Electronic music

A kadhai of music

Meet India’s only techno-handpan artist, Mihir Chandan, who plays his set every week at a Mumbai restobar

Mihir Chandan felt it was almost natural to use the handpan to bring a strong flavor to the electronic genre. Photos/Satej Shinde

It was 7.30pm on a Thursday when this writer arrived at Silly in Khar for their weekly music night. In a restobar in the Bandra-Khar region, one expects an acoustic experience with a musician singing sweet love songs, guitar in hand. On the other hand, clubs tend to lean towards electronic dance music and can get crowded, with patrons coming just to dance.

Silly tries to find a balance. With a capacity of around 135 people, including 15 seated at the bar, owner Karan Nohria hopes customers will enjoy being able to walk around with their drinks, to the sound of music.

Their Silly Thursdays feature India’s finest handpan musician, Mihir Chandan. Chandan opened for German band Monolink, who are also electronic dance music producers, on their multi-city tour of India this year in April. This writer arrived early and could see the place fill and vibrate to the beat of Chandan’s fusion of soothing handpan and techno dance music.

The artist has been drumming for various rock bands since 2005. “I came across a handpan in London; a busker was playing it at Marble Arch. I was immediately drawn to its vibes,” he says. As it is a relatively new instrument played by very few people, Chandan is self-taught.

This writer knows a few people who play the handpan, but not most of Silly’s customers. At first glance, it looks like an upside-down “kadhai”. Chandan says most beginners are amazed by it. “People are more open than ever to new experiences,” he says. “Slowly and steadily the audience is growing and I’m happy to be a pioneer in creating this space.”

Getting your hands on the instrument can be tricky, says the Mumbai-based musician, as it is not readily available in the country and often has to be imported. The sound equipment needed to capture his mystical sound is a great experience. “I’ve used over 20-30 pickup designs, from condensers to dynamics and pickups, and I still feel like they don’t capture the essence,” Chandan says.

As a music producer too, he likes to experiment in the techno, house and folktronica space. “I love adding natural elements to electronic production,” he says. As a rhythmic and melodic instrument, infusing the handpan into electronic music felt most natural to him. “It also brings my music to a wider audience,” he says. “[It is] something like a mad scientist experimenting and discovering a breakthrough, as the aggressive sounds of electronic music and techno are balanced by the melodic sounds of the handpan.

WHAT: Silly Thursdays
WHERE: Silly, Khar
WHEN: Every Thursday, 8 p.m. to 10 p.m.