Why Nucleya Moved Beyond South Indian Rhythms for his Latest Album

A lot of people will tell you fame and success is about being at the right place at the right time. With Goa-based electronic music producer and DJ Nucleya – a.k.a. Udyan Sagar – it seemed to be about being at the right place at multiple times throughout the last two decades.

Whether it was being part of Bandish Projekt until 2007, getting featured on BBC, or working with electronic-fusion veteran Karsh Kale for MTV’s Sound Trippin in 2013, Nucleya’s arena-ready electronic music didn’t get thousands of followers overnight.

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It was around 2013 that his new EP Koocha Monster dropped, introducing his high-energy bass music that was laced with Tamil street rhythms, in the vein of a musical tradition known as dappankoothu. It was called “South Indian dubstep” by many, but Nucleya clearly showed up any critic who termed his music as a trend. By his own admission, the DJ/producer says he dived deep into sampling and using South Indian rhythms to offer something new in electronic music. He said at the time of releasing Koocha Monster, clubs in London featured a typical bhangra-influenced style of Indian electronic music, or sometimes employed flute or tabla.

In the works for nearly two and a half years, Koocha Monster was followed by Bass Rani (2015) and Raja Baja (2016) and by then, Nucleya was already the reigning king of Indian folk-flavored electronic music. What changed since Koocha Monster, however, was the producer’s approach to casting a wider net around not just South Indian folk music, but also the traditional tunes of different parts of the country.

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His latest album, Tota Myna, is a total shift from the days of Koocha Monster, because Nucleya songs now employ rappers such as Raftaar, Punjabi folk-informed voices such as Rashmeet Kaur (both featuring on “Mirza”) and Avneet Khurmi (“Sohneya”) and even an English track from actor-singer Shruti Haasan (“Out Of Your Mind”). He says the process has always remained organic: “I’ve been writing stuff that appeals to me. Of course, my tastes keep changing and evolving over time, and that is reflected in my music. I’ve been listening to a lot more pop music lately and that’s been slowly seeping into my music. I don’t really write music for other people, mainly for myself, so as my taste evolves, so does my sound.” He adds about his composing process, “One thing that has changed a lot is that now I prefer to record live musicians, as opposed to program in the parts. For example, on Koocha Monster, a lot of the nadaswaram parts are programmed patches, but on Raja Baja and Tota Myna, we actually did proper sessions in Chennai with a nadaswaram player.”

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Just as he began his arena-selling run of shows across festivals and open-air shows in the country, Bollywood came knocking on his door. Film composers such as Amit Trivedi and filmmaker Anurag Kashyap enlisted him for “Paintra,” a track off the latter’s film Mukkabaaz, featuring rhymes from rapper Divine. Knowing his fondness for Bollywood films for long – his 2010 release Horn OK Please was a collection of Bollywood remixes – it seemed inevitable that the energy of the likes of Nucleya’s Bass Rani would be emulated for film music. In another interview, however, his current stand remains that he’ll take on Bollywood projects on a case by case basis, choosing to work only with composers he admires.

He’s still keeping up with what the music industry demands, though. But then you hear a song like “Mahiya” on Tota Myna and it brings back that frenetic dubstep sound of Koocha Monster, even as it takes an overall tempered approach as a composition. Another hint lies in his choice of collaborators, who invariably influence the direction of each song. He sums up Tota Myna with, “The goal was to blur the line between pop music and bass music, and I think I have been able to do that effectively so far. I don’t really believe in genres. For me, it’s all just music at the end of the day, so what i’m working toward is bending genres and removing those tags altogether.”