Atish occupies a rare space in dance music.
In an age of oversized DJ egos there is still an artist who is devoted to connecting with his audience, a humble soul with a pure passion for music and philanthropy. His success comes as no surprise to anyone who has seen Atish DJ live or listened to one of his mixes. With a combination of sophistication and accessibility, his sets are expressive journeys in melodic deep house that create lasting emotional experiences for the listener.
One of these mixes is the very special “Cup of Hope”, coming courtesy of Schirmchendrink, Volunteers for Humanity, and ourselves, which collects money to finance medical, aid and school supplies to refugee camps around Aleppo, Homs and the Latakia area in Syria. Here, we caught up with the San Francisco artist right before he took off for Amsterdam Dance Event. Here, we discuss his thoughts on the Schirmchendrink initiative, the artist as activist, a bit of his relationship with mentor Behrouz and Do Not Sit on the Furniture, and much more. Make sure you check out Atish in Amsterdam as he joins Behrouz, Nu, and Maga on Thursday, 19 October when The Garden’s of Babylon bring Do Not Sit on the Furniture to ADE for the second straight year.
Atish’ “Cup of Hope” mix will be delivered on 4 December, 2018. Simply go to volunteersforhumanity/cupofhope and donate CHF 20 ($21). If you do this before 30 November 2017, you will become a Cup of Hope “partner”, which features your name digitally engraved on the cup itself. All donations receive the mix download, as well as tracklist provided especially from the artist, himself.
“I love the idea of using music as a platform for positive action”
Before we get into speaking on your upcoming Schirmchendrink mix, I wanted to speak briefly on your upcoming ADE appearances. You will be playing at the don Not Sit on the Furniture event on the Thursday. Can you explain a bit about your relationship with the brand and Behrouz?
I have been DJing for 8 years now but before I was a DJ, Behrouz was one of my favorites. I liked how diverse, melodic, Housey and Techy his sound was. Once I got on his radar with my own DJing, we connected, hit it off, and he took on a mentor role for me. He has a very supportive, paternal personality. After a couple Do Not Sit bookings, he asked me to become a resident. Now, I play the club 3 or 4 times a year and travel around the world to play some of the Do Not Sit international showcases, like the upcoming one at ADE.
How do you see the physical club in Miami. What role does it assume in that market?
Do Not Sit lives in South Beach, Miami. To be honest, I feel like South Beach has kind of a cheesy vibe, but Do Not Sit is really like an oasis amidst the chaos. Whenever I tell my friends that I regularly play this club in South Beach and they come to check it out they always say how it wasn’t what they were expecting, and they mean that in the best possible way. It is intimate, personal, and tasteful. It’s also a small club that fits about 150 people with great sound and lighting. It’s a family run club and reflects in all aspects. I love it.
So you can feel this personal touch?
Absolutely! And that kind of thing is very important to me. Rather than getting anonymously shipped in and out of a venue, it’s nice to feel like I’m a part of something.
Moving on to speaking on your upcoming mix. First off, how many mixes do you generally want out in a given year? Do you give this thought?
An important piece of contextual information is that I just started releasing original productions this year. Up until then I was purely a DJ. The only way people would be able to listen to me or discover my sound was through mixes, so it was really important for me to regularly release content. Up until this year I was releasing monthly mixes. In a perfect world, I’d still love to do 12 mixes a year but a lot of that time spent working on mixes has transferred into studio time working on productions. It has become hard for me to keep up with that pace now that studio work is thrown in, not to mention the ongoing work of co-running my label Manjumasi with Mark Slee. I think that in the next couple of years I’ll be doing between 6 – 8 mixes a year, but hopefully no less. I do see myself as a DJ at my core, so I want to stay true to that, and I also have an itch to share as much music as I can with whoever is willing to listen.
How have you noticed the addition of studio work affecting your schedule overall?
As mentioned, I’m a new Producer and I also don’t yet consider myself a very good one either! For me, to make things sound good in the studio it takes me twice as long as the average Producer as I don’t have that process time down just yet, so I’ve tried to scale back on the number of weekends I dedicate to gigs to open up room for creative studio time. Also, it’s very hard for me to come back from a gig on a Sunday and immediately be creative in the studio on Monday. It takes me 2 or 3 days to settle my mind, sometimes even more. By the time I’ve gotten into the mental zone to create music, I need to catch up on the current week’s releases+promos, then jump on a flight for my next gig, so it’s helpful to have more non-gig weekends in the mix.
Do you do mobile producing? On airplanes and other places?
It’s 50/50. At the beginning of a tour, when I have a lot of energy, I can do production work on the plane or in a hotel. As I get toward the middle and end of the tour when my mind and body are tired, it gets harder so I end up playing iphone games instead.
How were you approached by Schirmchendrink to participate in the process? What was your initial reaction?
The Schirmchendrink guys contacted me a while back about about doing a regular guest mix for for their podcast. It’s funny because for the most part I don’t drink alcohol on tour anymore, so I didn’t feel right about doing a mix for a brand that was centered around alcoholic drinks. Then, they told me about the Cup of Hope mix, which would benefit the Syrian people, and that really resonated with me. I don’t consider myself a heavy activist but within the last couple of years, I have taken a slightly bigger role in the world of philanthropy and making my political voice heard, so the timing of this invite was perfect. I love the idea of using music as a platform for positive action, so I was sold on the idea.
How do you apply this philosophy to constructing the mix?
At risk of using a word that’s beaten to death, each mix is a journey within itself. But I also want to tell a story within the bigger picture from mix to mix, so I may do one mix that is more broad, and then the next will be more heady, then spiritual, then maybe next one will be a live recording to capture a club feel. When I think about guest mixes for outlets who have a wider audience, I think there are some things I should do with it:
1\. Showcase the “Atish” sound. The sound people who discover me through this outlet will associate me with.
2\. Sprinkle some other things that are on the edge of my taste. Keep it interesting (for both me and my audience) and a little weird.
3\. Tell a story. A dynamic, evolving, unpredictable mix keeps me engaged as a listener, so I want to make sure my listeners are engaged too.
Do you see a mix like this to give you creative freedom? There are no set parameters but you do seem to already have a certain thought process behind its construction.
Well, actually, and you may not want to hear this, but i feel more constrained on guest mixes. For some reason I feel if I am commissioned to do a guest mix, I need to deliver what I am “known” for. The wider the reach the platform has, the more constrained I feel.
There is something to be said about uploading something to a personal Soundcloud page where you can live or die by it, but when sending content out to an external platform you may feel the need to cater to that platform. For this one, however, I see it as an open format style mix. There’s a concept and philosophy, so it’s up to you to conceptualise it in your own way. To me, it sounds liberating.
That’s a great point, so I think after this conversation I will re-evaluate my assumptions. I guess, because I am delivering a product for someone else, I don’t want to let them down – they invited me to be a part of something based on what they know me for, so I want them to be happy. If it’s a mix self-released on my own page I don’t really have to worry about anyone being pissed, except my fans of course, but they’re already following me on my own Soundcloud so they can easily dig through the other stuff and listen to the older stuff they like.
Where do you see the responsibility of DJs, and artists as a whole, falls when it comes to speaking on political issues? Do you see a balance there between the escapist element of dance music and its political potential?
At the end of the day, every artist is trying to communicate their feelings and ideas to their audience. If you choose to include your political views in that package, then that is completely acceptable to me, as long as it’s an authentic extension of the artist’s core values. For me, what made me comfortable being a part of Cup of Hope is that is that this is clear direct action, with clear direct benefit, and hardly controversial.
As for voicing my own political opinions in general, I’ve thought about this a fair amount, especially in the age of Trump. I’m outraged and I want to fix things. I can post my political opinions on social media, I can donate some of my own money, I can vote, but how much is that really going to do?
From what I gather, the underground dance music scene seems to mostly fall in the same political ballpark, so getting vocal about my political stances probably won’t be changing too many minds. So, I asked myself what I could do to have the highest impact without becoming a full time activist. I found that middle ground to be by leveraging my social media presence to share where I’m donating my own money that aligns with my views, why I’m donating it there, and encourage others to also donate there as well if they agree. That’s the best I can do.
When you do post on social media, do you ever get any backlash from opposing philosophies?
No, but I wish I did! I try and structure my (political) posts backed by a facts and data and no one seems to be pushing back. As mentioned, I’m mostly preaching to the choir – I can’t really visualize many of my fans disagreeing with me on climate change or immigration policy, for instance, but then again, maybe they’re afraid to publicly disagree. Over time, as I get more comfortable outwardly communicating some of my more controversial views, I expect to get more pushback from my audience. Discourse is really important at a civil level, so I hope people do argue with me. The times we argue in a civil open-minded manner are the best opportunities for us to grow, change our mind, and become empathetic to our fellow humans. One of the things about American culture that bothers is it is very hard to have civil discourse around things that are politically incorrect. I think people are afraid to share their opinions publicly because they just know it may not be the “right” thing to say and they’ll be ostracised. This is happening in the American university system now, and I think this is socially destructive.
Yes, look at Berkeley. If you are a conservative figure set to speak you essentially get bullied off campus….
Exactly. Academic institutions are the places designed for civil discourse, critical thought, and challenging existing ideas. The fact that some conservatives can’t even speak at Berkeley is counterproductive. I think the most interesting opinions are the ones that make me the most uncomfortable.
Berkeley has come a long way since being considered the birthplace of US Academic liberalism…
It’s like anti-liberalism, only from the left.
Exactly. That’s why, within our sphere and influence, it is direct action like this mix, which bypass this culture of outrage. Less words. More actions!
Obviously, I agree (laughs)