Electric India: Kranking up bass kulture with Sohail Arora
The inside story on India's pioneering Krunk agency
Electric India is a new monthly feature that explores what’s bubbling in and around South Asia – from the real players in the electronic music game. From new releases to festivals to club culture and trending artists, we go deep inside the scene and provide a monthly snapshot of the latest currents in India. From homegrown techno to imported festivals and secret parties, the music diaspora of India is so culturally unique that it deserves its own attention.
From DJs, artists and producers, their managers, festival promoters, labels, venues and other driving forces, we tap the seen and unseen from a variety of electronic and dance scenes across the country. Every city and area has its own culture and approach to music culture, some are further ahead than others — so join us as we try to figure out why they are intriguingly different and what makes them so relevant.
We had the chance to sit down with one of India’s forward-thinking and community-driven electronic music expanders, Sohail Arora. Besides founding and running the artist management, events and booking agency Krunk, Sohail is also the festival director of Bass Camp and curates music for Echoes of Earth Festival. Oh, and he recently launched Krunk Kulture as a label dedicated to underground and eclectic dance music artists. Now, that’s a lot for a business card – so maybe it’s best to have the man himself describe everything that’s going down from his Mumbai base – or bass in this case."
Hey Sohail, can you please tell our readers when and why you started Krunk, and what were the humble beginnings like?
“I was a booker and music programmer for the iconic venue Blue FROG in Mumbai from 2007 to 2009. This was a great way to start. There was a very special energy in the music industry back then. I was also part of the Zenzi family, a neighbourhood bar in Bandra which had a huge impact musically, in terms of pushing left of centre electronic music back then. Crews like Bhavishyavani, OML & Submerge were pretty influential there, and set the standards for many generations to come.
In May, 2009, I officially started Krunk with the aim of building India's first dedicated booking agency for electronic musicians, and to focus on dance music gatherings in general. The goal was to build a touring circuit for artists then as it didn't really exist. The idea was also to build a strong dance music community with a subculture of good electronic music, and throw tastefully curated events & gatherings. We launched Krunk in a grand way with a sold out show (1000 plus) featuring one of India’s top electronic duos, Midival Punditz in May, the same month we launched Krunk. Since then we have worked with & represented some of the finest live and electronic music artists out of India, hosted over 300 international acts in India, and executed over 1000 events, large and small. We also continue to work with two of the most exciting music festivals: Bass Camp & Echoes of Earth.
In terms of highlights, I’d have to mention curating a festival in Ladakh called The Ladakh Confluence in between leaving Blue FROG and starting Krunk in 2009. We hosted 30 plus artists 18,000 feet high amidst the most serene mountains and the beautiful landscape of Ladakh. It was such a crazy experience. Whoever was there, witnessed something really beautiful and special.”
When did you decide to really go into artist management, and tell us about your roster, past and present?
“We started Krunk as a booking & events agency in 2009. We managed to build a touring circuit within the first year for many local acts so they could tour consistently within India. Soon we realised that artists really wanted management as well and there were not that many good management companies back then. We evolved naturally into an artist management company a few years in. In the past, I represented acts like Sandunes, Dualist Inquiry, Delhi Sultanate, Bay Beat Collective (BBC), BASSFoundation, Shaa’ir + Func, Reggae Rajahs, B.R.E.E.D, Alo Wala, Su Real, Sickflip to name a few.
Currently we represent some incredible acts like Oceantied, MALFNKTION, Madboy Mink, Nothing Anonymous, Chrms, Fopchu, Anushka, Paper Queen & more.
I also self-manage two of my personal electronic projects EZ Riser, where I play all sorts of jungle, drum ‘n’ bass and bass music under this moniker for over the last 8 years, and Rafiki, under which since 2017, I’ve been pushing left field techno, breaks, house. I currently release & produce a lot of music under these monikers. DJing pre-COVID and production during COVID really helped me get through the lowest and toughest times of my life personally.”
Tell us about BASS CAMP and Echoes of Earth festivals – from the beginning.
“I started Bass Camp Festival in 2010 with the aim of pushing bass music culture in India. There was a lot of commercial house & techno, plus psy house music in India back then. The goal was to build an alternative community for other genres of dance music in India. It started as a three-city festival and has grown into a club festival travelling across ten cities. To be able to push bass music in small pockets and tier 2 cities all across the country feels special even if it is small. Bass music overall does not compare to the reach of techno music in India however in cities like Bombay, Delhi and Bangalore, a Bass Camp night is big if not bigger than some of the top techno nights.
In the major cities we really throw it down proper, with between 1000 to 1,500 people in attendance over 2 days in each city. Over the years we have hosted everyone from Dub Phizix, Alix Perez, Ivy Lab, Eprom, Anna Morgan, London Elektricity, Klute, Calyx & Teebee, Jazzstepa, Symbiz Sound, and many more.
Echoes of Earth was started by Roshan, a friend who I worked with for many years. He asked me to help curate his then brand-new festival. Echoes was started with a vision to be India’s greenest festival. Echoes leads the way in India when it comes to combining sustainability, art and music in nature. The festival has won multiple Asia-wide awards for this. The installation art and stage design at the festival really stands out and shines through.
We started small and I remember I had only 3 months in the first year to put together the full line up. Our debut line up turned out pretty special, when we hosted acts like Submotion Orchestra, BeardyMan, Jordan Rakei, Youngr, Susheela Raman, Talvin Singh & more in the first year. Since then, through 4 editions of Echoes, we have hosted some incredible acts like Squarepusher,, Acid Pauli, Stavroz, FKJ, Awesome Tapes from Africa, Shigeto, Tennyson), Manu Delago, Gentleman’s Dub Club, Garden City Movement, Fakear plus many others.”
How would you describe the type of music that you look for when finding new talent? What makes you tick musically?
“I’d say looking for new talent is a very personal experience, and I cannot really put a formula to it. I almost always choose music I like listening to, dancing to and see potential in as a live act. A good live performance always stands out. My taste is slightly left of centre obviously. While I started with a lot of live music, I would say, we at Krunk have pushed dance music a lot more over the years. However, everything is now coming back full circle in the last 4 to 5 years as I am really enjoying working with live music from India and globally a lot more. I represent a bunch of live electronic acts, and I really enjoy that hybrid. We also represent a huge roster of really cutting-edge electronic producers. There was a very heavy bias towards bass music in the early years, but our sound and tastes have evolved and we represent a varied spectrum of electronic and live music now.”
Since COVID-19 happened, the event and performance landscape has shut down. What ways have you discovered to keep your camp engaged and creating?
“I think this experience really gave us enough time to write and release music and video content. I personally got back to basics and into a healthy production phase for a bit and really enjoyed finishing music again. I managed to release a bunch of music under my artist monikers EZ Riser & Rafiki.
At Krunk, our roster has been super busy putting out new music and video content. Check out the new music video we put out for ‘Waste Away’ by an act called Nothing Anonymous on YouTube. Artists like Oceantied from Bangalore & IYER from the US released some absolute bangers during this quarantine. MALFNKTION put out a standout collaborative album called Raaja Beats with Raka. These are all really worth checking out. The quarantine also saw some great releases by Fopchu, Anushka, Digee & more — all from our camp. Overall, it was a productive time for most, with good content keeping the buzz going. Finally, we started our label, KRUNK KULTURE. This is now what’s really keeping me busy and inspired.”
Tell us more about your team, where are they and how many of you are there?
“We have always been a boutique agency and have had between 6-15 employees at most times. Pandemic also pushed us to try working with a global team. Currently our team consists of members from the UK, US and mostly India.”
Please share some landmark moments in your career, where you had to just stop, and really take it all in, in terms of the scene and your personal and professional growth.
“There are so many special moments but some of our landmark moments at Krunk for me personally would be:
The year we started Bass Camp Festival in 2010. Followed by 2017 when we were profitable as a festival for the first time in 7 years (Take note promoters!) and then 2018, when we took Bass Camp Festival to 10 cities. These are really milestone achievements for me personally. I also think all the failures & struggles with pushing a different sound in India over the early years has helped me grow the most. I am equally thankful for all the setbacks as well.
Another big one was curating the first year of Echoes of Earth festival in 2016. That was very special. I was so inspired and proud of what I had achieved with my team in just 3 months. I would also say Echoes of Earth 2018 was another stand-out year because the curation was closest to what we originally envisioned for the festival. It was a very proud moment.
In 2018, we started Hotbox, a monthly tour property with Auntie Flo from the UK, and since then have hosted everyone from Pangaea, Dorian Concept, Roza Terenzi, Desert Sound Colony, Mosca, Maghreban and many more. Every moment of hosting and spending time with these artists that I looked up to was very special for me. Hotbox also helped establish us in the house/techno community. Still a long way to go but it’s a passion project like many others, and we really do not like to be pigeonholed into a genre as a crew anymore. All our tastes are evolving and so are our events.
In terms of building artists, we toured French artist, FKJ, five years ago for a small club tour when no one really knew him. As his popularity grew each year, we doubled our venue sizes, and finally got him headlining the NH7 Festival to 15,000 people and Echoes of Earth to 8,000 people in the last run of shows we did with him. While most of the credit goes to FKJ for the way he built his career, it was really nice to be able to grow together with an international artist in India, and at such speed. Today we are friends — our friends are family & we are like family. I have never really shared a relationship like this with any of my touring artists. FKJ is an absolute inspiration and I was happy to get to know him the way I do now.
Finally, as a DJ I have really enjoyed travelling. I have had the chance to make global friends for life. Playing Outlook and Dimensions Festivals in Croatia, Bass Coast in Canada, Cross Club in Austria plus some really special sets at homegrown Indian festivals and nights like Magnetic Fields, NH7, Room 303 and Milkman have all been incredible experiences for me and ones that I am really proud of.”
Please tell us about the birth of last summer’s critically acclaimed compilation Kaala Khatta, and will there be a follow up?
“I had been thinking about launching a label outta India for the longest time, so when COVID happened I had the time and the opportunity to finally do it. KRUNK KULTURE was established in August, 2020, with the aim of putting Indian electronic music on the global map. ‘Kaala Khatta - Flavours of the East’ was our debut release featuring 15 of the best pruners from the south asian dance scene, pushing sounds like techno, house, breaks and left field bass. The compilation has topped 40,000 streams across all platforms so far and has got a lot of love globally from Bandcamp, Resident Advisor, Mixmag Asia, Rolling Stone India, Wild City and others.
Our second release ‘Ganga Jamuna - Flavours of the East’ drops very soon on November 10 on all platforms and will showcase 16 incredible producers and sounds like jungle, drum ‘n’ bass, footwork, future bass and more. After this we have a bunch of EPs and singles planned with some incredible Indian producers across the electronic spectrum. You can follow us here for regular updates.”
Do you have plans to break your artists out Asia-wide and in the West?
“We’ve toured our acts globally across the UK, Germany, Norway, Finland, US, Canada and Asia-wide including Hong Kong, Singapore, Malaysia, Japan, Nepal and more over the past 11 years. Having said that, it’s been pretty sporadic. I personally feel Asia has a lot of potential and if Asian promoters put more effort into building a strong Asia-wide network and connecting with each other, we could really build something phenomenal here. Europe & North America have always had amazing systems and touring circuits plus a lot of history doing it. They’ve always been internally well-connected and have a long history of working together in the business. I think Asia is the new exciting market and on the verge of becoming the next big market in the music business. Personally, I’d love to focus a lot more on building strong Asia-wide networks in the coming years. There is so much to explore in Asia, and we also have the best food!
How would you best describe the electronic music landscape in South Asia at the moment — what genres are moving up, and why?
“I think it’s pretty evident that hip hop is the new EDM at the mainstream level. Every second person is now a rapper in India. Previously every person was a DJ. The biggest music in India is Punjabi hip hop. Business-wise, house and techno dominate the big clubbing and boutique festival landscapes. I believe there is a lot more indie rock and pop in other parts of South Asia compared to India. Besides techno and house, there are surges of bass music, leftfield electro, disco and afro all across India. There is also a very interesting reggae music scene in India especially with the efforts of Goa Sunsplash, a reggae sound system festival in Goa. I know similar pockets exist across Asia.”
Finally, please give us 5 big tracks that our readers should know about!