Todh Teri's housed-up Bollywood re-edits offer a refreshing alternative to the current ubiquity of Afro-inspired sounds
Remember around 2003 or so, when it seemed like every other house record being released was sung in Spanish – even if the producer and vocalist were actually from Boston, Berlin or Birmingham? House music caught a kind of 'Latin fever' for a few years, in much the same way that it could be said to be experiencing a case of 'Afro fever' right now.
Which is fine, of course – any form of music that fails to adapt, evolve and welcome new influences is destined to atrophy. What this writer has always found strange, though, is that while cross-pollinations between house/techno/etc and the musics of South/Central America or Africa are ten-a-penny, the rich musical heritage of the Indian sub-continent has, it seems, largely been overlooked. And that's a huge shame, because the rolling rhythms of Indian music and the 4/4 kick of house and techno actually work together surprisingly well.
One man who's been doing his best to change that, though, is Todh Teri, whose series of Deep In India re-edits have been been bringing the sounds of the sitar, the tabla and the sarangi to in-the-know deep house floors since 2017. The Indian producer – whose true identity is a closely guarded secret – has been on our interview wishlist for a while, and we finally managed to track him down just as Deep In India Vol 6 was landing in stores…
First off, can you tell us your real name, age and where you're from?
"My name is Todh Teri, but you can call me Todh! Age is just a number – I can give you a random number if you like, but basically I'm from the same place/planet as you.
"I lived in the foothills of the Himalayas, meditating and devoting all my energy and concentration to Saraswati – the Hindu goddess of knowledge, music, art, wisdom and learning – to achieve the eternal knowledge of the ancient ragas. One day she gave me her blessing to create this project, hence I decided to break my meditation and go back to making music."
Let's talk a bit about your background before that... what music did you hear as you were growing up, and how did you get into making music in the first place?
"I grew up listening to various genres, predominantly Indian classical and Hindi pop and film music. Other than that, of course I was a huge fan of Michael Jackson, plus other pop artists like Bryan Adams, Guns N Roses and Duran Duran, to name a few. I always wanted to create my own music, to be able to hold a physical copy and play it to the crowd. By the grace of Saraswati, I have been making records for a while now, but as Todh Teri since 2017."
India's not known as a big market for dance music, so how did you first discover/get into house, and electronic music more generally?
"Back in the day yes, that was true, but now there is a good flow of dance music coming out of India. My first contact with house music was the Ministry Of Sound and Cream mix compilations which my friends used to bring back from their yearly EU trips. Daft Punk had just released Homework and Around The World was on nearly every compilation: this changed a lot of DJs and music producers back then."
Who were some of the artists/DJs/producers that most inspired/influenced you when you started making your own house tracks?
"Like I mentioned before, Saraswati is the only true inspiration! Influences are way too many, but a few would be Kalyanji-Anandji, Bappi Lahiri, Nazia Hassan, Biddu, Vijay Benedict, Todd Terje, Prins Thomas, Vitalic, Daft Punk, DJ Shadow, Patrick Cowley and Giorgio Moroder."
Do you play any instruments on the Deep In India EPs, or is your role strictly that of producer?
"All the tracks are edits created by me, except for two of them which are done by other producers who are close friends: Kone Kone (on Deep In India Vol 5) and AAGUU (on Deep In India Vol 6). In this series, I've been re-editing forgotten tunes from Indian films of the 60s, 70s and 80s, through to the early 90s. In some you can hear the complete song (which I've refurbished with a new bassline, drums and synths), and in some just a sample whch is enough to trigger the part of your brain that recognises the track, but won't spit out the name of the movie or song
"Instruments played and used on the edits include the Framus E-bass, Roland SH-01, Roland TB-03, Volca FM, Microcon II, MBF 522, Korg Minilogue, Roland TR-505, Sequential Circuits DrumTraks."
Speaking of which... the Deep In India EPs are all I know about. Are there any other Todh Teri productions out there that I should be aware of? Or productions under other names?
"Get Physical asked me put together a compilation with artists from India or of Indian origin, called India Gets Physical, which was released earlier this year. And then from that compilation they released Come Closer by my close friend Kone Kone as a single, which was remixed by Reboot and myself.
"I do also produce music under some other aliases, but I prefer not to say much about them."
Okay, the big question! There are 37,349,294 records out there that fuse house music with African and/or Latin rhythms/instruments, but when it comes to fusions of house with music from the sub-continent... not so much. Why is that, do you think?
"I didn’t know the exact number – thanks, now I have something to talk about at record stores, ha ha! Seriously, though, there was a huge Asian underground wave in the late 90s/early 00s with artists like Talvin Singh, Karsh Kale and State Of Bengal, but it wasn't exactly house music: more breakbeat, drum & bass and trip-hop.
"House music wasn't really big in India back in the day, but it’s getting more popular now – since the mid-2000s, I'd say. Before that it was all about Goa trance, or progressive house (which is still quite big). I guess we were more into uplifting, energetic music back then and house wasn't really doing it for us, it felt very 'lounge-y' in comparison."
What's the 'scene' like for dance music in India now? I know there are some big clubs that cater for the more commercial/EDM side of things, but you essentially make deep house records – are there places people can go to hear them in a club, or is it more of an underground/online/word-of-mouth thing?
"The ‘scene’ has exploded in India, there have been some massive booking over the years, some of them quite surreal, and it continues. Yes, the bigger venues still prefer EDM/commercial sounds, but it is being slowly taken over by underground electronic music.
"The new generation is getting aware of their music and the promoters are doing a great job, especially in metropolitan cities like Mumbai, Bangalore, Calcutta, New Delhi and Chennai. Even places like Indore, Guwahati and Dehradun, which are kind of 'off the radar' when it comes to electronic music are catching up.
"There is also a healthy electronic music scene in Karachi (Pakistan) and in Columbo (Sri Lanka)."
Talk us through the four tracks on the Deep In India Vol 6 EP…
"Sampadan 18 is based on a film from the 80s. The idea was to keep it raw and simple, as if it was created in the same era. It was also a song I used to love dancing to as a child and wanting to be like the hero of the film, which my mother utterly despised. And Sampadan 19, which is the debut release by my dear friend AAGUU, is his interpretation of the same track. His variation is more nu-disco/rave, which will definitely be the cause of unusual dancing during those dark hours in the club.
"Sampadan 20 is a super-funky edit of a very famous south Indian produce/composer. It's very synth-laden, and to some extent a bit jazzy. Definitely a party-starter! And finally Sampadan 21 is a special one, based on one of my all-time favourite Hindi songs from the 60s. Back then the music influence was mainly cha cha cha, blues and cumbia with Indian scales and poetry (lyrics). Hence I decided to follow their lead and created this slow, bluesy cumbia/acid edit. Dance music from the jilted generation!"
The other big players in terms of Indian house music that I'm aware of are Hamza and his Wind Horse label. So, are you guys good friends, sworn enemies, complete strangers, or...?
"We are friends, he even contributed a track on the India Gets Physical compilation which I put together earlier this year."
... and are there any other Indian house DJs/producers/artists I should be looking at?
"There are quite a few, actually: check out AAGUU, Ayesha Pramanik, Arnold From Mumbai, BLOT!, FILM, Murthovic, Troja and Unnayanna, for starters."
Do you DJ as well as producing, and if so is there any danger of seeing you play in the UK any time soon?
"I play live only, with a few hardware synths and Ableton. My exclusive DJ set rights belong to one specific organisation, which is Masala Movement, a non-profit portal for cultural exchange. It’s run by my close friend Manoj Kurian Kallupurackal from Cologne, who also designed my logo and was art director for the Deep In India Vol 6 cover.
"There are no plans currently in place, but to play live in the UK would be amazing! Hopefully it will happen soon."
Todd Terry famously wasn't that happy about Todd Terje using that name – have you had any grief on that score?
"No, but then the name actually has nothing to do with either of them. It might sound similar, but Todh means 'break' and Teri means 'your', and when you say it in a certain way it's a threat, like, 'I'm gonna break your bones'. Although in this case I'm only breaking tunes!
"I wrote to both of them explaining the name, but no response, so I guess here is another opportunity. I'm a huge fan of both artists."
Coincidentally, I got sent a record today by some well-known western producers that uses an Indian vocal. Given that there aren't hundreds of Indian house producers making money out there, is this cultural appropriation, or a good thing because it makes those sounds more familiar to a wider audience?
"Are you talking about BAPPI by Jamie Jones & The Martinez Brothers? That tune is phat! It will definitely rock festivals and clubs and make people scream, but is that what house music is all about? I think it has more to do with the profile of the artist: if an unknown artist from India would use the sample in a similar way and make a bomb, it won’t have the same effect as when JJ & TMB do it.
"I don't the track is disrespectful in anyway, but the dance moves… I saw the video, it's embarrassing! But it creates awareness and generates curiosity. People will Shazam the track, which will eventually lead them to the original song, which is Jimmy Jimmy from the movie Disco Dancer (1982), composed by Bappi Lahiri and sung by Parvati Khan."
Finally, what else is going on for you right now that iDJ readers need to know about?
"Deep In India Vol 7 is in the making. There's also another project coming up, but I can’t say much about that yet. Sorry for being so vague, but patience is the greatest virtue!"
Words: Russell Deeks
Deep In India Vol 6 is out now on Todh Teri Records