Bursting onstage at the Hollywood Palladium in a flourish of bright lights and colorful visuals, KSHMR was ready to make his new show, KSHMR LIVE: The Orchestral Experience, special for its California premiere. The EDM DJ/producer (real name Niles Hollowell-Dhar) appeared smiling behind the booth, flanked on either side by live performers carrying string instruments, a flute, and taiko drums.
His crowd of dedicated fans stuck around until his 12:45 AM headlining set time and were rewarded with dynamic visuals, traditional Indian dancers, and live instrumentation. Throughout the show, Hollowell-Dhar treated his attendees to a high-energy narrative adventure, guiding listeners for over an hour through emotional transitions and intense breaks to a whirlwind finish in paradise. Vocalist Anjulie appeared onstage for a performance of Hollowell-Dhar's 2019 smash hit "Alone," while KARRA hopped onstage for fan favorite "Devil Inside Me."
The February 8th show in Hollywood marked KSHMR's debut of the new, immersive show. It's a worthy fit for his reputation as a mesmerizing live performer, and it easily follows up the snow machines, fire bowls and 4D special effects of his last tour.
Since his start in hip-hop production, Hollowell-Dhar has come a long way to hone his ability to craft such a powerful, energetic show. After finding success with his duo The Cataracs, releasing "Like A G6" in 2010, Hollowell-Dhar later broke from the group. He made an anonymous DJ debut in 2014, coming out as KSHMR the following year. The producer then hit gold with "Secrets," his 2015 collaboration with Tiësto, and has since released tracks with Krewella, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, and Hardwell in addition to solo singles.
Born and raised in Berkeley, California, the West Coast native distinguishes his sound by tapping into his Indian roots. They're especially evident in his 2016 debut album, The Lion Across The Field, released through Spinnin' Records, and they play a major role in his live shows. The Orchestral Experience, for example, has a storyline inspired by meditation and trials of virtue in addition to incorporating traditional Indian dance and instruments.
Most recently, Hollowell-Dhar released "Over & Out" with Hard Lights featuring Charlott Boss. The hardstyle track is the latest from his Dharma Worldwide Imprint. As we learned in our interview, he's also gearing up to announce a project bigger than individual singles alone.
Keep reading for our conversation with KSHMR.
EDM.com: We'd love to get the translation of your latest song with KUN. What's special about incorporating vocals in a non-English language?
KSHMR: The song is actually the Mandarin version of a song I released previously called "Do Bad Well." The great thing about the version with KUN is being able to connect more with the country thats been so supportive of me. Because of the language barrier, it's been hard to find ways to connect as much as I wanted to. Doing a song with KUN allowed me to connect more genuinely for the Chinese market.
The track sounds so vastly different from the transportive, dreamy music we're accustomed to. Tell us about that.
When I got in the studio with KUN the inspiration he cited was Marilyn Manson - which caught me super off guard, and I used to be a Marilyn Manson fan. I put down the drums and he went from there, and took it in a rock direction, which was where his head was at musically at the time. It was really interesting to see that. To be honest, his team took it and finished the production at a certain point.
You've been a huge proponent of using storytelling in your shows. What story are you trying to tell with your current set?
There's a very literal story in my show that unfolds as the set plays out. This story puts you in the driver's seat when you are at the face of a large tower with several trials. At each trial, your virtue is tested and for the final test you face meditation where you look inwards and think about all that you've loved and all that you've lost. Seeing that your heart is pure the tower rewards you by removing the clouds and revealing the sun once again over paradise.
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Your California show is also booked as a live show. Why is L.A. the right place for something like that? Tell me about the major differences you feel performing live vs DJ sets.
It was my first time performing this live show in California. It's my favorite type of show to do. I benefit from the talent of eight extremely well-versed musicians and a group of lightning bolt dancers that give new life to the songs I've been performing over the years. Hearing them played by such talent onstage is more powerful than any typical DJ show could be.
What other forms of storytelling do you enjoy?
I really like nonfiction. History, once you get all the facts, is just a great story. Sometimes with fiction, I feel guilty that I'm not learning anything grounded in reality. Still, books like 1984 and Animal Farm really changed my life and there's a lot of truth in those. A lot of the time I consume audio books. I love Malcolm Gladwell's new book and well-made TV and movies as well. Oh, and I also video games; Final Fantasy 7 is excellent.
What trajectory do you envision for Dharma in 2020? Why is something like Dharma important to you?
Dharma is important to me because it's given me the ability to support songs that I'm not able to collaborate on but believe in with all my heart. There is also the educational side, Dharma Studio. On the website you'll be able to access tutorials, sample packs, templates and more content curated by me and other Dharma artists. It's a place where you can learn from producers who actually have released a quality of work that you can trust in. The producer community is the one I belong to and want to give back to.
I saw you released an EP last year, but it's been so long since the release of The Lion Across The Field. What's different about producing an album that's created this long gap in time since the last one? Is there another in the books for 2020?
The truth is that juggling time at home and time on the road gives me a tendency to focus on singles. Large bodies of work, like Lion Across the Field, require extended periods of exploration and it's hard to feel like you can afford periods like that when you only have five days at home. It feels irresponsible to not focus on shorter term goals like completing a single when you have that set amount of time. A larger project is in the works, so stay tuned.
There has been a sort of decline in EDM albums, especially as music has become more single based because of streaming. Do you still believe in EDM albums, and why or why not?
I think most EDM artists don't need to make an album. If you have something interesting to give people, if you want to use the album to take risks and do some exploration outside of EDM bangers, then I think it's a worthwhile pursuit.
We're fresh into a new decade - how does it feel to look back on the 2010s at all you've accomplished? What are you proud of?
At the beginning of the decade I was still in The Cataracs and we had a good run with "Like a G6" and all the music I made for Dev. I guess I'm just happy that I was able to recover when things didn't work out and I'm still able to make music. It all could have fallen apart but somehow I'm still here getting to do something I love and when I think about it, I'm quite grateful for that. And of course there have been a lot of successes along the way and I've been able to share that with close friends, so all in all it's been great.
What's next for you? What are you excited for?
I'm excited to do more Live Orchestral Experience shows, and I'm especially excited to return to India next month which is obviously a country that means a lot to me. And, of course, I'm excited for the upcoming music; there is a lot of big news coming soon and I can't wait to share it with the fans.