Story by Anand Harsh
Photos by Mike Flasterstein
DJs have to deal with one innate, unavoidable issue when playing out. Standing behind decks, pressing buttons, and listening intently to something the crowd can’t even hear on headphones is lame. Compensatory measures generally involve over-the-top visual rigs. Giant backdrops with psychedelic images. Lasers. Fog. More fog, bring on the fog! Lame head bobs and gentle side-to-side weight-shifts are also the norm. Brooklyn’s Sub Swara, doesn’t need any gimmicks. On a night that featured no lights, no fog, and no visual support in an opening slot for Future Rock at the Bluebird in Bloomington, Ind., the boys of Sub Swara demonstrated unequivocally why raw talent and energy always conquer all.
Speaking before the show with Dhruva Ganesan and Dave Sharma, they discussed the across-the-board shift by DJs and electronic producers to incorporate more organic elements into the live set. The band’s sound incorporates Indian, Middle Eastern, and general Asian flair into their rhythms and samples. Their signature style is like Brooklyn, a melting pot of ethnicities, flavors, and functions. Sub Swara is in no danger of being passed over. You see, there are no secrets with an SS set. All their gear, all their drum pads, triggers, and programmers lean forward. The audience can see everything. It’s not just that the crowd is aware they’re adjusting knobs and faders that are actually doing something, it’s that from the word go, either one or both Ganesan and Sharma have a pair of sticks in their hands.
The band’s highly successful album Triggers—which couldn’t be more appropriately named, by the way—served not as the focal point, but a supporting character to the live drumming of the pair. The backdrop of composed tunes allows Dave and Dhruva, who both have extensive training in percussion, to improvise, fill-on-the-fly, and add meat—real substance—to their sound. Pounding beats that weave and interplay magically in front of the eye. It’s the difference between eating a scrumptious Japanese steak meal and eating a scrumptious Japanese steak meal after watching it being prepared right on top of your table, teppanyaki-style. Sub Swara builds the tower out of onion rings and sets it on fire.
Dave’s setup comes to life thanks to Hexler’s Touch OSC. This ridiculous app for the iPhone, iPad, and now Android sends Open Sound Control messages over WiFi, completely running his gear and exerting control of the smallest details. Somewhere between Dave running his hands over the pad’s screen, banging on a triggered drum pad to his right, and programming fills with his MPC on his left, I start to have a panic attack. He loses his footing, his hand gets a little sweaty, and that Vic Firth is going to come slamming down on that beautiful, expensive Jobs-tablet with an 80-foot-pound-per-square-inch force that will knock Sub Swara back into the Stone Age.
Oddly enough, Sharma assured me that the band is about to step up their live production. He’s currently building a whole new array of triggered drum pads, and manually rigging the duo’s unique samples through his MacGuyver’d drum shells. Pretty nifty; imagine him sitting cross-legged on the floor of his Brooklyn apartment with a soldering gun in one hand and a schematic in the other. His ferocity and paired delicacy onstage, which are saving him a couple grand on iPad repairs, let me know if anyone can do it, it’s him.
The ethnic instrumentation, tribal drumming, and high level of intensity brought the Bird to life. The only lull came during the pair’s Cee-Lo Green “Fuck You” mashup with their original, “Fire it Up.” The crowd just wanted to see Sub Swara do their thing. Live drumming, in-your-face production, and a taste of the East.
The functionality you are trying to use is for members only. Would you like to sign in?