Dharni wears bomber jacket; shirt; jeans, all from Louis Vuitton. T-shirt (worn throughout), stylist’s own. Ring (worn throughout), Dharni’s own. (Photo: Stefan Khoo)

From the moment he could walk and talk, Dharni knew he wanted to be different. “I’ve always had an interest in music, but I’ve also always been a nonconformist,” he says. “I took up the piano when I was four, but then I quit because the teacher was too stringent and boring and classical.” At 13, he discovered beatboxing on music-sharing platforms, found a community of fellow enthusiasts on online forums, and was hooked. “I was listening to these MP3s and I was just so inspired. I started beatboxing, rapping, just playing and producing music— everything developed from there.” 

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Those developments have taken Dharni halfway across the world and back. The musician has been residing in Poland for the past 10 years, but moved back to Singapore in January this year. “I left because I felt very trapped and sheltered here,” he shares. “Art is about expressing yourself and I couldn’t really do that in Singapore then, because I didn’t really have experience in many things. It was comfortable, which was a good thing, but for an artist, it can be quite suffocating. I wanted to step away from people who were thinking alike.” 

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Dharni wears jacket, from Louis Vuitton. (Photo: Stefan Khoo)

After travelling through the big cities and cultural capitals of the world, he found himself in Poland, competing in a televised talent competition. He has since won several international beatboxing competitions, released music independently and garnered an impressive following on YouTube—his most popular clips surpass 3 million views each. “I really want to work on my EP now,” he lets on, “but things come up all the time. Brands want me to do the music and the video for their campaigns and I do it because it’s part of work. I’m not complaining, but it takes my creative energy to a different place. Real success is when I become financially free and can focus purely on my own expression of art. Right now, money is a barrier and I’m trying to work backwards. I want to be the music maker for the brands—do crazy things for them, just from the mouth. Even if they’re asking for just a jingle, I make that jingle a hit.” 

Real success is when I become financially free and can focus purely on my own expression of art.

This relentless drive is at the heart of all of Dharni’s work— it’s why he is always pushing himself. “My strength is my creativity,” he states emphatically. “I won those competitions because of my creativity, not because of my skills, which are okay but not my greatest strength. My strength is being able to think differently. I always want to be on a different level, doing things my own way so I’m away from all the people trying to copy me. If you keep going on the same path, you get a lot of competitors and they all want to eat you up. But if you do something different all the time, they can’t keep up with you.” 

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Dharni wears windbreaker; shirt; jeans; sunglasses; bag; sneakers, all from Louis Vuitton. (Photo: Stefan Khoo)

Right now, Dharni has found a new outlet for his creativity— and it has nothing to do with music. “People think, ‘Oh, you only beatbox’, or ‘you only do music’, but they don’t know all my interests,” he says. “I’m really obsessive. When I get into one thing, I take it all the way; I get really interested and I lose myself in that for a while. And then I move on to the next thing.” And his next thing right now is the current cryptocurrency boom. “I’m learning how to trade better, how to chart, how to do technical analysis,” he shares. “Part of it is because I want to be a millionaire in six months, but I’m also interested because it allows me to understand the psychology of human behaviour, how people think. I’m new to this, but I’m diligently doing my research. I’ve been burned, I’ve gained and then been burned again, but I think that’s part and parcel of learning—you make a lot of mistakes, but then you get better at it.” 

When I get into one thing, I take it all the way; I get really interested and I lose myself in that for a while. And then I move on to the next thing.

True to his personality of going full throttle on whatever path he has set his sights on, Dharni is launching an NFT platform. Called Tezarekt, it specialises in NFTs that fuse audio and visual components, sold as individual works that will form part of a larger, interconnected whole—like the singular layers that make up a finished song. The project is also inspired by gachapons, the capsule toy vending machines in Japanese arcades, and therefore has a gaming element of randomness to it as well. 

Dharni wears jacket; shirt; jeans, all from Louis Vuitton. (Photo: Stefan Khoo)

Clearly a firm believer that one needn’t be defined by or bound to any one thing, Dharni admires people who are similarly boundary-breaking and genre-blurring. “You have so many genres right now—why not pick the best essence of each and put them into a message that is your own?” he asks. “That can apply to anything in life. You don’t have to be tied down to one genre, one style, one medium. I think Billie Eilish does that really well.” Another rule-bender he admires? “Right now, I’m really inspired by fashion, especially with what Virgil Abloh is doing. He came from a street background, and then took all that knowledge into luxury and revolutionised it. It’s a bit like me moving out of Singapore, experiencing so much stuff, then coming back with all this knowledge and, hopefully, changing something.”

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As to what he wants to change, mindsets and attitudes are at the top of the list. “When it comes to art, we shouldn’t play it too safe. We should be more open to very new ideas and not just blindly follow what the West has already done. Take inspiration, but don’t copy,” he says. “People copy because it’s a sure win—success is proven. But if you want to do something totally different, take crazy risks; not many people would try to adopt it.” 

Dharni has no such hang-up when it comes to trying new things, as evident from this shoot. “This hair,” he discloses, “is not how I do my hair, but I’m open to it—as I am to painting my nails for the first time. I believe I have more sides of me to show, and showing different facets can be so cool. I like trying different styles, but the persona is still me. I think there’s a fine line between doing things just to be cool and actually being open to things because it’s a part of you that you want to explore. That openness—that’s the thing you need when you’re doing art. Otherwise, you lack creativity.” 

Photographed by Stefan Khoo
Styled by Jeffrey Yan
Makeup: Wee Ming using NARS
Hair: Christvian using KEVIN.MURPHY
Photographer’s assistant: Alif
Stylist’s assistant: Nadia Lim

Special thanks to NINETEEN80