The remixed world of a professional DJ

By Vidya Pradhan 

“Deejaying?” asks the better half, “isn’t it all about putting some songs into an iPod playlist?” The high profile, high octane professionals in the DJ business would beg to differ. The world of a DJ is about finding the right songs, remixing them to sync the beat and keeping the tempo of the party from flagging. Purists may balk, but adding dance beats introduces old Mukesh, Rafi and Kishore numbers to a generation that may otherwise have dismissed them out of hand. And as it turns out, for the privileged few who make it, being a professional DJ can be both creatively and financially worthwhile. WNI spoke to 2 DJs in the Bay Area to get their take.

DJ Dheeraj has been working the party circuit in the area for about a year. Along with a group of friends, his outfit Geomatrix deejays both private parties and club scenes. “It is all about picking the right music for the right mood,” he says. A mixer helps him blend from one song to the next without losing the beat. “We basically start with music from the 80s and 90s like ‘Aap Jaisa Koi’ and ‘Laila o Laila’. By 11 p.m. the music becomes more recent and contemporary. Post midnight, after the club patrons have had a few drinks, the mood is mellower and Dheeraj switches to slow numbers to wind the party down.

DJ Dheeraj finds the Bay Area club scene to be very different from India where he played for 8 years. “In India we played ‘house’, ‘trance’ and club music,” he points out, “But here I play mostly desi music. English numbers are just not acceptable here.”

DJ Salim, who runs 3M Productions, is perhaps the Bay Area’s best known DJ. His company also organizes club parties and dance events. “Club events have more upbeat music, more remixes and more non-stop music,” he says. Private events, by contrast, ask for more originals, with plenty of rests between numbers. “We don’t just use commercial remixes,” he argues, “we also do our own remixing so we can have a smooth uninterrupted set for dancing.” His experience as a drummer gives him an edge in recognizing and working with the beat.

Here is a remixed video of Vaada Karo by DJ Aqeel who makes a cameo in the video as well. WARNING: May offend your sensibilities if you loved the original song and were alive when it first played!

Both Dheeraj and Salim have day jobs and only deejay on weekends. “Can one make a living at this?” wonder Dheeraj. “Desi DJs make about $200-$350 a gig and it is possible to do it 3-4 times a week.” This includes not just the weekend clubs but weddings, bridal showers and birthdays. DJss like Salim, who are a bit more invested in the business do better at it but still restrict themselves to weekends. “I have a regular job because one can only do this till one’s mid-30’s,” says Salim. “After 35, I probably won’t be able to lug my equipment around!” Music is his life though, and he is considering opening a DJ school after he retires from the club scene.In India, though, deejaying is big business. As Salim put it, “the clubs are better, the lighting is better and the sound systems are better.” And unlike the Bay Area, clubs operate everyday so there is room for more talent and more money.

Several club DJs have successfully made the transition to the music industry. From managing parties, the next progression appears to be creating remixes for popular songs on a legitimate basis and eventually making remix albums of your own. DJ Suketu and DJ Aqeel are two successful DJ’s who have made the transition from just playing other people’s music to putting their own distinctive stamp on the music.

DJ Aqeel, is on a 6 city tour of the US and makes a stop in San Francisco tomorrow. He may have caught a break because of his filmi connections (he is related to both Hrithik Roshan and Zayed Khan by marriage) but his unique talents have propelled him to a career that includes officially remixing songs from Yash Raj films. DJ Salim, who travels with him on his US tours, is impressed with his work ethic. “DJ Aqeel is a very, very hardworking DJ,” he says, “maybe because this is his life.” Aqeel’s music videos get repeat plays on MTV and have resulted in remix albums bearing his name. Judging by crowd response at his events, he even has his own fan base, perhaps laying claim to the emergence of 'remixing' as a genre of its own.

Check out DJ Aqeel at the Bollywood Nights event at the Illusions Nightclub on May 31st.

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