreling down a road in Mumbai while people are dancing in front of large Ganesh idols being driven to the ocean is no easy task. To secure a spot in the parade, there's loads of bureaucratic paperwork to take care of: you need to get permission to use a sound system, for the amount of time you intend to spend parading on the road, for the route you want to take it. Everything needs to vetted in advance, because if the authorities find the slightest fault with your paperwork in the course of a routine inspection, no amount of on-the-spot pleading or pleasantries can stop a street rave from turning into a street mob.
Just as brand associations and sponsored stages are becoming an industry standard at music festivals worldwide, performances at Ganesh Chaturthi are rarely pulled off without outside help. Communities are often supported by their local political representatives, and promotional materials from a wide variety of sponsors—from pharmaceutical companies to restaurants—can be seen plastered over the city's streets.
Nucleya's performance was no exception. Oddly, to sort the permissions for the show (and help offset the costs for all that paperwork), his management sought assistance from the Yuva Sena, a youth branch of the Shiv Sena, a political party in Maharashtra known for its far-right ideologies; at regular intervals over the past couple of decades, they've been accused of being fascists, xenophobes, and extreme nationalists. It's also a party with a history of infamous encounters with music. In February 2014, the party invaded and halted a Pakistani rock band's press conference in Mumbai and demanded that they go back to Pakistan. In April 2015, party workers forced a Pakistani pop singer to cancel his show, stating that "as long as Pakistan infiltrates terrorists in our country, we [the Sena] will not allow any Pakistani artists to perform in our country, and certainly not in Maharashtra."
Despite this somewhat unsettling affiliation, the performance went off without a hitch; according to Tej Brar, head of artist management at Nucleya's management company, some of the younger party members had even said they were Nucleya fans.
After Delhi DJ/producer Su-Real warmed up the audience, it was well around 10pm, and the streets surrounding the truck were packed. When Nucleya took the "stage" for an hour-long set— joined by Alo Wala front woman Shivani Ahlowalia and Mumbai rappers Naezy and Divine—you couldn't move an inch without either stepping on someone's foot or elbowing someone shorter than you. As the truck rattled down a kilometer-long stretch of downtown Mumbai, people did not stop raving. To get a sense of how special and downright out-of-the-ordinary Nucleya's record release party was, try remember a hot, sweaty "danced-so-much-my-feet-hurt" type of night you spent in a club, then imagine what it would have been like on the streets.
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