The second installment of 2016’s Shambhala’s Mix Series is offered up by of San Francisco’s Only Now. Also known as Kush Arora, Only Now is a groundbreaking new project in which he explores a wide network of electro-african rhythm-based subgenres, uniquely infusing industrial influences of yesteryear into the Only Now sound – self-described as “pretty dark, expansive, intense, and a bit unforgiving.” So while Kush Arora’s original material could be easily tied to the dubstep and electronic dancehall movements of the mid-2000s (he played Shambhala in 2009), is certainly more sprawling, more eclectic, and a bit more challenging. We talk about both in the following interview, but first – press play to check out the exclusive half hour mix he’s presented us with in advance of the Only Now set on The Living Room Stage at Shambhala 2016 – check for the tracklisting at the bottom of the page:
(SMF): First off, let’s talk about Kush Arora. You rose to prominence along with North America’s introductory insurgence of dubstep alongside acts like Joe Nice and Juakali. Where in the USA where you based at the time, and what acts, internationally and locally, had initially inspired you to start producing bass music?
(Only Now/Kush Arora): I was/am based in San Francisco and it was pretty much ground zero along with NYC for those genres at the time. We have a vibrant scene of international artists collaborating with locals and doing shows together, so music spread fast. In a few neighborhoods at that time lots of us producers all lived nearby, so it perfectly bread a good scene. I had been playing around town since my teens in experimental, industrial projects, and after that producing lots of Indian Dancehall vibed things. I was always into ragga cross pollination of genres, whether that be Dub, Electronic Dancehall, Indo Carribean stuff, so the current mood just caught up to what I had been into for years – part of that pie was Dubstep. That’s how I ended up working with Juakali and other reggae artists who infiltrated American Dubstep, so it wasn’t necessarily by design but it ended up being the crowd that really felt my sounds.
Kush Arora in the lab in 2011, hair system by NewHairLine
As far as my influences – they are really wide, so I’ll narrow it to stuff that was in that musical realm at the time. I loved the band Various Production, Scorn (early dub from the drummer of Napalm Death that predates dubstep), Shackleton, Roll Deep Crew, The Bug, Sukh Knight, Sub Swara, RSD, and a decent amount of UK steppers. Locally, I was inspired by a lot of artists, namely Kid 606’s Shockout label, DJ G (aka Grenier), Fluorescent Grey, Dhamaal Crew.
Kush Arora came to perform at Shambhala once with fellow stateside dubbers, Sub Swara, back in 2009. What were your first impressions of the festival? Did anything set it apart from other festival experiences? We are obviously going back a number of years here, but are there are any specific experiences or memories that stick out to you in retrospect?
Shambhala struck me at the time as the best festival of its type around, hands down. First off, the location – was so perfect. As soon as I got there I knew that this was going to be extremely fun. Half the fucking festivals out there are in horridly hot places, or painfully far away with a river full of sewage to frolic in, and this was so different. The stages, setup, food, general vibe of the place was so well put together. The performance we did is really special to me – my set with Juakali live there changed a lot for me. It opened up doors for me to play in Canada, meet so many new fans, promoters, and realize that there might be a larger scope than I anticipated for what I was working on.
Let’s now move on to your newer project, Only Now, which is booked to perform on The Living Room Stage this summer at Shambhala 2016. To those that are familiar with the Kush Arora sound, how does your new project differ, sonically?
Only Now differs in many ways than what many folks have come to know of my work under my real name. My “sound” is actually hard to pinpoint, which is part of the reason I really wanted to start something new under a different alias. My sound has really depends on what you listened to of mine over the years – from indian dub step (Sub Swara era), to dancehall (Gyptian, Gappy Ranks collabs), mutant african dance strains (Spoeke Mathambo remixes) to recent production of baile funk with Zuzuka Poderosa. It’s been a lot of records with influences and vocalists from all over the world, and totally different audiences depending on which circle I’m playing within. But I had to stop everything, I really had something new that I felt wasn’t being done and could really allow me express years of experiments into one solid vision.
Only Now is my returning to where I left off in my early 20’s with what one could call “industrial” music, and combining what I described of the last decade of my career. It’s a core, elemental, pure body and rhythm based aesthetic I’ve developed with my love for Kuduro, Tarraxo, and electronic african sub genres, to a place of industrial sound design, bleak atmospheres, and relentless beats in the performance. This project is generally pretty dark, expansive, intense, and a bit unforgiving compared to my other music which by all means feels pretty tame compared to this. Only Now is beat based first and foremost, with rapid fire drum patterns, vocal chop ups, tuned metal, and weird tribal synth drums that are flying all over the place. Melodically it’s bendy, moody gothic and lush synthesizers and unique atonal synths and sound design that is in harmony with the drum notes, since they are so pivotal to the entire sound. It’s heads down, body go type of shit, nothing to over think. People who dig Muzlimgauze, Clap Clap Clap, Ninos Du Brasil, Buraka Som Sistema, or live techno folks – you will be excited.
Beyond that, how does it differ, in ethos? What was the motivation behind moving towards a new alias? Is there a particular goal that you see yourself moving towards with Only Now?
The project has a few differences in ethos for sure, and also in how it’s executed. This music is much more about resistance, cyberpunk themes, and about diving into the deeper realms of oneself. It’s totally therapeutic for me, I struggle with the state of the way things are these days, I need a lot of release to even keep my head straight or from going crazy – that’s what you hear in this. My other music as I mentioned earlier involves a lot of people, so only a certain portion of it displayed that, but that’s really who I am and what I’m into, always have been. This isn’t “fun” music or particularly uplifting, but I think it’s very primal and intrinsic music which is why I’m really all about it. Doing party songs and fun dancehall joints is super fun for me, but it’s not really where I’m at mentally on a daily basis.
I have learned some basic visual software so there is midi triggered for each song a round of visuals that interact with how I’m dubbing the music, which is really fun and new for me. The visuals are lots of video i’ve treated and cut up from machine manufacturers and the like, joys of You Tube, I really look forward to sharing this with the folks at Shambhala.
I notice you’ve got some Front 242 featured in this mix, and it seems like you are making a point to introduce Industrial influences to your new project – where is that coming from? What were some of the Industrial groups that perhaps influenced you when you were younger?
I have spent as much if not more time involved in industrial music than anything else over the years. Big influences for me are dear Vancouver gods Skinny Puppy, Japanese noise master Merzbow, Godflesh, Muzlimgauze, and Coil. These guys were a million miles ahead, and I feel like the Only Now mixes are perfect for me to share that to show the influence.
So far you have one self-titled EP and the freshly released “Hollow” 4-tracker credited as Only Now, and you’ve also been simultaneously continuing to release more Caribbean-inspired music as Kush Arora – recent collaborations including works with Gappy Ranks, Jahdan Blakkamore, Dreadsquad and Blackout JA. What have you got on the horizon for each project, release-wise? Can we expect to see another Kush Arora album some time in the near future?
Lastly, what could one expect to hear if they were to turn up to your set at Shambhala this summer? Is the half hour set we’re releasing today an accurate representation of the sounds you figure you’ll be bringing to the Beach?
As far as the set goes, here’s a few clips of me live, and I’ll let the music speak for itself! You can hear a few of my songs in the set, but I’m doing something all live so it won’t be like this, but you can convince me to DJ a set somewhere later that weekend:)
The new Timeslave EP will be coming out around that time, preview is here:
Expect something ritualistic, that is all about body and riddims( good for dancers, juke fans, tribal folks), and it’ll keep getting more intense as it goes. I personally would love to see anybody there who has an aversion to cheesy EDM garbage – all you people need to be with me. Anybody who wants to dig deep, all the psychedelic freaks who actually want something new – No tricks, no shitty build ups and stop start drop hands in the air shit, just pure heat nonstop.
Cheers Kush, thanks for your time – we will see you on the Salmo River Ranch in August!
Tracklisting for Only Now – Shambhala 2016 Promo DJ Mix:
1. Solar Year – Abby & Amber
2. Dj Liu’K – Simples & Bom
3. 3 Way Boyz ft. Gqom Generation – Sgubhu SomGroovo
4. Cruel Boyz – Umeqo Emagqomini (Dub mix)
5. Only Now – Needs
6. Front 242 – Work (L-Vis 1990 Edit)
7. Flowdan – Horror Show Style Acapella (on The Front 242 Riddim)
8. Vissacoor – Spectral Evidence
9. Arca – Sinner
10.The Haxan Cloak – Excavation (Part 1)
11. Dominowe – Africa’s Cry
12. Louisahhh!!! – Want
13. Dj Julz – Marikana
14. Matrixxman – Venetian Mask
15. Jumping Back Slash – Kanganga
16. Future Sound Of London – Lifeforms
17. Only Now – Virus Encoding