Friday, July 23, 2010

EXCLUSIVE: Interview with RJ/DJ/MC/VJ hipster Rohit Barker

My first party in Bangalore after returning from studying in Los Angeles was a Rohit Barker gig. I vaguely remember seeing him on Channel V during my childhood, but thanks to being brought up in boarding school, TV was pretty much a minimum back then.  At the time, I was depressed at the lack of genre specific music in Bangalore compared to the US and was quite skeptical about a TV host DJing a night. Much to my surprise his music comprised of jacking quality house music and more importantly, the crowd were responding to it like madmen.  Hope was instilled.

Within no time, I would regularly catch him on India's first all english station, Radio Indigo, as he kept me company on my way back from work. Energy always high, never worried to poke fun at important people or himself, a playlist which was tailormade for the city of Bangalore, crackpot discussion topics ranging from his vast shoe collection to his utter disdain for Celine Dion - this RJ had character, for the first time, I would look more forward to the jock talk than the actual music.

Listening to Radio Indigo in general pushed me to follow a career in radio, very clearly wanting to work behind the scenes. Was put in charge of producing Rohit's daily show (among other things) and I must say the experience was an interesting one. He pushed me hard and showed me the way with his very clear understanding of what engaging content is - when his show would be drowned in sales talk, he'd lose his mind and fight the man. Highlights included getting a call from some very angry authorities after we impersonated the so called ghost that was haunting Bangalore's faraway new airport. Telling our listeners it would probably be safer and less time consuming to take a train hahaha. His mantra of 'radio should be fun,' was layered all over the station and it really showed in Cruise Control. I have also followed a lot of his DJ gigs - what sticks out besides the wide spectrum of uplifting bouncy house, mixed with the in your face attitude; dude always had the hottest women in the city attending his gigs. A real ladies' man he is, with a massive fan following.

It's thoroughly impressive how he's managed to get his personality out there on all fronts and with a bang - radio, TV, events, clubs... This is someone special, with a talent to consistently grow on you, put a smile on your face and get you dancing. More to the point after a decade of working radio in India, much of his career ruling the evening drive-time airwaves in Bangalore, he's very much a legend... with some very interesting things to say about the industry and his city.

In an exclusive interview with YHIHF, Bangalore hipster Rohit Barker talks about his home town and childhood, his relationship with India's first all english radio station - Indigo, censorship laws, the difference between interviewing a rap star and Keith Richards, the curfew that currently plagues Bangalore and much more.

In a nutshell, who is Rohit Barker?
I'm a slightly bent individual... nothing dangerous though, just your basic garden variety. I love the entertainment industry with a vengeance and love the fact that mostly everything I do has music in it.

Through your life, who and what have been your main sources of inspiration?
With radio I can safely say that Howard Stern has been a big influence. Although I seriously doubt this country and especially this city (Bangalore) will ever be ready for a shock jock. Another big influence in radio has been a gentleman named John Catlett. He set up Radio City in India and has been in the radio game for 60 years. He started Radio Caroline the world's first pirate station and was instrumental in hiring Howard Stern as well.

As far as my DJing goes my biggest inspiration is Ivan. And Nikhil Chinapa was the one who gave me the final push to actually start. As far as the entire entertainment industry goes, I think my biggest inspiration has to be Jenna Jameson... kidding.

Tell us about your childhood, what was it like growing up in Bangalore?
I was a rebel as a teenager. Got into my fair share of fights and trouble. Well to be honest I got into my fair share, your fair share and the neighborhood's fair share, as well. Mental times and late nights through my final years of school into college. Then in my second year of college, Channel V came calling and I moved to Mumbai and well that's another kettle of fish.

RJ, VJ, DJ, MC - these are all the jobs you've had through your career, what is your favourite role?
That's a hard question. I've loved them all. They all have their ups and downs. Right now, I would have to say being a DJ is on top of the heap. I love that audiences in Bangalore and India, we're very very aware of dance music now. And I love that the hottest spot for any DJ anywhere in the world right now is here.

Have you ever worked a normal 9-5 job?
Never, would you believe. I consider myself blessed. Ever since I started working, music has been at the centre of it all and I hope it stays that way till I'm pushing daisies.

Tell us about Radio Indigo and your relationship with the station... you've been an RJ with them for almost 5 years now, namely working on the daily evening drive time show, Cruise Control.
Radio Indigo has been incredible. To be part of the core group that started the country's first english radio station was a career high. From there to be able to work with some very interesting people, to be able to break new music and basically do new things within radio was nothing short of surreal. Most importantly to know that Bangalore has a very educated audience for english music and loves it like no one else in the country makes me very proud to be Bangalorean.

Why did you finally decide to call it quits on Cruise Control?
After three years of seven day weeks, doing seven radio shows a week and three ground events as a DJ a week and traveling to two cities a week, I just didn't have any time to breathe. I wanted to step back a bit and that's why I stopped doing a daily show on Radio Indigo.

Give us the low down on your new weekend show, The Bangalore Hot 40? What's it all about, what time can we catch it?
It's a Top 40 format show as the name suggests. It's the 40 hottest tunes in Banglaore every week. It airs every Sunday from 3PM-7PM. Besides the countdown, I have celebrity guests such as Deepika Padukone, Amir Khan, Puneet Rajkumar and many many more coming onto the show every week. Plus we have exclusive sound bites from all the big names in the music industry. So it's pretty much a packed fast paced show.

What was your reaction when 99% of radio stations in India decided to completely drop English content and just stick with local languages and music?
Well sadly, in India radio has to be a business and cannot be a passion. With the license fees, the royalty fees etc being insanely high, the industry has no choice but to play music that is mass based. Another sad thing is you're not allowed to have multiple stations in India. For instance a radio station in India can't have a Kannada feed, a Hindi feed and an English feed. I'm hoping that all changes soon. But considering our politicians I'm not holding my breath.

In your opinion, how would you describe the state of radio in India... for one thing, how do you deal with the harsh censorship laws in radio? Essentially, how can radio content be edgy and interesting, when it is against the law to talk politics, sex and religion on air? You don't have half the freedom you have with TV, in radio, why?
Well first of, freedom of speech in India is a joke. It doesn't exist. Couple that with politicians who should be squatting in a field somewhere and voila you have the state of affairs we have now. Another factor is that radio is in its infancy in India. Radio in the US is nearly a 100 years old. In the UK close to 60. Here it is not even a decade old. Let's see how things pan out in the future.

With hindsight and a lot of experience working with India's first all-english FM station, how viable and lucrative do you think it is to start an all-english radio station in India? Do the numbers and sales reflect?
I honest to god don't just think but know that english radio in India can be viable and lucrative. You just need to get the corporate dead heads to butt out and let the creative people run things for a while. That way you get people hooked onto great content as well as good music.

Speaking of numbers, could you comment on the way radio listenership is determined in the industry? I remember the method in which the metrics are collected having several flaws during my time in Radio Indigo.
Well to be honest I really don't know what the numbers are at the moment and I really don't care. I do radio for the love of radio and music. I've never strayed into the whole numbers/sales game and never will. There are more than enough suit and tie types crunching numbers. :)

Satellite radio has pretty much died in this country, while slowly but surely Indian online radio stations are coming up with a vengeance - is there a future left for FM radio in a time when the digital revolution is taking the world by storm?
How radio is carried to you never really counted. Whether it was conventional FM, or satellite radio or over the internet or carrier pigeon. What does matter is whether it's a good radio station or not. Everyone has access to the music. Not everyone has access to the on air talent. As soon as the industry here matures a bit and gets more competitive your gonna see talent shining.

For a laugh, tell us about your biggest on air goof up... was there anyway you could save the moment.
Damn... there has been quite a few goof ups on air. That the nature of the circus that is live radio and that's where the electricity comes from as well. Being on air live is like nothing else. But I digress. Let's see, one of the fun ones was when I was doing a one hour Dido special right after her first album came out and everyone was talking about Dido. I hadn't taken my medication that day and spent the hour on air calling her 'Dildo.'

I've had the pleasure of seeing you work your magic behind the mic on a daily basis, but it was the way you use to nail your interviews that really stood out for me. Who have been some of your most favourite and interesting people to interview over the years?
Firstly, thanks for the compliment. My favourite people to interview are the ones who can just be themselves and don't try too hard. For some reason most of the new breed of rappers think they ARE the music industry and want their managers to vett the questions and tell you that you have exactly 5 minutes and want to talk about their new piece of bling instead of their music. Then you have someone like Keith Richards or Madonna who just settle in and say 'Ask me anything.' Now tell me who would you get a better interview from and end up respecting more?

Tell us about your time working with Channel V? What were the good old days like working there, when Channel V had nailed the perfect combination of both local and western content and lot less reality TV.
It was incredible. The atmosphere. The people. The travelling. The unisex green rooms. :) Some of my favourite people and closest friends came from that time in TV. Nikhil Chinapa, Gaurav Kapoor, Yudi, Meghana Reddy, Laila. To be surrounded by extremely creative people all day everyday is an experience I will treasure. Oh and did I mention the unisex green rooms?

Given the choice, would you have liked to spend more time working in television or were you more than happy to just focus your career in radio and DJing?
Very simply, radio and DJing. It's just a lot more personal and you have a lot more control on what you're doing and how.

The Hot Mix with DJ Ivan and yourself is pretty much a staple on FM radio for many many years now - what's the story behind this show and your relationship with Ivan, how do you guys go about compiling the mixes?
Ivan and I have been friends for a decade and a half now. One day we pitched an all dance music show to a radio station. The programme director at the time had the fore sight to know it was gonna be huge and just said go ahead and do it, give it your best shot. And it just snowballed from there. Every week Ivan and I meet mid week to take a look at the new white labels that have been sent to us. We take a look at what's hot in the dance music world for that week and then we structure the set. After which it's all on the fly.

How long have you been DJing and describe the sound you strive to push?
I've been DJing for about 4 years now. I make it my life's work to make sure that house music in all its forms gets to where it belongs in India. Which by the way is right above anything Bollywood has to offer. Let's subvert Bollywood together... what say?

You worked a ton of parties and have heard a ton of local talent, which DJ in India do you really think stands out as great talent?
Well besides the established biggies, two names that stand out for me in Banglaore is DJ Rohan Kapoor and DJ Blaque.

If there is one thing you could change about Bangalore, what would it be?
The government.

In your opinion, why the hell is it taking so long to push Bangalore's night time deadline by a couple of hours? It's not so much a deadline as it is a curfew. Years have gone by, is there really anyway we can fight it?
When you have a government that only cares about where the big money is coming from and just how much of that money they can make disappear, well then you dont really stand a chance do you. What can you do when you have ministers publicly stating that any woman who is out in Banglalore after 11:30PM is a 'bad' person... I guess they say bad person because they really can't spell or pronounce prostitute. Don't get me started on our govt. Or lack of.

What are three Bangalore restaurant recommendations (in different price ranges) you would give and why?
Sunny's, Shiros and the nearest Shanti Sagar

Three movies you can watch over and over again?
Serendipity, Lord of the Rings, Lock Stock and Two Smoking Barrels

You are stuck on a deserted island with a life supply of batteries and a boom box, list out 6 life changing must-have albums you’d like to have with you and why?
Christ, that's a hard one. Where do you come up with this stuff ? :) I would include my 6 favourite women to listen to those albums with naked, but hey... this is your interview, so here goes:

1. The Joshua Tree: U2
2. Legend: Bob Marley and the Wailers
3. Appetite for Destruction: Guns N Roses
4. Hell Freezes Over: The Eagles
5. Division Bell: Pink Floyd
6. Greatest Hits: Bruce Springsteen

A massive thank you to Rohit (my old boss :P), for taking the time to do this interview and giving us a little insight on his life and the radio industry! - SG

Follow Rohit Barker on Twitter: Click here


  1. Hey Sailen,

    One of your best Interviews my friend..
    without a doubt, Rohit is one of my fav DJ's..

    Keep up a great work..


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