Velvet-roped clubs. Hidden underground warehouses. NYC-based DJ Vikas Sapra knows that a good party knows no single location. Adaptability has long been his strong suit. Sapra spent his career moving fluidly between scenes in NYC and beyond. He’s done the Art Basel and Coachella circuits, but he’s also had the distinct honor of playing the official closing party of the DNC for Present Obama. How’s that for range? His taste, as one might imagine, is varied and eclectic. He’ll put down a pure rock ‘n’ roll set at Butterfly Soho one night, and turn out a funk-rich playlist the next.
In an era where it’s easier than ever to expand one’s musical repertoire, it’s clear Sapra has an understanding of music that extends far behind, say, Spotify Discover Weekly. His deep cuts point to a studied disciple of music, and make him an obvious staple for a range of fete-throwing clients, from Vogue to Google, Interview to Tech Crunch. He’s a chameleon of sorts, well attuned with understanding what the occasion requires. His love of music has also led him to launch his music streaming start-up, Raina, which is essentially like having an incredible DJ on auto pilot.
Below, Sapra let us into his Brooklyn abode to talk an opportunity on the Lower East Side, the recipe for a perfect night on the town, and more.
Where are you from?
The Garden State, aka New Jersey. My parents still live in the same house where I grew up.
How long have you lived in New York City?
For the better part of 20 years.
What neighborhood do you live in now?
My brother Vishal and I have lived together in the same apartment in Williamsburg for 11 years.
What got you into music?
One of my earliest memories is of my third birthday party, and my mom twirling me around to Donna Summer’s “I Feel Love.” I’m sure that left its mark, but I was also an introvert for most of my childhood and spent a lot of time listening to music. In high school, I was the guy handing out mixtapes—yes, cassettes—to friends. My next-door neighbor played guitar and introduced me to Hendrix, Stevie Ray Vaughn, B.B. King, etc, which really got me into rock, blues, and soul.
What was the first album you ever purchased?
I can’t remember the first cassette I purchased, but my first CDs were The Low End Theory by A Tribe Called Quest and Ten by Pearl Jam.
What was your first big investment as a DJ?
Two Technics 1200 turntables, of course.
Any DJs or musicians you admired growing up?
I’ll answer with true DJs and turntablists because the list of producers would be too long. These include DJ AM, A-Trak, DJ Premier, Jazzy Jeff, and Skratch Bastid.
Also, this mixtape by Hollertronix, which is Diplo and LowBudget, was probably the greatest inspiration for me to want to DJ. They took genre bending to a new level, mixing everything from dancehall, new wave, hip hop, ’80s, Bmore club, and electro.
What was your first DJ gig in NYC?
It was in 2007 at The Skinny on Orchard Street. I was a regular and got to know the owner, Jim. I recorded a mix in my bedroom, handed it to him one day, and the rest is history.
Album you’re currently very into right now:
Khruangbin’s Con Todo El Mundo. Deep, funky, soulful grooves with a world vibe. I love anything in this lane: i.e Ebo Taylor, Lord Echo, Voilaaa, and Bosq.
I’ll also share some other albums on heavy rotation.
Rock: Black Keys, Let’s Rock
Indie Dance: Cassius’s Dreems and Hot Chip’s A Bath Full of Ecstasy
Electronic: The Blaze, Dancehall
Hip-Hop: Lizzo’s Cuz I Love You and So Much Fun by Young Thug
Afro/Dancehall: Burna Boy, African Giant
Underground: Hot Since 82, 8-Track
What do you bring to the table at Butterfly:
I DJ’d the opening week at Butterfly, but my main role there is providing the soundtrack when DJs are not playing. This year, I launched a B2B music-streaming service called Raina, which provides the background music for Butterfly. I have DJ’ed for co-owner Nur Khan for years, and he asked me to help curate the sound for the space. Nur is always associated with rock & roll, but we both agreed that this space needed to have a newer and fresher sound. We were looking for very specific elements, including modern production, smooth indie vocals, a toe-tapping melody, but also a rock undertone.
Tell us more about Raina:
Raina is unlike any other music streaming service for businesses and a culmination of my life’s work. We offer meticulously crafted DJ mixes with seamless blends between tracks and no awkward silences. We upload over 30 hours of new mixes each week. Venue calendars are refreshed daily so no two days are ever the same. Management has full control to switch up the vibe by energy, genre, and tempo.
The recipe for a perfect night in NYC:
Like a DJ set, a night should have an arc: a warmup, a peak time set, and a memorable close. Just gather your most fun friends, look fabulous, have a plan, break said plan when magic appears, and enter every room with an open mind and an open heart…and keep your phone at bay.
Any other places for our readers to find you?
I’m only playing special events these days, so the nightlife gigs are rare. But when I do, I’ll post it on my IG, @vikassapra.