Struggle, joy, stimulation, experimentation...these are just a few stereotypes that are widely used to represent the state or process of most creative artists who, for a matter of truth, mostly exist for their candour.
Introducing Sijya Gupta, a multidextrous creative who yearns for originality. I recently had the opportunity to speak with the Delhi-based artist, who quickly convinced me that those stereotypes couldn’t be closer to the truth.
Our conversation was gentle, insightful and meaningful. She truly represents herself in all forms; she's an artist inside and out, one that looks into life’s matrix from a four-dimensional perspective. Maybe even a fifth.
Today marks her debut release on revered British artist Matthew Herbert’s Accidental Records, and it’s an honour for Mixmag Asia to be sharing Sijya’s story leading up to it, along with where this milestone release will take her.
For this month’s Artist Spotlight, Sijya opens up about her approach to visual projects, her process behind making music and her constant battle with seeking gratification over satisfaction; her sincerity leads her to revealing personal truths, ones that require serious attention, and usually not from the press. I appreciate her truth-bound views towards life and we hope you do too.
In one sentence, describe your music?
Running between art-pop, art-rock, ambient and alternative electronica quickly enough to be never too similar to any of it.
In 5 words, describe your visual art?
Textural, expressionistic, thoughtful, fuzzy, wayward.
What’s your artistic agenda?
It’s a bit rebellious I’d say. I think it fights the notion that there are certain ‘correct’ paths to reaching a certain level of knowledge or making. I do hate how institutions and people cling to learnt ideas of what is good, as a way of gatekeeping. The sameness of popular art and culture really bothers me.
Are you more interested in drawing upon the past or changing the future?
I don’t think I’ve ever been very interested in the past, nor am I interested really in thinking about or imagining a future. I think I’m very much about the present, but the need to make something ‘new’ is constantly on my mind. I hate all the work I’ve done that looks or sounds to me like something or someone else. It’s only when I’m not able to not trace it back to anything I know that I feel satisfied with it.
What do you wish people knew about you that they don’t?
Nothing fun comes to mind, I think I can be quite candid on say, social media. What comes with social media is just sharing the good stuff, I still don’t feel comfortable talking about my mental health on there. Whenever I’ve tried, I’ve felt it is met with pity or support that I’m not seeking, in that moment. It perhaps looks like a cry for help and it’s nice of people to reach out, but it doesn't feel good. I am clinically depressed and have been on medication for it for many years. I think it’s important for people to share what they struggle with, because everyone is, aren't they? I don’t think my mom’s going to be very pleased that I’m sharing this!
There’s a wondrous synchronicity between your audio and visual outputs. As a multi-disciplinary artist, do you ever find your time torn between your crafts?
I’d say no!
Not currently anyway.
Music is closer to me. It is more special to me. This could be because of its ephemeral nature or maybe just the fact that I got making it much later in life–I didn’t think I could. But right now there is a winner. I definitely enjoy both, but treat visual work more as my day job. I have a very emotional relationship with visuals too, but I suppose that’s been tested for much longer.
The synchronicity though is probably true. I’ve been told my visual work has a musical quality, and the way I use music is like visual elements.
Do you take inspiration from your hometown of New Delhi?
Definitely from the community in New Delhi. That’s how I got into making music really. I started working as a graphic designer with Delhi-based online radio station boxout.fm, that’s how I got introduced to a lot of amazing young women that were picking up making music on DAWs for the first time. The Wild City, along with the British Council, started a series of Selector Pro workshops for ‘Women in Electronic Music’. I attended about three or four of these and started making music. I was really inspired by some of the women I met in these workshops and at boxout.fm.
What are other key influences behind your vision?
A close friend of mine calls me ‘rocky’. I did grow up listening to a lot of (various kinds of) rock and Bollywood music. I started listening to more electronic music towards the end of university. I think Aphex Twin, Björk, Thom Yorke, Flying Lotus, Brian Eno would be some of the legends I’m a huge fan of and perhaps influenced by. I also really love Broadcast and Jockstrap, both on Warp. Off late I’ve been listening to a lot of incredible women in the experimental-electronic-pop space: Roisin Murphy, Yaeji, Tirzah, St. Vincent, Mica Levi (Micachu), Laurie Anderson, Perera Elsewhere
Graphically, I think I’m very inspired by Paul Sahre, Stefan Sagmeister, M/M Paris, Metahaven, Peter Saville, (all of whom also happen to have made great graphics for my favourite musicians)
The idea for the ‘Young Hate’ EP though comes actually from Tierra Whack’s ‘Whack World’, the video album. This is not the kind of music I usually listen to but I loved this record and the video for each tiny song, bleeding into one another. Such a gorgeous and fun project. I have been interested in video art and cannot see another way to present my audio work. I probably won’t be able to release any music without videos (unless of course it’s part of someone’s project like the boxout.fm compilation). It’s too great an opportunity to miss, getting to make some fun videos.
Tell us more about the EP ‘Young Hate', and the six music videos you’ve made for it.
After making the music, which was a super personal and very slow process, I realised I wanted to make videos for all the songs, and knew very well that I can’t follow the same process in all of them. I decided to collaborate with a friend for every video. The video for ‘Stonefruit’ is made with Urvi Vora, a performance artist from New Delhi, currently doing her PhD at Brown.
‘Clear’ is made by me, editing home videos my father shot when I was a child. ‘Another Thing’ is drawn and animated entirely by my friends Mehr & Aditya, who run Improper.tv. ‘Tell Me’ is shot and edited by Bhushitendu, who is an upcoming filmmaker. ‘No Words’ shot by Subodh Pareek, also an upcoming filmmaker, and written by Bhushit (*Bhushitendu) and me, edited by me.
The final one ‘52’ is made by Delhi-based artist/filmmaker Annette Jacob, assisted by me. It’s been really really fun to make these videos.
What’s your earliest memory with music?
I’m not sure if this is the earliest memory, but it’s a strong one. I used to listen to ‘Yes it is’ by the Beatles (and a LOT of their later more experimental stuff) while standing in the Delhi metro ladies compartment, on my way to university. I love listening to music in transit, with earphones; you get to be lost and really only listen to music, without feeling restless. It’s a really intimate experience in a crowded public space, you’re able to withdraw. I miss that now that I have a home office/studio (post pandemic) and I don’t need to commute as much.
What was your favourite album when you were 16?
Honestly? Probably Avril Lavigne’s ‘Let Go’ haha.
How did your artist career take shape?
After design school in Ahmedabad, I came back to Delhi and started working as a freelance graphic designer. I designed the first of my artworks for SUCHI’s former boxout.fm show ‘Through the Smog. Following that, I started working extensively with boxout.fm, where I rejigged their visual identity, did graphics for many of their main radio shows, their residency and finally their label. This was the kind of work I was most drawn to — album art.
Post that, I started working on album art around the scene. I did artwork for Dualist Inquiry.
Recently, I made the cover art for ‘Shruti Dances’ on MakeMusic, a collaborative (stunning) record by Auntie Flo & Sarathy Korwar. That’s been a really satisfying project creatively. I’m also working on Sarathy’s upcoming studio album ‘Kalak’.
Your forthcoming EP on Mattew Herbert’s Accidental Records is quite an accomplishment, and a great space for you to be seen as an artist. How did that happen, and how do you feel?
It’s mad, really! I shot an email to Accidental because I really like the music they’re putting out and have in the past, and I love Matthew and his whole practice and approach to things. To my surprise, Matthew wrote back!
Your single ‘Have To Make My Bed’ got some serious radio play and global attention — how did it feel to get a warm reception early in your musical career?
It was totally unexpected, completely. SUCHI’s compilation (SUCHI Selects on boxout.fm Recordings) was heavily dance music oriented, I honestly wasn’t sure how my track would fit and was kind of assuming it’ll just be ignored or be treated like a prelude. But it was noticed and that was really special. I remember when I found out it got played on Tom Ravenscroft’s BBC6 show, I remember thinking okay I guess I’m a musician then.
What’s your take on how well Asian artists are represented in the global electronic scene?
I have very mixed feelings about this. I’m really thankful and glad that Asian artists, and more specific to me, South Asians artists, are really getting their due now in the current global scene. The west is paying attention to what we’re doing.
At the same time, there is a certain fetishization that could perhaps inhibit South Asian artists exploring more contemporary aesthetics. There is a certain burden one feels of representing and connecting with our roots’s aesthetics, even if it doesn’t come naturally. While that’s important for everyone to do, other engagements should be equally well received and valid.
And what about female artists?
There are some amazing womxn leading the scene here. Sandunes, SUCHI, Arushi Jain, Noni-mouse, Zequenx, Kaleekarma.
While of course there is still a very long way to go when it comes to equal representation of all genders, I think promoters have been more conscious of this of late. There are also several grassroot projects inspiring female beginners; for example, pre-pandemic, a collective of womxn called ‘Coven Code’ was formed in New Delhi, with all womxn DJs and producers. Artists that have come from that have amazing growing solo careers now, it’s really nice to see.
We recently announced Jay Pei’s Dairo residency which is focused on offering tools to young artists and we saw that you will be hosting a graphic design session for music artists to build their visual and brand identity. Can you share a few key points that you will be exploring?
I’ll be going through imagery by some contemporary artists that I think have exceptionally strong visual identities, (Yaeji, Roisin Murphy and more) to explain the basic components of a visual identity system–type, image and colour. I’ll also go into how paying attention to each of these parts, as though they belong to a whole, can lead to something strong, and how good visual identities are flexible, wherein no two artworks look exactly the same, but one can still trace them back to the same family.
You’ve also got a debut show coming up at Magnetic Fields later this December. What can the crowd expect from you?
It’s insane to me that the first time I’m performing this music is going to be at Magnetic Fields. They have a tradition of a brand new act opening the festival. That will be my live set this year, at the Jameson Connects South Stage. I’m opening the festival!
Along with all the songs from the EP ‘Young Hate’, I’ll be playing a few that I’ve written very recently. I’ve got a very small solo set up, and I’m super excited. Rehearsals are on!
What’s the most beautiful thing you’ve ever experienced?
Love, I guess? It’s a beautiful feeling every time it’s experienced, in any kind of relationship. It’s always humbling to be reminded how it matters much more than any work or existential worries we might have.
Starting with 'Stonefruit' dropping today, Sijya will be releasing two more singles until her 'Young Hate' EP finally drops on Accidental Records on December 2.
Have a listen to 'Stonefruit' below and grab your copy here.