Electronica Artist ShiShi: ‘I Want to Create Dance Music That is Accessible At a Global Level’
The Indian-American DJ/producer on crossing borders with music and keeping an open mind during production
It’s not the most conventional choice to make one’s debut with a prayer dance track but for Indian-American DJ/producer Aasheesh Paliwal aka ShiShi, operating within boundaries has never been a default predisposition.
“Aarti,” his 2017 four-minute single samples the song “O Palanhaare” from the cult classic Bollywood movie Lagaan (2001), hitting mellifluous flute notes on a groovy bed of synth. ShiShi’s intention was to create a conscious dance track, something that people could move to but that also carried a powerful message of faith and connection. “Obviously for those who understand Hindi, the lyrics are powerful, but the greatest and most pleasant surprise for me has been how the track has resonated with so many non-Indian people in America and the west,” he says. Part of the reason is reflected in ShiShi’s diverse sonic oeuvre which blends Dembow rhythms with dancehall, hip-hop, house, ragas, afro-beat, Cuban salsa and more and it was ultimately an untapped restlessness that led him to discover his sound.
Growing up, the DJ/producer played the violin and guitar quite intensively while listening to his mum hum ragas, all while the soundtrack of Bollywood films tore through the speakers at home. His family also moved from China to Switzerland to the United States, and ShiShi was exposed to music from all the cultures. “I was always playing music written by other people hundreds of years ago. I wanted to create my own music with no rules or boundaries, where I could just play with sounds and experiment outside the confines of western classical music,” he says. That led him to start messing around with digital audio workstation Garageband, which coupled with his exposure to dance music and hip-hop in college, soon became a platform to express his own music ideas, while forcing him to learn to create the sounds he needed on his computer.
Alongside playing sets at festivals such as Austin’s SXSW and Kansas’ Dancefestopia, ShiShi also dropped his eponymous debut album last year. Spanning soulful singing, spitfire rapping and Bollywood samples amidst diverse and intuitive production, the album also featured an array of artists including Nigerian singer-songwriter/producer Daramola, Italian-Canadian R&B/pop vocalist Adriiana, Los Angeles electronica artist Azuria Sky and more. “I never want to box myself into one genre or style – I think going into the creative process with that kind of mindset limits the range of what we as individuals can express through our art, and can also make us lose track of the most important thing – to authentically transmit a feeling to the audience,” says ShiShi.
The artist followed a storyline with the record, arranging the tracks to follow a “hero’s journey.” The vibrant album opener “Burn Out” segues into the leisured electronica of “Deepest Ocean,” reflecting the initial excitement, subsequent self-doubt and fear that marks the beginning of any great adventure, before moving on to the rhythm-slick rap track “Waste No Time” and the high-octane Bollywood remix “Doom” which express the force and will needed to stay on course. The electro-pop earworm “Need Your Love” represents the call to return home from loved ones while “Be Still,” a meditation track, finds itself in the middle, with ShiShi posing a chance to listeners to return to a place of inner stillness. “Dance music has such a wonderful energy to it, and within that energy it can also be a bit chaotic at times. That’s why I wanted to give people a moment halfway through the album to just check in with themselves and become present, before continuing to listen,” he says.
The artist is currently in Brazil and has been experimenting with Baile funk rhythms while also incorporating indigenous Amazonian music in his production from his time in Costa Rica. ShiShi recently dropped a remix EP for “Burn Out” and will be kicking off a North American tour next month, all while gearing up for an end of the year debut showcase in the U.K. and India along with a collective of U.S.-based south Asian artists. Listeners can also expect a few more original singles this year.
Going forward, ShiShi wants to get more experimental with combining elements from different regions, finding shared connections underneath seemingly different sounding music. “I want to create dance music that is accessible at a global level, peppered with different cultural influences, while staying true to my own sound,” he says.