GEN F: Sub Swara

Photographer Alex Wesh
July 23, 2011

Getting together the trio of wayfarers in boundary-blasting DJ and production crew Sub Swara is a task for a travel agent. Their wanderlust is fitting, though, since they’ve made their name playing international music. We get together when they’re all in the same space for a tiny 24-hour window. Haj Ji is in town to discuss the album they’re working on, having relocated from New York to San Francisco for an indeterminate length of time to write music with fewer distractions. Dhruva Ganesan is at home in Brooklyn, preparing for a several-weeks-long jaunt to India to record drums for future Sub Swara songs. Dave Sharma just returned from there, visiting family, DJing, sourcing new musicians to sample and sending emails like: Greetings from Delhi. Just played a totally amazing dubstep/funky/mid-tempo glitch set last night to 300 sweaty, crazy kids—who knew? Halfway around the world and this shit is HUGE.

Indeed. Sub Swara came together in 2005, before the internet’s universal reach truly opened the floodgates to now common cross-cultural genre sampling and fusion. Five years later, as the web expands and the world shrinks, their international sound clashes are increasingly unifying. Layering disparate sounds like dancehall, bhangra and hip-hop atop a foundation in dubstep, drum ’n’ bass and other sub-heavy party-kickers, Sub Swara’s music doesn’t fit in any one genre. “It's not like, Let’s sit down and be as diverse as possible, we really should have more Indian elements on the album, we really need to have more dub or less of this,” says Ganesan. “The fact that the music is diverse kind of comes out of the fact that our interests are diverse.”

The group’s debut, Coup d’Yah, unites Sharmaji’s drumming, South Asian influences and eerie samples, with a conjoiner of the room-breaking basslines of dubstep. No one song feels as if it’s in the same category as another, a push against genre divisions they’re already working to progress. “This trip to India, I’m working with some masterful musicians in the studio to give us that whole kind of eclectic sound,” says Ganesan. “The irony is that in Bombay, you can find virtuosos anywhere, but someone who's playing ukulele with their toes, they just don’t come across that often.” And, in fact, their next album will feature a toe-ukulele player—a San Francisco musician named Genie. Clearly, Sub Swara’s curiosity is unlimited. But ultimately they’re motivated by more than just their inquisitive nature. “We’re [now] seeing these social boundaries fall along the lines musical boundaries were already,” says Sharma. “It’s a really important change—to have social and musical boundaries fall on such a big scale is partial to what we do. I think it's our job to keep pushing that forward.”

Stream: Sub Swara, Coup d'Yah

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GEN F: Sub Swara