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Meet DJ Swami ahead of Punjabtronix show

Ahead of the UK Punjabtronix tour in July, we caught up with DJ Swami to find out more about the project, his musical influences, and what most excites him about working on the new show.


1. What is Punjabtronix – can you give audiences an introduction?

PunjabTronix is about the marriage of technology with tradition. Being British and also Punjabi Indian, I’ve had a lot of experiences of music, from electronic progressive music to listening to traditional cultural music. PunjabTronix represents a marriage of those two types of music together in a new, live improvised way.

 

 

2. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you became involved with PunjabTronix?

I’ve always experimented with Punjabi music and western popular music, whether it’s reggae, dance music, hip-hop. I’ve always had this idea from my own project Swami of fusing sounds of Punjab with popular electronic music from the west in new, unusual ways. 

In the past when I have experimented with ‘world music’, it’s always been viewed in a very traditional sense of exposing western cultures to what world music is. But for me, world music has a different perspective, because I’m already from India but I live in Britain, so I’ve got a whole mixed bag of experiences. 

I had this idea to bring new, very progressive, electronic, analog synthesisers and equipment into the frame with traditional Punjabi instruments, as an idea for a live, improvised performance. So PunjabTronix is those elements all mixed together, electronic music and traditional music.

 

3.    What can audiences expect - what will the live show involve?

The live show for PunjabTronix is going to be a hybrid mix of technology and tradition. We’ll be using Eurorack modules, analog synthesiser modules, DJ decks; interfaced with live Punjabi musicians playing traditional instruments, like the Tumbi, Dhol drum and vocals.

The electronic side is improvised as well, what you will see is an interaction of analog technology with traditional Punjabi folk music in a way that has never been experienced before. 

And visuals, of course, we’re going to have live visuals interacting with the music. The music will take up themes of popular Punjabi folk and traditional songs and stories, incorporated with the electronic, beat-driven sounds of the west.

 


4.    Can you tell us about the visual element and how you hope this will combine with the music to enhance the overall experience?

Combining sound with live visuals is something that is very important and also very relevant to the project because it provides a visual representation of the way Punjab has changed over time as well. The economy in India and Punjab has changed so much, which we want to capture visually. It seems right to interface that change and progress with an electronic soundscape as well.

The live visuals for the project are being produced by Bristol-based filmmaker, John Minton, who will be producing visuals live on stage.

 

5. Who do you think PunjabTronix will appeal to?

I think PunjabTronix is going to appeal to a wide variety of people. People who understand traditional Punjabi folk music and songs are going to hear them presented in a new context, in a new, exciting and different way.

It will also appeal to a club and electronica inspired audience. Punjabi music is so energetic itself – it’s going to give audiences a new perspective on hearing electronica and dance music, and other types of hybrid electronic music in a way that they’ve never experienced before.


6. How are you approaching the compositional process?

I’ve taken about 8 or 10 themes of traditional Punjabi folk stories, folk songs, and I’m reworking them in a new way. When I went to Punjab for the Creative Residency in February, I shared my perspective with the traditional musicians of Punjab, which was very interesting. It’s as if we’re meeting from opposite sides of the spectrum and how we form an improvised, collaborative piece together is going to be very interesting and truly representative of what PunjabTronix is – it is that collaboration of technology and tradition, the East and the West combined.


7. Regarding Punjabi folk songs, what famous tunes will audiences hear? And how are you using them in the project?

There are certain songs, like Challa, Jugni, which will be incorporated into PunjabTronix. They all have a very particular party, festive vibe, but also a very historical context. The particular song, ‘Main Valait Kanu Aagiya’, which means ‘Why did I come?’, ‘Why did I go abroad – why did I come to England?’ and these are interesting songs for me, because they are Punjabi songs about emigrating, about leaving India, and the whole context of PunjabTronix puts this into a nice perspective. 


8. What musical influences will you be drawing upon for this project?

My musical influences are quite wide. I grew up listening to a lot of Punjabi folk music by legendary artists like Yamla Jatt (we will be touring with his grandson, the multi-instrumentalist Vijay Yamla), Gurdas Maan or Kuldeep Manak, these artists are well known throughout Punjab and the historical context of what they’ve done. I’m inspired by all of that, the rhythms of Punjab, the Dhol drum, the Tumbi, because Punjabi music has a certain energy to it.

But also growing up in the UK, I grew up on a lot of electronic music, and those influences also bring a whole different kind of DJ, electronic perspective on what I do as well (influences such as Royksopp, Daft Punk and SBTRKT), so mixing different influences together for me feels like a natural thing.


9. Finally, what most excites you about this project?

The fact that it is something very new, very different and the journey is unfolding as we progress into the project, it’s taken on new dimensions, new sounds and new ways of doing things. There’s no other sound, that I’ve heard, out there like this and I think that’s what excites me the most – that we can go on this journey with something in music that’s so new, so different, and so progressive and it’s such an exciting thing to be part of.

 

PunjabTronix is a new commission touring the UK in July, produced and managed by Asian Arts Agency.

PunjabTronix comes to Arnolfini on 16 July.

For more info and tickets please click here

 

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