Interview: 4th Annual Atish All Night Party and a New Intimate Loft Set Coming to Public Works

Former software engineer turned full-time house DJ, and Burning Man veteran Atish is returning to his former residence of San Francisco to play two back-to-back shows at Public Works. The now New York resident is playing his lead show in SF in the Main Room on February 29th and a second, sold-out show dubbed, the ‘Intimate Loft Set,’ will take place the night before; showcasing some of the experimental music he’s been collecting. If you can’t see him at Public Works, you can also catch him playing at the inaugural Altus Music Festival in South Lake Tahoe next month.

To preview these upcoming events, we spoke to Atish to learn more about his professional development, the best advice he’s received and advice he would give to Burning Man attendees, along with some personal insights about one of his most memorable live performances.

How did you get introduced to creating music and when did you know that you would pursue music professionally?

I started playing music when I was four or five years old. My parents forced me to play the violin. The first song I created, we had a computer in our house in elementary school and it had some sound editing tools in Windows 95. We would write little songs on the keyboards and do funny effects like reversing them with echoes. That was the first time I touched Electronic music by manipulating sounds on a PC. I started playing other instruments. I played in bands in high school. We made hip hop music on computers. I would say elementary school was the first time experimenting with sound. High school is the first time we were writing songs.

In terms of making music professionally, I only made that decision about three years ago. Music had always been a hobby, playing in bands. I had a day job as a software engineer. Eventually, this hobby started taking up more time and things started moving forward. In 2015 it was not possible to do both; the demands of two jobs. I made the decision that this is a once in a lifetime chance. I’m going to quit my job and do this thing full-time.

What’s the story behind your move from San Francisco to New York?

I lived in San Francisco from 2008 to 2018, and then I moved to New York after that. I had met my wife. I started dating her in 2018. She was working on a play in Berkeley. Eventually, she had to move back home to New York. She’s in theater. It made more sense for both of us to be in New York. We ended up getting married.

Who are some musicians you’re currently listening to and getting inspiration from?

As of late, Floating Points just released this album a couple months ago, Crush, that album just blew my mind. It’s a really smart, experimental electronic album. That put my mind in a head space of thinking I should push myself further. I just got into this artist, Oneohtrix. That music is really inspiring. It’s music that’s not so much about the groove, but playing and manipulating melodic elements in a unique, creative way I hadn’t heard before. The third one is a pop musician, Billie Eilish. I don’t listen to much pop music, but the production quality on her music is really good. Listening to Billie Eilish tracks on a really high-quality system is really inspiring to see how much could be done with so few elements.

What’s the best advice you’ve received recently from a colleague?

I think the best I’ve received, I still haven’t fully digested it. It’s very simple, just to trust myself. This is mostly in a performance context, but it can apply to just life in general. I find myself when I’m making decisions on stage, I might doubt myself or not fully commit to the idea. Maybe the audience might not be fully on board with what I’m doing. Sometimes I lose sight of the fact, many times the audience they’re along for the ride and they trust you take them where you want to go. I have to keep remembering to trust myself and not fill myself with self-doubt. When you operate and perform with confidence, even if you don’t always make the right decision. Just be the aura you exude, that is profoundly felt by the people around you, without being arrogant.

What tips would you share with someone attending Burning Man for the first time?

I went nine times, although last year was the first year I missed, since my first time. I don’t think too much has changed in one year. My simple piece of advice is to be comfortable and be open to accepting the idea that not everything is going to be awesome all the time. Burning Man can be extremely taxing, grueling physically and emotionally. There are incredible moments of ups, and those are the moments that everyone wants to talk about on social media, talk about with their friends when recollecting. People have moments of feeling alone: this isn’t fun; this is really hard; I (we) need some help. Just be open and ready to the fact that it’s going to be a wide range of ups and downs and all of it is “OK”. It’s not just the Instagram moments.

What are you most excited about for this coming year?

This experimental night that I’m doing at the Loft at Public Works this Friday. I haven’t really done something like that before. It’s music I never played out before. It’s this feeling I have of nervousness and anxiety around it. It’s not a bad thing. It reminds me of that feeling I had in my first few DJs gigs when starting out. That humbling feeling of what it’s like to perform. Reminding me of what the excitement is like at its core. The step into the unknown and the unpredictability. I’m just excited about doing something and I have no idea how it’s going to go.

Do you think you might need an alternate performance name to keep that music separate?

That idea crossed my mind. Let me not put the cart before the horse. Let’s just see how that night goes. Did I like it? Does the crowd like it? Does it work? Well, maybe I’ll branch off and do other artist names but that idea is very hard for me to grapple with. When I was early in my DJ career. I thought should I give myself an alias or a DJ name? I was wracking my brain trying to give myself a cool name that encompasses what I do. I just rested on my first name. My artistry, what I do, is a direct representation of me. There are different flavors and different channels of authentic me. I think it would be really hard to release music that wasn’t me. I understand the practical reasons of doing it. You have to set expectations for the audience. But I think from a philosophical or emotional point of view, it would be hard for me to reconcile. It would be hard to create music for people that isn’t named directly after me. I’ll see how it goes. My music is so personal. It would be hard to release under another name.

On the other hand, there is the upside, which is once you remove yourself from your own name, it almost enables you to really, really experiment. I think there could be a value from being detached from your work. It could un-tap or unearth something within you that you weren’t aware of in the first place. That aspect is appealing. This isn’t the right word but maybe there’s a lot of baggage that comes with your history, ego, identity. Creating another name drops that baggage and creates a clean slate.

What’s been the most surprising venue you’ve ever played at recently?

One New Year’s Eve a couple of years back, I played a house party in Dhaka, Bangladesh. It was absolutely crazy for a few reasons. One because there’s not much of a nightlife scene in Bangladesh. I think alcohol is illegal, except for hotels and things like this. All the ex-pats in Dhaka are given a quota and are allowed to buy a limited amount of alcohol per month through a licensed government retailer. All these ex-pats would stockpile their alcohol and save it for a party that they would have once every few months. When I played that event, it wasn’t just another club night let’s say compared to New York where on any given night there are 15 different electronic acts going on. Here in Bangladesh at this house party, everyone is saving up and scraping everything together for an event they can once every few months. It was special. Everyone was really excited and really appreciative. Being in the moment and enjoying the party for what it is. They aren’t spoiled by it. It was very special. I wasn’t expecting that in Bangladesh.

The second part that was unique about it. Come 4-5 am, the police come by and say we had a neighbor complaining that said the music was too loud. It might have been police or military, they had AK-47s. The owner of the house steps outside and starts arguing with the officer. “You don’t come to my house! You don’t tell me to turn off my music! I already paid off your boss, the police commissioner! How dare you come to my house!!!!.” The owner of the house smacks the officer across the face. “Get the fuck out. I already paid off your boss.” I could not believe what had just happened here. The owner just smacked the officer with an AK-47. That was surprising.

Where are some of your favorite places to hang out in San Francisco?

I would say my go-to’s… I originally moved to Lower Haight when I lived in San Francisco. It’s always been a regular combination of getting a sausage at Rosamunde and walk next door and getting a beer at Toronado. That’s never gotten old for me.