The peculiar charms of South Asian beats are a rare and untapped treasure in the global music industry. Layered with a myriad of unique cultural influences, it highlights the lived experiences and native narratives of both the local and diasporic communities. However there is very little confluence between these two unique South Asian identities in music, as their reach is limited to particular audience cohorts.
Breaking these echo-chambers, ‘A new home for music’, D36 is an independent Los Angeles- based company that is amplifying the tunes through storytelling at a global scale. Entrenched in the distinct cultural identity they manage this by providing a platform to these creatives at home as well as through exporting the talent abroad.
The founders of D36 spoke to Homegrown about the very real challenges and community spirit developed during the creation of this talent hub; sharing insights into the changing ecosystem of South Asian music and their hopes for achieving a greater vision.
How was D36 conceptualised? What inspired you to start a label and how did it all come to fruition? What were the biggest hurdles you've had to jump over in order to get to where you are?
D36 was a product of conversations I was having with talented individuals in the South Asian creative community when I moved out to LA. More and more, our conversations seemed to always center on this disconnect we saw between South Asian talent and our presence in mainstream music. It never made sense because every day we'd see someone incredible creating amazing art out of the community. Then around 2018 you started to see the rise of these new types of music companies focused on specific communities that really started to change perceptions of where great music could come from. A lot of the discussions I was having shifted from "where are our faces in music?" to "how do we build our own platform?"
My day job wasn't in music at the time, but I became obsessed with the idea and building this platform seemed like the only thing it was worth spending my time on over the next few years. I took a music industry job, developed an early business plan for D36, and then got together an amazing founding team with experience helping with the careers of some of the most important artists on the planet. More importantly, what we're building was incredibly personal to everyone involved. I left my job and we launched D36 soon after.
In terms of obstacles, the first is finding industry partners that believe in the vision as much as you do. There's been a lot more discussions about South Asians in music over the past few years, which is great. But then you enter certain rooms or attend panels and we're usually talked about as solely a consumer base or an audience or a market - but not really a hub for talent. We see the world a bit differently and we're grateful to have partners who also trust in talent and have the patience to let us build in public.
But I think the most important hurdle was building trust with artists and the artist community. Especially early on when you don't have much to point to, it takes a lot for an artist to place their career in your hand. It's a tremendous leap of faith on their part, and there's also a real sensitivity to being pressured to tokenize their experience. It's gotten easier over time as we connect with more artists and they see the music we've been able to support. In terms of the broader community, we try to make sure we're opening up our resources and time to as many emerging artists as possible, even if there's not an immediate way to partner.
Could you talk a little about the overarching vision that D36 has for its artists and partners? What distinguishes the label from some of its contemporaries and how do you see yourselves as standing out?
For starters, we try to take a more expansive view of how we can platform creativity. Recorded music is at the core of what we do, but throwing shows and curating lineups is a way for us to bring significantly more artists into our world. Also, it's beautiful to take people away from the digital to experience music together in the physical world. Projects like 'ARCHIVE' allow us to spotlight other amazing creative stories from across the ecosystem. We're constantly thinking of more ways to achieve our goals outside of what conventional labels choose to tackle.
It's also important to note that D36, from its inception, was never intended to exist solely within the diaspora. So we set up D36 to be as global as possible as quickly as possible. If our goal is to transport our narratives to broader audiences, then we need to build a talent system that isn't limited by geography. There's incredible music emerging out of India's indie scene, and having Sony as a partner allows us to spend real time and invest in relationships on the ground. You'll be seeing us build a lot more with partners in South Asia in 2023.
In terms of the bigger vision here, in a decade we want to be seen as a platform that's transported hundreds of narratives beyond the subculture into the mainstream consciousness. From the outside looking in, it's about deconstructing any preconceptions of what a South Asian artist can or should sound like by amplifying artists across different genres. For artists, we want to show folks that their stories are universal and can resonate with audiences well outside their home communities. We've all been inspired by art born from other communities, so we have to believe the reverse is true - that narratives from our culture can have a deep impact on audiences across the globe. It's the central belief that D36 was built on, and we're proud of the work we've done in the early stages of the platform.
South Asian artistry is unique, multifaceted and brings together a diverse amalgamation of influences. How do you go about helping your artists create art and music that resonates with mainstream audiences but still maintains a clear cultural authenticity that pays homage to their roots? Do you adopt a more hands-on approach or do you just let your artists do their thing and offer support when required?
Cultural authenticity means something completely different for an artist that grew up in Florida versus New York or Kansas. The diaspora experience is unique from the homeland experience. So yes, all of the artists we platform have South Asian roots in separate ways. But they also have roots in local community, in family, in gender identity, in relationships, in music, etc and each of those lenses will have a different impact on the art they make. We never pressure artists to prioritize one over the other, just to create freely and speak to their specific perspective as a human being. More than anything, audiences resonate with that authenticity. I think we've failed if people are able to look at what we're building and come up with a simple answer to "what it means to be South Asian". Our goal is to bring as many different narratives into the fold as possible to highlight the diversity that exists across the community.
We partner with artists extremely early in their journeys, most before ever releasing a project and some before ever releasing a song. Every artist we work with needs different support, but the common thread is that they all have strong visions for the music and the visual story they're trying to tell. Our team has spent their careers across every vertical of the industry (A&R, creative, marketing, etc.), so we can plug in pretty much anywhere an artist wants us to.
Tell us a little more about the ARCHIVE video series. At first glance, it appears to show us the diversity as well as the creative storytelling potential of the label as a whole but we're sure there's so much more than meets the eye.
ARCHIVE was born out of a desire to spotlight talented South Asian artists and creatives outside of just the music ecosystem. Our team has spent years surrounded by incredible creatives, and wanted to build a series where we could allow them to tell their own stories. The series documents each artist, their practice, and the unique space they've carved out for themselves. Our director, Tanima Mehrotra, really focused on highlighting singular artists who have truly honed their voice and who have created a path without much of a blueprint. For us, it's our first entrance into platforming narratives beyond music and we’re excited to uncover more stories through more formats in more creative fields in more geographies.
What separates a D36 showcase from any other showcase? What can audiences expect to see at one and how do you go about conceptualising the sonic and aesthetic identity of each one that you put together?
We take a lot of care in curation at our concerts to spotlight as many different sounds as possible. Our first two shows in LA featured artists across genres including rap, indie rock, hyperpop, R&B, singer-songwriters and put them in super intimate spaces. We're also launching our 'Loose Threads' concert series this coming February, which will feature an equally diverse lineup at the Echoplex in Los Angeles. Our creative team is fully designing the venue and it's important that both the audience and artists sense that we've been super intentional about making the physical space special and memorable. We think about world building constantly as it relates to our artists and we want to bring that same approach to how we design spaces at home and abroad.
Find them here.