Subversion, fusion, magic: Bishi

DG: ​Bishi, you’re a classically-trained singer and multi-instrumentalist, combining East and West with electronic music. Performing solo, or accompanied by the London Symphony Orchestra or the English National Opera, you come onto the crowd like a futuristic Amazonian,  twanging your electric sitar. Who are your favourite influences, as a boundary-breaking female artist – and why?

Everyone, from Bjork, Grace Jones, Yoko Ono, Laurie Anderson, Wendy Carlos & Lynn Hershman Leeson to contemporary women of the day such as Hannah Peel, St. Vincent, Grimes & Tune-Yards. I’m so inspired by genre-bending female artists, (many of whom are friends), that I created a platform WITCiH (The Women in Technology Creative Industries Hub) to honour them & increase opportunities to commission cross-disciplinary art work & increase visibility.  I’m amazed by all the wonderful artists I’m continually meeting.

Bishi, by Frederic Aranda

DG: Your songs, including the recent EP ‘Winds of Fate’ (2018) are marked by pleasing harmony and a rhythmic breadth that comprises thunking dance beats (‘Never Seen Your Face,’ 2011) with a pure, Indian-inflected soprano. As a female electronic artist, do you feel a pressure to make music that is ‘beautiful’ and ‘ethereal’, or do you not care about such cultural expectations?

No! I feel no cultural expectations whatsoever. I am incredibly proud of my heritage – the culture, music, language, mythology has left an indelible psychic imprint that I thank the gods for. But subverting cultural stereotypes has been the authentic expression of how I’ve lived life. When you’re born in the middle of two cultures, there is almost no choice in this.  Both sides tell you you’re wrong/unwanted (they did in my case) so you are left to work it out on your own. It’s been a lonely path. Fighting off oppressive stereotypes, has been the most difficult component of my professional life. I’ve been racially discriminated against in the music industry & I had to learn how to take back ownership of my story, greatly facilitated by the internet & social media. I’m excited, especially by millennial & Gen Z artists speaking up about diversity & visibility through social media. It’s the start of a conversation.  Let’s see where it goes……..

DG: What are your feelings about disco? Is it a force for political good, bringing togetherpeople of varying races, sexualities and tastes, or is it a musical cliché?

From its songwriting, musicianship & music production, to its social elevation for women & LGBTQI+ communities, to its significance in fashion, film, design, debauchery & lifestyle, the influence of disco is inimitable. Disco has changed the face of our culture as we know it. It’s been one of the most important musical & social movements to have happened in the late 20th Century & its influence shows no sign of slowing down in the 21st Century. One of my best friends, Ana Matronic, is an expert on the genre & it’s astonishing how much cultural ephemera & music got produced during the classic period of disco. I love listening to her talking about it.

DG: You’ve been a DJ at some wildly expressive parties. The Demented Goddess first saw you at London’s now legendary Kashpoint, where we recall being invited to come us our ‘Future Self’ and falling in love with the performance art of Rhyannon Styles, who birthed herself from a series of balloons. You recently played at the femme queer/straight/whatever party, Femmetopia, which encourages ‘consensual snogging’ (on again, this August). What do you love about DJ-ing and which tunes would you play to help dancers break loose from their inhibitions?

I started Kashpoint, as a teenager, with Matthew Glamorre, a founding member of Leigh Bowery’s art rock band, Minty. It was a time in London, pre-social media, where East London, Soho & Peckham were polysexual wastelands of possibility. It was a real mix up of people & the mess of it is what created so much magic. It was before the global financial meltdown, before artists got pushed out because of inflated living costs where London became a playground purely for the 1% – I’m happy so much talent came through our doors. It was a very exciting scene.

What I love about Femmetopia, it’s very much in the present day but it is reminiscent of the freedom of this early 00s period. I adore Phoebe, the promoter of Femmetopia & the entire team at VFD Dalston. Femmetopia hosts ‘Theresa May Smackdown,’ a wrestling extravaganza described as a ‘Queer, Feminist, anti-fascist, noise driven, ferocious, fight to the death of the alt-right.’ It’s a beautiful heist of flesh, aggression & anger that is genuinely empowering to watch.

To answer your question about losing inhibitions (haha!), I think a dose of Big Freedia, Le1F, Zebra Katz, SOPHIE & Princess Nokia get any crowd going.

Listen to ‘Who Has Seen The Wind’ from Bishi’s latest EP:

Title portrait by photographer Zuzanna Butkiewicz.

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