Tuhin Mehta: From trading diamonds to spearheading India’s old-school dance music movement
GET THIS: the man who entertained thousands at VH1’s Supersonic festival could have designed a piece of heirloom jewellery you own! It’s possible because Tuhin Mehta, a well-known electronic music artiste, at one point in his career used to double up as a jeweller. But, life took him on a different journey—where he went from working on the Earth’s most precious rocks to ‘rocking’ dance floors across the planet.
However, in an age where anyone can harness the power of frequencies with the flip of a switch—the art and science of playing records appears to have lost its charm. So, what sets apart a phenomenal DJ from a cookie-cutter impersonator? It’s their ability to read a room, tap into the hive mind of a grooving dancefloor, and gauge what tunes will guide them to their chosen transcendent destination. The truth is, there aren’t many artistes or producers in India who can do this better than Tuhin.
Born and raised in Chennai, his tryst with turntables began at the impressionable age of 12. “The Mehta household was always immersed in music,” explains Tuhin, over the phone from Albuquerque, New Mexico. “My dad was a drummer in a band during his IIT days. So, car rides meant jiving to classics from Cliff Richard and Harry Belafonte. At home, Mom would play her eclectic tunes aloud all day too,” he adds.
Growing up in the ’80s—a time before MTV, corporate conglomerates, and algorithms decided what you would listen to—discovering all these sounds resonated within him. Ensorceled since adolescence those reverberations still hold strong, two decades later. Today, the 30-something is a professionally-qualified sound engineer from the world-renowned School of Audio Engineering’s city-based campus. Not to mention, an international ambassador to the prestigious Berklee College of Music.
Forged by basslines
“None of this happened overnight,” states the Ravey Gravy star, adding, “I started as a 16-year-old at various clubs in Chennai. They used to give me the late-night (think 2 am) slot because I wasn’t experienced enough back then. Eventually, I got exposed to playing different styles and reading the dancefloor. This helped me in the long run, to become a versatile artiste.”
He has witnessed first-hand how the creative environment in India has transformed over the years. “The internet has pushed the boundaries amongst musicians. Nowadays, the listeners are aware of global trends and expect the same from regional artistes,” begins the SAE alumnus. “The trouble is, composers who tend to keep driving to the frontiers, experiment and outgrow the internet’s learning curve, ultimately hitting a wall because the audience still wants whatever the majority listens to,” he adds.
To overcome this very obstacle, Tuhin underwent a complete musical overhaul circa 2013. He shelved his tribal/tech-trance Brute Force project—where he co-produced chart-topping tunes like Arrival alongside Shane Mendonsa, son of famed Indian musical icon Loy Mendonsa—and embarked on a new symphonic direction, starting with a techno-influenced podcast called The Index.
“Despite leaning on techno, my unique soundscape will provide the space to navigate and include old-school acid basslines, percussive elements, and hypnotic elements stemming from my psychedelic roots,” shares the composer, who will soon be releasing a new remix on the Dutch label Minitech Recordings.
His radically authentic approach also shines through in his sartorial choices. Tuhin’s colourful wardrobe, loud sneakers and geeky accessories distinguish him from the v-neck totting, black-on-black donning techno cadre. “I guess I have my mom to thank for that quirky personality trait,” he explains, elaborating, “At an early age, she egged me on to pierce my ears and streak my hair. She always pushed me to things that weren’t the norm. That seems to have flowed over into my craft.”
The precision and intuition he applies to vibe-building is second to none. To keep things interesting on-stage, this artiste—lauded as a ‘Pro DJ’ for the Indian subsidiary of Japan’s musical equipment manufacturer, Pioneer—always prefers playing a live set. “It’s a boon and a bane. I usually have to lug around an additional 25 kilos of baggage filled with synths, FX controllers, cables, etc,” he claims, stifling a guffaw.
It’s no wonder that this musician’s tour diary is chock-full of dates. Besides a slew of performances across the country during the Diwali holidays, Tuhin’s current itinerary points to Amsterdam. The globe trotter shares, “I will be flying in from the US, stopping over at Berlin for a few days, and heading to the Amsterdam Dance Event. It’s my fifth year there. It’s the most inspiring week of any electronic music artistes career. You will figure out your place on a global scale. Gain new motivation and direction. I’m doing two gigs and have accepted an invitation to be part of an industry discussion panel.”
Things weren’t always like this for Tuhin. At one point, he was part of his Gujarati family’s business empire. “I used to work six days a week as a jeweller. Overseeing manufacturing, purchasing, and designing, Pretty much everything. My Dad’s only rule was ‘I don’t care where you are. Monday morning be back at work!’” claims Tuhin.
He adds, “There have been days when I would finish a gig in Bengaluru, catch the 5 am flight, and sit in for a meeting at 8 am! However, things changed after my Dad passed away. My extended family got involved in the business, certain dynamics changed, and I felt it was best to pursue music full-time.”
His epiphany moment occurred before puberty struck. “When I was a kid, dad would have friends over for parties at home. He would keep saying, ‘Tuhin, go change the music to what everybody likes!’ Seeing how faces light up when people hear their favourite song, it struck a chord with me. My family literally helped me discover my passion,” shares the superstar DJ, who now performs at Awakenings, one of Europe’s biggest techno festivals.
Building a scene
Today, Chennai is home to Go Madras, a 10-year-old annual electronic music event that Tuhin co-organises. But, there was a time before stickers proclaiming #TechnoTakeover were a common sight in the city. “Speed, though now defunct, was the nightlife venue that changed it all. Back then, every club swore by hip-hop, Speed revolutionised the scene. They encouraged every local DJ got to showcase their prowess in various electronic genres. Within a span of six months, the community grew and is still flourishing today,” he recalls.
A little-known fact about the veteran DJ is that he’s immensely passionate about wildlife photography. “It’s an exercise in patience. And the switch from booming basslines in clubs to the deafening silence of jungles is a remarkable one,” explains Tuhin. “Be it Africa or India, it’s humbling to watch how life works in the wilderness. It keeps me grounded,” he concludes.