Crate-Digging for Indian Disco on the Streets of Calcutta

Every week or thereabouts, Mutant Dance Moves takes you to the shadowy corners of the dancefloor and the fringes of contemporary electronic music, where new strains and dance moves are evolving.

Earlier this year, Mutant Dance Moves took an extended vacation through India (so long in fact, that the editors at MTV Hive threatened to change the column name to “Beats, Pray, Love,” prompting a return flight). While there, I did what any music fan would do: I dug for music. And while there have been articles, charticles and listicles about the return of vinyl, the world’s second largest populace failed to get the notice. Ravi Shankar albums, Bollywood soundtracks, even ABBA albums, when they can be found, are generally coated with decades of exhaust dust, their sleeves eaten by mold. And yet a wealth of pop music riches still exist in India, a resource that Western music’s savviest music-makers continually mine for their own hits.

On the streets of Kolkata, I happened upon a lone stand stocked with moldering records, the shop’s emphasis being on drastically more popular items like lighters and Bob Marley t-shirts. And yet I need only flip past a few disintegrating copies of Concert for Bangladesh before happening upon some bizarre looking Bollywood soundtracks. One  that stood out featured a haphazardly-suited Creature From the Black Lagoon groping at polyester-clad disco-goers on a Bombay dancefloor. It was for a movie called Maut Ka Saya and featured a soundtrack by composer Bappi Lahiri.

At first glance, I would swear Lahiri was the Indian version of Ronnie Milsap or perhaps some sort of track-suited cat lady. But as the excellent Bollywood Bloodbath compilation from Finders Keepers/ B-Music makes clear, Lahiri is one of Bollywood’s most influential composers, scoring hundreds of films. He’s also widely hailed as the “Disco King,” the first Indian film composer to deploy out of the box drum machine dance beats and wheezing synthesizers in his compositions. Lahiri’s unhinged work for B-grade horror films appear often on this woolly disc.

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