‘Glocal’ music maker Akshai Sarin is set to release his first major EDM album on Tiesto’s Black Hole Recordings early next year.
Depending on who you ask, Akshai Sarin is either the new poster boy of Indian electronica or just another good-looking pretender populating the creative firmament of Mumbai. Admittedly, while the noise around him is still an underground buzz, it’s one with potential to get louder.
Sample this: Even though his debut album Soundscapes released when he was just 16, Akshai’s first mainstream album Connectedis set for worldwide release on Dutch heavyweight Tiesto’s label Black Hole Recordings in January 2012. He’s also recently played at the Exit Festival in Serbia, a four-day event near the Danube river, where over 2.5 million revelers relentlessly party across 20 different stages, covering every genre from Metal to Reggae, with artists including Arcade Fire, Deadmau5, Magnetic Man, Jamiroquai, MIA and Portishead. His collaboration with Russian Trace duo Moonbeam on a track called Elephant Ride, the video for which was shot outside Dadar Station and an under-construction building, last year is due to hit a major international music channel in the country any week now. Whatever the hype (or lack thereof), there’s a lot bubbling beneath the surface.
A complex bundle of both confidence and humility, Akshai wears the hats of composer, producer and performer with the ease of a seasoned pro. A formally trained musician, he learnt the tabla when he was eight apart from taking piano lessons, before going on to study at theLondon School of Music. “Creating music has always been a part of my life. I’ve been making music for a really long time. When I released Soundscapes, it was like Buddha Bar but way before Buddha Bar. It’s something I take pride in, I guess. The album was a digital release and I realised the power of technology when people started ordering it from as far off as Austriaand Bosnia.”
While in London, Akshai also played at the 2005 Glastonbury Music Festival and even tried his hand at DJ’ing before giving it up two years ago to focus on making original music. “I started playing live gigs in 2007 and performed at the Singapore F1 Rocks event two years in a row alongside artists like Beyonce, The Black Eyed Peas, N.E.R.D, Empire of the Sun and The Chemical Brothers. One of the most interesting gigs I played at though was in Bangalore, for the silver jubilee celebrations of the Art of Living Foundation in 2006,” he says.
Ermcome again? He grins when he says, “There were nearly 800,000 people at the Jakkur airfield, where I performed a remix of the theme song Vasudhaiva Kutumbakam, meaning ‘one world, one family’. I got on stage with just a laptop and keyboard and saw a sea of people in front of me, including Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, dadas, dadis, uncles, aunties, kids, tribal people from Chattisgarh, Abdul Kalam, and the presidents of France, Mauritius and Germany. I started to play the chorus and then suddenly kicked into some hardcore breakbeats and heavy basslines and saw people curiously moving in closer and closer. Next thing I know, they were all jumping and dancing around with the happiest looks on their faces! They kept asking for an encore! It was surreal because this was a seriously spiritual audience and Shubha Mudgal had just performed, and then there was me! It’s a different high playing for an audience like that. That’s when I realised that as long as you keep your music real and the emotion behind it intact, there’s no reason why people won’t appreciate it.”
There’s a mystical streak running through the musician and it’s apparent when he talks about an album he did for his aunt a meditation instructor called (don’t laugh now!) The Ultimate Aha. “We recorded it when I was in still in university, behind a flour mill, on a zero budget. We actually had to record when the mill wasn’t running to avoid the sound it generated!” he laughs. “The response we got to that album was phenomenal though. My aunt still gets emails for it 10 years later. It’s nice to know that the album you put the least money and the most love and effort into actually reached out to people. Often we’re so isolated in our existence that I think what everyone just wants to do whether at a club or at an ashram is connect with other people on a more visceral level. For me, music is a way of connecting with other people.” Having preferred to stand outside the mainstream all this while, Akshai confesses, “To be honest, one of the reasons why I haven’t released a lot of music is because I’m scared. It’s a big part of who I am and I’m afraid of being judged. So I’ve taken the easy way out so far.”