Self-Portrait: Krunk Kulture

Born during the pandemic, Mumbai-based label Krunk Kulture was launched as a platform to spotlight South Asian artists. A natural extension of their events, booking and artist management agency that’s been running for the last 12 years, the imprint aims to challenge the stereotypes associated with music from this region, instead showcasing the wide breadth of sounds and styles being crafted by contemporary producers.

Since launching their schedule has been busier than ever with releases coming thick and fast. Having already built a strong community of electronic producers around them through a decade-worth of booking ventures, label boss Rafiki has had a hand in helping to platform artists like SUCHI, Oceantied, Merak and Inspector Maal.

Alongside a deep dive into the label’s beginnings, their mission and what the future holds, Rafiki delivers a mix of previous and forthcoming label material which gives a window into the cutting edge electronic sounds coming out of the South Asian underground.

Can you tell us a bit about where the idea to start Krunk Kulture came from? 

Krunk Kulture was launched in August 2020 mid-pandemic as an outlet and a platform for South Asian talent. The idea to start a label has been on the cards for a while but the pandemic gave us the time and the right opportunity to do so.

Krunk Kulture is an extension of Krunk, a 12+ years old events, bookings & artists management agency based out of Mumbai, India. We have hosted over 300+ international tours and artists in India and have had the opportunity to represent some of the most forward thinking Indian talent over the last decade. A label arm was a natural extension for our brand as we really felt the need to showcase Indian and South Asian talent on the global front.

What’s the philosophy behind it? How has that philosophy evolved since you launched?

The philosophy behind the label was to break the typical stereotypes of what Indian electronic music should be and is today. Most people expect a Tabla / Sitar or classical or regional and folk elements from Indian Artists in general. While representing one’s roots is an integral part of our label as well, the idea is to evolve this concept of what Indian sounds currently are and can be through our releases, while maintaining the right balance between roots and culture. 

Did you naturally build a close-knit family of artists around the label?

I feel blessed and humbled by the support of fellow musicians so far and the community of growing electronic music artists in India. We’ve also worked very hard to build a strong electronic music community in India with Krunk and its various ventures over the time. Over time, we have started receiving a really healthy amount of demos which has helped us reach out to a much wider audience in terms of releasing music through our label. It has been very fulfilling to receive incredible music from newer acts besides working with and focussing our efforts on key artists on the label.

Krunk Kulture is a small crew of three people at this point and we hope to continue running the label in the right direction with the DIY ethos. Our goal is to add value to a release by amplifying its reach and by pushing music we love rather than what sells all the time. Musically speaking we believe in setting trends rather than following them. The label is an artist friendly label in terms of its set up and we have a packed schedule till early next year, with releases planned every two weeks. 

Are there any labels that you look up to or have inspired you along the way?

I think for me Warp and Ninja Tune have been hugely inspirational over the years. Acts like Aphex Twin, Boards of Canada, Squarepusher, Bonobo, Four Tet have all played an important role in my musical taste over the years. Plus given my love for bass music, labels like Exit Records, Cosmic Bridge, Astrophonica etc have also been hugely inspirational for our label. Besides that I’d like to give a special shout out to South Asian labels like 4ncy and Azadi Records, who have paved the way for alternative hip hop in India from scratch. We hope to do the same for electronic music from India and other parts of Asia.

Since starting the label what has been the greatest difficulty you’ve had to overcome?

I think starting the label was super exciting but things definitely get tricky when you try to maintain consistency in terms of reach for all of your releases. Besides getting the curation right, the idea is also to really add value to the release. We have been very fortunate with press in the last year especially with regular support from publications and partners like Bandcamp, Resident Advisor, Mixmag, DJ Mag, Wild City, Rolling Stone India etc. 

The challenges with maintaining consistency arise mostly when working with streaming companies today. Streaming companies are the new gatekeepers and the people behind features / editorial play-listing etc. They can quite literally break or make artists in the market. The whole marketing process can get vague sometimes with no guarantees of anything. We have been fortunate enough so far with regular support from our main streaming partners when it comes to pushing electronic music regularly through various genre based and mood based playlists. Having said that, It can get challenging to get traction consistently for every release even when the music is absolutely top notch, in my opinion. It requires a lot of hard work and discipline I feel. I hope these processes will evolve and there will be a more standardised system in the future with a lot more music driven & industry passionate people, who really understand different kinds of music and can push the right way through editorial opportunities.

And the greatest achievement?

I think being listed by DJ Mag as One of the Labels to Watch for in 2021 was quite special. Best Album of the Month in Nov 2020 by Resident Advisor, for one of our compilations called Ganga Jamuna – Flavours of the East was also quite special I’d say. We have today also crossed over 300 k + streams for our combined catalogue in a very short span of time. There’s nothing like recognising and seeing hard work leading to consistent growth. It is more rewarding when you know you are putting out music you love and it is being appreciated by many. However I think we are still in very early days and the greatest achievements are yet to come. Let’s say, it has been an exciting first year.

What advice would you give to someone who’s thinking about starting a label with a similar ethos to yours?

Have a long term goal. It’s a long game. Stick to your USP + keep working hard. One release doing well does not translate to all releases doing well. Respect the artists you work with as they are equal partners in an indie label set up. There is a lot of deep rooted hatred towards major labels from early days. The goal of a good Indie label is to change this perception as well. Running the label during a pandemic gave me a new found purpose with work. It really helped me stay busy and happy while pushing out great music regularly. Lastly, always have fun. Really no point otherwise.

This mix is comprised of 100% original Krunk Kulture material. Could you tell us a bit about it? Any tracks that are particularly special to you?

The mix comprises 100 % Krunk Kulture Catalogue, mixed by me under my DJ / Producer moniker, Rafiki. I started Rafiki in 2007 after a life changing trip to Europe (Dekmantel) and specifically Berlin (Berghain / Panorama Bar). The mix features a bunch of unreleased tracks from our next release due Oct 22 called Jaljeera – Flavours of the East. Jaljeera is a continuation of the compilation series Flavours of the East. We have previously released Kaala Khatta, Ganga Jamuna, Thandai under the same compilation series. It’s a melodic mix overall that aims to showcase a diverse range of tracks coming out on the label. It aims to showcase the cutting edge side of electronic music outta India and the Asian talent.

Anything on the horizon for you and the label? Any releases we should know about?

Our last release by San Francisco based Indian duo Baalti has been doing really well globally and very well received by various magazines and blogs as well. Baalti is their debut self titled EP and we worked over a year to clear samples and put the music out finally. So it’s nice to see it get good traction. Our next release by Inspector Maal out on 24 Sept is a straight dance floor heavy EP taking inspiration from Dub, Techno and Psychedelic Sounds. We are also really excited for our next compilation, Jaljeera – Flavours of the East, which is out on Oct 22nd. It features some really incredible artists including local heavyweights like Arjun Vagale, Oceantied, Blurry Slur, Chhabb, Kollision and more. Also keep your eyes peeled for new EPs from Oceantied, MALFNKTION, Moebius, Rafiki (my project), YNZN.P (Nepal), Nikki Nair (US) (sometime next year) and much more in the next 10-12 months.

Outlier – Peacock Effect (VA: Kaala Khatta – Flavours of the East)
OX7GEN – B619 (EP: Moon Module)
Alboe – Blue (ALBUM: The Painter)
Zabgang – Norton (Forthcoming 22 October – VA: Jaljeera – Flavours of the East)
Baalti – Aame (EP: Baalti)
Finding Mero – Sun (VA: Thandai – Flavours of the East)
Rafiki – Front Row Seats (Forthcoming on Krunk Kulture)
Knique – Rob Gets a 505 (Forthcoming 22 October – VA: Jaljeera – Flavours of the East)
Asvajit, Nigel Perera – Soothe (Forthcoming 22 October – VA: Jaljeera – Flavours of the East)
Oceantied – We’re Going Away (Forthcoming 22 October – VA: Jaljeera – Flavours of the East)
Noni Mouse – Down On The Metal (Forthcoming 22 October – VA: Jaljeera – Flavours of the East)
Blurry Slur – First Time Lucky (Forthcoming 22 October – VA: Jaljeera – Flavours of the East)
Nikki Nair – Eating Flowers (VA: Kaala Khatta – Flavours of the East)
Daisuke Tanabe – Tablasuke (VA: Kaala Khatta – Flavours of the East)
FILM – Locked (VA: Kaala Khatta – Flavours of the East)
Sintaro Fujita – Tonka (Forthcoming 22 October – VA: Jaljeera – Flavours of the East)
Rafiki – Funky Acid Party (Forthcoming 22 October – VA: Jaljeera – Flavours of the East)
Monophonik x Trafficc – Do U Want It (Forthcoming 22 October – VA: Jaljeera – Flavours of the East)
Inspector Maal – Leg High Grass (Forthcoming 24 September – EP: Fractal Spectre)

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