Warning: Contains explicit language
DJ Sanj has built a Bhangra empire. As a DJ in Canada, he laid its foundation with a series of successful mixtapes. Then, he took the UK scene by storm with an onslaught of anthems, including Das Ja, Tenu Bulondi and Balley Balley Hogay Mitro. Next, he dominated in the States and India with his Desi R&B project, J-Nas. And with fresh and exciting sounds each time, the accomplished producer continues his international reign.
DJ Sanj speaks to SimplyBhangra about his tribute to Karan MC; going old-school on Rewind; his views on production, producers and critics; his upcoming album; and the virtues of taking risks!
DJ Sanj, welcome! You can boast a storied career and you're enjoying huge success at the moment. How do you view where you are right now?
"Success at the moment"? Mate, I have been having success since 1999! [Laughs]
I have been very fortunate to have a story-book career both on the main stage and behind the scenes in a variety of industries. As for how I view myself, I am on top of my game in all aspects – mentally, physically and musically. Like Rocky at the end of Rocky 3!
Your output definitely attests to that. Your last major release was Rewind and the accompanying mixtape. What drove you to do that project, at that time? What was it like to go on an old-school trip?
It was a pet project of mine that I wanted to do when I had some spare time. After American Desi, I felt it would be a good project to do before the release of my upcoming album Bad Boyz. I wanted to pay homage to some of the artists that I enjoyed listening to when I was just a "fan" of Bhangra and not part of the industry.
Getting to work with Sardara Gill and Balwinder Safri was so much fun and nostalgic for me. The mixtape part of Rewind was also something I wanted to do because it gave me a chance to go back to my DJ roots and showcase songs that people may have forgotten.
Retro reworked: Bas Kar and Challan Pakiyan medley:
Is it true that you mostly avoid contemporary radio?
That’s not true. I listen to anything and everything I can get my ears to. You never really know what sound, song or experience will lead to a new musical ideas. This is what keeps me in the game; the rush of creating an idea and following that idea all the way through to the smile of the person who hears and loves what you’ve created.
So, what does influence you? How do you view yourself in creating music?
Early in my career, I was influenced by what I heard on radio and by the music I liked to listen to. However, over the years, I have grown as a person and as a music producer, and that has changed the way I look at the music I create. I find ideas and inspiration from my environment around me, and I look at songs as stories that need to be told and I am the narrator telling the story.
“I find that a lot of producers are "one note" wonders… I try to do different things without worrying about playing it safe.”
How would you say your identity affects your music? Your residency has included Canada, the States, the UK and Mumbai. Is that advantage the key to what sets you apart, as the title of last year’s album American Desi suggests?
My background has been instrumental to my success. The fact that I have lived in 3 different continents has given me a great education and has influenced my music directly. From doing bootlegs in Canada, to making Bhangra hits in the UK to working on Bollywood soundtracks, my sound is unique and varied. I find that a lot of producers are "one note" wonders. They just stick to one style and musical form, where as I try to experiment, take risks and do different things without worrying about playing it safe.
If you look at American Desi, there were a few tracks that were very different and risky. Example: Apple Bottom Jeans. Contrary to “popular opinion” in the UK, Apple Bottom Jeans was and is a very successful record. It’s still in the top 100 in 5 iTunes territories, including America (where it reached number 16) and Greece (where it reached number 15). Even though it didn't receive support or love from the UK, on paper Apple Bottom Jeans is as successful as Teray Hussain De Maare. Food for thought for those who haven’t figured out that UK Bhangra is now World-Punjabi Music!
Big in America and Greece: Apple Bottom Jeans:
Do you feel the Bhangra scene is suffering because producers are, generally, relying too much on their signature sound?
I don’t think the scene is suffering as much as it is getting boring. But as long as there are big hits happening in the scene, the scene will remain healthy.
There are also good things about having a signature sound. It’s a great way for fans to identify the artist to the music they hear and it also separates the artist from other artists' music and sounds.
“95% of people don’t even know what a music producer is or does.”
What are your thoughts on the prevalence of ghost production? Do you feel strongly about that and disingenuous artists?
It doesn’t really bother me as long as a good product is coming out. To be honest, 95% of people don’t even know what a music producer is or does. Being a musician doesn't mean you are a music producer and vice versa. David Guetta can’t play the keyboard, but is one of the hottest producers on the planet.
As for ghost production, the people that end up making or paying for hit records will stay in the game, the ones that don’t, won’t. I think a lot of people on your message boards need to educate themselves on all aspects of the music field before commenting. It’s like a food critic commenting on a dish he ate that he can’t even cook or make, versus the food critic who is a 5-star chef and has his own restaurant commenting on the same dish.
What I find funny is when you see fuddus taking YouTube videos in front of their big mixing desk with their "million dollar" setup to show how much of a badass producer they are. And here’s me sitting in my family room with a Macbook Pro, Cubase 6, Reason 4 and a pair of AKG 702 headphones, making hits day in day out!
“I have the fondest memories of Karan MC… He will always be missed.”
We’ve seen you grow and develop so much, trying different sounds on a variety of hits. The feel of your music in the Das Ja phase is completely different to the feel of the Teray Hussan De Maare phase or anything you produced as J-Nas. Are these conscious phases? Do you move to a new phase knowing when it’s time to do so?
I think it’s natural to grow and go through different phases, but the best producers know how to go back and forth through their different phases. I have a lot of tools in my toolbox now.
A good example of this is the Karan MC tribute record, Agiya Sawaad. I wanted to go back to my "old Bhangra sound”, the classic DJ Sanj/Karan MC sound that people were familiar with. It’s been so great to receive much love from Karan MC fans around the world who have been blasting the record in their bedrooms, cars and dancefloors.
Of course, we’d be remiss speaking of the scene and its quality/condition without mentioning Karan MC. And you were a massive part of each other’s careers. His passing shook the Bhangra world, and it must have been really significant for you both personally and professionally. How will you remember Karan MC?
I have the fondest memories of Karan MC. He was the voice to my music and he defined my Bhangra sound. When I went to India, we lost touch for a while, but as soon as I made the decision to come back to the scene, I made sure he was ready to come back as well. We were both so excited.
Agiya Sawaad was actually his comeback record that we worked on. We wanted to come back strong and create a track that was all about Bhangra, friends and celebrating the good times. Karan MC will always be missed.
DJ Sanj pays tribute to the late Karan MC with Agiya Sawaad:
When you have great vocalists that are quickly associated with your music, like Karan MC, Lehmber Hussainpuri and Master Saleem, and you’ve featured a host of other incredible talents too, is there anyone else you’d like to work with at this point?
I have pretty much worked with everyone I ever wanted to work with. So, now it’s time to focus on new and quality talent that can help enrich the scene and push it forward.
“…my album Bad Boyz will feature some hardcore anthems for my Bhangra heads…”
What does the future hold for DJ Sanj? Give us a teaser of some of your upcoming projects!
Loads of surprises, controversies and great music are still in store! Oct 1st, I am launching my production label, DJ Sanj Productions, and will be developing and producing quality talent. Sept 1st, I will be posting a preview of my first signing, so stay tuned!
Also I will be dropping my album Bad Boyz, which will feature some big-name singers and hardcore anthems for my Bhangra heads and, as promised, a touch of the "Old DJ Sanj sound.”
DJ Sanj, we thank you very much for your time and appreciate your insight. We wish you all the best with your future projects. Any final message for the SimplyBhangra.com readers?
Keep it real and don’t believe the hype! Props to SimplyBhangra and other desi websites for repping me and the scene around the world!
Interview by Govinda Lakha.