Bombay Dub Orchestra - Biography
The cultural symbiosis that exists between the UK and India has never seemed as immense or relevant as in the first decade of the 21st century. Rather than fading with the messy evaporation of the Raj, the trans-cultural potlatch between the British isles and the Indian subcontinent is more vibrant, assertive, voluminous — and necessary — than ever. Veteran UK producers and composers Garry Hughes and Andrew T. Mackay get it: As globalization burgeons, international divisions wither, and cultures spill and slosh over each other, music continues to provide a bridge of stability, mutual understanding, and harmonious dialogue. To these ends, the pair have undertaken a wildly ambitious project, with heady results. The name of Bombay Dub Orchestra may be a malaprop (Bombay is Mumbai, and the use of the former smacks of patronizing esoteria, and there’s not the slightest, florid whiff of Dub contained herein), but the results are a gorgeous, lush voyage through dense Indian soundtracks, augmented with synths, strings, and a thick layer of laid-back, trip-hop varnish.
Keyed into the popularity of pan-genre goulash as popularized by wildly successful acts like Enigma and Zero 7, and emboldened by an excursion to India to record ethno-ambient atmospherics for another project, Hughes and Mackay had an idea. They would create a groove-laden, after-hours, chill out record, using traditional Indian instrumentation, and contemporary beats and production values. However, instead of using samples for the Indian material, they would go to the source. Hughes and Mackay traveled to Mumbai, tracked down the best studio whizzes they could find, and assembled them together in a room, to record the arrangements live. True, this is no big deal in India, where even the most elaborate Bollywood soundtracks are recorded live in the studio, in an environment of cramped yet professional intensity that would make Brian Wilson blush. Yet, for Hughes and Mackay, it was just the angle they needed to make their project stand out from the late-night, droopy-lidded pack.
The eponymous debut, Bombay Dub Orchestra (2006 Six Degrees), is a seamless fusion of trace-inducing beats, and shimmering, gauzy soundscapes, and despite the name, it plunders great, meaty fistfuls from a wide variety of this globe’s musical treasures. Hindi and Islam; Subcontinent and Caribbean: all are fair game, and all are eventually subsumed beneath studio wizardry and benign techno polish. The follow-up album is an equally impressive display of knob twisting, but the Indian aspects of the production are presented in a slightly more coherent manner, afforded a greater amount of uninterrupted detail, and generally treated with a larger measure of respect. 3 Cities toggles between what Hughes and Mackay refer to as Bombay (Mumbai), Chennai (Madras), and London (Londinium), employing over 75 musicians in the process. As with the debut, Indian traditions and cultural disparities are worn somewhat indiscriminately, like so many glo-sticks, but credit should be given: Bombay Dub Orchestra are making an effort to create some sort of dialogue between the broad palette of Indian music and the UK/international pop scene. If, in the process, they manage to encourage even the slightest amount of curiosity in the Real Deal that lurks beneath the high-tech sheen, then they’ve initiated a dialogue, and that’s what it’s all about.