East meets West. Sonny JI, Bangra House extraordinaire.
Over the last ten years, Sonny Ji has taken himself from his debut club gig with Birmingham’s Shaanti club night, to festivals in Poland, on-stage at the Glastonbury Festival, Godskitchen and recently his own radio show on the BBC Asiannetwork. Moving increasingly into the production arena, Sonny is a fella with an all-consuming passion for music. He is deep. He is dark. He is dirty. But, nestling comfortably alongside the gritty edge to his music lies a more soulful, funk-led nature. He is the duality of man made flesh on the decks. Sounds like a load of bollocks? You better listen, then.
Born in 1980, Birmingham. He grew up listening to Bhangra and Bollywood, like most Indian households there was no getting away from it. But you can’t ignore mainstream music when you’re growing up in England, whichever culture you might be from. His tastes grew over the years, covering such diverse ground as Radiohead, The Prodigy, The Chemical Brothers, even Queen.
The turning point – the crux of Sonny’s future direction – came at the tender age of 18. Does he buy a guitar? Or does he “invest” in a pair of Technics 1210s and a mixer? Choosing the latter Sonny threw himself into the art of DJ’ing and practiced tirelessly in his bedroom. His choice of vinyl was always House music. He felt drawn to it since his early teens. At the Same time he set up a DJ roadshow with a friend of his to play Bhangra music at parties up and down the U.K. This way he fuelled both passions for a favourite genre’s of music.
It wasn’t long before his hidden passion for DJ’ing became a reality on the club circuit. In February 2000, Sonny was asked to play a set at Shaanti, Birmingham’s innovative and award-winning Asian club night. Despite the sub-continental feel to the better part of the night, Sonny insisted on doing what he wanted, which was to play a straight house set. At that time he chose to leave Bhangra music to one side for all output on the club circuit.
In the summer of 2000, Sonny made the first of many visits to Ibiza. His ordeal-by-fire took in such dance music luminaries as Derrick Carter, Danny Tenaglia and Frankie Knuckles – When Sonny saw the way the crowd reacted to their spinning, twiddling, filtering and dropping…it only served to reaffirm his musical direction. On his return from The White Isle, Sonny continued to drop house bombs on a crowd more used to sitar; soaring strings; orchestral manoeuvres; tabla beats. His style of house went down a storm. In October 2000, Sonny Ji was made Shaanti resident.
With Shaanti, he played his first overseas gig in October 2002, after just two years as resident. Sonny had agonised over what to do to make this – his first international club set – something very special. He loved house music, but surely Poland had house music DJs already? He set his mind to the task, racking his brains for that twist, the extra-sauce, the secret-recipe that would make him stand head and shoulders above the rest.
His mind went back to his early DJing days. Digging out his old Bollywood and his classic Bhangra, he recorded and looped, filtered and twisted the sounds of his childhood and slapped them up hard against the soundtrack to his adulthood. Bhangra house was born, and Poland was going to get the first taste of it. Playing the three dates in Lublin, Sopot and Warsaw, Sonny wowed the assembled masses as they took top this new sound. Since that first visit to Poland, Sonny went back solo and at times alongside other DJ’s such as Bobby Friction & Dr Zeus.
Sonny’s set at Shaanti in November 2002 marked a watershed point – He had gone and developed his own, fresh style. This style of DJ’ing had never been done in this way, he created a niche for himself. Cutting & looping Bhangra tracks over house beats to create a totally fresh sound. Sonny returned from Poland reinvigorated, and couldn’t wait to drop his new magic over his home crowd. He had done something very special – he’d taken overtly Western and patently Eastern sounds, smashed them together and made it work.
Regulars may have loved his house sets of the previous years, but this was something really very tasty indeed: the sound of their own culture, seamlessly blended into a modern, British context. The Shaanti crowd loved Bhangra house. This gave Sonny Ji a certain amount of notoriety in the Asian underground & Bhangra scene. So much so he was voted Best Underground DJ 2003 by Realbhangra.com readers.
British-Asian event promoters BrAsian Media got involved with the Lost Vagueness arena at Glastonbury in 2005, and asked Sonny to play on the Drift Stage. This was a fantastic opportunity to take his sound and rock a crowd of 3000. Sonny has also played alongside the likes of Talvin Singh, Nitin Sawhney, Robert Miles, MIDIval PunditZ, Panjabi MC, Bobby Friction.
Having made the conscious decision to move on from Shaanti after five fantastic years, He Dj’d at and promoted his own club night, MishMash (2005) at the Boiler Room in Birmingham. This was a night of a night of broken beats and jackin house accompanied by the sounds of live tabla.(Winner of Top Five Nights in the Midlands – Mixmag).
At the beginning of 2006, he decided to get back to his roots and booked a trip to India. The trip became a journey, with him sucking in as much musical experimentation as he could. While over there he DJ’d Ten Downing Street in Vizag, and also Bottles And Chimneys nightclub in Hyderabad.
May 2007 Sonny Ji entered and won a nationwide competition to pay alongside Eric Prydz at Godskitchen, where he played a electro-tech house set.
June 2007 saw Sonny secure his weekly show on the BBC Asiannetwork. Called “The Bhangra Mixtape” and it goes out every Saturday from 8-10pm.
It’s 2 hour non stop mix show where you can hear Sonny flex his unique mixing skills to take Bhangra on a journey via Hip Hop, House, Breaks, Drum & Bass, Funk and everything in between. His aim is to take this his sound to a wider audience in the U.K. & abroad and have people see British Asian music in another light. To create a bridge between two cultures, East & West coming together via the dancefloor.