a doorway to
a better ‘now’…
Thanks so much for taking the time to answer some questions about your musical path – and welcome to YogiTunes in your role as a DJ – we’re fortunate to have you on the team.
It’s a pleasure and an honour to join the roster!
We first met almost 25 years ago in Montreal and at the time you were running a DIY culture music magazine Trance 5000 and DJ’ing as part of an exciting and growing scene in the city. For someone who hasn’t been to Montreal can you say what makes it special?
I’d say it’s the unique intersection of two very different cultures: the French -which is more Latin and sensual, as in living through the senses and emotions- and the English -which is more politically correct, restrained and casual. On top of that, there’s a history of power dynamics, where the English were running things despite being a minority in the province until the French decided ‘enough was enough’ in the 70’s. Simultaneously, Quebec is an island of French in a sea of English (Canada and the US), and Montreal within Quebec is its own island (literally) that is much more cosmopolitan and bilingual than the rest of the province.
Most tourists head to the ‘Old Port’ by the water as it’s the historic section and the closest you can come (apart from Quebec city perhaps) to being in Europe in North America. So there is this sense of one section of the Country still being rooted to its origins in France, and fighting for linguistic and cultural justice. I think this gives Montreal its unique flavour and joie de vivre. We notice differences more easily and remain open to harmonizing with those differences or trying to equalize them. You can also have a lot of fun feeling like your traveling all the time :). The mountain in the middle of the city really helps too. And what most artists think of when they think of Montreal is really the Plateau, an artsy bubble/district near the mountain.
Now you’re living in the Laurentian mountains to the north of the city, which seems like a great combination of environment and community – what music events go on in your area?
I feel blessed to be here. Nature’s increasingly important to me, and there’s an abundance of it up here. It’s only 1 hour from the city, so there’s lots of opportunities for back and forth journeys for cultural events that take place in Montreal, but I would never return to the city to live. You simply couldn’t pay me enough to do that at this point! Every moment I spend up hear, the sky is clearer and nearer, the air is cleaner and the smell’s of nature are present; mountains surround and protect the land, the waters flow clearly, and plants and animals are all around. People are smiling, friendly, happy and have time to stop and chat. There’s also a ton of cultural activities. It’s a place that has a tradition for holding cultural events, going all the way back to the 60’s and 70’s.
One any given night, there’s something happening musically in one of the two main spots in town; usually it’s more folk or world, but still loads of fun. On Sundays there’s a very popular Kirtan singing event. On Fridays, the weekly ecstatic dance (with various local DJs) take place and it’s always full and fabulous. Once every three months, we host the Northern Flow event that’s in a bigger venue (the local chapel); Adham Shaik and DreamTree Project had a great gig there; it’s a really community gathering with inspiring dancing, great snacks, live music and it doesn’t end too late so you’re not wrecked the next day. Kids are running around like crazy until the opening circle, then the dancing gets deep and juicy.
There’s also private summer festivals that people hold on their land. I’ll be playing some of those this year and really looking forward to it. Camping, swimming, and boogying into the wee hours of the night outdoors under the stars.
Finally, there are workshop type events held in the home of the organizers of the incredible Open Mind festival, who happen to live up here. They had Peia in March, and are planning on bring in Shimshai in the fall for music and singing workshops along with cacao ceremonies, just to give you an idea…
When in Montreal you were a DJ for Wanderlust – can you tell us a bit about this? How did you get into playing music alongside Yoga?
I’ve been one of the resident DJs for Wanderlust for a few years. I play less now that I’m out of the city but still get in gigs here and there and always enjoy it. I got into it thanks to a singer I was collaborating with called Ina Filip. We were working on a live project for the closing ceremony of the Open Mind festival and she was already on the Wanderlust roster. I remember seeing one of their posters on the street as I drove by. It had iconic 60’s pastel colours and a slogan that said (in French): “Yoga First, Music Always” (or something like that)…and I said to myself: I’m going to play there. And I did. Ina got me in for some live gigs with her and from there I just started playing for their parties as well as weekly yoga classes.
When you’re playing music for a yoga class how can you tell when your musical flow is working, and what advice can you give to teachers looking to create their own musical journeys to teach with?
I tailor my sets based on who’ll be teaching the class. If it’s the owner, I know he loves housey stuff (Acid Pauli, Nu, that kind of thing), and isn’t too big on ‘Indo’ sounds. Other teachers dig DJ Drez, or maybe more world beat sounds. Regardless, I always create an arc that follows the curve of a sine wave, from zero, to peak, and back to zero (Shivanasa)
It starts with setting up my DJ set up as efficiently and early as possible, to avoid stress. Then tuning into the space and room and emptying my mind, and setting an intention to be of the highest service possible. Students need to feel that calm as they’re getting ready for their practice. The music should be absolutely chill and resonating and setting the mood for what’s to come. Once the class starts, I have a series of decisions to make. I have multiple playlists, including what I feel might work today, but the reality is, I chose moment to moment, corresponding to where the teacher and student is in their practice. They need to warm up first, so not too fast and keep it grounding. And I go song by song, knowing (based on experience and ‘feeling’) what is most likely to work together.
It can happen that I might chose a track that I feel after, in the moment, is less than ideal, in which case I will try to mix into another one as soon as conveniently possible. We should strive for perfection, but never be phased if we waver from it, even for a moment. Same thing for the student’s practice. If they fall out of a pose, they just get back into it.
To answer your question, you know when it’s working because you’re not struggling to find the next track. You know what it needs to be and that it will fit perfectly. Its like all resistance is gone, and you can feel the students riding the wave that’s being created by them collectively in the class through the teacher and the music. You know you’ve done your job when at least one student comes up to you at the end of the class to profoundly thank you for sharing your music with them.
What should people include and what type of sounds are most distracting?
All the teachers tell me the same thing: lyrics are ok from time to time, especially if they’re in another language (Sanskrit etc.), but if there’s English lyrics, it should be rarely, and it’s best when it’s a male vocalist if it’s a female teacher. Having two female voices at the same time can be potentially confusing for the teachers and the students. Wanderlust instructors use headsets that pipe their voice into the same speakers the music is coming from. So instrumental tracks, with a bit of mantras are ideal in my opinion. As much as you might love “MC Yoga Rap Master and Friends”, according to the teachers, that is not what they want as content for their classes, other than sparingly. I just made that name up so don’t look for it (it doesn’t exist) 😉
The essential sounds include: Tibetan bowls, percussion instruments, acoustic guitars, pads, natural sounding drums that groove, natural sounding bass lines, violins or cello, piano, and so on, along with occasional nature sounds. I also enjoy what the electronic touch brings: sub bass, drum programming, etc, but I avoid repetitive / overly synthetic sounds. I treasure deep, flowing sounds, tribal sounds, reggae/dub references, fun sounds like tropical house and the occasional joyous vocal.
From your perspective what elements does a good yoga teacher bring to their classes?
There has to be an element of ‘we’re all in it together’. That can be accomplished by adding a ‘fun’ factor; or a mission statement (your intention for your practice). Also, including personal instructions to specific students on top of the group guidance, not overly talking, showing clearly with their bodies while explaining when possible, and holding a clear space for the opening and closing Om.
In 2005 you put together a compilation for Interchill Records called Gathering the Tribe, choosing tracks from such luminaries as Hamsa Lila, Kaya Project and Adham Shaikh among others. Looking back now your selections and vibe were and are totally on point, and a number of the artists involved are at the forefront of the sounds we dig here right now – can you suggest some artists or releases at YogiTunes for people to check into?
How much time do you have? Because I could go on and on…Man, there’s some amazing music on here; too much for any one individual to ever explore in a lifetime I would say. I gravitate towards the ones I already know and love for the most part simply because it’s that much easier for me to put them together. Also, at Wanderlust (at least in Montreal), DJ Drez and Polish Ambassador are the kings and you’ve got tons of their stuff.
“Must” artists for me – a good starting point – include:
- DJ Drez
- Polish Ambassador (and all Jumpsuit records releases)
- Shaman’s Dream
- Liquid Bloom
- EarthRise SoundSystem
- Kaya Project
- Ben Leinbach
- ‘The Sun’ by B-Tribe: A remix of the “Sun is Shining” by Bob Marley, tastefully done.
- ‘Angel’s Breath‘ by Benjy Wertheimer: Gorgeous acoustic shivasana style music with harp and Indo string instruments.
- ‘Be the Change’ by Willies Electronic Bliss Mix Instrumental: Good Kygo style vibes. Do not underestimate the power of ‘poppy’ music to bring a feel good element to a class. The students need some ear candy when they’re sweating!
- ‘inside India’ by DJ Drez: Right in the pocket with grooving drums, humming pads, and waves of dubbed out sounds and mantras.
- ‘Infinity‘ by Willy Porter: Acoustic guitar and straight up vocal style warm down.
- ‘Place Among the Stones‘ by Gary Stroutsos: I’m a big fan of Glen Velez and John de Kadt frame drum playing, but don’t have the occasion to fit their music into yoga classes too often. Gary Stroutsos fits the bill a bit better it seems and keeps that shamanic, acoustic feel, along with his magic flute.
- For guitar jam stuff, I enjoy Stevin McNamara and others…
You were a DJ for a number of years before making the move into producing your own music – what inspired you to try your hand at it, and what advice would you have for anyone with that creative spark?
Don’t do it (joking!). Seriously, it’s a ton of work; work mostly done on the computer. There’s a serious disconnect between the technical side and the creative side. And the technical side must be mastered in order to faithfully reproduce everything you’re hearing in your head. So my advice would be: You have to know why you want to do it, and have to want it more than anything, because it requires your utmost commitment in order to have even a chance of being successful and satisfying.
Going back to DJ’ing you play often at ecstatic dance gatherings, do you find the people more open than your average nightclub or festival dance floor? Do you ever find yourself wanting to be back in the old days in some dark Berlin techno club or a packed and slamming Brooklyn warehouse?
‘Open’ is a relative term. Everyone is pushing their own envelope to the best of their ability. If they’re really hungry to discover more opportunities for ‘openness’ I believe that life will put those opportunities on their path. So I don’t bother comparing one scene with the other, to be honest. And ultimately, what matters is walking your walk outside of the mat/dance-floor. But to answer your question: I do not crave a sweaty underground techno club event or gig because I am fully satisfied; there is a freedom of movement and interaction that is intoxicating in ecstatic dance. You can find similar vibes in some clubs, but I prefer the ‘no shoes, no smoke, no alcohol’ context.
Please finish the following sentence: Music is….
…a doorway to a better ‘now’.
Musically what do you have coming up this summer? What is on the horizon that excites you?
I’ll be playing some giant yoga type events, doing a rootsy live (“Mountain Way”) for a herbal centre, some private festivals, some bigger underground music festivals, some more folk type festivals…I’m also running a weekly ecstatic dance night. I only take on gigs that excite me at this point, as I’m a fairly versatile DJ and it’s so much work to prepare when you play multiple styles. That’s my rule of thumb: it has to excite me! Anyone curious to know more, feel free to check out my website: DJNeerav.com
We’re looking forward to enjoying some of your playlists and mixes here at YogiTunes – can you give us an idea of what you are working on and any particular situations you’re looking forward to create mixes for?
Thanks…it’s a fun challenge, as I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and there’s so much music to choose from. I’ve been asked to do a Yoga mix first. Once that’s done I’m eager to do an Ecstatic Dance mix, and then something more ceremonial and shamanic. Stay tuned; there’s plenty of good music to come!
About DJ Neerav:
With over 25 years of experience in the global music movement, DJ Neerav is one of the founding fathers of Montreal’s burgeoning scene, having come up with the likes of Tiga, Andrew Interchill and DJ Champion. His love and passion for music have taken him across the planet in search of the perfect groove. He’s headlined at major festivals the world over alongside Simon Posford (Sphongle/Hallucinogen), Ott, and other top artists as well as playing the ambient stages, and is known for his ability to tune into the dance-floor and deliver ‘the vibe’.
DJ Neerav has extensive record label experience, representing Interchill Records on the East Coast as a label DJ and releasing CD compilations. He’s also the man behind Canada’s original electronic music magazine ‘Trance 5000’.
In his sets he enjoys bringing a blend of sacred and playful world influences, and creating a space where people can explore total freedom of movement and expression through dance. Neerav greatly enjoys supporting the local and international scene through his musical experience: he’s a resident DJ at Wanderlust Yoga Studio in Montreal and Flow ecstatic dance events throughout Quebec, and has now added weddings and corporate events to his repertoire.
-July 28: Wanderlust Yoga studio, Montreal, Quebec, Friday 6 pm
-August 3: Baril Roulant (resto/auberge) “Pianocktail”, Val David, Quebec
-August 5: Widewood festival, Shawinigan, Quebec
-August 12: Lole White Tour (with Ina Filip & Annie Langlois), Montreal, Quebec
-August 18-22: Dance New England, Massachusetts, USA
-September 2: Festi-Herbes de L’Herbotheque, Lantier, Quebec (tribal live fusion roots with Mountain Way & DJ Neerav)
-September 7: Baril Roulant (resto/auberge) “Pianocktail”, Val David, Quebec