Abstract Logix's Souvik Dutta: From Living Room to Center of the Universe

Ian Patterson By

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Although tribes, cities and even nations have all at various times claimed to lie at the center of the universe, few have taken the claims seriously. Most recognize such boasts as either thinly veiled marketing ploys or thinly veiled insanity. However, on the 20th and 21st of November, devotees of good music from Australia, Japan, South Africa and Europe, as well as from the States and Canada will join in musical celebration in North Carolina, home to Abstract Logix and the center of the "New Musical Universe."

Ok, so it's really a marketing ploy after all. However, to the pilgrims descending on North Carolina for those two days in November for Abstract Logix's New Universe Music Festival—where they will see John McLaughlin & the Fourth Dimension, and bands led by Lenny White, Jimmy Herring, Wayne Krantz, Ranjit Barot, Scott Kinsey and Alex Machacek—the center of the musical universe couldn't possibly be anywhere else. In just a few short years, this small, independent record company run by Souvik Dutta       has built up an impressive roster of musicians which would be the envy of much larger, greedier companies. The story of Abstract Logix is an inspiring one, and an example to others in the music business that the rewards are there for those who put the music and the musician before anything else. When music drives the business, as opposed to the other way around, everyone's a winner.

It all started one day—when the planets aligned—with a jam session in a living room.

Souvik Dutta was born in India but came to the United States at the age of 18, in 1991, to round off his education, which he duly did by graduating with a degree in computer science. Dutta had played in a high school band, listened to all genres of music and went to gigs with his friends whenever he could; he was a bona fide music nut. Dutta takes up the story: "What happened was, in '02 I had a little house concert with Shawn Lane, Jonas Hellborg and Jeff Sipe. It was just a little house concert and we somehow made the concert available on the internet so people could see it live. We had to come up with a website to post the link, and that's really how Abstract Logix started. Back then, I had no interest in any kind of business or label or anything like that whatsoever. It was just fun."

Just fun, perhaps, but the seeds had been planted and would take deep root. Of course, Dutta had no idea where it was all leading, but nevertheless, whenever bands came through the area he would write a little news blog and place an article or maybe a video to spread the word. Things continued this way for a while until 2003, when Dutta went knocking on a door. The door was that of master tabla player Zakir Hussain, who was about to tour the States with John McLaughlin and Remember Shakti. Dutta asked if they had anyone to sell their merchandise on the road, and if not, well, he knew someone who'd be more than happy to do so.

Hussain's office put Dutta in touch with McLaughlin's people, and they said that the gig was his. With a month's vacation from work, Dutta and a friend traveled around the country, selling merchandising for Remember Shakti and having a whale of a time in the bargain: "It was fun," recalls Dutta. "We got to see music we loved and we got to meet John and everybody else. John was really happy. With the little bit of money I made from the tour, I just put it back into the website and I built a little bit bigger version."

By now Abstract Logix was starting to sell a few items on the internet; from five CDs it grew to 50, and from 50 to 100. The big breakthrough, the point of no return, came the following year, when Dutta got a call out of the blue. It was John McLaughlin, asking Dutta if Abstract Logix would be interested in selling his promotional DVD This is the Way I Do It (Mediastarz, 2004). "I didn't really believe it was him," says Dutta. "I thought somebody was playing a joke on me. I even hung up the phone the first time because I thought someone was pulling my leg." McLaughlin was serious though. Tired of large company hoops and shenanigans, he was looking for a way to release his music independently. Dutta didn't need to think for too long: "I said sure. It was one of my idols asking me to do it, and it was not a lot of work. It was a very popular item, and the profit that I made from selling the stuff for John, I reinvested again in the website and made it a little big bigger and a little bit nicer."

Although the beginnings of Abstract Logix evolved in a quite natural, organic way, Dutta admits that he still had no goal in his mind as to where he wanted to take the company: "I was just one little shop on the internet, selling some stuff by other people." Nevertheless, the company was slowly growing, and by now Abstract Logix had gone from selling a handful of CDs to selling them in their hundreds. Then along came another unexpected turn in the story: "What happened was that Jeff Sipe—who's a very close friend of mine—and Jimmy Herring, told me they had done this sort of avant- garde project, called Project Z: Lincoln Memorial (Abstract Logix, 2005), which they wanted to sell on my site. By that time—and it was something which I wasn't really aware of—people had got to know of us, this little shop on the internet that sells stuff for John McLaughlin and some other people. I had built a relationship with City Hall distributor in the United States, and the next time I saw Jeff I said maybe I could distribute it around the country. So I bought the record for a very small amount of money, and that was the first record that I distributed as a label in the country. "

That first record on Abstract Logix's label was the foot in the door, though as Dutta recalls with some amusement, he had no idea of what lay on the other side of the door: "I had no experience of record distribution. I didn't know what I was doing."

Something that Dutta has always had, however, is an ear for good music and an unerring judgment. The first time Dutta met Shawn Lane at the party in his house, which was the site of conception and accidental birthplace of Abstract Logix, Lane turned him on to a young guitarist who had particularly impressed him when Lane was performing in Vienna. Lane's enthusiasm for guitarist Alex Machacek was such that Dutta did indeed check him out, though with no idea at the time of turning a profit: "It was in no sort of a business sense," Souvik says, "because Abstract Logix didn't exist." However, as soon as he was able to listen to Machacek's music, he understood Lane's excitement: "The first time I heard Alex, I knew this guy was special—there was no doubt."
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