Chatting With KSHMR

by Paulette Ely

Niles Hollowell-Dhar, known to most by his DJ alias KSHMR, has rocked the electronic dance music production world for years. Even if you are not familiar with him by name, you’re definitely familiar with a piece of 2010 radio gold that he leant a hand on, “Like a G6.” However, this Berkeley native has come a long way since “sippin sizzurp,” as he went on to not only produce stupendous songs like his 2015 hit with Tiesto,  “Secrets,” but also to become one of the most prominent figures when it comes to live concert success. DJ Mag has credited Niles with the “Best Live Act” award due his infatuation with fresh visuals and narratives that resonate with the thousands in his crowds. Niles is currently on his North American “The Giant” tour that embodies a whole new storyline, and he has a new song, “Magic” out this Friday that showcases his unique productive techniques. I was fortunate enough to see this all for myself, as I completely lost myself in his set at Escape this past weekend. I was able to see how each element of Niles’ style of production and attention to detail aids to a vibe of euphoria with each seamless transition. After his final beat drop, I ran over to the tent to meet up with Niles to snap some quick pics in between his celebratory smooches with his girlfriend and to chat about how far he has come in the EDM industry.

Where exactly did you start? How did your passion for producing come about?

Well, I was really into rap music, so I would write raps and then I would also produce for the kids at my school who were also into the music scene You know, at my school it was all about the Hyphy movement ‘cause I grew up in the Bay Area. Kids in my class would rap and I’d be like, “Hey, come back to my ‘studio’”-which was my moms house- and I’d produce for these kids. I’d make like $10-15 bucks an hour, or I’d do it for free sometimes ‘cause I really just loved doing it.

That’s genius.

Yeah, well I needed weed money eventually so…

Do you still try to incorporate rap music into your music now?

Not really. I knew a lot of people who used rap music as an excuse to act out where I’m from. As a kid I was just as guilty as anyone, I mean I was so involved with that culture. But, I can tell you now as an adult, the rap scene at that time was responsible for knuckleheads that I grew up with doing dumb shit that got them killed and got them in prison. But, I still love rap music. I just think that I had to realize that as you get older, you can’t just be who you wish you were. You gotta be who you are and it just wasn’t truly who I am. 

It’s so interesting comparing two different kinds of music. Everyone feels so affected by music and when you can sit down and understand how you relate to music, for you it’s like “hey, let me sit down and produce and show all of you that this how I want to show my voice”.

I think it’s more of who I’m meant to be. When you’re young, you don't really get it, but as you’re older, you get that the guys that let fights go, or who swallow their pride and do the right thing when no ones looking, they seem like wimps when you're young, but you realize those are the real cool guys as you get older. The dance music scene seems more filled with that. Just as we were walking over here, I saw this sign was kind of tilted over and these two girls walked over to fix it. Only in the dance music scene, would you see that.

True. When you come to these kinds of festivals, with a lot more EDM, people just want to be there to listen to the music.

Yeah, its about sharing the experience.

I know that you come from a diverse heritage, how did that influence you music or your goals overall?

When I was young, I really just wanted to fit in. I didn’t think there was anything cool about being Indian. My dad came from India when he was 25 years old and met my mom in California. When I wanted to drop out of college, this really upset them, and they sent me to go visit my grandpa in India to live with him for 10 days. So, I went and he tried to teach me the art of time management, which to him basically meant managing school as my main focus and music as a hobby. 10 days turned into 2 months, they didn't actually have a return ticket for me, so I ended up spending a lot of time in India with my grandpa and, obviously, he didn’t succeed in his mission to stop me from making music, but I really felt my connection to my heritage for the first time in my life. It changed my life forever. 

I heard that you were just named #18 on DJ Mag Top 100 list, which is HUGE! Is there a certain moment, maybe with that or other awards before, that made you realize like “Hold shit, I made it. Everything I worked for has payed off”?

I don’t think consciously I’ll ever accept that. Unfortunately, subconsciously, on days where I feel like being lazy, I think that’ll creep into your mind- the accolades you’ve received. When you think about being lazy, like “ugh should I do this or should I hang out with my dogs,” you think “well hey Im doing pretty well” And I don't like that. I don't like the idea that theres some metric, which is usually weighing you against other people, that enables you to just go easy on yourself. So, when it comes to music which is something I do really care about, I try to avoid things that allow me to feel accomplished.

So when you’re performing and you get all of the energy from the crowd, is that your sweet bliss?

I’ll tell you, every night is special, no doubt, but I think it’s when you do something different that is exciting. Listen, you can be in room full of shit and eventually the smell will go away. You can be in a room full of roses, and eventually the smell will go away. It’s the times that I’ve tested myself- played a bunch of new music or when I did a whole live version of the show with a cellist and violinist- that was something different that tested me and that was really truly exciting. So I think those are the moments in life, not just music, that will truly make you feel like you did something and leave you spirited.

Photos by: Paulette Ely