Earlier this month, PVR Gold in Saket held a special screening of sorts, one that required every audience member to wear an eye cap. Curled up on recliners, the 30-plus present there at 6 pm were then introduced to music industry veteran, Nikhel Mahajan’s newest project, titled The Kundalini Highway, comprising eight meditative, ambient tracks. Two more sessions were held at PVR Gold that day. “This is surround sound music, a complicated space to be in. There aren’t a lot of examples to fall back on. The Grammys have a category for surround sound but mostly it’s remastered tracks,” says Mahajan, seated in his studio in Sainik Farms.
The 90-minute-long gig at PVR Gold was the first surround sound musical showcase in the country, adds the 37-year-old. It was also Mahajan’s way of celebrating a decade of Sattyananda, his music project that focuses on chill out, ambient music. “Seven of the eight tracks represent a chakra in our body . I’ve wanted to share this ancient knowledge via music for a long time now,” says Mahajan, who began work on the album in the winter of 2014.
No stranger to the music scene, Mahajan launched Delhi-based electronic music label Audio Ashram (AA) in 2008. His journey, however, began in 1997, when fresh out of school with dreams of becoming a painter, he discovered his interest in music in Goa and Paris. “Those were interesting times. I began experimenting with electronic music and realised it had no language, religion or nationality. It was the language of freedom,” he says, slightly distracted by Woofer, his two-year-old dog, also the unofficial Audio Ashram mascot.
In the ’90s, when music in India was all about Bollywood and indie pop, Mahajan was trying to create space for an alternate scene. It helped that at that time acts such as Midival Punditz and Jalebee Cartel were also doing the same. “The computers were not so good, the internet was terrible, and there were no equipments available in India. There were no opportunities for people like me who wanted to explore this music,” says Mahajan. It was then that he launched India’s first electronic music label called Dada Music, and finally AA in 2008. Over the years, he has produced albums of acts such as Jalebee Cartel (Dada Music), Dualist Inquiry (Audio Ashram) and produced shows for bands such as Reggae Rajahs and Ska Vengers.
At a time when a bunch of music festivals are taking over the scene, AA maintains a low profile. Although, in the past it spearheaded the movement. “We don’t do corporate sponsorships, so no liquor brands as sponsors. I don’t drink alcohol or energy drinks or aerated drinks. How can I then support corporates and their agendas? Today, the industry is very shallow. My aim is to create an experience, not cater to entertainment,” says Mahajan, adding that it’s not his job to “clean up”.
Apart from making music and conducting yoga and meditation sessions in Delhi, Mahajan is still holding on to his first dream — painting. Often, while working on a track, he finds time and space in his studio to paint canvases. At his exhibitions — most recently at Delhi’s Egg Art Studio in April — his music plays in the background, and at the studio, his paintings find resonance with his tunes. “If you want to be in music to be famous, you can’t create an experience. And I am not here to become famous,” he adds.