Issue 54 / Inside The Competitive World Of The South Asian DJ

Inside The Competitive World Of The South Asian DJ

Jun 19, 2016

The South Asian DJ scene can be a seductive, exhilirating and cutthroat business. We chat with a few accomplished spin-masters about the scene, the brand and if they're looking to be the next DeadMau5.

Today, we have access to all the music in the world right at our fingertips.Touch a button, and we can hear any song from any producer or DJ spanning any era. Twenty years ago was a different story.  Twenty years ago, a DJ was a family member who always brought along their stereo or boom box complete with their overwhelming collection of Bollywood or Bhangra cassette tapes and CDs. Those were our DJs.  

Casually dressed with their fingers on the play and pause buttons. So, who are our DJs today? The term “DJ” encompasses much more than its definition. There is an industry, and an outrageously high, yet common demand for DJs, or Disc Jockeys, to provide music as well as entertainment all over the world. They are musical moguls who have created a branded empire.  DJs have been elevating the music game year after year, whether it’s through the usage of new technology or social media. “Suiting up” at live events or gigs and spreading their music worldwide appears to be just the beginning.

As South Asians are breaking stereotypical barriers in industries like film and television, music is certainly next. With a million dollar and growing wedding industry that throws all other cultural nuptials aside, South Asian DJs are rising and seizing this opportunity to show that DJing is a respected art form and requires much more than just what the ears can handle. Sure, a successful and popular DJ can bring in over 100 bookings a year, like Canada’s DJ KSR, but the play and pause days are over.

“Fast forward to our generation, people expect the DJ to put on a show, from laser lights, to glow sticks, to confetti shooters, it's a whole new ball game,” he says. DJs have immersed themselves into the competitive world of weddings and entertainment, ready to put on larger than life shows for any occasion. DJ Aladdin, Chicago’s undisputed Bhangra king, gives light on why being a South Asian DJ is so different by saying, “We bring an entire brand. Anybody can remix, but real DJs have knowledge.” Providing equipment like lighting, monograms, MC skills, along with a killer music set and a dhol player was only the beginning. 

The common DJ set up.
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With big time DJs and music producers like Calvin Harris and Deadmau5 rocking international venues, the art of DJing has become more of a lavish production than a musical gathering. New York DJ, DJ Shilpa explains that, “DJing is far more than just playing your produced tracks in front of a large audience.” 

“What makes top DJs stand out is how they interact with the crowd, knowing what to play and when to play it will set you aside from everyone else,” KSR says.

South Asian DJs have the wedding industry on lockdown, but with artists like Harris and Deadmau5 catapulting to stratospheric fame, it leaves us with a tingling question: Will South Asian DJs ever reach or strive to reach that height? 

According to Toronto DJ DJ Sanj comparing American artists to South Asian artists is like comparing apples to oranges. Dhol Beat International Founder and Houston DJ, DJ Impact, believes that “The top EDM or mainstream DJs are famous because of their music production releases. South Asian DJs are not on their level yet but with constant music releases being promoted on an international level, that will give a higher demand for DJ’s to charge more and travel around the world.”

(L-R) Skrillex, Deadmau5 and Calvin Harris.
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From stereos, to turntables, to digital mixers, the industry in which a DJ lives has come a long way. We no longer have to wait for a DJ to flip over a cassette tape or wait for the CD to change. Music can be downloaded and on a laptop within minutes for listening pleasure. No more vinyl’s to carry around or heavy equipment to lug back and forth from venue to venue. With the popularity of social media and its business advantages as well, DJs have been grinding to get their music, as well as their brand, all over the internet.

“I am able to promote myself to people in places I’ve never even visited.  I would have never been able to do that 15 years ago,” says DJ Aladdin. DJ Impact explains, he has seen much success from social media saying, “social media has played a huge part in branding, and our communication between possible clients through Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat, the general public is continuously made aware of what you do and the type of events you are doing.” DJs are loving this transition and wouldn’t have it any other way.   

“Technology has been welcomed and DJs must keep up with the latest trends to stay competitive,” he adds. As Wolfgang Gartner, Grammynominated music producer, puts it, “We are now in an age where the artist? —? their image, personality, online presence and overall profile ?— ?is just as much of a product being sold as the music that artist makes.” 

With new technology though, there is always a price. Music providers like ITunes and Apple Music have made it easy to download any song within a minute, giving anybody, not just DJs, access to great music and mixes. Popular Toronto-based DJ DJ Jiten finds that while technology has done wonders for a DJ's career, this new technology can also harm it.

“Technology has hurt the scene as it allows anyone to get in due to music being virtually free,” he says. DJ Impact also adds that with new technology like virtual DJ, “it makes it easy for any new DJs to come into the DJ business compared to that of when I first started 20 years ago.”

20-year veteran DJ Sanj
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With the emergence of this new technology and the idea that being a DJ is a seamless job, new DJs pop on to the scene every day. Today, there are more than 1.2 million professional DJs worldwide, with more than 20,000 new DJs just this year alone. As veteran DJs like UK native DJ Vix and Canada native DJ Sanj having made names for themselves when vinyls were popular, the generation gap seems wider and wider each year.

DJ Jiten explains that, “back in the day with vinyl [records] at $10 a pop per single — some would be limited to entering. But nowadays, as far as cut throat — every business has a newcomer and/or fool that doesn’t value their time [who is] ready to work for nothing.” DJ Impact says there is a way to deal with newcomers who want to be as successful as DJ Baba Kahn or aspire to become the next Calvin Harris, but he does notice that “new young DJs will do just about anything to get events and will lower the price no matter how low they have to go to get more gigs.” 

DJs like Vix, KSR and Shilpa aren’t threatened by newcomers, but instead, welcome the competition. “I feel it's good to see the industry growing and it's good to know that veteran DJs like myself are encouraging and influencing up and coming DJs in the Asian wedding scene,” says DJ Vix. As KSR puts it, the only competition is himself.

A view from the DJ Booth.
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Being a DJ is an ignited passion to please crowds and keep people entertained. To spread music and produce an eclectic show that impresses the masses. I think it’s safe to say that we’ve entered a world where we will no longer need to be serenaded by stereos.

 (L-R) DJ Vix, DJ KSR, DJ Aladdin, DJ Shilpa and DJ Impact

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Shilpa Sehgal-Rajput


Shilpa Sehgal-Rajput is a freelance writer based in Chicago.  Reminiscing about her passion for writing during her college days, she has made her way back from the corporate world, armed with a lace pen.  When she’s not working on humorous short stories and epic novels, she’s living out her se...


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