Delhi 2 Dublin at the Commodore Ballroom tonight at 8 p.m.
THE five-piece band takes the stage in the midst of the Midwest, and the nightmare begins.
The group's brand of international electronica has been loved and lavished with praise by thousands of fans, but on that night in Iowa City, Iowa, they're facing an audience of one.
For Tarun Nayar, who provides the beat and bass line for many of Delhi 2 Dublin's songs, the disappointment runs deeper: it's his birthday.
"We still played," Nayar reports. The group's mixture of Irish fiddle, electric sitar, dhol, tabla, and Punjabi lyrics have proved irresistible to many electronica fans, perhaps even including Iowa City's lone Delhi 2 Dublin supporter.
"He seemed like he had a good time," Nayar says.
The group is scheduled to play the Commodore Ballroom tonight. The band's newest album, Turn Up the Stereo, will be sold for $5 at the show with $2 of each sale going to support UBC Farm.
Growing up straddling the leather line between punk and metal in Montreal mosh pits, Nayar has always been comfortable in two worlds.
As a founding member of Delhi 2 Dublin, Nayar alternates between accentuating the band's Bhangra beats with the tabla, an Indian percussion instrument that may date back more than 2,000 years, and programming the group's electronica sound with his Apple laptop.
That tendency to mix seemingly disparate sounds is likely rooted in Nayar's upbringing, where ghazal singer Mehdi Hassan competed for time on the turntable with light folk groups like Peter, Paul and Mary.
"I started learning tabla when I was really young, when I was about seven, and I didn't know how to speak Hindi or Urdu at that point of time but my sisters and I would sing phonetically," Nayar recalls.
Those gentle sounds slid away when Nayar hit his teen years, slipping into Montreal's multi-level music spot and putting his neck through the requisite trials of the headbanger.
"Probably because I was growing up in the suburbs, I got really into thrash metal and hardcore, and heavy metal, and punk. Bands like the Sex Pistols, the old, old version of Metallica, and S.N.F.U. . . . all these crazy punk bands," Nayar says. "I would sneak into Les Foufounes Electriques which was like the happening punk bar at the time, and just go out and go crazy until I was about 15 or 16."
A change in geography upended Nayar's musical tastes.
"I remember it was our first family trip anywhere hot, and we did a house trade with some distant relatives in the Cayman Islands," Nayar says. "Going to a tropical place and listening to Bob Marley for two weeks non-stop, that just totally shifted my life."
Nayar hung up his devil horns and made an abrupt switch to reggae and African music.
"It was like I got all my anger out," he says.
The next shift in Nayar's musical education happened when he dropped in on what was then a relatively new phenomenon, a rave.
"I was dragged there by a girl who liked me," Nayar says. "We may or may not have had some recreational substances."
Beyond the glow sticks and pacifiers, the burgeoning subterranean scene proved a haven for the type of musical fusion Nayar was born into.
"Electronic music wasn't really my thing. I had heard Kelvin Singh and some other Asian music producers blending Indian classical music with electronic music . . . but I didn't really get it," he says. "Over a few years of going to lots of raves and experimenting, that whole world opened up to me and I saw how powerful it was."
The music could have been recorded, but there was something essential about being there, according to Nayar.
"It kind of reminded me of growing up when I was 14 or 15 and going to these shows downtown in Montreal where there was such a vibe and such an experience around the show. It was a whole experience, and going to a rave back in those days, the early days of raving in Canada was the same thing. So much attention was placed on the experience. The mix of people, the décor, the lighting, the imagery, the music, everything was so tastefully decided, and I think that was a big influence on me. Even now, when we put on shows, I think mostly about, 'What experience are we creating?' Not just about the music that we're playing but what we're leaving people with afterwards."
While many Delhi 2 Dublin songs are layered in vocals and instrumentation, the songs almost always start with Nayar designing a beat or a bass line.
"If that's catchy and if there's a vibe to it, then our singer Sanjay (Seran) will get inspired and start writing to it."
Turn Up the Stereo represents a marriage between Andrew Kim's guitar and sitar riffs, Nayar's rhythms, and Seran's melodies. However, the songwriting of new fiddle player Sara Fitzpatrick will likely be strongly features on the group's next album, according to Nayar.
The term fusion has defined the group, but for Nayar, their music is the logical extension of his upbringing.
"When I write music it automatically comes out that way because I've got one brown parent and one white parent and I think I've spent my whole life trying to bring those two worlds together somehow," Nayar says. "I tried to write 'normal' music. . . . I realized that my unique take on it is what I like to do, and so I shouldn't force myself to do things that I don't want to do."
Since forming after a one-night Celtic festival collaboration in 2006, the group has undertaken a rigorous touring schedule, which is a key part of the band's drive for constant evolution.
"We're playing 150 shows a year. You can't help but evolve and adapt . . . the essence of the song might be the same but the way you dress it up has to change because things change, and people's tastes are different now than they were even a couple years ago," he says. "We'd never want to make the same album twice."
Delhi 2 Dublin is part of a relatively new musical movement that attempts to transcend geography.
Even while touring and traveling, many bands and singers remain tied to a certain land, whether they favour Delta blues, New Orleans jazz, the British invasion, the glam rock of Hollywood, or the Seattle anthems of disenchantment dubbed grunge.
By marrying the music of India, Pakistan, and Ireland, Delhi 2 Dublin are from Vancouver, B.C. and everywhere else.
The group regularly crosses the country in a van with each member occupied by their own interests.
"Andrew Kim, our sitar player, is currently obsessed with Plants vs. Zombies, the iPhone game. Sarah watches movies in the back, Sanjay and Ravi spend most of their time driving or listening to music, and I usually am working on some weird track or polishing up the set on my laptop in the backseat," he says.
As a performance approaches, YouTube is a key resource for the group.
"Asian Dub Foundation has this recording on YouTube playing Fuji Rock (festival) and I know that our singer Sanj will watch that on repeat to get him stoked."
For Nayar, the song "Blind Faith" by Chase the Status is a frequent source of inspiration.
"Whenever I feel like I'm losing the vibe, I just watch that video and I'm like, 'That's the vibe. That energy that's happening there is what I want.'"
For the group, backstage is generally a place of quiet anticipation.
"Everyone just sort of stops talking, gets really quiet and almost melts into the sofa," Nayar says.
After dedicating their set to an influential band, the group takes the stage, frequently exhorting the crowd to dance, jump, and sing along.
"We really try to break down the barrier between the audience and the performer," Nayar says. "It's not just about sitting at the back of the room in the dark with your hands in your pockets watching some indie band do their thing. We really try to get everybody involved."
Maintaining harmonious relationships within the band are crucial, according to Nayar.
"It requires work. . . . Making the band chemistry the priority, because if we don't have that then we don't have anything."