Interview by Terra Celeste of Keyframe-Entertainment for Evolver EDM
Dub Kirtan All Stars was formed by international touring bass music DJs and Producers David Starfire and FreQ Nasty with the intention to fuse bass-heavy underground dance music with Yoga Kirtan, the call and response chants of Indian devotional traditions. They are a live musician/DJ collective that tears down the boundaries between bleeding edge technology and ancient spiritual techniques, performer and audience, the sacred and everyday life. Don’t think, just feel the bass, dance and hear your voice ring out above it – the real All Stars are the audience – your voices complete the band.
The live band features an ever-changing mix of singers steeped in the Kirtan musical traditions, conscious hip-hop MCs, expert players from the world and live music scenes, and video projections by Digital Vic of The Mutaytor, all interwoven with the beats and bass of FreQ and Starfire. Band members and collaborators include:
*This interview was conducted entirely online.*
Keyframe: Hi, thank you for offering time to this conversation. Below are a few questions relating to your collaboration as Dub Kirtan All Stars and your March 2015 release, Bhakti Juggernaut.
Kirtans are commonly affiliated with Hindu spiritual practices. What brings you to work with this traditional music?
We are trying to bring about awareness of Kirtan to the world and along with it meditation and mantras in an everyday practice. The chants and music can stand on their own, even without being Hindu. The audience doesn’t have to know the meanings of the chants to join in with the celebration and deep connection.
I practiced Yoga with the Indian Satyananda lineage and a Tibetan Buddhist Yoga lineage across the last 17 years, so in some ways I have an affinity with the pantheon or principles of Yogic/Hindu religions. Oddly enough though, in all my years practicing at the Satyananda Ashram in London, I never went to a Kirtan as it was on a Friday night and I was almost always DJing on the weekends. It wasn’t till I moved to L.A. 8 years ago that I actually went to some Kirtan. So it makes a lot of sense that the only way I would become involved with Kirtan is if it were melded into the club culture that previously blocked my entry to that world.
Keyframe: What seemed two paths, the meditative path of Kirtan and career path of DJing, merged together and now, Dub Kirtan All Stars offer electronic DJ music fused with the meditative chanting. Do you find production of this music to be like a meditation, or do you see yourself as strictly providing dance music? What is this fusion like for you?
The process of production is a continual challenge to maintain mindfulness of what I’m doing and why–just like the rest of life really :). But after many years of indulging in the DJ lifestyle and all the accoutrements it has to offer I’m a little less prone to getting lost in both the studio indulgences and the on-tour indulgences, and so it’s able to be a more meditative process. Keeping my intention strongly in my awareness as I create at all times is a great meditation in itself. I just love working with the mantras and chants going around and around my head for 6, 8 or 10 hours a day. I come out of the studio feeling uplifted and connected to myself and others and that is a beautiful thing.
Keyframe: Bhakti Juggernaut is a highly collaborative album, with passionate vocals and organic instrumentation from a number of Artists. What inspires you to create this music, working with so many artists?
I grew up performing in bands when I was younger and enjoy the collaboration efforts of a collective of artists. You can bounce off ideas and also push each other to raise the bar of the performance. Kirtan is traditionally within large groups of performers and also the audience is interacting as well with responses. We wanted a well-rounded album with different artists to have a greater variety of vibe and sounds. Certain songs fit different vocal types as well as different instruments. We want organic instruments and it’s important to our vision of fusing with electronic music. We want a human element to be present in our music because it is very important for us and connecting with our audience.
Keyframe: What are the origins of Dub? Or how do you understand the beginnings of Dub? When did Dub become a part of your created soundscapes?
Dub music for me was something I discovered after moving to London from New Zealand as a 20-year old. A friend of mine who squatted in the same house as I did in North London moved in with her boyfriend who was a big Dub and Reggae head and we’d go around there and listen to his tunes. I have a real love for the British Dub and Reggae bands who took the Jamaican sound of King Tubby, Lee Scratch, etc. from the mid to late 70’s and started adding synths and more modern digital delays; creating what I hear as a clear evolution of the Dub sound. Aswad’s “A New Chapter of Dub” springs to mind and is one of my favorite albums of all time. So my discovery of Dub was well before I had a record out even though I was making music at the time, so my first records generally had some kind of Dub sensibilities–some more obvious than others. The later period of Bristolian sound systems like Massive Attack, Portishead and London’s Soul to Soul influenced me as well as the burgeoning Jungle scene in the UK which I watched grow and develop as yet another new strand of Dub and Reggae music. As with the South Asian spiritual traditions music is always developing and changing to suit the time, place and culture around it.
I’ve been producing music that has elements of Dub for years now. It’s a unique sound that is deep in my soul and I love the subsonic bass frequencies. I first started listening to Mad Professor and Lee Scratch Perry years ago and wanted to use some of those ideas in my production. This was before Dub Kirtan All Stars and I used it in bands and with my own albums as David Starfire.
Keyframe: I noticed during Dub Kirtan All Star’s live performance, you’re doing a lot on stage; slapping rhythms on a drum machine, you move around a lot and seem very focused on the audience experience as well. Is it common for you to produce live drum beats during a performance? What is your take on the drum as an instrument? Do you follow a certain tradition when it comes to drumming?
On stage I play live percussion instruments such as the congas or jimbe, other times when I can’t bring large drums on the road I will bring my handsonic. The handsonic is an electronic percussion instrument that has samples of hundreds of different instruments at the touch of my fingers. I feel that the drum is one of the most important instruments overall, especially in dance music. It was probably the first instrument and highly regarded by tribal and indigenous people around the world for ceremony. It’s still used today in many cultures as the centerpiece of ceremonies in tribes in Africa and even here in the States by the Hopi. Drums can also help to induce a meditative or trance-like state as does repeating mantras.
Keyframe: Do you purposefully create this music for ecstatic dancing?
Most of the music I create could be for ecstatic dancing. I hope that people lose themselves and journey to a deeper place while listening to my music. I’ve been producing music that uses elements of world music for years and using authentic ethnic instruments can take one on a journey to distant lands and beyond. Within my production there are key vibrational elements that I hope connect and heal the dancer to a deeper place within themselves.
Yeah we did–I think I’ve always tried to create music for ecstatic dancing. The whole point of Dub Kirtan All Stars seems bringing together two worlds; ecstatic dance floor experience with ecstatic chanting experience. The idea was to bring together two powerful spiritual technologies and combine them in one modern form that anyone could understand and practice, because the music was already familiar even if the chants aren’t. One of the most powerful properties that music has to offer is the drive to get lost in the music. This brings us into to the present, note by note, beat by beat and it’s one of the reasons music is so powerful. It’s like a deep meditation but without having to do the training.
I came across my first ecstatic dance in the U.S. as well, so I have an innate understanding of at least some aspects of what it is doing to me, from my years on dancefloors and DJing in clubs, and also my yoga practice too I guess.
Keyframe: How long have you been creating music for ecstatic dancing?
Isn’t that the goal of all dance floor-based music ? 🙂
I’m kinda joking but also not. Most electronic music started out as a form that was designed to drive the dance floor in a club, and it was on its ability to do this that it would be judged. Of course being original and cutting-edge is also a part of it, but first of all it had to make people dance. So in a way, coming out for a dance floor-based electronic music scene, it is part of the course to make music for ecstatic dancing. Unofficially 15 years making electronic music; officially, 6.
Keyframe: Dub Kirtan All Stars seem to bring a kind of modern astral vehicle to carry traditional chants to these deity energies, through amplified electronic music forms. Is this calling an ancient deity or, as it’s through a new musical form, is a new emanation created; a new imagining of an ancient story?
I wouldn’t say that we are rewriting Sanskrit, but I would say that we have developed a new way to present Kirtan to the world. You could say it’s a new sub-genre within bass music, maybe a new musical form, but that might be stretching it.
My understanding and practice is about principles and qualities these deities represent. The literal form of these qualities are not the most important thing. The qualities they represent are tho, and they are effectively timeless as they relate to the way the human mind works and the process of awakening and enlightenment that it has the potential to realise. So just as the South Asian traditions have always evolved and changed the outer form of their practice, and even the practices themselves, the goals remain the same. So Kirtan is both old and new the same time and that is highlighted by the way DKAS present mantra and dance.
All the chants are speaking to archetypal energies so the names we give them don’t really matter so much in my mind. Each name emphasizes a different aspect of ultimate reality, God, the Divine, the Void, pure potential, whatever you like to call it. They are neither new or old but we make up our stories around them that appear new to us, names and stories that we can relate to more easily. So in that sense a new consciousness is brought forth in ourselves and others by being with the music and the chants. Ultimately it leads to the One consciousness which is beyond the limited perspective of a linear time and space.
Keyframe: Creation myths often reference sound as the origin of all things. Every manifest thing emits a sound frequency. How does Dub Kirtan All Stars music fit into this scheme?
Everything is vibration and the core particles that make up everything is vibration, just like sound. Connecting with frequencies help to change your feelings, thoughts etc., and is a big part of emotion for humankind. Music can elevate your mood or trigger a time and place from years past. We want to bring it all together from the core to the physical to the entire universe. It’s all connected, even from the very beginning of time.
We all have resonant frequencies in both gross and subtle ways. Subatomic physicists tell us we and everything around us are ultimately nothing more solid than vibration. Subatomic physicists tell us everything can be seen as Waves – a vibration – everything has a resonant frequency and that Frequency is impacted by the frequencies around it.
Music, dance and chanting too are all technologies that collapse our classical view of reality into a more non-local, transpersonal aspect with a less distinct subject/object division, i.e. “we” instead of “me.” It relaxes the mind’s tendency to adhere to A Frequency and instead lays it open to aligning with THE Frequency.
Keyframe: Your album, Bhakti Juggernaut brings a feeling of calling to deity energies with the modern vehicle of electronic amplification carried on potent bass waves. Do you see this music as a fusion of the original story behind each chant, bringing them into a modern, global context through electronic music?
The context of our music gives new meaning to timeless energies or archetypes behind the mantras. The music we’ve chosen is a truly international form of music. I love sitars and Tibetan horns and the rhythm and tonality of electronic music is now as widespread as that of classic rock music, so we’ve really worked with the idea that the music is global in that the vast majority of the planet understands it in some form or another. Mantras are effective for the fact that very few people understand them and so they work as sound bombs that drop into our conceptual mind and destroy narratives that keep us limited to the egoic self and the discontent and isolation that comes from that.
I feel that bass frequencies help to transport the audience to a place of chanting and meditation. We hope to elevate the chanting with bass frequencies in order to raise the vibration of the audience.
Keyframe: Thank you for offering time to this conversation, what projects do you have on the horizon?
For Dub Kirtan All Stars, we have a remix album in the works as well as working on new songs.
I have a new David Starfire song and remixes coming out in a few weeks. I’m also currently working on an album called “Karuna” for which I launched a successful Kickstarter to help fund. For that album, I went to Northern Thailand to collaborate with Burmese refugees; I’m still working on that album and it will be released sometime this summer.
Coming up in June, Dub Kirtan All Starts have a gig in Boulder, CO with the Hanuman Festival (Friday June 12th at the Boulder Theater).
We’re also working to release a remix EP and watch for Yoga of Bass Workshops in Los Angeles at the Mahasukha Center, Symbiosis Festival, and more. (www.YogaOfBass.com)
Watch for FreQ Nasty’s new single “Chandelier Tree.”
Anything else you’d like to add?
Thanks for doing this we really appreciate you!
Download the album here: https://dubkirtanallstars.bandcamp.com/
Watch the live promo video:
Watch the two-part recorded interviews done by Syd Woodward: