With its iconic location in the Himalayas and its rich Hindu tradition, Nepal may seem an unlikely place to spawn a revolution in contemporary music.
Yet in its capital city of Kathmandu, a thriving electronic music scene has emerged amid natural disasters and political upheaval.
Young Nepalese have embraced house, techno and bass-driven music. They are placing their stamp on a DIY music culture centered in the tourist area of Thamel.
Disaster Brings Strength
Local music leaders trace the growth of electronic music in Nepal to the turn of the millennium. The scene grew slowly at first.
Clubs dedicated one night per week to the dance music. Later, a few entrepreneurs dedicated venues to techno music. A series of festivals ignited the movement between 2007 and 2014.
Then, just as the scene was beginning to catch on, a 7.8 magnitude earthquake struck Nepal on 25 April, 2015. Along with a 7.5 magnitude aftershock two weeks after, the twin disasters killed 8,500 and injured 21,000 in Nepal.
For months after the earthquake, the music scene stagnated as the country struggled to recover. Yet amid the recovery, DJs began to perform and young people began to dance.
For the youth of Nepal, electronic music served as a sort of tonic for healing from the quake. It began with a series of informal gigs where DJs would gather with their fans.
Eventually, as Kathmandu rebuilt its small venues, cafes and bars, electronic music performers moved to rebuild their scene from the ground up.
Young DJs and performers began to share their music through performances, social media and podcasts. Their determination and innovation drew crowds and gave them a voice in Nepalese culture.
Artists such as Phatcowlee, the electronic music name of Rajan Shrestha, began to formally produce and release music.
In 2017, Phatcowlee’s first release, a four-track set called “Cinema,” met critical acclaim. Released on the Indian label Consolidate, the collection was hailed as a significant work and contribution from a Nepalese artist.
Music Across Cultures
This commitment to the music has begun to transcend long-held political and cultural barriers in the region.
With its longstanding commitment to peace, Nepal is a safe ground for artists from traditional adversaries India and Pakistan.
Local producers note that they frequently invite Indian and Pakistani artists to Nepal. There they create music and perform together in harmony.
Toward the Future Beyond Nepal
Nepalese DJs note that the scene must emerge beyond Kathmandu in order to take its place in the burgeoning South Asia region.
There are many positive signs. Artist YNZN P. recently performed on Boxout In Transit, a show Indian radio station boxout.fm.
The show was well-received, he says. It showcased Kathmandu not only as a hub of music but as a hub of tolerance and artistic freedom.
Nepalese artists see electronic music as the means to share their youthful energy with the world. And the world is beginning to pay attention.
Electronic Music Scene Flourishes in Nepal
HAMED WARDAK is Valen of Wicked and an electronic music producer