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Pinkshift Brings Spirituality and Raging to Long Island: Eat Your Friends Tour and Suraksha EP Review

Cecil YangOct 24, 2023

“What happens after I die? Where do we go? Where does everything good about love while we are alive go? What is an ending?

Are we ever truly alone?”

Ashrita Kumar, frontperson of the band Pinkshift, shared these thoughts and more on their Bandcamp community page and Instagram leading up to the release of their newest EP, Suraksha. “Suraksha,” meaning, “security,” or “protection,” is a three-song EP, but to Ash, it is an album. At the release show on Friday the 13th in Long Island, Ash told the crowd how the three of them, including Paul Vallejo and Myron Houngbedji, had written the songs and recorded them at a studio in Philadelphia from February 13th to February 17th 2023. The songs introduce new elements previously unseen in Pinkshift songs, including tabla, performed by Anirudh Alva Changkakoti, dhol performed by Sapan Modi, and veena performed by Abi Natesh. Abi was there on Friday to perform the veena, and can be found performing more veena as a part of Kulfi Girls, a femme-fronted queer South-Asian rock group. Paul was on both bass and guitar, while vocals were recorded by Ashrita, and drums were recorded by Myron. The EP was produced by Will Yip.

The cover art of Suraksha was created by a freelance illustrator based in London named Kush, “kushiaania” on social media platforms. Taken from their website in their 'About Me', Kush explains, “Growing up as a brit-asian, my illustrations are designed to showcase the culture clash of balancing old school tradition whilst still finding your own identity.” It’s clear that in the design and execution of Suraksha, Pinkshift aimed to showcase as much South-Asian talent as possible. That is not to say Paul and Myron’s influence was not seen in this extended play, Ashrita commented on the Pinkshift official Discord that “All three of us worked really hard on it and identify with it in different ways [...] that’s not to say that other elements from Paul and Myron’s lives won’t come forth in future music.” Ashrita added that the project, “came from a very specific and intense spiritual experience I had that we all worked on bringing forth into the world.”

The actual show on Friday the 13th was set at a recreation center-like building, a rental hall where there was no bag check or upraised stage. The bands were on the same level as the audience with only a carpeted part delineating the separation between band and spectator. In short, it was the perfect place for the inaugural performance of Suraksha in full.

Pollyanna tore through as the first opener, asking tongue-in-cheek questions to see if anybody had heard of them before, then setting out to prove why soon, everyone would know their name. During the set, Jill Beckett, lead singer and guitarist, asked the crowd to form two walls against the sides, in the classic wall of death. Singling out fans Jordan and Frankie, they both went into the middle of the wall where Frankie proposed to Jordan. The romance continued as the wall of death moshed to epic guitar playing and heavy drum beats. Ending with the crowdpleaser, “Mars,” the audience got sweaty and passionate, with the display of love carrying them into the next set.

Jhariah was up next, much to the anticipation of the crowd. Earlier, a fan had gone around with a rainbow slug toy specifically to give to him, so they could match. From the reactions of people at the show, Jhariah was very popular amongst Long Islanders. Opening with his newest song, “RISK, RISK, RISK!” the show quickly amped up, people singing along at the top of their lungs. During the last song of his set, he picked up his guitar again, explaining his pants had ripped but he must continue, he played “The View from Halfway Down” with enough energy to make Spongebob himself shed a tear.

The Pinkshift set opened with the song the entire tour was named after, the unreleased “Eat Your Friends.” Jhariah explicated the meaning of the song: in the creative industry, many lose sight of themselves when they want to reach the top, “eating their friends” in the process, or taking advantage of them. The song is an anthem warning against becoming so hungry you devour everything and everyone you care for. During the song, Jhariah and Ashrita came into the crowd, forming a pit around them and circling each other. Jhariah said the song would be officially released on October 26th and included on his newest album.

Pinkshift played a few more songs before being joined on stage by Max, their old touring guitarist. He was from Long Island, so Paul had asked him to come up and play a few songs for old times’ sake.

Ashrita picked up the guitar to play the EP in full. In a spur-of-the-moment decision, they asked everyone to sit down for the next three songs, if they felt comfortable. Everyone obediently sat. This particular show allowed for this, as previously mentioned, there was no upraised stage separating the artist from the audience and thus the entire room was on the same level. Abi sat on the “stage” to play the veena, and Pinkshift played to a captivated audience.

The songs on Suraksha are inspired heavily by Ashrita’s background and the experience they had when their grandma died. “These songs are to be listened to with the nuance of grief related to loss, but also to the grief of awareness of material reality, and its otherness from who a person is, who I am,” Ashrita had said previously. The only unreleased song of the EP, “lullaby,” started with an almost droning guitar, low noises that set the stage for Ashrita’s recitation of The Pavamana Mantra (pavamāna meaning "being purified, strained"), an ancient Indian mantra introduced in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad.

From the vinyl inserts: “The unreal and darkness are both associated with death, while the real and light are associated with immortality and as such all three mantras can be interpreted as meaning, ‘make me immortal.’ Swami Krishnananda explained that his mantra rejects the material world as being unreal and invokes a concept of a reality that can transcend immortality.”

The song itself has themes of death and immortality, screaming out the lyrics “I don’t wanna sleep, I don’t wanna breathe [..] reanimate me and close your eyes!”

Abi played the veena accompanied by birdsong leading into the next song, “Home,” which has been out since August 4th. Pinkshift had played it before it was released while opening for L.S. Dunes, but in a setting as intimate as the VFW Hall, the song was able to shine and take all the space it needed. The final song on the EP, “to me,” released April 14th, has been described by Ash before as their “first love song.” “The realization that despite everything that is difficult, to be truly loved is to learn to love ourselves.”

The repetition of the song’s refrain, “To me,” emphasizes the sense of self that is gained through loving someone else. While the song is ostensibly about the experiences gained from loving a different person, the song continuously refers to how the singer has changed. The first verse refers to a “We,” the second verse, “You,” but at the end of each verse, the lyrics bring it back to the singer, “To me.” The vinyl insert says: “My love for you is infinite ~ It will remain in the love I carry ~ It will always be who I am forever.” The lyrics’ constant referral back to the singer of the song reveals the core of the song, which is that the love the narrator experiences is not just a feeling, but who they are. A central theme of the record is queer love, showcased in “Home” and “To me,” community is found in both ancestry and LGBTQ love. Tradition is emphasized and brought forward as a guiding force of spirituality, a familial institution that can be passed down and encompass new members of the community. Strength, warmth, light, kindness – this is what the album (and goddamnit, yes it’s an album) was built on.

Once the album was done, Ashrita bid us to stand up again as we had a “lot of raging to do.” More importantly, it was Paul’s birthday! The band took a birthday shot before ripping right back into what they came here to do, which was rock the fuck out. The crowd formed a circle pit in honor of Paul. Pinkshift ended with the title track from their debut album, “Love Me Forever,” everyone’s final chance to lose their entire minds. The show was one to remember for the ages, spirituality and modern rock combined, good not just for the ears but for the soul.

Love Pinkshift Forever.

Keep up with Pinkshift here.

PHOTOS BY CECIL YANG