It was a typical Friday night in Mumbai in February 2020. My friends and I went down to Antisocial, my favourite venue in the city, to see an international artist. Little did we know we would fall deeply in love with Sickflip instead. At the time, I had no idea what the subgenres of dance music he played were, but it was an experience that cannot be forgotten. Sickflip himself claimed this was the night he tried out the sound that would define the sound Sickflip would later take all over the Indian floors across the country. (Luckily, that set was recorded, and you can enjoy it here.)
Sarvesh Shrivastava, aka Sickflip, is a Mumbai-based DJ and producer who played a significant role in the exponential popularity of Afrohouse, Amapiano and Gqom in India. He has been the creator of many different live music formats in India, but Pineapples has been one of the most well-received sets of the non-club show parties the country has seen. Sarvesh is perceptive, insightful and constantly thinking of new ways to share and enjoy music for himself and his growing fanbase. In a country that loves House and Techno on Friday nights at the local music venue, Sickflip sets cut through the clutter with African grooves, and percussions merged with the sounds from the streets of Mumbai that he grew up with. He is truly an artist in control, shaping his path with longevity and passion front and centre. I spoke to him about music to share his perspective that comes from a place of authenticity and a childhood love from percussions.
Before the interview, Sickflip narrated his earliest memories of falling in love with the music that was playing around him.
“I don’t think I realised this while growing up, but I have always just really enjoyed great percussions. That was basically what got me excited. I remember my friend, and I were about sixteen years old and wanted to learn music, so we went to Whistling Woods and tried to sign up for a course or learn something, but we were too young. You can only join post eighteen. So instead, we ended up meeting this one teacher from there, a sweet, old guy from Boston who had been faculty in Whistling Woods for a very long time. He was very passionate about teaching. So we told him we wanted to learn music but couldn’t because of age. He was extremely generous and offered to teach us in his time. The only catch was that he would start with the three basics of music - melodies, harmonies and grooves. He said, “You can't just wake up and be like, I'm gonna play the guitar.” We agreed to it. He taught us so much and eventually gave me a Ghatam. It’s like those large Indian clay pots from the South India percussion family, which he was a master of. I was obsessed for two years. The sounds are so different across the curvature of the pot. I was not good at it, but I was not bad at it either. There were just so many different sounds from that one instrument. I then looked at percussions more seriously and realised - groove sections in music captivated me.”
They say what you listen to in your preteens and teens shapes the music you enjoy. What were you listening to inspired by then that you can clearly see in your music today?
“I listened to Film Music / Bollywood while growing up because that is what my parents actively play in the house. Disco, for example, was massive even in India in the 80s Bollywood that I add Disco into my sets a lot today. Later, I would flip channels between MTV and VH1; that's when the choosing began. But I think that played a huge role. Another significant channel on TV that only people from specific generations will remember was iTV. We would have to call up and use our phone to search through the lists displayed on TV and choose a song if we only managed to get on. It was a critical cultural moment in music for many of us. Crazy Frog, Backstreet Boys, Metallica, and so much music was discovered through it in such an engaging, gamified way. But throughout my life, I just really loved the percussions that we have in our country.
I've lived in Mumbai all my life. There are drum ensembles everywhere on the road at specific times of the year. I have goosebumps just talking about it. There's Ganpati, and there's Navratri. Then there’s the wedding season with these Baraat ensembles everywhere on the streets. They are the heroes of Indian percussions. If I drive by with my brother and listen to music, we will turn it off, open the windows and groove to the music outside. They're loud and infectious with an unstoppable energy frequency. This was my bridge between Afro-house and Indian percussions. It has all been deep-seated in my subconscious, just waiting to be unlocked. When I discovered Afro-house as a genre, I was amazed. All of it was just things that I love; the side of my brain is now into a palatable house version. It matched perfectly with the music in my head. I never really vibed with straight-up house music as much as I vibe with a touch of percussiveness or folk music, instrumentation or vocals in Afro-house. When I started producing on Fruity Loops and Ableton Live, I began with Dubstep and then tried drum and bass, but it didn't feel entirely right. Dubstep and Glitch-Hop still worked with my influences from the Mr Bill and Pretty Lights era. However, I really knew what I had to do once I saw DJ Lag at Magnetic Fields in 2019.”
Your party ‘Pineapples’ has become quite the rage. Can you tell me a little about the Pineapples Party and how it came to be?
“I just felt like we just had one format for shows. That was the usual Friday night or Saturday night format. You go up and play at 11 pm or midnight. I enjoyed that, but also I was discovering music that wasn’t suited to the club night vibe. There were a few rooftop parties, but not too many. I just wanted to organise a party where I could play this other music I was enjoying. I wanted something more informal where people didn’t have to pay much money to enter or for drinks. I just wanted people to relax, smile, and have a good time. We have usually played with long format shows where I sometimes play for 2-3 hours. I have had my friend Discoman and my brother Aztec Table Sound, who is big on Amapiano and has played hour-long sets, come on as guests. Once we did it on the Raasta rooftop in Mumbai, people all over started to reach out, and we did quite a few Pineapples Parties around the country. But again, it was just a gap I found personally that I wanted to fill.”
So, tell me, what about the music industry makes you happy today?
“In my recent times of touring, I've realised that there are a lot of local promoters in Tier 2 and Tier 3 cities that realised this entire need and want fresh electronic music shows to take place in their city. More importantly, they are willing to take the risk. They're willing to go the extra mile, and they're willing to do extra production. They're willing to go the extra mile to create an experience they may have experienced elsewhere, maybe at a festival or online. I have just visited places like Jalandhar, Ludhiana, Amritsar, and Siliguri. I did not imagine I could go there and do the same thing I do in my home or any other comfortable city. Somehow, the music lands just as well, if not better. I'm grateful to be in a place where I'm doing exactly what I think is cool or want to do. Finally, brands have also come on board with understanding the gravity of this counterculture to electronic music within electronic music. You see brands going hard for even niche audiences, which speaks volumes about how the ecosystem is much more robust. You know, you have more festivals, you have more brands putting in money and more marketing spends available, and that enables a lot of emerging talent and enables people to connect and grow as a community.”
You have frequently engaged with the LGBTQIA+ community through your live IPs, from inviting Queer artists to perform to playing at a Drag show. What has your experience been from it?
“I play a lot of Disco in my sets, and I always feel that if it’s possible to hold space for people, then it’s something I would like to do but from the lens of actually holding space. Not just for the sake of it. I looked into the history of Disco, and it just made sense for me to dive into the culture and bring in Queer supporting acts. I did a residency with Auro in Delhi called futursexdisco. I think it was a great couple of shows. Everyone enjoyed it. Spextrum was another live show that I was approached for. It was a great show and a very different format, but I was thrilled to be a part of it and hold that space for the community.”
I always notice that you are dressed uniquely when playing a show, not the usual black t-shirt standardised by DJs worldwide. How important is fashion to you, and how does it add a layer to your music?
“It’s all my wife. Full credit to her for my wardrobe. But I always had this thing where I could not get into the studio wearing the same clothes I went to bed in. I always like to dress the part, so I think my wife's background in fashion shaped what you see now. I mean, I started like every in all blacks. I like to wear something vibey when I make music. It just adds to the process. I feel like I am interacting with my clothes. Recently, I started collaborating with a designer from Delhi called Abhishek Patni and his brand Naught One. He had some cool stuff, and now we’re working on creating something along the lines of a ‘Sickflip Uniform’ merchandise. So expect that to drop soon. Very comfortable gig and festival kind of clothing. But yes, fashion is mostly about comfort and vibe, and that’s just what you see.”
What is next? What is in the pipeline for Sickflip?
“I have a couple of significant collaborations with some international artists who are pioneers in their genres. This particular artist was in town, and we had about five or six hours inthe studio together, where we jammed and came up with some cool Indian-influenced Gqom and then got some rappers to jump on, too—some of my best work. In addition, I’m working on some Indian Amapiano. It’s happening. Excited about that one as well. Amapiano needed some context in India. I don’t think people could relate to the sound as much, but now, with reels and how popular it has gotten in the UK and Africa. People are beginning to understand why there is one particular sound for an hour straight. Seems like an appropriate time to experiment with it using some Indian folk artists. So basically, Indian Amapiano is incoming!”
Lastly, so many people in the country have thoroughly enjoyed your music and parties. You have almost single-handedly brought news sounds onto the Indian dance floor without intending to do so. It has all been you sharing music, organising parties and creating music you enjoy. How has that impacted your thinking as an artist?
“Music will always translate to a person seeking an honest approach, you know? It doesn’t matter if it is a specific genre or cross-genre. I think that's the beauty of it. It would result in more unique-sounding things if everyone caved into more individualistic approaches rather than imitating someone. So I think that's maybe why people vibe out to me or anyone stepping away from the things that are done repeatedly. It gives me the confidence to keep doing and thinking in my individualistic way.”
Other cool things to explore
>> NOW AFRICA - You were briefly introduced to Sickflip's brother in the interview - Aztec Table Sound. Also passionate about African Music, he started an Instagram page to promote a variety of genres to Indian audiences. Here is a little about the platform:
Now Africa is a growing platform. Its motto is to put under-discovered artists on the global stage ASAP. We are a discovery platform for artists, culture and genres, capturing these topics in real-time.We are also growing the concept into collaborating with artists, collectives and events to apply to the overarching motto of Now Africa
>> In my previous blog post titled - The future of music scenes lies in subcultures and storytelling, I spoke about how, for countries like India in Asia, and others in Africa, and Latin America, the next shift of music scenes will come as a repurposed genres creating a new subculture of music rising from Rural and Semi-urban centres. A new blog post on Skillbox (a very important music ticking platform in India) by renowned Indian music journalist Amit Gurbaxani - Why Indore Is Poised To Become India’s Next Live Music Hub talks about how Indore, a tier 2 city in India, is rising as a live music hub. Exciting changes are already happening in markets like my home. More diversity in sound and consumption will enable emerging markets to diverge from the traditional growth trajectory in the most authentic way.
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Srishti Das is a music industry professional focused on bringing more light from new music markets and cultures. You can reach me at email@example.com to discuss collaborations, projects or to just have a chat!