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Spin it like Gouri

When an air hostess with spare time on her hands takes up DJing, what you get is a role model for little girls

Electronic music, EDM, turntablism and spinning, are all becoming familiar terms for music lovers. As one of the cultural hubs in the country, the national capital has seen the rise of many DJs and electronic music producers — the likes of DJ Nyk, DJ Sumit Sethi, Khushi Soni and more. These artists have been affiliated with Tiesto and LMFAO, while some have also been amongst the top 100 spinners in the world.

DJ Gouri, considered by many as the best female DJ in India, is a woman who wears many hats. She’s an air hostess by profession and a DJ on the side. Patriot caught up with her to find out what makes her tick, how she became a DJ, and all about her career in electronic music.

When did you start out with your spinning career?
I started out DJing almost four years ago.

So was it a childhood ambition?
Honestly, I never had an interest in music. Growing up, it was never something I actively thought about. You know, there are some things that you know you can do in life, and others that you know are out of your reach. Music was that for me, I didn’t’ ever think I would delve into it. That said, I do have a tendency to develop hobbies in phases. That’s how I got into DJing. I used to go to parties and events with my friends and I saw people spinning there. Some of my friends produced music too, so I figured I would just try it out. I bought a few instruments, I even got a tabla, and the electronic equipment, and I started mixing a few tracks.

So you never really had a background in music?
No, never. I will admit that I’ve always liked singing on my own, even though I’m terrible at it. Besides that, I was only ever interested in mainstream Bollywood and English songs. Genres and specific types of music was not something I concerned myself with early on. Only when I started getting a little good at it, and really enjoying it, did I develop more of a streamlined understanding of electronic music.

What kind of music would you say you lean towards when you play at gigs?
I never make a set. That is a rule I follow personally. Generally, DJs go to gigs with a prepared set. But I don’t like to do that. I always go to the venue. I start out with some light tech house to feel the mood, and then I just read the audience. You never know how the audience demand may shift in the middle of your set, and I like to flow with that. Constraining myself to a particular few numbers would not allow me to really work the crowd.

What does your family have to say about your alternative career path? Are they supportive?
They’ve been a combination of supportive and disapproving, actually. I’m from a very typical Punjabi family, I had moved here to Delhi for higher studies. Most of my family are engineers, doctors, government officials and such. I became an air hostess because I love flying, but also because it was something my family would be okay with. I started out with Kingfisher, where I flew the private charter, which gave me a lot of free time. So I’d pick up hobbies in that time. That was how DJing really came to be for me.

I’m the fourth of five children and I’ve always been very pampered and spoilt, so when I told my parents I wanted to dabble in spinning, initially they were shocked, and didn’t talk to me for a day. But afterwards they said, “Try it for a month or two, but then just give it up.” They were looking at it like an unseemly hobby.

After a couple of months, when I had realised how difficult it actually was, and was spending 10-12 hours practising every day, I knew I didn’t want to give it up. I was getting good at it, and making good money. So when my family saw how happy it made me, they let me keep at it. They are not happy about it, but they’ve learned to live with it.

Who have been your spinning idols, coming up in this profession?
Honestly, I didn’t really have any. Like I said, I was never invested in electronic music before I just decided to take it up as a hobby. But since then, I would have to say, Nucleya has always been an artist I’ve looked up to, as well as Chris Lake. My all-time favourite, regardless of genre and everything, has to be Sonu Nigam. Always.

What do you hope for in the future of electronic music in India?
First and foremost, I think respect is something that is seriously lacking in this field. The profession is not taken seriously, and mutual respect amongst spinners also needs to be there. My parents are quite indulgent, and they have made their peace with my job. But they still don’t really understand it. There seems to be exclusive respect for international music producers like Martin Garrix and Skrillex and David Guetta and the like. Big international names are booked for huge amounts of money, and the home talents that are growing right here in India are ignored.
And as for other DJs, they also have to respect one another. When I cannot make it to a gig because maybe I’ve already been booked for that date, I personally recommend other DJs to play at those venues — but even still some of my contemporaries will taunt me for my popularity and how much I charge for my gigs. They often have a mindset that dictates that a person cannot be a DJ but also be something else. I’m a cabin crew member at Air India, as well as a DJ. I love both jobs and am good at them. Why is there a problem with that?

Is there something most people misunderstand or don’t know about electronic music?
I think people here are almost over educated when it comes to music. I’ve seen two extremes — people are either completely ignorant and are only aware of the popular chart toppers, or they are extremely hyper-aware and in tune with genres and what they like. And we have to adapt as artists and provide what the audience is craving. DJs spin in party environments, even the concerts are like raging parties, so the music has to fit the mood. A couple of years ago, we had EDM (electronic dance music) everywhere. And now there’s so much fusion! You have R&B (rhythm and blues), hip-hop, trap, and all kinds of other genres in the tracks. So people know exactly what kind of music they want and where they want it.

What have been some of your most memorable experiences at gigs and why?
I think I have been absolutely blessed. I get to fly, which I love. I also get to spin. I have a supportive family that only wants me to be happy. I’m only four years into the profession and people are already coming up to me with gifts and presents and saying that they know DJ Gouri. It’s overwhelming. One time someone tried to give me a diamond set. But what was more endearing was this time when a couple parents came up to me with their 11-year-old daughter and said, “Our daughter loves you. She says she wants to be like DJ Gouri when she grows up.” I’m extremely happy in life. If I die tomorrow I’ll probably just walk up to God and give Him a big hug!