Electric India: RITVIZ transcends musical boundaries all the way to the top
Electronic music is an organic outlet for the classically trained musician
Electric India is a 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.
It’s often said in the music business (and love), that timing is everything. If that’s true, then this really is the time for multi-talented 24-year-old Ritviz Srivastava. He writes, produces, sings, raps and plays a variety of instruments. Since winning the 2017 Bacardi House Party Sessions with his now massive track ‘Udd Gaye’, RITVIZ has had a career arc that very few artists experience, and it continues to only go up. Consider the numbers — his top video ‘LIGGI’ has 91 million YouTube views, and others count tens of millions of views to go along with 1.5 million subscribers. He has 1.7 million monthly Spotify listeners, and his Instagram has blown up to over 300,000 followers.
Not bad for a solo artist from Pune, India who grew up surrounded by Indian classical music — his mother was a singer and his father played the tabla.
But it’s how RITVIZ has interpreted these sounds and mixed them with electronic dance and hip hop elements to create his own unique hybrid that makes him so special. He has tapped into an alternative electronic audience with a fresh blend of pop, Hindi, dance and hip hop and made the whole thing break out into the mainstream, and did so in a market that has very little room for anything but Bollywood and more recently, hip hop. And while his melodies are rooted in Indian classical, they are also catchy ear worms and his vocals seem to be made up on the spot, almost like jazz scat. This all creates a sense of intimacy, and he has also created some equally run and gun looking videos that make you feel like you know him, and the outcast subjects in them. It’s proved to be a winning formula, as RITVIZ is, at the moment, the most popular electronic artist in India. He’s also played with Katy Perry and Dua Lipa, remixed Major Lazer and LAUV and launched his own music and comedy festival called Yuv Fest.
Basically the kid’s on fire, and we got a chance to sit down with him to discuss his meteoric rise to fame, and what 2021 looks like.
Hey Ritviz, great to catch up! You have an intriguing musical background. can you tell us about your musical upbringing and what instruments you play? And what's your preferred DAW?
"Hey Sean, it's great catching up with you too, glad we’re doing this! I’m gonna dive straight in - music has been a huge part of my life since I was 6 years old. Mainly because of my mom, who is an Indian classical singer herself. She is professionally trained in a style called Khayal, which I had the honor of learning under her guidance. Later on I trained under Pandit Uday Bhavalkar, in another style called Dhrupad. So by the time I was 12 years old, I was formally trained in two different styles of Indian classical singing. During this time I also learnt how to play the harmonium and the tabla, but I wouldn’t say I’m a pro at it. After many years of developing my skills in classical music, at some point I realised that my passion was elsewhere, I wanted to make electronic music and so I went online and started learning how to produce. My first DAW was Logic, but a few years later I moved over to Ableton and that’s now my go to software."
You seem to blend Indian classical melodies with modern electronic sounds and drums effortlessly. Do your songs start with the melodies first, or the other way around?
"My process is fairly open ended like that which means that it could start off anywhere, but I guess most times it’ll start with a melody and then I build around it. I often use my voice as an instrument too and lay down more melodies on top of the instrumentation and that’s when the magic starts to happen, now the song is going into a whole different dimension and the mixing pot to begin churning out this epic blend."
How big an influence was hip hop on you growing up?
"Hip hop is a way of life! It’s what changed my entire outlook towards music. Imagine a 12 year old kid that’s just spent the last 6 years of his life engrossed in Hindustani classical music, suddenly going ham on records by Jay-Z, Rakim and Notorious B.I.G. It’s safe to say that I was in awe of the genre, so much that my first real stint in the indie music space was as a rapper under the alias MC Richard. This is a lesser known fact about me, but I actually spent a year performing original hip hop music at a bunch of venues around Pune at the age of 13, before I got into electronic music a year later."
When did you start realising you had your own sound? It feels so natural, but was it a happy accident?
"I started composing at the age of 13, writing hip hop verses, but I didn’t know how to produce so I ended up using samples available online. At some point it hit me that I need to make my own beats, which is when the journey into music production began. This was the missing piece, being able to produce allowed me to have complete creative control over the track and that was quite liberating. The real experimentation went down at this point, and for the next five years I was just locked up in my room most of the time, making music non-stop. In all honesty, I wasn’t trying to create my own sound, my agenda was simply to make music that I was proud of. I think that at some point people just started saying that I have my own sound and identifying it as a unique sound."
Who are some artists who really inspired you growing up, and why?
"My mom is my biggest inspiration, my most fond memories as a child are those times spent practising alaps with her in the early hours of the day. Her dedication to her art inspired me to try and be even half as good as her. Another big inspiration is Kanye West, I mean the guy is a genuine legend. He truly embodies the vision of a game changer and for that I have immense amount of respect for the guy. Part of the scene back home A.R. Rahman is another huge inspiration, he’s been such a massive force in Indian music for as long as I can remember."
Your big breakthrough track was ‘Udd Gaye’ – can you explain how it came about and how it ended up as the party anthem of the year?
"In 2017 I started working on what was supposed to be my next body of work at the time — a six-track EP titled ‘VED’. Somewhere along the way we heard about Bacardi House Party Sessions, a platform that Bacardi had conceptualised along with AIB and Nucleya to promote homegrown independent music. We decided to submit a few demos from the EP and the next thing I know, Tanmay Bhat is tweeting about me, he had heard the demos and was hooked! Results came in soon after and 'Udd Gaye' had been picked as the first official release of BHPS.
They brought in Reema Sengupta to direct the music video for it, which remains for me till date one of the most iconic content pieces ever. The song and video were finally released on AIB’s YouTube channel which at the time had over two million subscribers. It was launched in true AIB fashion and before we knew it, the song was being shared like wildfire. Just ten days after the release, I was scheduled to play at NH7 Weekender in Pune, and I remember 4000 people turned up out of nowhere at 6.30pm to catch me perform. Over the next six months, I went on tour all across the country, promoting my music at clubs, festivals, campus events, you name it. Meanwhile the song was climbing on every music chart and eventually getting picked up by other DJs around the country as it became the crowds popular demand wherever you went.
Word of mouth played a huge role in popularising the song, as people were genuinely talking about it, and it literally became a staple at house parties."
You have a close musical relationship with Nucleya, can you tell us how that came to be?
"Udyan has been a very dear friend, brother, mentor and supporter for a long time now. I met him in 2015 for the first time, when I was playing the opening slot at the Delhi edition of NH7 Weekender and he was playing the closing slot. It was 3:30pm and hardly any crowd but Udyan stayed back after his sound check to catch my set. A few months later, I was wrapping up work on my independent debut - an EP titled YUV, and I reached out to him to ask if he would be down to mix and master the record. He told me he loved the EP and he would be more than happy to help in any way he could! Since then till now, we both have worked on a bunch of collaborative music, we also send each other music that we’re both working on individually to get the other person's feedback, and just honestly geek out and bond over music every now and then. Personally, I really enjoy working on music with him, everytime is a riot and by now we’ve cooked up so much material which we can’t wait to put out."
What was it like touring India with Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike?
"Those were some of the biggest shows I played that year. They’re one of the top names in global dance music and I am thrilled to have gotten the chance to support them on their India tour. What’s even more crazy is that at the last show of the tour, they had to fly out early, and so i ended up playing the closing slot at the concert and damn it was an epic show."
You recently worked with Tinder India and LGBTQIA during the COVID-19 lockdown on ‘Pride from Home’. Can you tell us about that, and is this something that’s very important to you?
"Two months into lockdown, the guys over at Jugaad Motion Pictures called us and said they’re working on a campaign with Tinder to produce a film celebrating Pride from Home. They pitched the idea to me and wanted me to write music for it. The concept was beautiful and I was instantly on board. I have immense love and respect for the LGBTQIA community, and it was an honour to be a part of this project and spread a positive message."
Finally, what projects and releases do you have lined up for 2021?
"If you want me to be honest, I don’t like to plan out my releases like most artists would. My go to strategy is to take it as it comes, which basically means that a lot of the music you will hear from me this year, has probably not been written yet! But besides my solo music, I have spent the last couple of years working on various collaborative projects some of which I hope to release in 2021. Just last month I wrapped up writing sessions for a full length album in collaboration with Seedhe Maut, so that’s definitely on the cards."
And finally, finally, please give us 5 Big Tracks that our listeners may not know about that have made you happy this past year.