Live music, live fun. Four DJs, four stories. Kirthi Jayakumar takes you on a musical journey with four of Chennai’s hottest disc jockeys!
DJ Riyan, 10 Downing
Passionate about all things musical, it was only natural for Riyan Ahmed to become DJ Riyan. “My passion towards music has been there for a really long time and when I got the right opportunity I decided to explore it further by becoming a DJ and entertain people.” Unlike those who just take to the field without training, Riyan decided to make the best of his talent by honing it professionally, and went forth to take on a couple of courses. “I finished my training from a DJ school called as “Radioaktive” headed by DJ Mike. Later, I explored by myself by doing my own remixes and live mash-ups.”
Starting out early, Riyan realised that there were some roadblocks on the way, and that it was not as smooth or easy. “Initially it was very difficult to grow up because there are so many DJ’s already in the industry and freshers were not entertained much.” By and by, as Riyan earned a name for himself, he fast became one of the renowned disc jockeys in the city.
Having been a DJ for a while, there have probably been a lot of memorable moments. Ask Riyan to share some, and he says, “Well, it was the pre-Valentine’s day Bash at 10 Downing, in 2011. It was HOUSEFULL! I was very new to the industry and people really loved my music. They started cheering and shouting my name out which was something that really shocked me – I did not expect anyone to know me! I was on Cloud 9 because of that! I can never forget that night because after that night my name had reached many people.”
Riyan’s creative process hinges largely on the crowd he works with, and all that they want out of their experience at the pub. “It totally depends on the crowd and on what they want. The track needs a lot of energy, most of the time, and the tempo has to be maintained. I select my music randomly and I do a lot of live mash-ups.” Inspired by his family, his friends and the crowds that he works with, Riyan finds that their cheers are all that motivates him the most.
Music is a very personal experience for each person. For Riyan, music is life. “Music means a lot to me. It is my oxygen and I cannot live without it. Music for some is just time-pass, for few it is a way to chill out and keep them calm. For me, though, it is my bread and butter.”
To anyone with a passion for the career, Riyan offers a very simple piece of advice. “All I would tell them is to just concentrate on their work, as there are a lot of people who will be ready to put them down. If they can just hold on to their passion for long, success will automatically follow them.”
DJ Karty, Illusions
DJ Karty’s music has an infectious charm about it. You simply cannot sit back – the energy is too vibrant to ignore. “I had and still have many friends from the music circle. When I hang out with them, all they talk about is music. I also started developing a lot of interest towards music – and since I have always loved listening to music, I was updated with new releases even before I was a DJ. Slowly this interest transformed into a passion and I turned DJ!”
Not having trained himself formally, Karty looks up to his Guru or Master – his close friend DJ Cyruz. “He is a resident DJ at Extreme Sports Bar, Banglore. He taught me all the basics of DJ-ing. A lot of my other DJ friends helped me learn the technical aspects of it.”
Disc Jockeying is not as simple as one would think – a rather nuanced field, one needs not only music appreciation, but also an understanding of the different genres of music. “There are a thousand different genres in music – like RnB, hip hop, EDM, commercial and so much more. It was difficult for me to understand the differences between all these different genres at first. Another main challenge was to understand what the crowd would like or want or expect.”
From getting to play one-on-one sets with his Guru, Cyrus, to doing an opening set for Tuhin Mehta aka Brute Force, who is one of India’s popular DJs and a Brand Ambassador for Pioneer, Karty has had many a moment when his music was appreciated by the best in the field. “I love playing for New Year nights. Each person in the crowd looks so happy and energetic, and is always looking for the craziest night ever. I also feel pumped up to play my tunes.
Karty’s USP lies in his love for happy tunes. “I mostly use bootleg remixes, funky tunes and do live mash ups – this is one of my favorites!” Inspired by the happiness that the people in the clubs he plays at, Karty is overjoyed when he sees them happy and pumped up. “Some come up to me and tell me that I played an awesome set or that they enjoyed the night, which inspires me to give my best!”
From being a person who listened to music according to his moods, to becoming one who can change other people’s moods with his music, Karty has come a long way indeed. “What I am today is all because of music and my career I chose. I am glad I followed my passion!”
To budding disc jockeys and people working towards making a career out of DJ-ing, Karty has some sound advice to offer. “In the beginning itself, make sure that you try and choose a style of music for which you can give your full effort, with which you can connect yourself and add your creative elements. Try to understand the pulse of your crowd and play accordingly!”
DJ Amar Jacob
Head to the partying circuit and say “Amar Jacob”. There won’t be a soul in the room who won’t know him. A disc jockey with a “niche flair”, Amar could rightfully be the uncrowned monarch of DJ-ing. “I’ve always been fascinated about how just a person behind a console can pull the strings of the rest on the floor to put them all in the same page to experience something positive, vibrant and soulful. That I feel is a magical confluence of something amazing. That is power only music can instill. That’s where it all started. There are only a few things I find more passionate about, frankly.”
When Amar was just in his first year at college, he bought himself a Hercules RMX, a console. “I remember thinking that it was one of the best things that an 18 year old could ask for, something like a super-bike or a supermodel or whatever else you probably yearned for when you were that age. I found that playing for my friends more ideal and most fun, because they would mirror the most honest feedback. It all began from there – the mixing, matching, all of it.”
Starting off wasn’t a challenge at all. Amar’s interest in music took him far. But there were some crests and troughs in the process nevertheless. “Tastes and trends in music are forever varying, just like fashion for instance. Keeping in touch with it is challenging. But then again, if you like what you’re doing and have enough quota of passion going for it, barely anything feels like work!”
Among the myriads of moments in his journey so far, Amar has a couple of memorable ones in mind. “There is nothing quite as ecstatic as the magic that soaked my spine at my first psychedelic/progressive experience, which happened at Escape. In the midst of all the mixing and madness, you open your eyes for a moment to see flashes of adrenaline, excitement and a smile infested audience. All the motivation an artist can possibly ask for to start with. And private parties, oh private parties!” You can palpably see the effervescent energy that music holds for the artist, and it is infectious. How does his creative process pan out? “A great deal of creativity emerges out of spontaneity, at the spurge of the moment, at the blink of an eye. Music just like any other art has a lot to do with responsiveness. I’ve always had an eye out for how the audience reacts. I just go with the flow and try and try not fighting the tide, it just happens.”
Inspired by music itself, Amar says, “What makes you scream, jump, break a sweat, tap your feet, do the vertical head-bob and do that thing you do with your hands inspires me. Music means nothing less than everything to me. It just wants to give and has nothing to take. There are only a few things in this world like that!” To the many fans of his, and to budding talent out there, he says, “I’m not sure if I’m in a place to advice. But, in a nutshell – what’s making you cry, scream, jive and shake all over like a jelly fish, will probably make them too. ‘Listening’ is a beautiful sense, use it.”
With over seven years in the business, DJ Zen is one of Chennai’s most prolific commercial DJs in the corporate and private event sector. With unconventional styles of music that have helped him work his way up through small parties to high profile events in the city, he is also into VJing, or live video mixing. “The interest in music and to explore different genres was there right from school days. I was a part of a Non-profit organization in college, where once in every month or two we used to have some cultural events. I always go to the DJ there asking for new songs, but he never had most of them. That was when I started making CDs of my favourite music and started carrying it every time we had a program and gave it to the DJ. He was quite impressed and taught me the basics of the DJ console. Every time he took a break, I stood in the console like a DJ and it felt great.” Zen explains his beginnings.
As long as a decade ago, Chennai barely had a proper institute or training program for DJs. “It was all a result of experimentation and tips from other DJs I met through my friends. I learned everything there is through tutorial videos, and applied the knowledge whenever I got a chance to touch the real deal. Later, I bought a console of my own and made a small setup at home to train myself.” He explains.
While listening to a track, DJ Zen makes it a point to take note of a few things such as the type of bass-line, the tempo, the key and the energy it produces. These details are very essential to create a perfect play-set. “Since I am more into the commercial scene, I need to keep myself updated with the current chartbusters and the best remixes available. I have subscribed myself in various music related websites and I follow my favourite artists on twitter as well. For some songs, I make my own remixes and make sure that they are more dance-floor friendly. It is not always the Billboard 100, but there are a ton of ignored older treasures out there, that it all ultimately boils down to the fact that you just need to know when to play what.”
Inspired by the people before him that dance, forgetting everything else while jumping up and down in perfect synchrony with the music he plays, DJ Zen explains, “The relationship between a DJ and the Dance floor is a perfect equation. Feeding off the people’s energy and them feeding your energy, it is a blissful experience. Every time I stand behind the console, the only thing I say to myself is, let us all have a good time.” For DJ Zen, music is an experience of a lifetime – something that is beyond verbosity. “Like most things, it is very hard to slap a single word or phrased definition on music due to the fact words and concepts are so variable, and potentially vague (and subjective). But if you want me to, then I will define music as a sound that pleases, uplifts, nurtures and inspires my senses.”
To all those that would like to follow his footsteps into the profession, DJ Zen has something simple to say. “It is not only about playing music, but that you need to focus on producing your own sounds as well. That’s the only way to stand out from the crowd, especially when you look at the amount of people trying to get into DJ-ing these days. They have to do something more than just play sound recording. A DJ must be a combination of performer, music lover, composer, conversationalist, equipment manager and businessperson.”