In addition to the weight of expectation that comes with being an emerging name in the UK’s electronic dance music scene, Anish Kumar is currently studying to be a vet at the University of Cambridge. “It’s actually been doable,” the 22-year-old humbly tells NME about balancing music with academia. “This year has been a bit of an experiment to see how much time I can give towards music. But, so far, it’s worked: I’ve just found out that I’ve passed my exams, which is great. I’m ready to do it again, to be honest.”
With two more years left to go before he can pick up his hard-earned degree in veterinary medicine, Kumar’s admirable juggling act looks set to continue. But as interest in his bright, vibrant and sample-heavy spin on dance music continues to build, the temptation must be growing by the day to skip the odd lecture, seminar and placement to indulge his burgeoning music career.
The acclaim which is sure to welcome Kumar’s four-track debut project ‘Postcards’, due Friday (July 29), will only heighten that desire, you feel. The record gets off to a flyer when the inviting piano loop and stuttering drums on opener ‘Hummingbird’ give way to a hugely satisfying break, before ‘Steamroller’ crashes into the dancefloor with thumping beats, euphoric vocal samples and the kind of unifying energy mid-career Daft Punk would’ve approved of. Then there’s the propulsive ‘Bhavachakra’, which fizzes with contrasting synths and distorted samples, and the unrelenting house groove of ‘Return To Sender’ which rounds off proceedings.
“It’s not meant to be a cohesive release in the slightest. In fact, it’s the opposite: these are postcards, in that they’re from very different parts of my musical influences,” Kumar explains. “It almost has a shop window feel to it as a debut release. I don’t want people to just expect one thing from me: I don’t want to be a one-trick pony artist. That’s my biggest battle, actually: getting stuff to still sound like me while [remaining] eclectic.”
Kumar’s path to this point began in his north east hometown of Washington. While he didn’t really engage in the local music scene there, it was in his family home where Kumar made his first forays into production by attempting to recreate Eminem’s beats on GarageBand, before then moving on to “what I thought at the time was techno, which it probably wasn’t!”. He adds: “When I got a bit older, I made the switch to Logic, which I’m still using. What I’ve been making has just followed my tastes in music, which is no longer Eminem, I’m sad to say!”
After a mild fascination with EDM and artists like Avicii, Kumar then become enamoured with the likes of Four Tet and Bicep. Lockdown further opened his eyes to a treasure trove of sample-rich genres, such as disco and northern soul. “Like many people, when you discover something new you become engrossed in it and allow yourself to dive down and start researching,” he says. “Lockdown allowed me to do that, because there was no external influence. It was all just, ‘What do I like? What can I find out more about?’. Northern soul was one of those genres. I wasn’t really exposed to a great amount of music growing up, so that’s left a great deal still undiscovered for me – which means I can get quite excited about it!”
By 2021, Kumar had begun shopping his music around to “anyone who would listen”. BBC Radio 1 DJ Sarah Story was one such person, who took a shine to his breakthrough track ‘Little Miss Dynamite’ (which, Kumar says, is “absolutely” set to return to streaming services soon). However, on the day that the song was meant to premiere on Radio 1, Prince Phillip died – which saw the BBC scrap much of its regularly scheduled programming.
All was not lost, however. “That’s how I then managed to get ‘Little Miss Dynamite’ into the hands of Annie Mac’s producer,” Kumar recalls, with the track finally getting its Radio 1 moment in May 2021. His response to that airtime? “I felt like I was about to have a heart attack. It was a huge moment, especially as I’d been listening to Annie Mac’s show for so long: me and my friend would drive around listening to her show. I’d kind of conditioned myself into thinking, ‘OK, this sort of thing doesn’t happen overnight’. It doesn’t, but it really felt like, in the moment, overnight I’d penetrated my way into the industry.”
Big tunes are certainly the order of the day when it comes to Kumar’s live DJ sets, with a spot on the bill at Four Tet’s Finsbury Park all-dayer on August 13 – where he’ll perform on a stage curated by Dialled In festival, who champion creatives from the South Asian underground. Speaking about the “surreal feeling” of being on the same line-up as one of his producing heroes, Kumar says: “I’m putting a lot of thought into this performance and what’s going to happen around it, especially given the Dialled In context.”
Is he hoping to bump into Four Tet on the day? “Oh, I’d love to grab a pint with Four Tet! His music is, I would say, the gold standard in the lane that we’re all trying to produce in right now,” he says. “It’s important to recognise that someone who’s so cemented in his position is still trying to do new things. It tickles me to see that he played on the BBC Introducing Stage at Glasto [under his KH alias, where he spun a Kumar track during his set]. My first reaction was like, ‘Who needs to be introduced to Four Tet?!’”
With ‘Postcards’ set to be delivered imminently, Kumar is already planning his next project. “We talked about ‘Little Miss Dynamite’, which came from an album that I’d written with the full intention of no one hearing it – there’s a trove of uncleared samples in it!”, he chuckles. “So now it’s about deconstructing and then reconstructing it three years on. It wouldn’t feel right to just release old music, because it’s not telling the story of who I am now. I’m going away this summer to finish off a lot of the stuff around that release, and it’s just gonna be a retreat: take my studio [with me] and try and carve out that album.”
After that, it’ll be time to return to Cambridge – but what if Four Tet calls and asks to collaborate? “I mean, if Four Tet wants me to run away from Cambridge, then I might just have to do that,” Kumar says with a wink. “But I will probably return.” Don’t worry, animal kingdom: Anish Kumar isn’t leaving you for the dancefloor just yet.
Anish Kumar’s ‘Postcards’ EP will be released on July 29