From raw and honest lyrics to hyper-intensive energy, KOAD creates avant-garde music influencing the future of soundscapes. His musical journey involves dropping out of high school, being co-signed by the Asian-American media company 88rising, and working with artists he has looked up to such as ICECOLDBISHOP. I got the incredible opportunity to ask him questions around the start of his musical journey, the meanings behind his music, and lastly his nuanced experiences being a South Asian artist and how he is trying to express himself.
When I meet an up-and-coming artist, I like to start at the beginning of their musical journey. KOAD has a unique musical style and is paving the way for himself in an avant-garde indie alternative hip hop lane if we had to put a label on it. KOAD describes what hip hop means to him and how he started creating music.
“I grew up on hip-hop. That’s the thing that comforts me most in this world and has kept me alive. I started making music after I got this beat-pad that I convinced my parents to get me when I was 13. I wanted to create the world’s I had in my head and express myself through beat-making, but also my parents were not gonna be down for buying $20 youtube type beats.”
KOAD dives in deeper about what it means to him to be doing music full time at such a young age. You can clearly see that he does not hold back on the song “Jaunty” with his creative lyrics.
“I’ve dedicated my life to this music shit since I was in school and then dropped out to chase it even more. A lot of brown kids are forced to unlearn a bunch of things when they’re older, things that white kids get the pleasure of not having to learn like the beauty standard. If I can be myself, talk my shit, and give confidence to young brown kids I am literally undoing hundreds and hundreds of years of systemic bullshit. So I don’t hold back on these verses.”
What I love about KOAD’s music and personality is that he is honest in both lyrics and conversation. While creating the song “on some bullshit” he just wanted to make music that he wanted to hear, and in this case rap about some things that he found to be bullshit. He openly talks about dropping out of school and dropping the TREEHOUSE project to escape his surroundings.
“I dropped out to learn. I wasn’t able to spend a 100% of my energy in school and 100% of my energy in music so I was like what the fuck are we doing here? School wasn’t teaching me what I needed to learn for my life so I saw no reason to stay. Also, I had a lot of teachers who were top-tier douchebags who I can’t wait to see and tell’em they ain’t shit. TREEHOUSE is the project filled with the raw honesty and juvenile energy that I wish I had in middle school.”
We moved on to talk about the crazy energetic song pots n’ pans. KOAD doesn’t like giving meanings to songs as music can mean something completely different to the listener. He added that he felt like a pirate while making this song and that he wrote it on a bunch of plates. I loved learning that his little cousin loves singing the hook to this song and that KOAD finds this adorable.
We switched gears to talk about one of the most insane collaborations I have heard in 2021. KOAD dropped the song “enuff” featuring ICECOLDBISHOP, JAHMED and Asha Imuno. I got the chance to get to the bottom of what the process was of working with so many talented artists.
“The fucking best dawg. Growing up in hip hop, posse cuts have always been so magical to me so to have some of my favorite rappers from LA on a song with me that’s so in the world of TREEHOUSE that shit is the world to me. I used to listen to ICECOLDBISHOP like almost every day for a period while working on TREEHOUSE. I’m literally doing exactly what I set out to do and that’s the typa shit to make a motherfucker cry. This song“enuff” is my first posse cut ever and I couldn’t be more happy with that shit. It’s magic.”
In terms of all of the music, KOAD has dropped he has enjoyed creating every single one of his songs. Jaunty holds a special place in my heart. In KOAD’s own words, “I bodied the verses and I made a ridiculous beat for it and that was when I was like 16 or something.”
KOAD has garnered support from the Asian-American media company 88rising, as well as artists such as Raveena, Curtis Waters, and Merlyn Wood of BROCKHAMPTON. He lets me in on how supportive the media company has been from the very beginning of his musical journey and that he got to drop the song “Jaunty” on their YouTube channel. He felt it was the perfect home for a video tied to South Asian culture and his identity. He does make it clear that he is not signed to 88rising and that all of his music is released through KOGO.
As KOAD is one of the few South Asian artists paving his own way in music, I wanted to get to the bottom of how he feels about South Asian culture and especially his identity. My goal was to find out his thoughts, feelings, and emotions around the topic of what it feels like being born and brought up in America with South Asian roots. KOAD provides insight on how hard he has to work being a South Asian artist and how he has faced adversity throughout his life.
“Yes, absolutely that’s why I work so fucking hard. I know that my existence and me making the music I am making has the possibility of saving so many brown kids’ lives. I am Indian, don’t get that shit twisted but I was born in America and I had to unfortunately learn over time how much my voice doesn’t matter that much here. But don’t worry, that’s gonna change, just watch. When you’re someone who has the ability to change the world it’s all worth it. I keep a close team of trusted people so no funny stuff happens but again if this shit was easy it wouldn’t be as tight.”
KOAD continues by gushing over some of his favorite South Asian artists taking over the airwaves.
“Raveena always knows a way to get me relaxed with her music. That shit is gorgeous and my mom loves her music too which is so wholesome for me to see her cry to Raveena.”
“Nick Mono — that boy is dangerous. When I hear the songs that he’s written I really feel like the world is changing and now we’re gonna have a brown popstar.”
“Curtis Waters is very fuckin talented he produces his ass off and you can tell he’s a student of music.”
“Weston Estate is so fire to me to see these dudes get the recognition they deserve for their good ass music AND the fact it’s some brown hot boys is so hard to me. And then I play KOAD like 70 times.”
KOAD continues to grow as an artist and has huge aspirations. He grew up watching Lil Wayne and Kendrick Lamar and was inspired by them to be the greatest artist of all time. His dream collaborations include Lil’ Wayne and Bruce Springsteen. KOAD truly believes his existence as an artist can change the South Asian experience in America. He hopes to be a superhero to his 5-year-old and 13-year-old selves.
January 18, 2023January 18, 2023 5min readBy Arun S.
From receiving his MBA from Harvard business school to being the CEO of Asia’s largest music festival brand Sunburn, Karan Singh combined his interests to push his passion for music! Singh received his bachelor’s degree in management from the London School of Economics and Political Science. He worked as an investment banker for three years at Ambit Corporate Finance before working at Sunburn which is a part of his family’s business. Sunburn started providing the music festival experience starting in the year 2007. The first festival was in Candolim, Goa. The music festival brand has put on over 5,000 events over the past 15 years. In 2022 The Sunburn Festival will be in it’s 16th year. Continue reading to learn more about Karan Singh’s journey with the Sunburn music festival!
What does the Sunburn brand offer and what made you have the festival in Goa as opposed to other parts of India?
We believe that Sunburn offers a really unique experience and is a melting pot of diverse people & cultures from not only across India but around the world. Goa is the ideal setting for this as there is something magical about Goa in the winter-time and truly enables us to tap into that global audience.
Safety at live events has always been a concern among concert goers. Considering recent, events more individuals have asked brands and artists to do more to ensure audience safety. What are you doing to ensure safety for live concerts?
Safety is a huge priority for us. We work with the best-in-class security agencies as well as closely with the police and requisite authorities. For anyone in the crowd a Sunburn safety officer will always be close by and easily visible. We also run an awareness drive on both social media and on ground.
What was the first Sunburn Festival like and what did you learn from this experience?
The first ever Sunburn Festival was in December 2007, and I had actually attended it as a fan, not part of the crew. However, it was absolutely eye-opening as the first proper music festival on Indian shores and opened up our minds to a world of possibilities.
As Sunburn houses so many electronic dance musicians who have been your favorites throughout the years?
It is difficult to pick from the list however the favorites for Sunburn, in no order and because of the amount of love they have shown Indian audiences, are Martin Garrix, DJ Snake, Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike, Hardwell and Armin van Buuren.
Do you plan to expand the festival to add other genres into the mix as well as more activities?
We have already expanded into different formats like Arena, Campus, Club, Reload and things like merchandize & academy. In terms of genres, we have been dabbling with genres like rap, hip-hop and pop, however our focus remains on electronic dance music.
What can someone expect from the festival as first-time goers?
Apart from a state-of-the-art production & line-up, one can expect a special experience, meeting interesting people from all over the world, and embarking on a creative journey of the theme for the year.
How does the festival help local musicians from Goa as well as the surrounding areas in India?
This year we had set up for the first time a special stage and village in the festival only for Goa which gave a platform to local Goan artists. But beyond that a huge focus for us has always been to showcase domestic home-grown talent and indeed 60-70% of the line-up each year is locally sourced.
What was the experience like this year in 2022 and how is it different from previous years?
The biggest difference was that this was the first time the festival was back to its full scale since the pandemic hit after 3 long years. It was a fantastic release for everyone there. Our theme was “the future is now” and this was reflected across the festival experience and particularly in the main stage design – termed “Cyberpunk City” which received rave reviews from all.
What was it like having the legends Black Coffee and Afrojack this year as well as the DJ duo Dimitri Vegas & Like Mike?
Afrojack and DVLM are both Sunburn & India veterans, it was amazing having them back crushing the main stage after very long. Black Coffee for us was something very new and exciting, to have a special artist and a unique sound like that close the main stage on day 2. However it was very well-received and took our experience to the next level.
As you have had the artist Avicii back in December 2011 how do you feel he revolutionized Electronic Dance Music?
Avicii is one of my all-time favorite artists and his show in December 2011 was actually my first one working on Sunburn so will always be extra special. There is no doubt that he revolutionized EDM by taking massive risks and introducing an entirely new sound which a lot of others then followed, but no one as well as he did.
How does it feel to be in charge of one of Asia’s biggest Electronic Dance Music Festivals?
It feels great, we have a very young but ambitious and hard-working team and our primary focus is to continue delivering the best possible experiences for our fans, artists and partners. India is such a vibrant and exciting market that I cannot help but be pumped about what the future holds.
Do you feel Electronic Dance Music is a misunderstood genre?
More so in a country like India possibly yes, where people who are not exposed to these experiences sometimes have preconceived notions about EDM festivals and the like. Oftentimes those people are also in a decision-making capacity and can directly affect the industry. However, things are certainly improving as the industry overall gets bigger and gets more acceptance.
What does music mean to you, Karan Singh?
Music provides a sound-track to life, it is something which is always there!
How do you choose to react when you receive negative comments about the Sunburn Festival?
Well, you have to be able to differentiate between those which are just trolling and those which are constructive or fair criticism. The latter is very important as it helps us to look at ourselves and continually improve, we are still a long way from where we eventually want to be.
Lastly, what do you hope individuals take away from this interview with Brown Girl Magazine?
I hope it allows us at Sunburn to reach a wider audience of the desi community around the world and hopefully get some more people to fly down to Goa for Sunburn Festival 2023 which I can promise you all will be the best one yet!
Dimitri Vegas Like Mike
We have had a long connection with India. The first time we played here was more than a decade ago. Going from clubs to being a regular feature at one of Asia’s biggest electronic music festivals which is now an institution in itself. It’s been an exciting evolution to see how Sunburn has grown over the years. The fans at Sunburn are some of the most insane and every show is a special one. We’ve always had an incredible experience at Sunburn.
Honestly, the energy I feel when I am in India is one of the most amazing things. I would say the culture and energy is what keeps me coming back! India is like a second home to me, just like Sunburn. I feel so comfortable and welcomed here. I’m always excited about coming to India and playing at Sunburn, experiencing new cities, meeting more of the people, hearing more of the music, and seeing more of the country that has influenced me so much.
Sunburn has helped dance music artists world over to tour India and connect with their Indian fans and I’m always excited about performing at the festival.
I’ve a long history with the Sunburn team. They are a great team to work with and they also give the fans amazing experiences. As an artist, I want to be a part of providing fans with lifelong memories and so we all share the same vision.
Sunburn is one of the pioneers of the dance music festival scene in India and has been instrumental in creating a truly world class platform that supports the dance music industry and all of its stakeholders. I’m always excited about touring India with Sunburn.
“Take what you want//Take everything” reflects on a time with my partner and our cat, Layla. It’s a retelling of the chaotic night I adopted her. I didn’t know why Layla hid from me. When I chased her around, it scared her more. “Take what you want//Take everything” juxtaposes our first night, filled with misunderstanding, with the rest of the time we spent together. My fond memories call back to the loving moments Layla and I shared.
Such memories defined us; they reverberated in my partnership. I wonder if my partner, like Layla, only remembers her fear of me, over our shared moments of love. The title, a Kanye West lyric, is an acknowledgment that their happiness together–without me–destroyed my sense of self. When I see their photos, I wonder if I can see myself reflected in their eyes. I wonder if they still keep kind moments of our time together.
I remember when she would look at me from behind a laundry basket.
A small simple cat with green owl eyes. She was afraid of her new home and its owner. Shit, I remember the night I got her, she hid under my bed, in the middle just out of my reach for maybe 6 hours, watching me. She didn’t eat anything the entire day. When the night fell I was afraid she’d starve or come out and attack me. I was just scared. I didn’t have a childhood pet, I’m not white, I didn’t know what to do. I picked up the whole bed and yelled that she needed to move. I chased her into the closet with a vacuum cleaner. When she ran in, I called my lover and yelled to her that she wasn’t helping enough, she needed to be there to help me. That was our first day together, me and that cat. No one will ever have that memory but me and maybe her.
It was during Ramadan, my first year fasting.
Our problems had already begun by then. Enough so that I decided to fast and show retribution. I’d try to change into a more patient and understanding self. Like the Prophet (SAW) I guess. To become someone that my lover could feel safe around. Somehow, getting a cat felt like it fit into that picture. I’d be a cat dad, you know, gentle. We’d raise her. I’d fast and become New Again. Maybe I’d wrap an inked tasbih around myself and show I’m a man of God.
I don’t know how a cat remembers fear any more than I know how a lover does.
I know her body stored it. My cat’s must have stored it too. That first night, I wish I could tell her that I was afraid too. It doesn’t make sense that I was afraid really — I’m bigger, more threatening. We don’t speak the same language anyway, so how could I ever tell her? She learned to trust me though, in her own way. Her small bean paws would press on my chest in the mornings. She’d meow to berate me for locking her out some nights, or when I was away from home too long.
She lives with my lover now. They share photos with me, they’re happy together.
I saw my lover once, it was on 55th and 7th, Broadway shined blue performance lights over us. She wore a red sacral dress. She said her mental health has never been better. I think she was trying to tell me that she’s doing well, because she knows I care for her. I don’t think she was trying to say she’s happier without me. We don’t speak the same language. I actually think they are happier with just each other. And I loved them both, so it hurts. Sometimes, not all the time. And it doesn’t always hurt that bad. Other times it does get pretty bad, though. I probably owe it to myself to say that.
I look back at the photos, the ones of our life together, and the ones of their new life.
Two green owl eyes, and two brown moonlit eyes. I look for myself in them.
“Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a meditation on the new moon and guilt. I wrote it when I was living in Dallas and was driving back from a dusk prayer. The new moon terrified me on that drive. I was diseased by the knowledge that my partner, at the time, had seen the worst parts of me. There’s immense shame in this piece—it seized my self-image. If the moon could become brand new, then I could start over.
I often ponder on the moon’s reflective nature and pairs of eyes. I’m hyper-fixated on how I am seen by others. Unfortunately, the brilliance of seeing your reflection in another person leads to negativity. After all, those who are too keen on their own reflection are the same people who suffer from it. It is possible to use shame to fuel one’s retribution and personal growth, without becoming consumed by it.
We can look to Shah Rukh Khan succumbing to alcoholism in his own sorrow and then later imbibing his sadness in Chandramukhi. “Confessions to a Moonless Sky” is a lesson for us: Don’t be Shah Rukh Khan in Devdas, instead embody pre-incarnation Shah Rukh Khan in Om Shanti Om!
Sometimes when the moon abandons the sky, I wonder if I drove her away.
If she comes back, will she be the same? How I wish she would come back new, truly new! That way she’d have no memory of the sin I’ve confessed to her. You noxious insect. Sin-loving, ego-imbibing pest. You are no monster, for at least a monster has ideology, it sins with purpose. You sin just to chase ignominy.
But the moon won’t say that, she never does. She’ll just leave the sky and return days later, slowly. And I’ll wonder if she’s new, perhaps she won’t remember my past confessions. What does it matter? Were the moon replaced with one from a different god, I’d drive her away, too.