Highlife at La Cheetah
Sat 3 November
When legendary French avant garde composer Edgar Varese was asked by a journalist how he composed music ahead of its time, he answered, “An artist is never ahead of his time, but most people are behind theirs” If any one musician has been ahead of their time, it may be Chanjrit Singh. An obscure Bollywood session musician, he bought some of the earliesr Roland keyboards and drum machines, and tried to fuse classical Indian ragas with disco on the equipment. The resulting record, Synthesizing; Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat, was neglected and unloved at the time. Although Singh knew this was the best thing he had ever done, he went back to earning a living doing session work on soundtracks and playing weddings.
Fast forward to 2010, when the record was rediscovered and re-released internationally. Jaws dropped around the world; Chanjrit Singh had created one of the most innovative, groundbreaking electronic records of the last century, anticipating, indeed musically surpassing acid house, five years before it broke in Chicago.
Which is why 30 years after its recording, the music cognoscenti of Glasgow were flocking, and fighting to get into a sold out show, featuring a 76 year old Indian gentleman sitting down behind some antique synthesisers. The electronic drone from the Roland builds into something resembling Indian music, then the bass kicks in, with the beeps and burbles of the 303 building over the top, driving the crowd to a fever pitch. Mr Singh sits calmly behind his equipment, looking calm and collected but quietly satisfied as he whips up mayhem on the dancefloor. What he really makes of the crowd’s reaction to his music is hard to tell. Personally, I was stunned by the subtlety and delicacy with which he wove counterpoint from the original ragas into the mix, this fusion of classical Indian music with the most futuristic Western elements reminding me of Terry Riley, but in reverse.
Whether what we saw was proto acid house or an experimental take on Indian music, it was brilliant, both musically complex, and you could dance your ass off to it. Everyone likes a story with a happy ending; one of the 20th century’s most underrated musicians has finally had his dues.