"We wanted to make music that moved you on the dancefloor as well as at home. Everything had to be emotive, whether it made you angry or made you swoon. But it also had to funk. We wanted it to be about feeling rather than thinking -- that was our vision," says Badmarsh, of Badmarsh & Shri, about "Signs", the pair's latest release on Nutone Records. With a sound that was already placed between Bombay and the East End, "Signs" continues to explore a fascination with musical migration--a path they've followed since their collaboration on the debut album, "Dancing Drums".
When the Badmarsh & Shri remix of Ananda Shankar's "Dancing Drums" was released in the summer of 1997, it was a huge hit with dancefloor crowds everywhere. Shortly afterwards, their brilliant debut appeared, delivering a brooding, funky soundscape of drum and bass, hip-hop, Indian classical music and jazz. The Badmarsh/Shri connection came via Shabs, the head of their first record label, Outcaste Records, who believed that their differing styles would complement and inspire each other--and he was right. Both talents were bubbling under--Shri due to his well-received first album "Drum the Bass", and Badmarsh through his cross-cultural club shows. "It was a challenge," says Shri, "We had a long road to travel before we could really begin to explore the possibilities."
For Shri, the journey began with drums. From age two, the multi-instrumentalist and Bombay native sat behind the tablas practicing daily. After 14 years of dizzying beats, he began a period of DIY music lessons, finally settling on the flute and bass as his two primary instruments. At the same time, he cut his teeth on bands like Black Sabbath, eventually playing in a few rock bands. He began to glimpse the possibilities of what he could do playing in a jazz-fusion band, finally finding his musical home in London in 1994. First stop for Shri was a five-year tenure with Nitin Sawhney, who eventually produced Shri's solo album "Drum the Bass". "It's not easy to come into a culture like London and immediately clic--you need a guide, and Nitin guided me."
A first break for Badmarsh (meaning 'rascal' or 'black sheep' in Hindi) was working at reggae studio Easy Street along side such luminaries as Dennis Brown and Gregory Isaacs. Easy Street hired out PA systems to local Hackney rave club Labyrinth, and after a visit to the notorious nightspot, Badmarsh was bitten by the DJ bug and immediately ran out to buy decks and records. Before long, he secured a residency at Labyrinth, which went on to last for 5 years.
"DJ-ing forced me to listen to records with a more critical ear," he says. "I'd think, this is good, but wouldn't it be better if the bass line were fatter or the break changed. After a while, I was itching to produce."
By drawing upon the exuberant, polyrhythmic legacies of dancehall reggae, Latin, funk, hip-hop, and African rhythms, Badmarsh & Shri have created 13 tracks of emotional beauty and funky percussive action. "Signs" is panoramic dance music, pure and simple. From the menacing buzz and relentless B-line of "Swarm," to the driving layers of percussion and sweeping synths of "Tribal," the album delivers aggressive beats in sophisticated style. But it's not all footsore beats; "Signs" also has its chilled, sensuous side. The duo play to full, euphoric effect, blissed out on Bombay sunrise strings and flute-driven sultry soul on tracks like the sitar-swirled "Elektro" or the angelic vocal delivery of "Sajanaa."
Badmarsh and Shri admit that each time they step into the studio they think on a symphonic scale. "There is a musical idea rather than theme for each track, but it's never rigid, there's always space for improvisation," says Shri. With guests like the Bombay String Orchestra and UK Apache (of "Original Nuttah" fame) on board, Badmarsh & Shri have crafted a deceptively relaxed, open and confident sound. Live, UK Apache has become integral to the Badmar sh & Shri show, vocalizing the intensity of the rhythms with his rapid fire raggga-chat, but also able to sing in the sweetest croon on dancehall gem "Signs," a cover of an old Tenor Saw classic.
Coupled with UK Apache's rollercoaster vocals, Badmarsh & Shri's live experience is now like a wicked four-way collision between Hackney-style breakbeats, Jamaican ragga, percussive funk, and classical Indian sounds twisted into something entirely new. The mechanism that keeps Badmarsh and Shri rolling is the respect they have for one another's cultural legacies. It's not Asian Underground, just quality dance music made by two innovative producers from different backgrounds. "Signs" is an album with imagination, conviction and the courage to experiment, resulting in a collection that is electrified and above all, musical.