Desi Electronica’s New Leader: Up Close With Ritviz
During my extremely embarrassing EDM phase in 2014, I came across Nucleya’s Laung Gawacha. The song had me hooked on from the minute I hit play. For the first time, I heard electronic beats with Indian melodies flowing perfectly over them with a drop that didn’t disappoint. That marked the era of Nucleya along with the birth and rise of desi electronic music in India. Today, desi electronica is not defined by the name that started it but by the name that rules the genre right now — Ritviz. I’m right on time for my interview with Ritviz. I enter a beautiful AirBnB in Mumbai’s Bandra area. It overlooks the sea, but we’re not close enough to hear the waves or get your wooden furniture corroded. This is just one of the many pads Ritviz will use to work on his music, based on his mood and schedule. He usually sticks to producing in his room but he was going to be using the apartment to record some vocals and polish off some tracks. I make myself comfortable on a weirdly-shaped yet surprisingly comfortable chair. Ritviz comes out of the washroom in his Gucci flip-flops after freshening himself up, and apologizes for keeping us waiting. He’s slightly groggy, the shower helped, but not as much as an eight-hour nap would. He tells me he was awake till five in the morning working on his album, DEV, that’s set to come out this year. Funnily enough, he was doing the exact same thing in 2014. Just replace the luxurious AirBnB and Gucci flip flops for a room in his parent’s house. But the sleepless nights producing music is what’s still in common.
Ritviz Srivastava has a rather unconventional musical background for an electronic producer. He is a formally-trained classical singer from Pune and comes from a family deeply rooted in Indian classical music. His father played the tabla and his mother was an Indian classical singer, so he was exposed to the instrumental as well as the vocal aspect of music from a very young age. A career in music seemed imminent. “I woke up in the mornings with my mom’s alaap. By the time I was seven or eight, I joined her. She never forced me to join her or forced music on me, and because of that, I developed a natural interest in music.” Ritviz eventually formally pursued Indian classical singing. He trained in Khayal under the guidance of his mother, and then eventually trained in Dhrupad for five years under a guru. But as fate would have it, his interests steered off towards a more Western direction. “While I was studying Dhrupad, I followed the guru-shishya tradition where you don’t pay your guru, but help him in other ways. I would come in the morning, spend five hours training and then do all the chores. I did this from the fifth standard to my 10th. But when I was in the seventh grade, I was exposed to techno and hip-hop. While Indian classical builds you, it also restricts you. You don’t have a lot of freedom because you’re basically singing the same things that have been sung for ages. That would really bother me because I wanted to experiment. VH1 was my main source of finding music from the West. From then on, I started downloading beats online and writing verses. By the time I was 16 or 17, I started producing only because I wanted complete control. But eventually, I got more interested in production than singing. My vocals went down and my instrumentals started coming out in the songs a lot more. At the time, electronic music was really picking up and when I heard my first Tiesto track, it really pulled me towards the genre.”
So the shift happened from classical to electronic. Ritviz was happy, but how did his parents react to their son’s unconventional, new-found interest after years of formal training? His parents had heard his musical interests change throughout the years, he tells me. It went from classical music to Linkin Park to Jay Z to Tiesto, and finally landed on his own songs blasting from his room. I was expecting him to pour his heart out and tell me how he had to fight his way through and make his parents accept him. Maybe even throw in the classic “mere ghar se nikal ja” dialogue. But it didn’t quite go that route. Turns out, his parents were very supportive of his new interest. “My folks are very open-minded in general, and were very accepting of my music. They realised that he likes composing and he’s doing what he loves. Also, for me, my shift was very seamless because at the end of the day, it was all still sounding like me. It was all still very desi. Very me, just slightly altered.” He released his debut EP, Vizdumb, in 2013 followed by his next EP titled YUV. He spent his time DJing, sometimes to a handful of people, and going up to people and telling them to come hear him play. In 2017, he and his manager decided to submit a track to the Bacardi House Party Sessions. The track Udd Gaye ended up being selected and went on to become his breakthrough hit. After its overwhelming success, he was doing three shows a week and playing to sold-out crowds. But his unique sound wasn’t a product of one hit song that stuck around. It was an on-going, meticulous process. He spent years creating his own sound that he’s become synonymous with.
While Ritviz currently is the flagbearer of the desi electronic scene, it was Nucleya who introduced Indians to the sound. Interestingly, Nucleya has been supporting Ritviz for some time now. “He’s been a friend, mentor and even a dad to me. He’s supported me from the start. I remember once I was playing a 3 PM set at a festival with almost no one around. It was just my parents in the crowd and then Nucleya came down to watch me perform. It was crazy.” I bring up their similar musical styles. He quickly replies, “Look, both our music styles run parallel to each other. If I had to classify our music styles, he’s more folk and I’m more classical. We’re both very desi in our own way.” In the excitement, he confirmed that he and Nucleya actually have a few songs on which they worked together (You read it here first). “Our collaboration is going to be insane. We’ve worked on two or three songs already. I might drop them sometime this year.” Similar to Nucleya, Ritviz also isn’t running away from Bollywood. He’s been flooded with offers and he’s already taken some of them up. “We’ve done a bunch of projects already and there’s some in the pipeline that I can’t talk about. Bollywood is a space that does have a lot of names I admire and respect. Amit Trivedi is one and, of course, I cannot forget the legend, Mr AR Rahman.”
I ended the interview on Rahman. Don’t blame me; it’s almost auspicious to do so. On my way back, I once again go through his whole discography and YouTube videos. But this time, not for research purposes, just as someone who enjoys his music. His fan base is in thousands as of today, and he almost always sells out his shows. He recently hosted his own festival that turned out to be a huge success and opened for Katy Perry right before she went on stage during her recent concert in Mumbai. He started young and he started strong. The hours he spent practising classical music, doing his guru ji’s laundry, producing music and playing DJ sets to almost no one, has paid off. It all contributed to who he is today. It’s safe to say that Ritviz is the biggest name in the Indian electronic scene today and he’s got the potential and accomplishments to prove it.