By Surbhi Gogia
It is no secret that a DJ has a crucial role to play in any celebration — be it a wedding, party, music festival or night club. A DJ is responsible to move the crowd, as he is the one who holds the fate of any party being the one who controls the mood of the people. Although advancements in digital technology have made it a lot easier for enthusiasts to mix music using modern programs and get into the scene, only some DJs have excelled as Artists earning celebrity status. But not all DJs have that shamanistic power.
However back in 90s a person had to sweat it out to gain such lofty status. Time is a witness, those who rose to become well-known DJs at that time had a real talent to jump between records, beat mix and create unique music on the fly. When the DJ scene was heating up in 90s in places like the UK and United States, Canada, especially Lower Mainland, was a loner. Being that there were not many resources available in this part of the world to help carve out this profession, anyone interested in the field had to guide their own learning.
It was during that time young Mandeep Sandhu of Vancouver discovered he had a passion to be a “person who does something with the music.” Just as he went on to creatively mix and produce his own music, he blended the initials of his name M and S to create his unique identification. Fast forward many years, he is now known to the world as DJ EMENES.
EMENES, a skilled veteran DJ, is perhaps one of the finest DJ’s of the Lower Mainland, rose to international fame by creating his unique style of fusion music. Recently he was the only Indian DJ from Canada brought to perform at the 10 year anniversary of the illustrious Sunburn Music Festival. Sunburn is an EDM (electronic dance music) Festival held in Pune. Originally hosted in Goa, it is considered to be Asia‘s largest music festival. In 2009, CNN ranked it as one of the Top 10 Festivals in World.
EMENES feels humbled and proud to be part of this amazing experience that attracted an audience of more than 350,000 in 2015. “Sunburn is an awesome fusion platform that supports an array of many big name international artists along with upcoming talents. Wow… being on the same card as Afrojack, Armin van Buuren, Axwell Ingrosso, KSMR, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike! This was my first time playing to such a massive crowd, I was proud to represent Canada, and I was proud to be playing as an Indian.“ During this festival he stayed true to his fusion style, with a focus on mixing modern EDM anthems with many South Asian music elements.
He says over the years he has been collaborating with Indian music producers for quite some time but not aggressively since he was more focused on his own homegrown company Mundey in Black (MIB) Roadshow. But in recent years, he began to entertain opportunities to re-explore music ventures outside of Canada, which is how his appearance at Sunburn came to be. “Last year, after receiving an invitation to meet with Sunburn organizers, I had a chance to personally share my vision with them. It wasn’t too long after that they presented me with the opportunity to perform at this level,” he says.
Being primarily self taught, he comes from no family of musicians. So when asked how did this beat of music begin in his life, EMENES shares, “It’s amazing how one piece of music can change your life. In high school after hearing the song “Hoon Ta Mein Nachna,” a fusion track of that time, I was able to proudly identify myself as an Indian in Western society. Since then I knew I had a hidden desire to want to do something with music, especially fusion music. But I did not know what that would be. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to be a composer or a singer. Somehow I fell into an opportunity to play music at a school dance. I knew nothing about radio charts, whats songs were popular, mixing or DJing. But I did not hesitate and managed to gather a compilation of songs. And at that time we used cassette tapes, so you can imagine a lot of manual effort went in this process. From there I pushed myself to get more gigs.”
EMENES started by playing in local clubs and bars, that allowed him to craft his skills to uniquely highlight his South Asian roots through his range of musical selection and mixing. He identifies himself as being prisoner to no one genre of music. It is all about creating a global fusion through producing and mixing uplifting dance music. He says “DJing is more than simply mixing records. The real skill is in reading the crowd and acting accordingly, something a jukebox or a laptop cannot do.”
His first music project, a remix CD titled “MiB – Mundey In Black” became so successful that it propelled him into touring the UK and India, after which he returned to Vancouver and founded the MiB Roadshow, which to date is one of the longest running South Asian DJ outfits in the Lower Mainland. Furthermore, his first music project was also recognized by the Museum of Vancouver in 2011 who credited him for kicking off the remix wave in Western Canada by acknowledging him as a pioneer in fusion format tracks through the use of mixing Eastern and Western samples. With South Asian origins, and mainstream concepts, EMENES set off on his musical journey to captivate not only ethnic sounds, but also to fuse mainstream elements and vice versa.
But the journey was not easy. He may have been recognized for his art but was it enough to sustain a livelihood? “Not really. In the early stages, although I was getting booked, in the end I was always out-of-pocket having spent to arrange all the equipment needed. When I started DJing I did not seek it as a career. Today people are more aware that the talent behind mixing and reading a crowd holds a value, back then it was an afterthought. As a result I was not confident enough to ask for compensation that I thought would’ve been fair or reasonable… in fact I really didn’t think that a DJ could make much. I was also apprehensive at charging a fair price, fearing I wouldn’t get booked. I was DJing for the love of it. Finally one day, when asked by a client, I decided to raise my fee. I was shocked when he did not hesitate on booking me. That night I got two more referrals in which I doubled my rate. And now here I am, having made this my career.“
EMENES is of the view that DJing is an art but there are some people who still look down upon it as a full-time career. As a pioneer in the space, he’s proud that his successes and learnings, along with others of the time from around the world, have helped carve a pathway for today’s young talents who are now also able to turn their passion into a well-paying profession.
EMENES has been fortunate to have a family that has supported him throughout his career, but there are many who not get such encouragement. “Some parents want their kids to pursue an academic career, perhaps to become a lawyer or a doctor. There are however, creative options. I am a strong advocate of exploring creative careers. You won’t know until you try it and you should always explore your passion. I’ve been able to turn my creative passion into my career.”