KSHMR talks about his upcoming India tour, Dharma Worldwide, and his recent collaboration with Hardwell [Interview]
Few EDM acts are as renowned or globally influential as KSHMR, the brainchild of Indo-American producer and former member of The Cataracs Niles Hollowell-Dhar. Despite commencing his solo act in 2014, he’s already notched several accomplishments in his belt. In 2015, he earned the title of DJ Mag’s “Highest New Entry” on their annual Top 100 ranking at a lofty 23rd place. He’s also released a multitude of hit singles within his short tenure in dance music alongside eminent producers such as Tiesto, R3hab, and most recently with Hardwell — helping him cement his place as a global EDM superstar in the process.
One of the major contributing factors to his unprecedented success is a refreshing emphasis on sampling live instruments, particularly Indian, in his music, which he credits “in large part to [his] Kashmiri heritage.” This affinity for more global instruments can be heard on a majority of his later releases.
However, it took Niles a long time to come to terms with and to acknowledge the “uniqueness of [his] background.”
“I grew up not caring much about my heritage. I wanted to fit in.”
Much of KSHMR’s early career was fraught with uncertainty; he had “reservations about going to college, and was very passionate about pursuing music.” His Kashmiri grandfather, on the other hand, was orthodox in his thoughts and strongly against young Niles swapping his books for a DAW while trying to forge a career that bleeds with uncertainty. “He did his best to beat it into my head that music was meant to be a hobby in my life, and just a hobby,” he recalled of his younger days.
After a tough period of persisting against all the odds, KSHMR finally decided to take up music production as a full-time profession, much to the delight of his millions of fans worldwide. The gifted songsmith has only continued made extraordinary, unassailable progress since making such a challenging decision — both in terms of music and unique identity. A particularly rewarding incident which helped he states helped shape his career was when Spinnin’ decided to release ‘Jammu’ ‘officially’ rather than following its original plan of making the track a free download.
Fast-forward to the present, and KSHMR is set to return to India for the third time over the past year this October, touring six cities across the country that he so proudly calls “home.” He has prepared a lot of exclusive content for this tour, and is very much looking forward to sharing his creativity and joy with others: “I the crowd to have the same excitement that I saw from them at Sunburn,” he jubilantly asserts. Touring India has always been a thrilling prospect for KSHMR, given the “youthful and optimistic” state of the music there. Over the past few years, he’s been observing its development into a substantial institution within the country.
“Now I see this side of India that is completely new to me. It just isn’t like the India whose streets I walked around getting stared at because of my light skin as a kid. It feels like one big family now.”
A rather exciting part of his upcoming tour is the inclusion of the supremely talented Jai Wolf, another DJ who traces his roots back to the Indian subcontinent. KSHMR too is a staunch believer in Jai’s skill and knew he would be “a great addition and hugely complimentary to my show and what that entails.”
Another recent development that has also been special for KSHMR is the launch of his label, Dharma Worldwide. The reason behind the label’s formation was to “shine a light to songs that [he] loves and truly believes in.” This was exceedingly tricky before the inception of Dharma, given the limited number of ways in which he could support a song as a stand-alone producer with a hectic schedule.
“Often times I’d be left in situations where I said I would collaborate being optimistic and naïve because months would go by and I wouldn’t get the chance given my schedule,” he expressed.
All of the releases on Dharma to date have a distinct Indian or Middle-Eastern flavor to them. For example, Timmy Trumpet’s single on the label samples large sections of a famous Punjabi song while maintaining the structure of a traditional big room track. The same can be observed with his EP, Materia, which was his label’s first release. While this trend is radical and revitalizing, KSHMR insists that no such “Indian or Middle Eastern criteria exist” for a song to be featured on his label — and would much rather promote music with a “story” and a “culture that is conceptualized by the artist that exceeds the scope of the song alone.”
Despite his tremendous workload, especially after becoming a label head, KSHMR has still managed to serve up a delectable treat for his fans, a new big room behemoth called “Power” with none other than Dutch juggernaut Hardwell. The collaboration seems like an ideal pairing: “Working with Hardwell on ‘Power’ was so refreshing because he is a bona fide producer. He walks the walk. Sending an idea to him was responded to, almost instantaneously, with an edit from him. His suggestions made perfect sense, and you just can’t take that away from him.”
“Power’” expands beyond the average KSHMR song. Its emphasis lies in a “bigger and more aggressive” synth-driven sound as opposed to live instrumentation — a trait which the icon believes would not have been possible if working alone. “Hardwell is to thank for that,” he confirms. The Dutch collaborator’s influence on the track can be clearly heard from start to end, from its sonic elements, to the aforementioned sound design. “Power” in the end becomes much more than a monster collaboration between two industry-leading DJs; it is the product of a collision between two completely contrasting sounds, and to great effect.
Over the course of the last three years, Niles is “very happy with the way things have progressed” under his new act, which initially started under anonymity before steadily growing and finally snowballing into the world-famous festival headliner that we see today. However, the intuitive musician was quick to acknowledge the uncertainty that the future holds for his act. “The future is always scary; it was scary six months ago, just as it was scary six months after I started KSHMR.”
Niles isn’t alluding to KSHMR suddenly falling from the top of the EDM food chain or fading out of relevance, of course. His insecurity stems from the fact that his new musical identity might suddenly stop being mentally stimulating for him — as is the case with most producers after a specified period.
“I am paranoid about keeping this exciting for myself. I think we all have this bug in our head that keeps us up at night and not resting on our laurels.”
While this statement might come as a surprise to a few fans, it is, in fact, this very attitude, this burning desire to excel and to “explore the organic worldly palate” that he has touched on that has allowed KSHMR to turn his act into a brand that is instantly synonymous with more than 1.2 billion Indians, and so many more globally.