If ever the label “breath of fresh air” was to be applied to one club kid, it would be to Bishi. I think the fact that she always looks not only sensational but very happy might have something to do with it. The very traits that have made her the scene’s wild child of choice since the ’90s.
A Londoner of Bengali descent, she was only 13 when she got introduced to Matthew Glamorre by Patrick Wolf who she’d just met and befriended through an ad she placed for swapping records in the now long-defunct Select Magazine. Patrick himself had only met Matthew by sending him a fan letter when he was in Minty, the band that also featured Leigh Bowery not long before his untimely death. Bishi went to Dingwalls in Camden one evening for one of the band’s gigs and had to be smuggled in being so underage. I happened to in attendance that night myself and Patrick was performing with Minty, playing the theremin. In a nutshell, these random encounters proved to be a lucky stroke for all involved, especially for a girl so young but already talented as a singer and classically trained as a pianist. Such things didn’t happen often in those precarious pre-social media days.
“That was the first time I encountered transvestism, nudity and poppers onstage,” she reminisces with a naughty grin on her face. “It was a huge adrenalin rush for me and I found it a bit frightening, but I knew it was life-changing. The most frightening things are often life changing. It was moving as well and carried a deep message about identity, which basically means that I had to seriously question society in order to find myself.”
Bishi was born in Shepherds Bush and grew up in Earls Court. However, when she started going out, she headed straight to Hoxton’s Blue Note as she was a jazz fan. She then discovered Madame JoJo in Soho. “It was the thrill of being underage”, she relishes. She also remembers fondly Kali in Tufnell Park, an asian gay club where Bollywood disco and outlandish trannies reigned supreme. “Matthew would take me and Patrick everywhere and we never had to pay for anything. I can’t even remember the name of some of those underground places. Soon, I began DJ-ing at Torture Garden for a bit when it was held at Mass in Brixton.”
It was at The Siren Suite in Islington that Bishi started making her mark. That was Glamorre’s club where they played classical music and she sang and played the sitar. That led to the pair supporting Goldfrapp on their UK tour, which included three major shows in London. They also supported Pulp, who were then riding the Britpop wave.
“The early noughties were very special times for me,” she continues. “We had Nag Nag Nag at Ghetto, Trash in Holborn, The Cock behind the Astoria, The George & Dragon in Shoreditch and 93ft East, which was great for live music. Chasing The Dragon in Soho, co-promoted with Matthew and Steve Strange, had an exotic vibe as we only played foreign-language music, sitar, Chinese songs, disco, Dalida, Gainsbourg, mixed with Bollywood soundtracks. Alas, it didn’t last long enough mainly due to finances and the dream crashed. We then launched Kashpoint weekly at Soundshaft. That was 2002 and I was the resident DJ and live performer. I felt then that I was very much part of the scene. Subsequently, Kashpoint went monthly, both on the boat and at Moonlighting in Soho. That’s when it went major. One of the best nights was Battle of the Boutiques in which Gareth Pugh got top billing as the star designer that he is. The outfits were so big that the models fell like dominoes in the middle of the stage. Just fabulous! And let’s not forget the night Tracy Emin spectacularly slid across the dancefloor, falling flat on her arse, much to the punters’ hilarity. I came into my own at Kashpoint. Some people go to university, I went to clubs. To me that’s the best education there is as the interaction with others was invaluable and so was learning how to deal with myself. I gathered people’s skills work in a night club and you can see them at their best and at their worst, at their lightest and at their darkest.”
In the early days, Bishi regularly travelled to India to experiment with her vocals and sitar playing. She also attended Central St Martins in Art and Design. She learned playing piano at the age of 5 and all those skills came together when she started recording, which happened during the Siren Suite period. She already has a solid music career under her belt and her credentials are so far-reaching that it’d be almost impossible to list them all. Suffice it to say that she collaborated with The London Symphony Orchestra, The English National Opera, The Whitechapel Gallery and The Royal Festival Hall’s Meltdown. She appeared on the BBC’s Culture Show, The Jonathan Ross Show and The South Bank Show. To date, she’s already released a couple of albums and a string of singles, including the haunting Albion Voice.
“I started recording and finding my sound and I had to put clubs on the back burner to a certain degree in order to concentrate on the music,” she stresses. “I still love dressing up and gigging out though. Me and Matthew launched a label called Gryphon Records and we continue to release music to this day. With the decline of the music industry, people have gone back to a punk DIY ethos, with the help of the internet, to release and perform their music.”
Bishi was recently appointed artist in residence at NYC’s National Sawdust. This program provides artists of excellence from various backgrounds with technical, marketing and financial support through recordings, rehearsals and shows. She’ll be premiering The Good Immigrant, a song cycle for voice looper, sitar and electronics, at the Ferus festival.
On this most promising note, our favourite performer/composer/sitar player concludes: “There will always be a club scene, so long as people don’t tire of dressing up and going out. There are still interesting people the world over. The problem is that the party happens more on Instagram and Facebook these days, as they’re the places where they can show off best. The rise of social media sadly meant a decline of the club scene. Things will become more festival and event-based and clubbers will plan ahead more in advance. The international pop stars of the day seem to favour British designers, so our scene has become globally visible. We should take pride in that as a counter-culture. As for me, I’m not ready to throw in the apron just yet. I’m still full of beans and I intend to be a fabulous granny one day, the grande dame of culture.”
That’s not too much to ask, is it?
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