“DJs are artists, but we are also performers… it’s our responsibility to get on stage, entertain our audience and deliver the best possible product we’re capable of.” There is perhaps no one who has mastered this balance between artist and performer better than Atish. Revered as ‘one of the nicest guys in the scene’, Atish’s music is always rooted in a positive message, which radiates across dance floors. This Saturday, July 1, we couldn’t be more excited to embrace the energy of an Atish set, as thousands of Toronto’s music lovers congregate at The Portlands for a special Electric Island Canada 150 Celebration! But first, we had the opportunity to go deeper with Atish, reflecting on the personalities of our scene, the environment and the responsibility/ significance of what it means to be an artist.
First off, we’re very excited to have you back in Toronto and this time, making your Electric Island debut! You recently posted that you felt Toronto has “one of the most enthusiastic positive dance floor energies.” Can you recall your first time playing here? What was that experience like and how has it transformed over the years?
Thank you, I’m super excited to come back to Toronto! The first time I played this fine city was back in 2014 on the Kajama boat, which was some kind of crazy pirate ship. The crowd was fully decked out in costumes, and I think there was a naked person running around on the boat as well. That show had such an intense and positive energy. After that gig, I was pretty much loyal to playing Cabal for the next few years until it closed down. I loved that place, and Cabal was one of the first clubs in my career that taught me about building a relationship with an audience over the span of years (as opposed to the span of hours). The more I played Cabal, the more comfortable I felt with the audience, and the more comfortable they felt with me. We both amplified each other every time I came back, which was really special.
Cabal was one of the first clubs in my career that taught me about building a relationship with an audience over the span of years.
One of the many (and consistent) remarks made about your sets is the warmth and welcoming nature, which you bring. How important do you feel it is for DJs to show their personalities/ hone their performance skills behind the decks?
This is a great question, and I waver back and forth. I have 2 answers, both of which contradict each other, but with which I also agree:
DJs are artists, but we are also performers. People pay money for us to entertain them and whether we admit or not, we are putting on a show. It doesn’t matter if we had a stressful day of travel, just broke up with our girlfriend, or just feel uninspired. It’s our responsibility to get on stage, entertain our audience and deliver the best possible product we’re capable of.
When I’m on the dance floor as a dancer, I look to the DJ to guide the energy of the room. If the DJ is having fun, I’m more likely to have fun. If the DJ engages the audience, even if done in a subtle way, he/she is often rewarded with a positive response. The DJ should be aware of these factors and work to maximize them to his fullest capacity. This is part of being a performer at a professional level.
On the other hand, art is communication, and what’s most important is the message that the artist is trying to deliver. If a DJ authentically communicates his/her message by engaging the audience through body language, then I support that (yes, I do have a place in my heart for Steve Aoki, the cake thrower). If the DJ is physically disengaged with the audience because he/she is completely focused on delivering the message through his craft, then I support that approach as well (I have a huge place in my heart for John Digweed, a stoic stage presence who still rocks the house every time I see him). At the end of the day, an artist is trying to deliver a message. If the crowd receives that message, then the artist has fulfilled his duty, regardless of how much hand-waving and dancing they do (or don’t).
For me, it usually feels natural to engage the audience, so I do it. When I feel the energy of a crowd, that gets my adrenaline pumping and makes me a better DJ. But I also have gigs where I am not on the same wavelength as the crowd and I have to work twice as hard to focus and get in the right headspace, which means I’m less engaging as a performer. I see both sides of the coin, so my specific answer to this question really depends on how good (or bad) my last gig went.
There’s a lot of talk about ‘egos’ in the scene, but your ‘Late Night Tonite!’ parties remind us of the fun, comedic side that comes with music and its various personalities. When did you begin this party series? Who has been your favourite ‘musical guest’ to interview so far?
Thank you, although I still cringe at how serious I am when I watch the videos. I could use a good joke writer!
The first Late Night Tonite! installation was in 2015 with YokoO, though for that event, the concept was much simpler: we just designed the flyer like a late night talk show – there wasn’t any in-person interview.
But for the next edition, I explored the idea of actually doing a talk show-style interview at the club, in front of an audience. It’s kind of a weird idea for a club night, but hey, why the hell not? There are so many engaging personalities in the scene who have perspectives to educate us and words to inspire us. I’m fortunate enough to get to hear these words when I spend time with these artists on tour, so I thought it would be nice to share these insights with the rest of the community.
It’s really hard to choose my favorite as each interview brought something unique to the table, but I think Philipp Jung (of M.A.N.D.Y.) interview is the strongest one so far. He revealed an endearing rawness and vulnerability that’s hard to find.
Based on your experience as an artist in the hot seat — do you feel like you’re more intuitive/ sensitive to the artists’ needs when asking questions? Or is it the opposite —is there no holding back?
As part of the booking process, I think about what unique perspective the artist has that I can showcase in an interview, whether it’s their experience, opinions, humour, vulnerability, and so on. To go back to the Philipp example, I’ve had many conversations with him over the years where he would just give such real authentic answers that I knew I could get personal with my questions. Doc Martin was also a great guest, but I could read that he found the party concept a bit weird (and fairly so!), so I asked questions to draw more on his experience as an industry veteran rather than focus on invasive personal questions.
There are so many engaging personalities in the scene who have perspectives to educate us and words to inspire us.
Recently, we had the chance to chat with your pal and Manjumasi co-founder Mark Slee. Surely you’ve met thousands of people through the music biz, but how does it feel to still be working with someone that you’ve known since high school?
Running Manjumasi with Slee is one of the biggest joys in my life as an artist. At the most obvious level, it’s a pleasure working on a project every day with your best friend. But beyond that, it can take months, if not years, to figure out your collaborator’s quirks or communication styles. We’re fortunate to have had a 16 year head start on that process, so I know how to read between the lines when Slee is unhappy with something, and I know how to calibrate my expectations to figure out when he’s excited. He probably has a toolkit of techniques to manage my personality, too, I should ask him some time. Also, we’ve had all these years to learn each other’s strengths and weakness, so task delegation and shared responsibility feels completely natural to both of us.
We understand that ‘House Heads’ has roots in environmental philanthropy. Do you still consider yourself an environmentalist? How do you try to lessen your carbon footprint? What’s the #1 thing you urge friends/ family to think about on this topic?
I care about the environment and I would like to do more to help, but I eat meat and I fly thousands of miles every week to play other people’s music, so I’m not sure if it’s fair to call me an environmentalist…or at the very least I’m just a lousy one!
That being said, I think some of lowest hanging fruit in the United States right now is climate change awareness. A recent gallop poll showed that 45% of Americans worry a great deal about climate change. In my opinion, that number is too low, but the good news is that it’s going up, year over year. We need more people to be aware of how serious a problem this is. That will force our politicians to change their stances and priorities, so I urge my friends/family to be vocal and educate the public where they can.
In that vein, from time to time, I do get vocal on my artist page and donate portions of my booking fees towards causes I believe in in hopes of educating and encouraging others to get involved.
You’re very active on your Soundcloud page, putting out regular mixes that are often tied to an emotional idea/ symbol. Tell us about that — there’s many artists who aren’t nearly as busy as yourself, and yet you continue to make these mixes a priority. Why is that?
I’m really lucky. Most “new generation” DJs make it to the international level by relying on original productions and/or label support to built their name and audience. I was able get to that point without releasing any original work, and I largely attribute that to consistently releasing concept mixes nearly every month for the last 7 years. I’ve organically built a relationship with my audience through my mixes, and based on the feedback I get, it feels extremely satisfying to know that they are picking up the message that I’m putting out there. To be honest, it’s been tough keeping up with that rate of release given how much time time it takes me to finish a mix and how much I’ve been on the road the last 2 years, but I’m definitely doing my best to not forget what got me to this point. I’m doing the best I can!
When you want to hear a fresh mix — who are some of the artists/ sources that you go to?
Mark Slee, Hisham Zahran, Naveen G, and Patrice Baumel
Are there any final remarks or news you’d like to share with our readers?
Thanks for taking the time to hear what I have to say. I’m very grateful for your support, and looking forward to playing some nice music for all of you in a couple days 🙂
Grab your tickets to see Atish at Electric Island here!