EDM Churner: Anil Chawla
Anil Chawla’s name is one of the first to be mentioned in any conversation about India’s burgeoning dance music landscape. Clubbers, DJs, people who have but a perfunctory introduction to electronic dance music — they’re all united in the belief that he is, in a nutshell, at the top of his game. He’s not just a brilliant and consistent DJ, but also a producer whose tracks have released on some of the most exclusive labels of the house and techno worlds. Interestingly enough, he’s built that reputation internationally and in India, having lived here for just three years, after moving from the U.K.
Chawla’s roots in dance music hark back to 1998, when he was a student at the University of Southampton. A game-changing trip to Ibiza made him want to cement his love for dance music into something concrete. “I never really had any intention of deejaying. I’d always loved dance music and used to go out to clubs, but Ibiza was a massive eye-opener. I bought my first record decks in the summer of ’99 but had no idea what I was doing and didn’t even know how to mix. I’d just wait for a breakdown to happen and clang the next record in” he laughs. His first gig, appropriately, was at lunchtime at his student union café, where he played for two hours. How things have changed since then, but Chawla looks back at those days with fondness. “It was all practise, practise, practise. There was a record shop around the corner and by the end of Uni I had close to 4,000 vinyl records. I’d spend hours there — luckily enough I got a student discount. It took me a long time to learn, but when I finally mixed two tracks properly, it was the most satisfying experience,” he reveals.
Soon enough, Chawla and a friend called Dan had a regular Wednesday party at the student union where they were paid with free drinks. Another mate, Paul, who was the best man at Chawla’s wedding this past December, was also getting into club and party promotions at the time. “He really pushed me and got me in with Maidstone, where I became the resident at a party called Mongo Bongo. The other resident was Nic Fanciulli,” he says. Fanciulli’s recognised as one of the top-billed names of global electronica. Fanciulli and his brother, Mark, run Saved Records, which has released a number of Chawla’s tunes, so this was quite a fortuitous turn of events. Paul also introduced him to the people at the legendary (but now, sadly, shutdown) club Turnmills, in London, which ended up becoming a huge influence in Chawla’s life. He bagged an opening slot, where he’d play before the main acts for the night, and by the end of it, had a monthly residency called “Together.” He opened for some of the scene’s biggest names like Chemical Brothers, Josh Wink and Hot Chip. “I loved opening the room,” he reminisces. “It’s like starting with a blank page. There’s an empty dance floor and you have to fill it up. It’s a challenge, but so rewarding and was the best apprenticeship for me.” Chawla also met one of his biggest collaborators, Dale Anderson, at Turnmills, who taught him a lot about production, something Chawla wanted to get into back then. “Our first track was a bootleg of Green Velvet’s Flash. It was just awful. I played it once to no success, so it never saw the light of day after,” he laughs. They learnt quickly though, as Fanciulli snapped up their second track for release. By 2009, they were asked by the indomitable Global Underground to mix the third CD on the massive Underground Mix series, called GU: Mixed 4.
Soon after, a move to India was on the cards, and after living in Goa and Mumbai, Chawla’s currently settled in Chennai. It’s been three years of quality shows, dance floor damage, and the biggest DJs in the world — like Richie Hawtin — supporting and playing out the tracks he makes. More importantly, his new solo compilation called Directions has just been released on Sony Music, India, in partnership with his agency, UnMute. It’s a two-CD compilation where the first is an hour-long compelling mix of 12 of his tracks. The second CD has
10 of his tracks in full-length, unmixed form. Each one is incredible and covers the spectrum of intelligent, accessible and dance-floor tuned house and techno. It’s a huge step for the less “commercial” sound. While trance, electro or psychedelic music is prevalent in India, Chawla’s sound shines through as something refreshing and different. “I think there are a lot of kids out there who want to explore music. This is
fairly underground. It’s where I am right now and it’s music I love. I hope they have a look and try something new,” he says. If his track record has anything to show for it, they will in droves.