James Murphy

Time Out NY, The Hot Seat

Musician James Murphy talks about breaking up LCD Soundsystem, selling out MSG and making a movie about it.

LCD Soundsystem mastermind James Murphy retired the beloved New York dance outfit last year, and chose to bow out with an almighty party at Madison Square Garden—documented in a brand new movie, Shut Up and Play the Hits. In this week’s Hot Seat interview, the NYC music hero opens up about quitting the band, and why he’s still hard at work.

TONY: LCD Soundsystem’s “New York, I Love You but You’re Bringing Me Down” was the No. 4 pick in our 100 Best NYC Songs issue.
James Murphy: Well that’s just…that’s just stupid. That’s not right. There are more than three superior New York songs. “Walk on the Wild Side” by Lou Reed?

TONY: You beat him.
James Murphy: Yeah, that immediately means that the list is completely stupid.

TONY: How do you feel about being important to so many people? There are kids in tears at the end of your bow-out show in Shut Up and Play the Hits, the movie about the band’s demise.
James Murphy: I mean, to risk sounding like a terrible person that I don’t like, that’s genuinely humbling. I remember how important bands were to me, and that has massively informed how I operate as a musical person. I want [us] to handle ourselves in such a way that we’re not betraying that kind of trust.

TONY: Did you feel uncomfortable with the fact that you became a rock star?
James Murphy: I never felt like I was changing my behavior. But there were a few times in the band’s history when something had changed in how the rest of the world dealt with me. [I thought,] It’ll be fine when I get back to New York, because New York just doesn’t care. And then I came back, and people were talking to me in the subway and stopping me all the time—and that was never the life I wanted.

TONY: Was that why you broke up LCD?
James Murphy: That was definitely part of it. I don’t want to be a famous person. I’m sure there are lots of perks that are very obvious to people, but the drawback just seems like fucking hell—that infinitely outweighs the positive. We were at that spot where it was either [breaking up], or failure next. The third choice didn’t really interest me, which was to become, like, a dignified artist.  The scariest thing to do—and the most interesting thing to me—was to blow the band up.

TONY: Do you like it when people make a fuss over you?
James Murphy: I don’t know that many people who don’t like any fuss—there’s always a limit, but it’s super wonderful to sell your show out.

TONY: How did you cope with having cameras in your house the morning after your last show?
James Murphy: Oh, I don’t mind them.  It’s not like a nature documentary—you know, nobody is going to walk into my house and risking me getting up and clobbering them.

TONY: Do you have any regrets about ending the band?
James Murphy: Of course. I mean, I don’t regret it enough that I wish I didn’t, but it’s hard. I’m sad. You know, it’s about time to go make a record, normally. I’m going to make another record probably in the same way that I always have, I just don’t get to be LCD Soundsystem. I was never trying to end LCD Soundsystem in its entirety. I was just trying to stop us [from] being a Professional Rock Band.

TONY: What’s your take on electronic dance music? I assumed you’d hate it, but you’re playing festivals with Skrillex and DeadMau5.…
James Murphy: That’s like asking me if I approve of a genre because I’m on a festival bill. My band played a million festivals with a million shitty acts, I can’t control that stuff. I mean, I don’t fully get it. I don’t get dubstep, but that doesn’t mean it’s bad—any more than someone slightly too old for hardcore and punk rock would necessarily get punk rock. It wasn’t necessarily created because it was great music—it meant a lot to a lot of people at a time in their life. And I think some of that stuff is just about the people that go and experience it. It’s not for me. I’m 42 years old, it’s not for me. You know what I mean? The big difference where it separates from punk rock is that a lot of the people making it are terrible hacks, making acres of money. So that’s a big difference, the money involved changes everything. But there are people like Skrillex, who is the fucking nicest kid on the planet, who’s making what he likes—there’s nothing sell-outty about it.

TONY: You’ve talked about wanting your DJ sets to have a block-party vibe.
James Murphy: Yeah, I like that. I don’t wanna be part of an arms race of DJs. Like, I don’t want visuals. I wanna have a good time and make a party that I would like. I don’t like to stand facing a DJ and screaming and jumping up and down. That is the least interesting thing to me. It’s anathematic to my tastes and interests. So I don’t wanna play a gig where I’m encouraging dudes to take off their shirts and face you and yell. But I also don’t wanna hide my head in the sand and preach to the converted in some little warehouse [In faux prissy voice] “Don’t we all hate EDM?”

TONY: When I saw you deejay at GoogaMooga, I met a couple who had got engaged at the MSG show.
James Murphy: Oh nice!  Yeah! Yeah, things like that are why you don’t wanna be a hack. The only thing that makes me sad sometimes is when people wilfully misunderstand your songs. There’s one girl who was like, “I Can Change” is my boyfriend’s and my song! I was like, “Don’t do that, that’s a terrible song to have as your song; that is a really sad song.” [Laughs] I just feel bad. “I don’t know what to tell you, but cease and desist at making that your song.”

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Charles Hamilton

Time Out New York, Feature

Harlem’s hip-hop maverick aims for world domination on his own terms

We wanted to run this piece three years ago. That is to say, we wanted to run an interview with Charles Hamilton, one that would communicate our excitement about his music and explain how this singular voice in hip-hop had struck a record deal with Interscope—and why every decent party had his “Brooklyn Girls” as its soundtrack. We, along with the circa-2009 blogosphere, were excited.

But then some things happened. Hamilton thanked the late producer J Dilla for “guidance” on his would-be debut album, to which Dilla’s family took offense. He got punched by his then-girlfriend on camera in the middle of a battle rap, and the hip-hop “community” reacted with about as much compassion as a gang of hungry sharks. Interscope dropped Hamilton. He went to a psychiatric hospital “for a broken heart.” He tussled with a cop in Cleveland and went to jail for nine months.

To say we were surprised and delighted to see Charles Hamilton on a bill for a show at hip-hop haven S.O.B.’s this week, then, would be an understatement. Turns out Hamilton has a new album to plug, Ill Doesn’t Meen Classic, with a single coproduced by Eminem, “I Don’t Care.” Wondering what the hell happened, TONY met Hamilton in a little park in Harlem.

Now 24, Hamilton actually looks younger than he did back in ’09, wearing Converse and a fan-made pink T-shirt that says, THANK GOD FOR HARLEM. Within minutes of our meeting, it becomes clear that he’s polite, considerate (making sure we find a spot of grass that’s poop-free), funny—and operating on a completely different plane.

“I try to be a rare sight,” he says, lighting a stogie. “I want to make sure that the sight of me is rare, so the reaction from people is— they’re certain of who I am, so much so that they doubt it. It’s basically, pardon my French, a mind-fuck: Is it a good thing, is it a bad thing, is he a celebrity, is he a superstar? What is he?”

The question of what Hamilton is is a good one, with an overflow of answers: a rapper who grew up playing organ in church and learning jazz improv on the piano (you can hear his divine keys technique at the end of “I Don’t Care”); a kid who loves his mom but left home at 18, spending his nights at friends’ houses and on park benches, and his days wandering around the Apple Store or working in his college music studio. “When I came into the game I wanted a Grammy,” Hamilton says. “[But] I didn’t pay attention to the subconscious use of the word game. Even though it’s a business, I wanted the respect of Dr. Dre, Trent Reznor. I just wanted to be an insider, an outsider. I wanted to be a tastemaker, respected by tastemakers. Very much like Dr. Doom.”


“Victor von Doom, from the Marvel comics cartoon Fantastic Four,” he elaborates. “Their nemesis was Dr. Doom. He was clad in a metal suit, and his identity was as enigmatic as his intentions. I feel as though, losing as much as I’ve lost on a personal level, and having it thrown in my face on a professional level, it’s only right that I assume the moniker Dr. Doom.”

If this sounds far out, it’s no less eccentric than Hamilton’s well-known identification with Sonic the Hedgehog—or for that matter, the rapper MF Doom’s persona, also based on Dr. Doom. Hamilton’s new album is certainly darker-sounding than his breakthrough mixtape, The Pink Lava Lamp, or his leaked Interscope debut, This Perfect Life. (The Eminem collab, incidentally, is a result of those Interscope sessions—and no, the two are not friends now.) The samples on Hamilton’s new disc may be pure pop (Green Day, Cher), but there’s a good deal of rage and sorrow simmering, too. Asked how he is now, he says, “I’m focused. My emotions come out in my music, and lately with the music I’m preparing for 2013 and beyond, the general angry emotion I have is manifesting itself in a new personality. You know, I alluded to Dr. Doom; you can expect some evil genius thoughts and ideas.”

Evil or otherwise, Hamilton is in good spirits about the S.O.B.’s shows—his first live performance in some three years (bar playing hymns in church). Billed as the Charles Hamilton Experience, it promises to be something of a multimedia extravaganza, showcasing Hamilton’s skills as a producer and pianist as well as an MC. “People are taking pictures of their ticket and posting it online,” he says cheerfully. “I’m excited, because I’m not gonna let them down, and they’ll get a chance to see exactly what it is I do onstage.”

One hopes that in addition to making beats, rapping and playing the piano, Hamilton will sing. He loves singing, he says, and bursts into an old 1930s number: “‘I like to sing-a! About the moon-a and the June-a and the spring-a!’ Remember that song? [Laughs] it’s from a cartoon. But yeah, I love singing. It’s a lost element from me.”

Asked about such singsongy rappers as Drake, Hamilton says, “I think Drake is lyrical enough to do it, and he’s cool enough to not be considered lame, but he’s gotten so emotional, people are just like, All right, it’s overkill. But when people think Drake’s emotion-filled rap or singing is too much, I look at my music like, Damn! I must be Humpty Dumpty or something.” Meaning Humpty Dumpty after his great fall? “Yeah,” says Hamilton amicably. “Someone like you comes up to Humpty Dumpty with his yolk on the ground like, [In lady voice] ‘So, how do you feel?’ And he starts singing about how he feels about hitting the floor.”

Indeed, since the get-go, Hamilton’s Web presence has had a Humpty Dumpty–like quality to it; there are little pieces of the rapper scattered across a multitude of sites, many of which are cataloged on the musician’s self-referential ’08 “Windows Media Player” single (the chorus has Hamilton listing his various sites, “charleshamilton.blogspot.com… myspace.com/hamiltonsmusic, iamnotcharleshamilton.com” and so on). “Be aware that I have a lot of this planned out,” says Hamilton. “Be fully aware that I’ve thought about everything, my Web presence and demeanor. People who’ve known me since the third grade are like, ‘You did the exact same thing you did [then].’ I was just being myself. Which is something I found very hard to do back then, because I used to get picked on. So, there was an ultimate plan.” When I ask Hamilton what he was picked on for, he shrugs. “Being small, being smart”—and I can’t help but think of the way he was essentially bullied by the hip-hop community back in ’09. I’m filled with admiration for the way he’s bounced back, albeit a bit battered and bruised. Musicians’ eccentricity or even instability in the indie-rock or classical worlds is generally looked upon sympathetically, and even lauded (Keith Jarrett, Fiona Apple, etc.); it seems that Hamilton had a far tougher deal.

Regardless, at the start of that year, Hamilton was featured on the cover of XXL mag as one of its Freshman picks, alongside Kid Cudi, Asher Roth, BoB and Curren$y. While those MCs made their names with online mixtapes, it’s fair to say that the notion of Internet success has morphed into a considerably more powerful, hungry beast since then—viral video artists like Kreayshawn being a case in point. “I’m a huge Kreayshawn fan,” Hamilton says, as we walk around the block and he relights his cigar. “I love Kreayshawn. I haven’t met her yet. I would flirt with her. [Laughs] I think I could get her.” Does he think it’s harder now for young rappers to really make a name, beyond being a one-hit wonder? “It just depends,” he says. “Are you trying to get on radio, or do you have a point you’re trying to get across? ’Cause honestly, everyone wants the Platform of Oprah. Which is, they say something, and it’s considered important.”

Certainly, Hamilton is not one to shy away from a grand proclamation or three; he regards himself as “somewhere between Buddhist and Gothic” and has a similarly fascinating explanation as to how this works; a hopeless/hopeful romantic, he claims that he’s lately been crushing on nuns; and he’ll occasionally drop in assertions about being the most dangerous musician ever.

But Charles Hamilton—as anyone who couldn’t stop playing those first mixtapes can attest—has a sense of humor, fortunately large enough to accommodate his heart. In the end, he accidentally answers his own question—“What is he?”—as an aside. “As much as I’ve been counted out as far as being small, and as girl-crazy as I am, and my legitimate hunger and love for chili dogs—I just am who I am.”

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Hosting WNYC Soundcheck: Bob Marley, Life and Legacy

WNYC Soundcheck, Guest Host
May 2011

Today marks thirty years since the death of reggae icon Bob Marley. Guest host Sophie Harris of Time Out New York takes a look at the life and legacy of the Jamaican music legend. Plus: a live performance from Will Sheff and Patrick Pestorius of the folk-rock band Okkervil River.

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Hosting WNYC Soundcheck: A Beastie Homage

WNYC Soundcheck, Guest Host
May 2011


Over 25 years and eight albums, the Beastie Boys have celebrated their hometown with brash shoutouts – and subtle inside jokes. Today: Guest host Sophie Harris of Time Out New York examines how the hip hop trio’s newest album once again pays tribute to New York. Plus: British electronic composer James Blake brings his “post-dubstep” sound live to the Soundcheck studio.

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WNYC guest: Smackdown, Taylor Swift



WNYC Soundcheck, Guest appearance
Jan 2011

Taylor Swift called her second album Fearless, and with good reason: the 21-year-old singer seems to be on an unbreakable winning streak. Fearless was the top-selling album of 2009 and snared the Grammy for Album of the Year; Swift followed those successes last year with a blockbuster tour and a chart-topping third album, Speak Now. But not everyone’s got Taylor Fever.

Music writers Sophie Harris of Time Out New York and Rob Sheffield of Rolling Stone will debate whether the reigning princess of pop is worthy of the crown.

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Hosting WNYC Soundcheck: The Power of 10


WNYC Soundcheck, Guest host
Nov, 2010

The new Kanye West album, “My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy,” was officially released on Monday. Many music critics have already deemed it the best album of 2010. Guest host Sophie Harris talks with Ryan Dombal of the music review site Pitchfork, which gave “Fantasy” a rare perfect 10 out of 10. Plus: we take your calls and comments.

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Hosting WNYC Soundcheck: Best Music Writing


WNYC Soundcheck, Guest host
Nov 2010

Da Capo Press has anthologized the best essays about music every year since 2000. Today on Soundcheck: a look through the 2010 edition as guest host Sophie Harris of Time Out New York talks with contributors. Plus: Electronic musician Matthew Dear visits a dark place on his latest album “Black City.” He and his band play live in the studio

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The Eternal Optimist

Men’s Health, Feature

Who wants to live forever? Aubrey de Grey, foremost authority in the world’s quest for indefinite life extension, certainly does. It won’t happen immediately, he warns. But given a little more research and a lot more cash, we might soon be extending our lives by two or three hundred years. It’s quite feasible that the first person to live to 1000 is 60 already. Beyond that, he claims, we could be looking at eternity.

If Dr Aubrey de Grey’s claims sound extraordinary, they’re no less wild than his appearance – on the day of our interview the Cambridge University Biological Gerontologist pops up sporting an elongated ginger beard, leather elbow patches on his jumper and trainers straight off the Ark. But de Grey is also a charismatic, compelling speaker, capable of making stem-cell technology sound as simple as fixing your fan belt. The question is: how far will you trust a man who runs a competition to find the world’s oldest mouse? “Cup of tea?” he grimaces, striding into his fusty Cambridge local at 11am. “Don’t be ridiculous! I’ll have a pint of Abbot’s Ale.”

What is indefinite life extension and how does it work?
Well, it’s a bit like indefinite life extension of a machine. Take vintage cars – they weren’t built to last a hundred years, but we’re good enough at maintaining them to keep them going indefinitely. It’s the same with the human body. It accumulates molecular and cellular damage throughout life as a side effect of being alive in the first place; if we can keep the damage down to a manageable level, the machine carries on working well. Once we can do that, we’ll be able to carry on doing it indefinitely.

But if the means exist, why don’t we know about it?
Because the means only nearly exist. We’re close enough to describe in detail how we would do it. Think of the situation we were in with going to the moon in 1940. We had a pretty good idea how to build rockets, but there were a bunch of details that we hadn’t yet worked through. It wasn’t until 1960 that Kennedy announced they wanted to get to the moon by 1969. But that was really close, admittedly closer than we are now with ageing.

Why is ageing such a bad thing?
It causes a lot of suffering and it kills people. I think it’s pretty remarkable that anyone questions that ageing is bad. And I think the only reason we do is as a coping strategy, to put it out of our minds, so that we can get on with our miserably short lives, and not be preoccupied by it.

Doesn’t death serve a very important purpose in life?
Not in the life of the person who’s died it doesn’t. Does death create an urgency in life? Well, we’re all going to get hit by a truck and so on, eventually at least, so that reasoning remains. But if we know that we’ve got a respectable time to live in, then we can embark on bigger projects. If you decided that you have no interest in any woman in the world except for Nicole Kidman, all you have to do is wait long enough and your turn will come in a few thousand years. And this applies to hard problems of all sorts. Some people want to live a long time because they want to visit other planets, and you can’t do that if you’re only living a miserable hundred years.

Would a cure for ageing mean no more kids in the world?

I have no idea. We can’t predict whether the majority of society would decide not to use these technologies because it’s deemed important to have lots of kids running around. Or whether the opposite would occur, that we decide that staying youthful and avoiding the decrepitude and debilitation of ageing is more important than that. Or whether we would decide on a different approach, perhaps maintaining a high death rate as well as a high birth rate as well. To me, it all comes down to the fact that we have no right to impose our imagination of what the future will think on the future itself.

Wouldn’t you miss having young people around?

Yeah, people do worry about what we might call ‘cognitive ossification’. If we virtually stop having kids – because there’s no room for them in this post-ageing world – almost everybody would be chronologically old, even though they would all be biologically young. One could imagine that there’s something intrinsic about having done a lot of things already that makes one less able to be creative, impulsive, whatever. But we just don’t know. We might decide that ageing was a good thing after all, though I hope not.

Are you alarmed by the idea of a 21-year-old girl being chatted up by a 900-year-old man who looks 21?

Well, my wife is 19 years older than me – we met when she was 45 and I was 26 – so it doesn’t worry me very much at all! If we look at parallel situations now, there are plenty of gorgeous women who have taken a load of trouble to look considerably younger than they actually are, and there are plenty of men who wouldn’t say no to shagging Sophia Loren, so I don’t think there’s really a problem there. Besides, eventually everyone will look roughly the same age, and be rather attractive to boot. I’m sure that if we can fix ageing, we’ll have got ugliness wrapped. No question!

Instead of looking at the length of our lives, shouldn’t we be focusing on the quality?
What’s this “instead”? The whole point is to maintain both the quality and the quantity. People don’t want to live for a longer time in a debilitated state. What I’m interested in is keeping people youthful for longer.

If wisdom comes with age, will we be more intelligent as a collective?

Wisdom and intelligence are not quite the same thing. But there’s a fair chance there will be more wisdom in society as a whole, simply because there’s more experience.

What will happen to memory? Will we forget our past over long periods of time?

That’s a nice easy one. In psychology there’s something called the reminiscence bump. If you’re 50 years old, it turns out that you can remember a bit of what happened when you were a kid, a bit of what happened between age 30 and 40, but there’s a bump – which is adolescence – between 15 and 25 of which you can remember more. The way memory works is not a last-in, last-out sort of thing – when you recall something, it reinforces the memory. I know my mother’s name, but I don’t know the names of half the people I went to school with. So this is likely to be the same sort of deal however long we live.

What form would the therapies take? Would it be as simple as dropping a pill?

It’s a good question, and the answer is that it’s likely to change very rapidly. At first they’re going to be very elaborate and arduous, so you’ll have to be no older than middle age to benefit from them. If people are at death’s door then they’re not going to be able to withstand the therapies. It will involve going into a hospital for a month maybe, and you’ll have a load of different stem cell therapies, gene therapies, injections.

What are the downsides to these treatments?

They will be very expensive at first. It’s pretty certain that when these therapies come along initially, they’re going to be quite risky, just like any experimental technology. But I could easily imagine that twenty years down the road from the first therapies being developed, we will be at a point where people are only going into hospital for a day. Eventually it will be just self-administration.

Tell us about the Methuselah Mouse Competition.
It’s very simple. It’s a competition I co-founded to engineer the world’s longest living mouse, and there are two prizes. With the first you’re allowed to change the mouse’s genes before it’s conceived. But the second rejuvenation prize requires no intervention at all until the mouse is halfway through its natural lifespan, so it’s more relevant to real life. The pot prize currently stands at around $3m. Prizes are a great way of getting people to follow their hunches. Also, life extension has always had this ambiguous status – you know, it’s a bit disreputable, not very tweedy-academic. So this is a way of raising the profile of life extension research without trivialising it.

So how long will we have to wait?

Ageing will not disappear tomorrow. In fact, human ageing is unlikely to be appreciably combated by medical treatments for at least 25 years. But the shit is really going to hit the fan when the public begins to feel that it’s only a matter of time before those therapies arrive, even if they haven’t arrived yet, and that’s likely to happen in about ten years. All it will take is for sufficiently impressive results to be obtained in the laboratory with mice, then scientists in general will start saying acknowledging that it’s only a matter of time. Because, of course, science is the new religion.

You worked for Clive Sinclair: genius or fool?

Oh, Clive is a fantastic guy. I would say both, but you have to be both. Of course he has had some completely crazy ideas, like the C5 [the doomed battery-operated three-wheeler launched in the 1980s], but I think the world would move forward faster, technologically, if there were more people like Clive.

Is there a God?

I have no idea. And luckily, I don’t care. If we look at the various interpretations of what God wants, we actually have a duty to combat ageing, because ageing causes suffering. And if you think about it in terms of delaying our ascent to the kingdom of heaven, we’re not supposed to be hastening our own death, whether by action or by inaction, and if that inaction is not developing these therapies then that seems to be a sin, really. Get me another beer, somebody!

Describe your personal utopia
Well, no ageing obviously. I think the cliché that variety is the spice of life is a very true statement – there are so many things you could do with your life if it were indefinite. Of course, there are other things; absence of violence is a good one. At the moment, the most violent societies tend to be the most short-lived, whether it’s sub-Saharan Africa, or inner cities in the US. If you have a low life expectancy in the first place, then you have a low valuation of life, so you behave accordingly. If people had the opportunity to live longer, the view of the value of life would sharply increase. The death penalty, I’m sure, wouldn’t survive for a moment, even in the US.

What currently stands in your/our way?

Money. Or lack of it, as the case may be. I’ve spent the past ten years getting to know all of the top people in the relevant fields, and making sure that they and I are on the same page in terms of what could be done. And these people are all hot to trot. They just need the resources.

Isn’t the scope of all this terrifying?
You’ll get used to it. You couldn’t imagine the internet 20 years ago.

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John Leckie gives young Indian rock groups a push with Soundpad

The Times, London
Cover feature

A top English producer aims to bring Indian rock to the world — defying the terrorists

October, 2008: the Leopold Café in Mumbai. A young Indian rock group, Medusa, celebrate the end of a recording session for a unique musical project organised by the British Council, called Soundpad. Over the course of three weeks, four talented bands – hand-picked from auditions by the super-producer John Leckie – have been playing their hearts out in the studio under Leckie’s guidance, for an album that will be released in the UK and in India this May.

With a tour of the UK’s Barfly venues to coincide with the record and a slot at the Great Escape festival, it is hoped that this project will shine a light on India’s growing alternative rock scene, giving these bands a chance to be heard and valued internationally. In this sense, Leo’s is the perfect place to celebrate Soundpad.

A shabby, buzzy nightspot, Leo’s is packed to the gills with, well, everyone. With tourists who’ve read about the café in the bestselling novel Shantaram, with businessmen unwinding, artists firing-up, and cool kids like Medusa – who, at this moment, are midway through their second yard of beer, explaining how cosmopolitan Mumbai has become. “And this project,” says Raxit, the singer, “it gives us a chance to work with people you wouldn’t ever work with here. You can, in your wildest 4am dreams, imagine it. But we never thought this would actually happen. So it’s amazing to be part of it.”

A month later, two gunmen – the same age as Medusa – open fire in the Leopold Café, killing ten people. The series of synchronised attacks that took place in Mumbai last November targeted financial trading sites (the city’s big hotels have become international business hubs), but also places of cultural trade. “It feels like an attempt stop the progressive outlook that we’re trying to achieve,” says the British Council’s Tasneem Vahanvaty, and this, she says, makes Soundpad’s success more important now than ever.

Leckie, who has worked with such iconic artists as Radiohead, George Harrison and Pink Floyd, agrees. “The project represents the youth of India,” he says, “and in a kind of perverse way, I’d like to think that what’s happened is going to draw attention to Soundpad, and to where they’re coming from.”

In October 2008, weeks before the attacks, *The Times joined Leckie and the bands in Mumbai; to witness the artists at work, and discover where the youth of India really are coming from.

Sitting on Bhandra seafront at midnight, Leckie and his co-producer Dan Austin have just got back to their hotel after today’s studio session. Tired, and wired from the day’s work, Leckie explains how the project began. “I wanted to find rock music that felt distinctly Indian,” he says, “that I could take back to the UK and take back a flavour of India with the music.” So, early last year, the British Council started talking to its music contacts – movers and shakers with grassroots knowledge of India’s rock scene, such as the indie label Counter Culture. The plan was to find bands with limited experience but a lot of potential, and get them to audition for Leckie.

The auditions did not go quite as planned, however. Of the 40 or so bands who played, most were either screechy metal groups, immaculately-groomed Bollywood boy-bands (complete with dance routines), or ploddy pub-rockers; “I felt guilty about not choosing them, because I felt that was patronising,” sighs Leckie, “Because they were trying their hardest to be un-Indian.”

While India’s visual arts scene has a huge international reputation — as shows at the Serpentine and Saatchi Galleries attest — it has been harder for India’s young musicians to find an authentic voice.With radio stations playing round-the-clock retro pop or Bollywood and devotional music, there’s no sense, at least in the mainstream, that being musically original might be valid. Were there moments during the auditions when Leckie felt it was going horribly wrong? “Yes!” he laughs, “all the time!”.

But at the end of a dispiriting afternoon in Mumbai, Medusa came onstage. “And they were great,” says Leckie, who perked up visibly when he heard their tuneful fuzz of skittering electro beats. Then, in Delhi, in a tiny basement studio, Leckie saw Indigo Children (“they made a racket, and I like that”), and the classically-tinged Advaita (“that was the fusion I was looking for”). Finally, Bangalore revealed the giddy, jangling charms of Swarathma. So Leckie had his four bands, each with a totally different sound, and very different experiences of growing up, musically, in new India.

Advaita are the most traditional of all the bands, fusing together breathtaking classical musicianship with Sting-toned soft rock and a singer who sounds a bit like Seal. Sitting on the steps outside the state-of-the-art Yash Raj studio in the muzzy heat of the day, their seranghi player explains that in India, you don’t just choose to learn classical music at school – you’re born into it. “We’re very strict in these families,” he says. “I mean if you pick up an instrument you’re trained very seriously, it’s a 24-7 musical environment.” Impressive stuff, and musically Advaita hit some truly transcendent moments. But that serious, Pink Floyd-y, jazz-rock edge seems a little odd given that some members are as young as 19.

“India *loves classic rock,” says Bobin James of *Rolling Stone India. He has travelled from Delhi to watch Leckie and co at work. India’s rock conservatism is evidenced, he says, by the fact that the only international bands that tend to play here are such rock megaliths as Iron Maiden, Scorpions and Bryan Adams. And up until five years ago, any band playing live had to play covers, for fear of being booed off-stage – “because people wanted to hear Hotel California.”

Two days later, Indigo Children are in the studio, a complete contrast to Advaita. Bullish and full of bluster, they turn up late and red-eyed, flirt with the girls and flop over each other on the sofas. “People in the West don’t realise how similar our lives and social environments are to elsewhere,” says Sanchal, the singer. “They expect a kid from India to be into Indian folk music.” “It’s the same as people thinking that India still has elephants and camels walking in the street,” says the guitarist Rahul. “But that is true actually,” says Sanchal. “But we also have cars! And GPS!” He roars laughing.

Indigo Children are the most Brit-sounding band of the bunch, their muscular guitars and petulant vocals a match for Arctic Monkeys. But, says Sanchal, the band’s Indian-ness comes through via their love of psychedelia, the kind you can trace back to the days of the ancient poets. Later, their psychedelic “direction” becomes clear, as the band quiz the studio’s formidably cool manager, Shantanu, on the finer points of psychotropic drugs. Their eyes widen noticeably at his tales of villages getting high on snake bites and fields of trippy pollen flowers.

Naturally, when Advaita and Indigo Children play a Soundpad showcase together, it’s a bit of a weird pairing. But what’s really awkward is the gig venue. Blue Frog is – like the posh music studio, and like so much of new Mumbai – sparklingly modern and swish. It serves gourmet food and everyone looks gorgeous. So, from a British point of view, it seems an unsuitable place to see a band.

Venues – or rather, the lack of them – is a huge problem for rock bands in India. Mumbai, for instance, has a population of 18 million – and three live music venues. This is one of them. “People like us don’t go to places like this,” says Sanchal, looking around. “When people ask what can we do to improve the gig scene, I say make the beer fifty bucks [rupees] and people will come.”

He adds: “There’s a lot of music but there’s just no culture as such happening.” Leckie agrees. “What the cities are crying out for is free clubs — not upmarket yuppie places. Because rock’n’roll is about dirty, sweaty cellars. That’s where it comes from.”

So how does the scene exist? How do the kids get to talk to each other, share influences, turn each other on to mind-blowing new sounds? The answer, of course, is virtually. The rise of the internet has changed everything – at least for those kids in the cities who have access to computers. “If it’s happening, it’s there,” explains Medusa singer Raxit, over a cup of hot, sticky chai at the studio (the spicy tea is such an important part of daily life in India that the studio has its own chai-making man standing on call during the sessions).

“If I’m living in Bombay and there’s a band from Goa, there’s no way I’d know about them because it’s too far apart, if not for electronic media.” It is thanks to the internet that Medusa – who work in the day as Bollywood bloggers – are into obscure, bleepy bands such as Squarepusher and Prefuse 73. And thanks to laptops and their own musical curiosity, that Medusa got into electronic programming and what Raxit refers to dreamily as “beautiful little sounds.”

But what about going out, getting drunk – all those things that British kids take for granted, and that it’s assumed, are key in making music. You know, sex, drugs and rock ’n’ roll? House parties are not an option for socialising, says Raxit. “You can’t do it, because you’re living at your parents’ house,” he shrugs. “There are some stupid laws here. You can’t have a house party with drinks, you can’t do a live gig in the open unless it’s some really clichéd, acceptable form of making noise.” “Whatever you’re doing,” says the drummer Vinayek, “drinking, partying – you need permission to do it.”

All the same, Medusa know how to have a good time. The band begin an alternative guided tour of Mumbai at a guitar shop called Musician’s Mall, where the shelves heave with harmoniums, serangis and tablas, as well as standard rock kit. Pretty soon, everyone (staff included) is playing something, strumming or plucking along the band’s rendition of Gorillaz song, Feel Good Inc. The boys stop in at an all-night Persian ice-cream parlour, sing songs on the briny seafront – and then of course, there’s the Leopold Café. Tonight, it’s humming with life. Just as it would be a few weeks later, on November 26th.

How badly the terrorist attacks may have dented the Soundpad project – and the development of India’s rock scene – is not yet clear. According to the British Council’s Tasneem Vahanvaty, “A lot of artists and entrepreneurs are now thinking twice about coming into the city.” And because of the worldwide recession, many of this year’s big Indian rock festivals have been postponed, due to sponsors pulling out.

But Medusa – who happened not to be at the Leopold Café the night of the shootings – agree that if anything, these attacks will provoke young musicians to work even harder at being heard. “Music is a better way to express yourself than attempting to blow up hotels,” says the guitarist Rahul, “so it’s really important for Soundpad to go on.”

Four days after the attacks, the Leopold Café opened its doors again – bullet holes still in the walls. “There’s nothing that’s going to hold us back,” says Vahanvaty. It is very tempting to believe her.

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