The perceptual phenomenon in which one sees colors in music is a form of what is called “synesthesia”. This rare condition is what gave me the idea to embark on a mission to showcase people of color in the music scene, in hopes to educate, inspire, and increase their visibility in an otherwise homogenized industry. We previously featured Atlanta’s Black Carl! Next up: Oni!
Arnab Nandi, who performs under the alias ‘Oni‘, is a multifaceted bass producer with an innate ear for composition and range beyond his years. The 26-year-old Philadelphian let us query him about everything from music production to mental health. Check it out below and be sure to check out the exclusive mix he did for us after the jump!
The Wook of Wall Street: What did you listen to before you got into EDM? What was the music scene like growing up in Malvern?
ONI: The “cool” thing was jam music. Specifically Phish and The Grateful Dead. At first I was only listening to these things because I wanted to fit in, but at some point I actually really fell in love with the music. Phish was my favorite band for a very long time (I still love them to this day).
I was actually playing the drums from 6th to 12th grade, but I wasn’t very good. It was in 10th grade that I realized – If I was going to love Phish, then I should be able to play their music. This was when I started to take music more seriously and both work at it while enjoying it. Phish was also my first ever concert, and made me fall in love with live music.
TWOW: So as a guy who grew playing jam music, what made you want to transition to producing as an electronic artist?
ONI: Deadmau5 was the first ever producer I really started listening to. I had heard things like Daft Punk before, but it didn’t really register to me that this music was produced. I started on a house music binge in 2010 (the year I graduated high school) which eventually led me to Dubstep in later that year. Dubstep was really what pushed me to think “you can make music like this??” Specifically, I’d heard the song ‘Gamma Ray Burst’ by Downlink. Other artists that inspired me at the time were Excision, Datsik (RIP), Bassnectar, etc.
I think a lot of DJs/producers go through this too – where you’re at a DJ set/show and you feel inspired. Like, “that could be me up there.” But even knowing all this, it still didn’t seem like something I could commit to full-time. There was one night in early 2011 where I was reading Rusko’s Wikipedia and stumbled across the fact that he had graduated with a degree in music production. I was shocked that this was even an option, especially because I’d been struggling to find a focus in my own education. So all of this was the culmination of things that led me to start producing around May of 2011.
TWOW: So wait, you went to college for music production as well? Or did you just start teaching yourself?
ONI: A little of both. At first there were a lot of Youtube videos, but I started applying to music and music production programs. I was at Drexel for a few years, originally in Computer Engineering, which I found was NOT what I wanted to do for the rest of my life. I eventually entered into Temple University’s music program, spending roughly two years learning music theory, singing, music history, etc. I got to a point though where I realized that I needed to work on my technical skills in production, so I switched my major to Media Studies & Production with a focus in Audio (basically audio engineering).
TWOW: What gear/software did you use to create music when you were starting out? If you’ve upgraded since then, what do you use now?
ONI: Haha oh man. The very first software I ever used was Virtual DJ in May 2011. If you’re not familiar, VDJ is some super shitty free DJ software. I was taking songs and making mashups, releasing them every week. In June 2011, I started using Fruity Loops 10, and a year later I got the plugin ‘Massive.’ This was my comfort zone up until 2016. I essentially found that I had gotten too comfortable and I wasn’t pushing the boundaries of my own music, so I needed some change. I got a new laptop at the beginning of 2017, got Ableton 9.5, and started using the plugin ‘Serum,’ Which has been the basis for everything I’ve released from 2018-2019.
TWOW: While listening to your mix, I was very impressed with the diversity of tracks in your repertoire & how well you execute each genre. It feels very effortless. That’s not something that many can pull off. What do you attribute that to?
ONI: For me, I’ve always had a really good ear. I’d gotten this from my mom, who had played piano since she was a child. So the writing of my music is usually the part I excel at. When I first started producing music, I was inspired by so many different artists/genres, that I wanted to produce them all (like Skrillex or Kill The Noise). For a long time, I mostly identified with Dubstep, but my production was all over the place. This was both a blessing and a curse. It’s really great to produce at all different tempos, but it can make DJ sets and getting booked for shows difficult. Especially because it takes me a long time to finish a track.
I remember back in 2017 I asked to open for a Drum & Bass show, but when the promoter looked at my SoundCloud he only saw House tracks. It was then that I’d realized I’d boxed myself out of the shows I wanted to play. So I decided that I wanted to focus my music around 170-180 BPM, as this is an area that really interests me. There were many reasons for this decision. I really love this tempo because there’s a ton of diversity in what you can make/play. There’s Drum & Bass as well as Dubstep like Halftime and Trap Halftime. This makes producing and DJing at this tempo really fun and versatile. Another reason is that Dubstep is VERY saturated in Philadelphia, so I always felt like I was being compared to or competing against other artists when I was making Dubstep.
Switching to this newer tempo allowed me to feel more freedom in what I was doing. In my mix, the first 20 or so minutes is a lot the music I’ve been working on the past two years; but, from about 20 to 45 minutes, I take a journey and look back into some of my older music that led me to where I am. Even though I don’t quite make or listen to some of those genres any more (such as House or Moombahton), I still love and appreciate all the work I’ve done in those earlier years.
TWOW: I love that you rinsed out the archives for us. It was nice to hear the origins of Oni. Often producers tend to bury their older work away in the closet. I think a lot of artists struggle with being their own worst critic. What’s something you struggled with as an artist and how did you overcome it?
ONI: There’s a few things I can answer this question with. The first was getting too comfortable with the hardware/software that I’d mentioned before. This is something particularly important as I realized that one of the greatest parts about music production is that the hardware/software is always advancing, so it’s necessary to keep up. On a related note, the technical side of production is something I really struggled with (as do many producers). It took at least 10 explanations of a compressor over the course of 4 years to fully understand what it does and how to use it.
The big one though, EGO. I made one fire dubstep track in 2012 (not in quality, but ideas) and I thought I was HOT SHIT. I would always talk myself up, and then was faced with something I didn’t know, which would lead to that awkward “eeeuuhh ahhh ummm” moment. Eventually I realized that music production, among many other disciplines, will always be a learning and growth experience, no matter what level of skill you’re at. I had to get over myself to recognize my own shortcomings. It was only then that I was able to work on my weaknesses and become a stronger producer.
TWOW: Do you ever have days where you’re just not in a good headspace? Where you just feel like you’re not good enough? Or that you should give up on your project? How do you navigate that? What does self-care consist of for Oni?
ONI: I’ve never quite felt like I wasn’t good enough or that I should give up. This is because of my own confidence in myself. But I’ve got a good self-care routine. The important part about this is that everyone is different in their process, so something that works for me may not necessarily work for someone else. Some people can bust out tracks everyday no problem. But for me, the big secret is that I actually just give myself a break from working on music to let my mind rest a bit. I have a certain pace I work at which is (in retrospect) kind of slow, so there are times like when I’m working under a deadline that I’m really using a lot of my creative juices over a shorter period of time. It’s usually after these deadlines that I give myself a week or two to just chill and play some video games.
It may sound lackadaisical, but applying this process over the last two years or so has helped me put out more music now than any years before 2018. I guess the big distinction is that there are times when I do want to produce music and there are times when I don’t; so unless there’s a specific deadline, I do as I feel. Another reason why I’ve had the confidence to keep producing music is because of the SUPER supportive group of friends I have. I honestly wouldn’t be where I’m at without them.
TWOW: Who are some of your favorite (smaller) producers right now & who is your dream collab?
ONI: I’ve been loving Chee and Shield for the past few years, so I was flabbergasted to learn that Chee had moved to Philadelphia. Keota has also been a producer I’ve been obsessing over recently, so you can imagine how excited I am to open for both of them later this month. My favorite/most inspirational artists are Noisia, KOAN Sound, and Culprate, so collabing with any of them is a dream for sure.
TWOW: What’s on the horizon for Oni? Can we expect an album/EP soon?
ONI: Recently, I’ve been in talks with my close friends Nathaniel Kosko and Jesse Babini who are the creators and owners of a record label called Jadu Dala. They push a lot of great music and have had their releases played out by BBC, Bassnectar, Porter Robinson, and many more great artists/outlets. They have expressed to me about how they want to push my music, specifically Drum & Bass, which is a really amazing opportunity considering how large their audience is. Unfortunately Jadu doesn’t do EP/album releases, so there will be a lot of singles coming up – but that’s OK with me because of how long it takes me to finish a track.
There’s also a new record label I’m going to be starting with one of my best friends, graphic designer Ben Berry. We’ve been talking about this for a very long time and are excited to start making some serious moves on this later this year. The label will primarily focus on releasing Drum & Bass music with a little bit of Halftime, as we feel that this is something the United States could really use more of.
Also, about a month or two ago, I finally got a chance to sit down and show my music to Keith Wadsworth of Wax Future. I was really happy to see how much he was enjoying what I’d made, and was shocked when he insisted on sitting in on a track with me! So towards the later half of the summer, I’m going to be working with him on a Drum & Bass track which I’m really excited about.
TWOW: What advice would you give to aspiring producers looking to follow their dreams?
ONI: I have thought about this a lot over the past few years. A lot of what I’m about to say is related to some of the things I’ve mentioned. The biggest piece of advice is to make sure not to compare yourself to other artists. Everyone is different in their process and journey. You can have someone who has only been producing for two years be a better and/or more successful producer than someone who has been producing for 10 years – and that’s OK. It’s not about what other people are doing, it’s about what you’re doing.
Another piece of advice is to keep up with the technology because it’s always advancing. It’s very easy to get too comfortable with your hardware/software and fall behind. Also, recognize your own shortcomings/weaknesses. Once you’ve accepted what you need to work on, you’ll be able to improve your skills. Another thing is that people won’t just listen to your music because you uploaded it to a platform. Often you have to put your music in front of people’s faces for them to check it out. This isn’t always a fun part of being an artist, but it is necessary.
I know for me, I have to post a track on FB, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat just so all of my friends and followers will see it. Each of those platforms will only have a small group of people that will see the track, so posting on all of these platforms can assure that a wider group of people overall have seen what I’ve done. And lastly, this is related to the first thing, support each other! It’s really hard to get music out there and have people believe in you, so it’s important that we lift each other up. I think this really negates ill feelings of wanting to give up on music, and instead inspires us to keep going.♦︎
FOLLOW ONI: FACEBOOK | SOUNDCLOUD
Catch Oni performing live on Saturday, June 29th!