Charanjit Singh, Acid House Pioneer, Dead at 75
Charanjit Singh, a Bollywood composer and session musician that became an accidental pioneer in acid house music, passed away Sunday at his home in Mumbai, India. He was 75. The Wire reports that Singh died in his sleep.
In 1982, after decades working in Bollywood and releasing cover albums of popular Indian songs, Singh recorded his Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat, an LP that boasted many of the hallmarks of acid house while predating the outbreak of that genre by five years.
To craft his sound, Singh made innovative use of the Roland TB 303 bass synthesizer – an instrument regarded as the backbone of acid house – paired with another machine, the Roland TR 808, one of the earliest programmable drum machines. Armed with his two instruments, Singh used the 303 to pump out Indian ragas while employing the 808 to give those traditional melodies a more contemporary beat. From there, Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat was created.
“There was lots of disco music in films back in 1982,” Singh told The Guardian in 2011. “So I thought why not do something different using disco music only. I got an idea to play all the Indian ragas and give the beat a disco beat – and turn off the tabla. And I did it. And it turned out good.” However, upon release, Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat was a commercial failure. “It didn’t click,” Singh said. “It didn’t have any publicity. Only sometimes you could hear it on the All-Indian radio station, filling the gaps.”
However, five years later in 1987, the Chicago acid house trio Phuture released their classic “Acid Tracks,” catalyzing the acid house movement and firmly putting a name on the genre Singh accidentally helped create. While there was no connection between Singh and the Chicago scene that helped spread acid house, Singh was later regarded as an unintentional pioneer in a field that later bore acts like 808 State and Aphex Twin. (When Singh’s manager Rana Ghose played him Phuture’s “Acid Tracks” for the first time in 2010, Singh said that song was repetitive and lacked “variations,” Ghose wrote in The Quietus.)
After years in obscurity, Synthesizing: Ten Ragas to a Disco Beat was unearthed in 2002, and Singh finally received the fame and recognition that eluded him decades ago: He toured both sides of the Atlantic – his debut concert came in 2012 in Antwerp, Belgium – performing his now-classic LP, which was subsequently reissued. Singh also toured briefly with Das Racist’s Heems. At the time of his death, Singh was preparing for another concert in London and was also working on an album of world folk music.
“I might try my version of folk songs of the world, from Nairobi. Indian folk songs as well, of course,” Singh told Rolling Stone India in 2013. “I won’t leave the disco beat, because people like to dance, no?”