We hear Vasundhara’s voice caressing “Yesterday’s” lyrics in the dimly lit steel elevator, stretching them to jazz indulgences when we have this sacrilegious moment – an epiphany (is it the wine?) we like it better than Dylan. Or the Beatles. There. We’ve said it.
The fearlessness of the indie pioneers abounds, their musical streaking in the genre exchange market between the culture vultures, the i-know-everything-there-is-to-know-about-music-bro crowd, and even the will-drink-and-cheer-to-whatever-you-put-up-i’m here-to-grope-and-make-merry- gang.
While we might have charted out the worst case scenario for you while attending any gig or a festival, the good news is, that finally, not all music is driven at or aspires to touch the altar of Bollywood and meet its often mundane requirements. Neither does it copy your favourite international metal/rock/punk band, nor has to be a four-set band, have a lot of interestingly trimmed fuzz, and wear black t-shirts to qualify as part of the underground scene.
This is in no way a comprehensive list, since thankfully the indie music scene in India has grown in leaps and bounds and developed a history and language of its own. But this is a guide to the new music that the millennium brought for us, the cities that they breathed in, the avatars they took and the emotions they evoked. This is the first one in a series which tells you what is in store in the future, and whom to set your eyes upon on the current crop. Also how to spot them in the new music jungle.
The Post-Rock Priests
You’ll hear them dissing the classic rock/metal anthems cover bands. We say, with reason. With band like Junkyard Groove, Dualist Inquiry, Sky Rabbit leading the way, our indie scene has opened up to the possibilities of funk, blues, R & B, soul and more. These guys are a spillover from the late 90s and are going strong, with rock emerging as more inventive and versatile a genre than many. They’re the soul of indie, a music set that is a direct descendent of the underground scene since the 60s, and have assimilated elements from that heritage (as they have from all over the world). So prepare for the vast variety that awaits you, which could be anything from stoner/psychedelic rock to the edgy overtones of multiple harmonies. As The Last Puff would have you believe, “The Universe is equanimity. If a certain entity exists, then its counter also exists. Thereupon, its all equitable at the end of the night.”
The Acoustic Mystics
These guys fall somewhere in between the post-rock punks and the jazz/electronica sets, often intermingling, with overlapping musical sensibilities. However intricate their arrangements might be, and whether they adopt Dylan’s organic aesthetics or the percussions of Kashmir they share a similar love for that sound. It’s that far away look you achieve, it’s the music to accompany the bigger questions in life, and the finer notes of Ankur Tewari, Nischay Parekh, Ananda Sen and Siddharth Basrur, The Shakey Rays, Hari and Sukhmani. It’s the music that AR Rahman has bent Bollywood backwards for. It’s Kailash Kher’s voice, carrying the hoarse solitude of the sandstorms of the desert in its baritone. It’s Indian Ocean’s radical folk soundscapes, and Avial’s Old Malayalam sensibility. Sukhmani’s Challa and Hari’s dubstep. Rounak Maiti and Kavya Trehan’s careless –lovin strumming. There’s a boggling variety out there, and a constant desire to break out of genres and break into song.
The Neo Psychedelics
They will sample anything and everything. The rain smattering on the Bombay local roofs, the sound of camels thumping away at the Pushkar fair race, mix it, trip on it, hash it, hash tag it and sell it aggressively on social media. We’re kidding, of course. There are the Nucleyas, Goddess Gaggeds, Sneha Khanwalkars of the trip hop pantheon, with music that you need to sit back for. Their music can best be described as an audio film, that takes you through city noir, village myths and soundscapes, country politics, and cross referencing like the music nerds they are. And then the nerds shall inherit the earth. To that, Amen.
The Bangalore Rock Bands
Thermal and a Quarter’s fan page declares that they aren’t a rock band, not an Indian band, but a Bangalore band. There is an essential sensibility that the city dwellers share within, which has seen the growth of the underground scene since the 80s. This might be anything from screeching vocals and the thundering beats belted out enthusiastically to the reciprocating-in-equal-measure crowd in a metal friendly city, or rock fests organised in several pubs. Bangalore enjoys a large influx of great musicians from the north east states with out of the 100 or so bands from Shillong and Guwahati, 60 or so happen to be based in Bangalore. Then you have bands like Swarathma and Raghu Dixit Project that capture the political angst, and the drive behind what fuels the independent movement.
Been There Done That – Someplace Else
A city bursting at the seams with talent despite often being parched of opportunities. Once the locus of Western Rock and Jazz, Kolkata won’ let its musical legacy go that easily. Kolkata’s recent acquirement, but a few decades old, of Bangla rock finds resonance this side of the border, as it does in Bangladesh. Mohiner Ghoraguli, Chandrabindoo, The Supersonics, Cactus, Bhoomi, Fossils, Pink Noise, Ifs and Buts are but a few which perform all over the subcontinent and otherwise. These bands are often multi-lingual, count everything from Baul and Bhatiali influences to French jazz as their musical inheritance. The city that has enthusiasm and space under its sky for all kinds of music and sensibilities, adopts and assimilates like no other place. So you have Bangla hiphop, rock (which some Bengalis might have you believe that they invented it) to trance, psychedelic, folk, EDM, you name it, there’s no scene like in Kolkata, someplace else. It is no mean feat that when Mumford and Sons came touring India, they decided to perform right here.
The Raga Rock Sitar Jazz and the Fusion afterglow
The Western music that influenced India left its trail, and in its wake a generation that went for Western guitar and Hindustani Classical classes, produces a curious post modernist, post colonial influence that looks back into our raga structures, percussions, an abstract synthesis of our consciousness. Enter Mrigya, Advaita, Avial, Midival Punditz, Fuzon. While the fusion movement started in the 90s itself, it changed from post the new millennium in the Indian indie circuit. Rock started being replaced with electronica, funk, jazz and other world music. Solo indo-jazz musicians like Prem Joshua, Prasanna Rangaswamy, Lakshminarayana Shankar came into the limelight. Trilok Gurtu and Hari and Sukhmani gave us the single “Maati”. Landscapes keep shifting as these conjurers of music move into hitherto unknown spaces in the soundscape of music.
From Jazz to Funk and what lies in between
Scale and shape shifters, their music is welcome at all times, from a drunken afternoon soiree, to glitzy clubs for a leisurely evening, and even amidst the madness of a festival. An added bonus, a lot of them command lovely female lead singers, with gorgeous voices and stage oomph that boy bands are hard put to achieve. Then you have someone like the Peter Cat Recording Co, or PCRC, for the lovers of kitsch, playing jazz/cabaret sets, and in their free time, coming up with movies like their ‘horredy’, the wit behind the franchise in a free flowing world of performance art. Adil & Vasundhara add their penchant for club jazz, Shaiir and Func their personal edition of electronic, Ditty and Mark their world music influences swirling in a pool of velvet-smooth jazz. We’re glad this party started.
Music, like dialogue, does not exist in vacuum, so we do see traces of the last few decades on today’s indie and its existence in the previous decades. Many of these bands have etched their own success stories, and Darwinian survival techniques. They have made music for Bollywood, collaborated with international brands, made music videos, given music to indie cinema, become VJs and DJs, collaborated with each other, yet most importantly made for a very diverse retinue of very good music. For that’s what matters. Watch this space as we deconstruct the decades for the big picture, a then and now.