Tracing The Journey Of KRUNK
7 May 2015
Our tale begins in the teeming, balmy metropolis of Mumbai, circa 2009.
Its protagonist, Sohail Arora, a familiar name to many of you reading this, was at the time employed as a programmer at blueFROG – a multi city venue, famed for its enthusiastic support of alternative and indie music that should need no further introduction. Six years might barely be a blip in the overarching fabric of time but when it comes to the contemporary alternative music space, 6 years, specifically these, is a considerably long time.
Electronic music had already been around in Mumbai since the mid and late 90s with the Bhavishyavani Future Soundz crew and the Asian Underground community, but they existed only in very small pockets. The coming decade saw the beginning of the electronic explosion – Sunburn opened to huge crowds in 2007 and suddenly electronic music, largely of the commercial variety, was in demand.
On the other side of the looking glass existed a relatively smaller group of people with a passion for alternative, bassier sounds. Part of that group was Bay Beat Collective (known better as BBC) – a team that pushed drum n’ bass and dubstep to the music community in Bombay and continue to do so today. Legends in their own right, the BBC back then was made up of Raffael Kably (no longer a part of BBC) Sohail Arora and Kris Correya.
Image credit: Shrinivas Kanchi
Despite a larger artist base, more venues that understood the value of their sound and a steadily increasing audience, there was a distinct lack of support towards alternative music in terms of promoters, booking agents and managers. Sohail wanted to try his hand at changing this - using the experience, enthusiasm and network he had created while working at blueFROG. And so came about the birth of one of India’s first booking agencies - a cornerstone for many to follow – KRUNK.
6 years down the line, KRUNK has evolved from a small independent booking agency to a veritable institution that now includes artist management, events and their very own festival. The list of the milestones the KRUNK team has reached would fill pages. They’re celebrating their birthday in a big way this year, bringing down ace Malaysian duo Bass Sekolah (CEE & Darren Ashley) down for a tour of the motherland. There seemed no better time to get in touch with KRUNK’s founder and boss man Sohail Arora to talk about his journey with KRUNK.
On the eve of their anniversary, Sohail tells us that the milestone feels surreal “The whole experience has been super intense and fun at the same time. But yes, it feels good to still be alive and feel inspired after 6 years.” When he first quit blueFROG, Sohail tells us, most of the artists he approached were happy to work with him and push the movement forward - “I remember some of the earlier acts on the agency included DJ Ruskin, Kini Rao and my own crew BBC.”
KRUNK’s first ever gig was headlined by electronic figureheads MIDIval Punditz, who were hugely popular at the time. “I organised their Pune album launch for ‘Hello Hello’. The gig went well and more than 1000 people attended. I’d say it was a great start to a new company. However, we exceeded on our time restriction and I got dragged to the cop station in front of all those people. It was kind of embarrassing back then but a great story nevertheless.”
Over the years KRUNK has been instrumental in producing and elevating some of the biggest and most prolific talent in India. Sohail has helped artists like Dualist Inquiry, Sandunes, Nicholson and Shaai’r and Func take root in the industry that they’re now dominating.
“Well to be honest most of them were and are close friends who needed to be pushed at that time and I just helped in any way I could. They are all very talented and constantly inspire me to do what I do. So I’m glad to have worked with them and had the opportunity to create some amazing memories over the years.”
With a roster which now includes acclaimed and very popular national and international acts (Alo Wala, BASSFoundation and Delhi Sultanate, Su Real, SICKFLIP, Your Chin and Kumail to name a few) KRUNK is only going from strength to strength. They’ve started uploading ‘Krunkcasts’ hosted most of the time by Delhi bass initiator and veteran scenester Su Real. Krunkcasts also include exclusive guest mixes by artists known and unknown. Seriously, check them out – it’s a great crash course to the Indian alternative music space.
Sohail’s first love has always been bass music so when he had the resources to run his own festival a year after starting KRUNK, he grabbed the opportunity and ran with it. India’s one and only bass centric electronic music festival BASS CAMP was formed in 2010. The idea, he tells us, was to simply spread the sound of bass music across the country – “ I think we have succeeded very well in doing so over the years. It doesn’t stop here and we go up another level this year.” He cryptically leaves it at that, advising us (and we’re passing on the message) to keep an eye out for something big in the coming year. His view of bass music in India, generally, has also grown positive – “I think it’s super healthy now and communities like Wild City, Homegrown, Lucid, Arms House, OML with Dub Station and us at KRUNK and BASS CAMP have constantly pushed the boundaries with the same and will continue to do so because we love the bass.” Previous performers at BASS CAMP have included Alix Perez, Mr. Bill, Calyx & Teebee and London Elektricity.
We asked him about some of the other milestones in his journey - “I would say taking Indian acts to the Outlook Festival in Croatia – one of the biggest bass fests in the world, international tours of Norway, UK, Germany with many of my artists. Besides that, just being able to push bass music and bringing it to the forefront of the scene here has been very fulfilling. Indian tours with some of the finest international acts like DUB FX, Dub Phizix, Alix Perez, London Elektricity, Koan Sound, FKJ, DBridge, Nanci & Phoebe (Congo Natty Crew), Calyx & Teebee, Concord Dawn, Klute, Nymfo and many more stand out too.”
The path to reach those milestones hasn’t been easy. Back when the scene was less evolved compared to today, pushing non-mainstream sounds to crowds and convincing festivals and venues to book them was the biggest challenge - “Over time, our roster evolved and so did the music scene which made things easier. Now every artist on our roster have busy schedules with constant work.”
Image courtesy BASS CAMP
“Another challenge was sustaining a couple of the bigger artists. Once artists get bigger, they feel the need to be part of a bigger organisation. That doesn’t necessarily work in my opinion. But this has changed over time as well and we represent some of the biggest artists in the alternative space. I believe experience helps, and over time you learn to tackle most problems and think from a productive business point of view. Also it’s very important not to give up and stay humble and grounded. That’s been the biggest learning for me over the years.”
Another constant bane for anyone in his shoes is dealing with absurd nightlife policies and arbitrary policing – “The policies are constantly a challenge to deal with. We’ve been regressing as a country and that is by far the biggest de-motivator in the whole scenario. Then again you learn to work your way around it. I really hope things will change soon and we can have a forward thinking music scene with the right support from the government, as having a healthy nightlife and cultural scene benefits everyone.” With Bombay’s changing policies (you may be able to have parties all night now), we can only cross our fingers and hope.
It isn’t an easy industry to be a part of. Apart from everything Sohail has already mentioned, the lifestyle of someone pushing music is hectic, unhealthy and often unrewarding. So what it is that keeps him going? “Music. Thank god I’m passionate about the music or else I would have been out a long time ago.”
And when it comes to KRUNK’s future, we’re of the firm belief that it has nowhere to go but up. Sohail would rather wait and watch, and only had this to say – “Well, it’s going to a positive place. Let’s not jinx it.”
We’ll refrain. KRUNK celebrates its birthday in Delhi, Pune or Mumbai this weekend; we suggest you drop by if you’re around.
Words: Diya Gupta
Image credit (main): Ola Grochowska