Anjali Bhatia – From Riot Punk to Cinematic Downtempo (English Version)

 

Exclusive interview with the London artist ANJALI BHATIA – singer, musician, producer and DJ – about to release a new album, more than 20 years after her last work.

 

1) Let’s start from your beginnings in London in the early 90s, a short time in “Mambo Taxi”, then the formation of the all girl band, “The Voodoo Queens”: both projects were characterized by a strong punk rock attitude and unconventional and anti-commercial lyrics. What can you tell us about those days?

London was quite an exciting place in the early 90s, there were a lot of squats, gigs & raves happening – the music scene was really vibrant & diverse, everyone I knew seemed to be in a band and I was lucky enough to live in a squat where we had a rehearsal room with lots of instruments set up.

I was at art college at the time and decided to start up a band with some friends. In mambo taxi, I was playing the drums, but I soon left to form Voodoo Queens where I was playing guitar & singing, I loved a lot of different kinds of music but with Voodoo Queens, we definitely wanted to have a punk ethic, I guess it wasn’t something that we had an agenda about it just kind of happened naturally.

 

2) In songs like “Prom Queen”, “Supermodel Superficial” or “Kenuwee Head” you seem to literally make fun of situations and clichés such as “the first dance”, the cult of aesthetics or fan hysteria for the actor or the actress of the moment: where did this “riot” attitude come from and why did you choose punk as a vehicle?

We were seeing this whole heroin chic, waif and supermodel phenomenon rising around us and felt quite angry at how the female image was being portrayed via the power of the fashion industry and wanted to rally against the unrealistic & negative imagery. We felt as though it was having a detrimental effect on many women especially on those with eating disorders & body image issues. Our anger came from a genuine place! We were also very interested in popular culture and a lot of our ideas came from here. We were massive fans of the Bill and Ted films and Keanu Reeves, so decided to write a song about him at the time he wasn’t really that well-known and a bit of a cult actor!

 

3) In the 1994 album “Chocolate Revenge”, while maintaining the punk twist, the sound becomes more “garage rock” with frequent inserts of sixties organ and a less angry singing: how did the creative process work in the band? What were the different influences?

Our live gigs were a lot more raucous than the album! We were influenced by The Slits, X-Ray Spex, 60s garage rock like ‘The Girls From the Garage’ compilations amongst many other sounds at the time. The songs were mostly written on the guitar, and then we would build up a noise from there 🙂

We worked with the producer, Nick Page who wanted to create a more ‘sleeker’ sound on the album – we also had some slower, more melodic songs like Neptune and Cactus Trees and the production suited these songs very well.

 

4) After The Voodoo Queens and hundreds of concerts, in 1996 you begin your solo adventure, completely changing your sound, changing your skin and recovering what, I imagine, are a series of influences given, on the one hand, by listening to your parents’ records (between easy listening, soundtracks and traditional Indian music), and on the other hand, incorporating the new beats and technologies that dance music and the London and American club circuit were developing: how did you arrive at the choice to produce your new music and how did you immediately intercept producers like Dan Swift, Boymerang, Spykid or Kevin Paul?

I absolutely loved being in a band in the Voodoo Queens. We had the time of our lives – that’s for sure, we toured all over Europe, put out many records did lots of Peel Sessions and generally, we were living the Voodoo dream! However, I found being in a guitar band, a little bit of a constraint, and as an artist, I think you always need to evolve, transform & develop.

Also, I felt I had a lot of ideas to explore, I was getting more and more into electronic music and loved the adventurous and experimental nature of it all.

I started off by getting a four track and then moved on to investing in a sampler and an Atari. I’d collected a lot of easy listening / Bollywood records over the years and decided to sample some sounds from some of these vinyls while adding my own flourishes. Spykidelic was the only co-producer/writer that I worked with on some of my seminal songs. Kevin, Boymerang and Dan Swift did a great job of mixing some tracks & it was a pleasure working with them. Dan Swift mostly mixed my debut album ‘Anjali’ and we were so lucky to mix in studios like Blackwing where Depeche Mode and My Bloody Valentine had also mixed their albums. I also worked with an amazing mixer/engineer, Mads Bjerke (other credits-Spiritualized, Spring heeled Jack) who totally understood what kind of sound we wanted when we were mixing ‘The World of Lady A’ he also mixed ‘Lazy Lagoon’.

 

5) The singles you produce between 1996 and 1999 are strongly based on the sample culture: a constant cut and stitch between samples from old vinyls, your own voice or from metropolitan sounds, with increasingly rocky extra beats: tell us a little your “modus operandi” in the first jobs.

I was generally experimenting with samples and cutting up sounds it was all a big learning process for me as I wasn’t used to working with such technology and it was quite a challenge, but it opened up a real cornucopia of possibilities.

I had my technics deck hooked up to my sampler, and would spend hours & days going through different vinyl, looking for unusual bites. Spykidelic was (& still is) a serious create digger, he was working in the Reckless Records shop at the time, so would come up with some fantastic gems. I then also used my voice as an instrument and we would come up with sounds on the guitar and synths to layer up amongst the samples.

 

6) With your first self-titled album in 2000 you present yourself to the public, finally as a chanteuse: a disc of refined, elegant songs, in which samples and real instruments find a perfect balance, poised between jazz, exotica, cinematic grooves and trip- hop. What can you tell us about this first album produced by you and Spykid?

After experimenting a lot with beats and sounds on the sheer witchery compilation of the 12 inches era it was time to produce a long player. We didn’t particularly have an agenda for the album it just kind of fused naturally – combining all our influences and more. Having a budget for the album from the record label meant we could bring some musicians into the fold too even with a rather conservative budget we tried to make it go a long way! The vocals also suddenly became more important, and a lot of the album was more song structured than the past singles that had been released. Luckily, the album did really well in France, and I spent a lot of time in Paris promoting the record which was an amazing experience.

 

7) In 2003 you released your second long playing “The world of Lady A”, an album in which almost all of the music is recorded with instrumentalists, large ensembles and a rich production, which however does not give up on groove and rhythmic drive. An album more than ever full of influences that embrace cool jazz, bossa nova, Indian sitar music, garage rock and spy soundtracks. Once again Spykid behind the control desk; how did you come to the choice to produce the record in this way?

On ‘The World of Lady A’ I once again worked on some tracks with Spykidelic.

I had also written some songs on the guitar, such as a Rainy Day and with a bigger budget obviously we were able to call in string sections & more musicians! We worked with a band called the Black Madonnas on part of the track ‘Ain’t No Friend’ Spykidelic had a vision to create a psychedelic ending for the end of the song so we recorded a lot of their guitars going through a fender twin reverb and cut up parts & effected them for the long outro.

I guess the concept for ‘The World of Lady A’ was almost like producing a library record where there’s lots of different styles and instrumentation and indeed, a lot of the music was subsequently used on film and TV. Once again, I didn’t really have a concept it just sort of turned out like that. Lyle Hysen (Bank Robber Music) who worked for the American side of Beggars Banquet records at the time in the synch department thought the album would be perfect for film and TV placements and presented the tracks to music supervisors & thanks to him we did get a lot of traction & placements.

 

8) Your songs have often been synchronized in movies and TV series, which brings us to one of the main topics of our show dedicated to applied music: can you list some uses of your music that you particularly like? Also, have you ever thought or had the opportunity to compose an original soundtrack?

Being a library music fan It was fantastic to have tracks used on film and TV. Having the track ‘Misty Canyon’ used on the Mean Girls film was a real boon as I loved the film and I’m a big fan of Tina Fey who wrote the screenplay.

I come from a cricket loving family and hearing ‘Stinging Sitars’ on a Sky TV documentary about cricket in Mumbai, was a very great moment as my dad was very proud! It was used as the intro and outro music and also incidental throughout the documentary. I haven’t had the chance to compose an original Soundtrack for a film (YET!! ) but I have composed some music for a Lexus car ad, and also composed a piece of music for Immodesty Blaize for one of her Burlesque shows.

 

 

9) In addition to being a singer/producer, you are also a DJ: what kind of sets do you propose and where is it possible to listen to you in this role?

I usually play a real mixture of music. I have quite a varied record collection, I have dj’ed at some gigs with Rory Moore, the fantastic jazz, Lowry organist & for some of the Immodesty Blaize burlesque shows. I was lucky to get a slot playing records at an after show Beck party! I also played some dj sets for Le Tigre on part of the European tour in Germany. I really loved doing a Downtempo set in the courtyard of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London, that was quite magical. I usually play a mix of easy tempo sounds, & funky sitar music from Bollywood soundtracks, or I do a Downtempo /cinematic set, to be honest, I play anything and everything! from Neneh Cherry to Neubauten!

I haven’t got anything coming up at the moment as I’m busy concentrating on my album, but hopefully I will drag out the record box again at some point!

 

10) You are preparing a new record, some time after your last album, and in these years we have had (and still have) pandemics and wars: what do you think of the current situation and how does it affect the record you are writing?

It sadly seems like there is always some turmoil happening somewhere, but while I’m concentrating on my album, I tend to be quite insular I don’t even watch TV! This album has some real personal touches so I’m more influenced with what is going on or has happened in my life over the last few years and trying to delve deeper into this, the pandemic was, when I think about it, a really pivotal & difficult time but I played a lot of guitar and came up with songs within that period.

 

11) We can’t wait to listen to your new songs. Thank you! Gianmarco.

Thank you for creating such lovely questions for me ! These guys are fantastico – thank you for listening and having such great taste! Anjali

[Instagram @anjali_music_official ]

 

 

Picture of Gianmarco Diana

Gianmarco Diana

Gianmarco Diana, cagliaritano, classe 1973, laureato in Giurisprudenza. Musicista, autore e compositore con SIKI (ex SIKITIKIS), DANCEFLOOR STOMPERS e altri progetti legati alla musica da colonna sonora e alle sonorizzazioni live (SKTKS - Braindept.). Ideatore e conduttore del format web-radio CinematiCA - Suoni da e per il Cinema; collabora con il portale Colonne Sonore e con i Festival Creuza de Mà - Musica per Cinema, Cinema delle Terre del Mare (Cineteca Sarda Umanitaria, Alghero), Marina Cafe Noir (Cagliari), Skepto Short Film Festival (Cagliari), Babel Film Festival (Cagliari),etc. Ha scritto per L’Unione Sarda e per diverse pubblicazioni di saggistica cinematografica e musicale, oltre che le note di copertina di alcune recenti ristampe di colonnes onore. Music Selecter poliedrico, ha prestato la propria partecipazione all’interno di diversi festival musicali e culturali e delle principali manifestazioni del settore, attraverso concerti, DJset, interventi critici, articoli giornalistici, reading e gestione/conduzione di eventi.

GUARDA ANCHE

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