The Knight of the Nightlife

Rising to fame at a tender age, living each day to worship his work and aspiring to transcend Indian music to a global platform are some pages of DJ Shadow’s life he talked about in an intriguing conversation with Just Urbane. Keep reading to know more!

Words by: Amisha Shirgave

The audience has not only known DJ Shadow Dubai but also has grooved to his music for years. Giving a kick start to his career at a young age, he has come a long way and has so many interesting stories to share. We tried to cover almost every part of his life for you to read this piece and I am sure you’ll find it interesting but I would like to make a special mention to DJ Shadow Dubai for the being the self-effacing artiste that he is. I absolutely loved and appreciated the way he was engaged in our korero. He gave an in-depth picture of his life as a DJ and the good and the bad that comes with it. DJ Shadow has collaborated with numerous artistes including international artistes such as Pitbull, Jasen Derulo, Lil Pump and more.

Q. Our readers would like to know about your journey from Satheerth to DJ Shadow Dubai. Your schooling, college etc.
DJ Shadow Dubai:
I’d say I got into DJ-ing for the wrong reasons but it turned out to be my profession later. Let’s just say I started DJ-ing to impress a girl I had a crush on and also because I liked the attention and the fame a DJ received. Later, I realised how passionate I am about becoming a DJ and the rest is history. About Satheerth turning to DJ Shadow Dubai, I wanted to have a unique name as a DJ. I also wanted to have an alter ego to my shy personality. I believe that the stage brings out the best in me and I get immersed into my music when I am on stage. I have always believed in the fact that I have me and my shadow and we’re going to walk together throughout the journey and hence the name DJ Shadow. Dubai because I have lived in this beautiful city and it is home to me. So that’s how DJ Shadow came to existence.

Q. Were you always sure that this is something you want to take up as a profession? How supportive was your family?
DSD: I was a normal teenage kid who wasn’t sure about what he wants to do in life but as I mentioned, I realised my interest and potential through DJ-ing and I had a few people along with me who believed in what I bring to the table. My parents wanted me to become an Engineer just like every other Indian parent wants their child to. So I took up engineering only to truly find my potential as a DJ. I can’t say if they were supportive because they didn’t really understand what I was doing as a DJ and they probably still don’t. But after they saw me working hard every day and immersing myself in music, they realised that I am building something here. That is when they got supportive. My extended family on the other hand weren’t pleased with me dropping out from engineering and they tried to talk it out of me and my parents but I fought for what I believed in. What my parents did is that they never tried to stop me from working for what I believed in even if they didn’t like it. So I think my parents not trying to hold me back was their way of supporting me.  And, here I am today. I always wanted to someone who didn’t follow the mainstream profession. And I am glad it worked out the way it did.

"My parents wanted me to become an Engineer just like every other Indian parent wants their child to. So I took up engineering only to truly find my potential as a DJ"

Q. Did you have a mentor? If yes, can your share some details about them?
DSD: I used to listen to David Guetta while growing up and I aspired to become like him someday. I am closer to Bollywood; I’d seen DJ Akil perform in one of the clubs during my initial DJing days. Having a mentor was not really an option back then. There was no YouTube and not many DJs in India so it was quite difficult to find someone to look upto. But since I travelled for work, I had a chance to witness many famous DJ’s perform and that was my motivation. Also, being based in Dubai was one of the advantages as numerous DJ’s visit here to perform. I am fortunate to have seen Carl Cox and Sasha perform live and that was inspirational to me. So being based in a multi-cultural city and having the opportunity to see DJ’s perform helped me with my music too. I incorporated so much from whatever I observed.

Q. What is being a DJ to you? For the audience grooving to your music, it’s just the guy on the disc making people dance on the beats. So how does it work exactly? Can you give us some practical   information about it?
Being a DJ is what I do and it means everything to me. I want my music to be recognized world-wide. And, I also want Indian music to be recognized world-wide. Just as Latin music, Afro beat and others took over, I want Indian music to take over too. So for me, DJing is much more than just mixing songs on the disc. I wish to produce different styles of music in the Indian Industry and taking it to the world. About how a DJ functions on stage, it is all about mixing the right songs together, blending it in the right scale and beat to create a trance where you take people on a journey and let them enjoy themselves.

Q. Do you like focusing on a genre while you’re creating music? You’ve worked with Pitbull for your song ‘Slowly slowly’. Can you share your experience?
No, I don’t think I like to choose one genre because I am a person who easily gets bored. If I create music in the same genre, it would become monotonous for me. I try creating original songs and experimenting with genre’s so that it is new for the audience and it gives me a chance to learn something about that genre as well. About working with Pitbull, I don’t think I have the right words to express. Pitbull has always been an Inspiration and while we worked together for ‘Slowly Slowly’, I was amazed by the energy they bring to the table. You learn a lot from them by just being in a room with them. Working with them for the song and for the music video was truly memorable for me. What I will always remember is Pitbull’s Humbleness after the shoot. He came up to me and thanked me for letting him be a part of this track. I was left with no words in that moment.

Q. Was there a moment when you thought of investing in another skill of yours?
Yes, there was a time when the labels couldn’t give us a fixed date to release the songs during the pandemic. Once, while I was just humming to some song in my room, I noticed a pile of journals lying in the corner of room. I keep on adding my travel stories to my journal. I started compiling all of it and that is when the idea of writing a book came through. I thought of it as a way to motivate aspirants and even myself. The book will be about my journey, my music, my aspirations and a reminder that I have a long way to go. This book will be an inspirational book for those who wish to become a DJ someday. It isn’t a technical manual to become a DJ but it is more about me coming to Dubai, falling in love with this city, the pros and cons of the nightlife and my journey to where I am today and most importantly, how my journey is still undone and what I wish to pursue ahead. I believe artists are storytellers in a way so this book is a gateway to an artist’s life. The book is ready to be published. A few publications are ready to publish it within this year.

Q. Do you have a strategy to get the crowd pumped? How do you prepare before performing?
Preparation is the key. I visit different cities and countries where people have different taste in music so yes, preparation is a must. Secondly, I have to quite flexible in order to make the audience enjoy the music. There are times when I prepare something for the audience but when I have to shift into a shuffle mode to understand what the audience expects out of me. So yes, being prepared and being flexible is the key to get the crowd pumped. Moreover, enjoying the music yourself is also essential because the more the DJ grooves to the music, the more audience will follow.

Q. There is a dark side to everything. How would you describe the dark side of the DJ nightlife?
DSD: Success comes with challenges. I was introduced to fame at a young age and I had nobody to tell me what to do with so much of it. The nightlife has its own challenges. There are women flirting around with you, so many people trying to talk to you, attending the after parties with personalities from bollywood and politics, alcohol and other influences, it becomes quite overwhelming and difficult to not get into the flow and keep a sane mind with the crowd I move around with.

"I want Indian music to be recognized world-wide. Just as Latin music, Afro beat and others took over"

Q. Tell us about a routine day in DJ shadow’s life.
I don’t have a routine because I am always on the move. Having no routine is exciting too because there are changes happening everyday and you’re literally living out of a suitcase. I travel to different parts of the world for my shows and the best part about it is I love every bit of it. I like having no routine. There are days when I am in the studio experimenting and creating music and then there are days where I get myself all energized for my upcoming shows.

Q. What is it that you still aspire to achieve?
DSD: Representing Indian music on a global platform and seeing my country being recognised by it is something I wish to achieve. I want to have an Indian stage at Tomorrowland where thousands of people groove to Indian music. Thanks to internet, it has become so easy to reach out to people and sharing interests and music culture. If western DJ’s can popularise their music then I wish to popularise Indian music too. That’s what I aspire to achieve and this year is going to be the beginning of it as I have a few projects lined up for the same.