One evening, 20 years ago, Tejas Mangeshkar was walking on the beach with his friends when they saw men with VIP bags that contained a robot and headphones. “For Rs 10, the robot would speak in a pre-recorded voice and tell you about your future. It told me, ‘Tumko ladka paida hoga’ (You will have a son),” he says. It was an ominous prediction which didn’t come true, but the graphic designer and rookie DJ found himself more interested in the messenger, rather than the message.
“There was a group of us young creatives, who worked in graphic design, scriptwriting, film, and we were listening to electronic music such as Underworld, Richie Hawtin, Asian underground stuff from the UK, on cassettes that we played in a friend’s Maruti 800,” says Mangeshkar. The “hipsters of that time”, as he describes the group, comprised Ashim Ahluwalia (owner of the car), Mukul Deora, Jatin Vidyarthi, and Kurnal Rawat. “We’d been thinking of starting our own events to play the music we liked. The idea of the robot, that kind of desi, low-tech futuristic kitsch stayed with us and we came up with the name for our collective — Bhavishyavani Future Soundz (BHA),” says Mangeshkar aka Mr Tee. Their tagline? “Fast dancing for a new India”, which was accompanied by a logo, the alphabet bha, in Hindi.
Back in the mid-to-late ’90s, there wasn’t an electronic music scene in India, other than Goa trance, says Ahluwalia, who is Vidyarthi aka Master Justy’s cousin, and performed as INSAT. “People had barely heard jungle or techno, and we were playing the most left-field tunes. These parties were illegal, packed, dingy backdoor clubs. Smoking anything was allowed then and the venues stayed open until 5 am, so you can imagine the mayhem. The venues were packed to the brim with the most amazing, random characters from across the city, freaks that had somehow found themselves there. There was no internet and no cell phones, no indie-venues, no ‘scene’ — we just made it up,” he says.
How did they get the word out? Through Grandmother — a design agency started by Mangeshkar and Rawat. “My grandmother gave us some space in her house in Shivaji Park. It became a shorthand for our meetings, so we called the company Grandmother. We designed posters, flyers, that were distributed by hand; we had actual mix tapes on cassettes,” says Mangeshkar. In time, the core members branched out into other fields, namely cinema and advertising. But the collective got a new lease of life when two Frenchmen, Mathieu Josso (MMAT) and Cyril Michaud (DJ Loopkin), took over the reins in the mid-2000s.
“When we moved to India in the early 2000s, we saw that the electronic music scene here was what Europe was like 10-12 years before. As music makers, we recognised that there was an opportunity for us to help build a scene here, to pioneer something. We were already friends with the BHA crew, and today, the company has a two-pronged identity: commercial design projects and independent parties,” says Josso. “The original BHA crew brought a lot of genres to their audience, and now we aim to create an experience that goes beyond genre. We’re looking at different formats now, to experience sound, beats, rhythm,” says Michaud.
On Saturday evening, all members of the BHA, past and present, will come together to celebrate 20 years of the collective. Presented by Red Bull Music Academy at Famous Studios, Mahalaxmi, Mumbai, the day-long event will feature the dancing automates, a look at the original BHA artwork and at night, INSAT, MMAT, Loopkin, Masta Justy and Yohann Jamsandekar aka Spacejams will take the stage. “I had stopped enjoying DJing when the venues became more mainstream; the parties began having sponsors and society guest lists. That wasn’t the vibe for me. So I do play occasionally, but only for a very small set of people that feel the same way about the music. On Saturday, I’ll play for the crew that I know and love,” says Ahluwalia.