How Sahej Bakshi Became Dualist Inquiry

June 9, 2011 11:46 am by

It would be so easy to hate Sahej Bakshi. He’s not just good-looking, he’s also indisputably talented. It would be so easy if only he wasn’t so nice. Twenty-four-year-old Bakshi, or Dualist Inquiry as the composer, guitarist and producer is known in the Indian electronica world is also one of the most amiable people you’re likely to meet. “I’m a happy person,” said Bakshi over the telephone from New Delhi when we interviewed him about his gig at Blue Frog this Thursday, June 9. “I love meeting people.”

A big part of why Bakshi manages to maintain such a pleasant disposition is that he’s figured out, at a fairly young age, that good times, like bad times, are transient. He chose the name Dualist Inquiry because it represents his personal belief in the idea of dualism, an “encapsulating philosophy” that “these extremes are always balancing and cancelling each other out”.

Right now, Bakshi has plenty to happy about. Last month, he returned from Brighton in the UK, where he performed at The Great Escape festival. He played the festival’s largest venue, the Brighton Dome, where he opened for American electronica star, DJ Shadow. Though Bakshi, who is as yet relatively unknown in the UK, filled out a quarter of the 4,500 capacity venue, what’s impressive is that the thousand-strong crowd stuck on through this hour-long set.

Bakshi stands out from other electronica musicians for two reasons. On stage, in addition to busting out beats from behind his laptop (with the aid of his trusty sequencer, the Native Instruments Maschine), he also plays guitar. But the electro-rock sounds don’t stick to any one genre; Bakshi has been known to jump styles with the litheness of a parkour expert. “I’ve stopped caring about genres, as a rule of life,” said Bakshi who learned to play guitar at age nine, and formed a school rock band with actor-musician Imaad Shah while they were at Doon School in Dehradun.

Shah was the vocalist and bassist, and Bakshi was the lead guitarist of the group, which performed covers of hits by Rage Against The Machine, Green Day and Blink 182. The band split up after they left school, with Shah coming to Mumbai to study at St. Xavier’s College and Bakshi moving to Los Angeles to study at the Thornton Music School. Bakshi entered college wanting to become a professional guitar player, but by the time he graduated, he had decided to become an electronica musician.

While Bakshi was learning elaborate guitar solos by the likes of Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, his friends were becoming 24-hour party-people, who frequented raves and club nights across LA. When he decided one night to accompany them to Monster Massive, an annual electronica festival held at the Los Angeles Sports Arena around Halloween, Bakshi was mystified by what he heard and saw. “It blew my mind,” said Bakshi. “I said, ‘I’m going learn how to do this.’” After a friend gifted him a copy of music production software Logic Studio, Sahej Bakshi the electronica musician was well on his way.

Though he had composed about five tracks by the end of his course, it was until he returned home to New Delhi in February 2010 that Bakshi played his first full-fledged gig, a set at The Holi Cow festival. “I came back to India and had 20 days to make myself a live set,” said Bakshi. “In LA, I was producing music between classes and assignments. Then ‘whoosh!’ suddenly it was just my laptop and me.” Though he performed last, after the 2,000-member audience had trickled down to about 70 people, Bakshi made enough of an impression; over the past year, he’s played approximately 50 gigs, including a slot at the NH7 Weekender festival in Pune last December.

Each one of those gigs has featured new material, and his set at Blue Frog will be no exception. The show is part of his five-city tour of India to launch his debut EP Dualism and in addition to the three tracks that comprise the album, Bakshi will play some of the new tracks he’s composed since returning from Brighton at the end of May. The set he promised will have “a wide range of stuff” with “more chilled out and dreamy material at the start” but “ends up being high energy”.

Despite being less than 25 minutes long, Dualism is a good representation of what to expect at a Dualist Inquiry gig: it moves from the Daft Punk recalling futuro-electro of “Gravitat” (Bakshi said he spent approximately 250 man hours working on the track) to the moody, mellowdic “Orbital”, and finally to “Qualia”, which manages to be dream-like and foot-tap-friendly at the same time. The track, which is named after the philosophical construct of how each of us perceives things differently (for instance, the taste of wine, or the redness of an apple), appears in two versions, the second of which features spoken word verses by Shaa’ir + Func’s Monica Dogra.

Like Dogra, who moved to Mumbai from New York in the mid-noughties, Bakshi believes there’s no better place for an Indian indie musician than India right now. “In December 2008, I attended Sunburn [the annual electronica music festival organised by Submerge in Goa every December] and was taken aback by all the things happening here,” said Bakshi. “Being Indian, there was less meaning in my being in LA. Here, we’re starting something. Every year, there’s a new festival. I wanted to contribute to the scene here. [I want to feel that] I had something to do with this.”

Dualist Inquiry and Tempo Tantrick perform at Blue Frog on Thursday, June 9. Dualism, Audio Ashram, Rs200, will be available for sale at the gig. You can listen to the EP and some of his other songs here.