Great Indie-an Acts

(This was originally published in Entelechy Edition 34, March 2012)

With Synapse a few weeks old, the constant Raghu Dixit songs are starting to fade away from the hostel corridors. Except when we hear bands live, or are aware of an upcoming concert, Indian artists aren’t given much ear time. Bollywood dominates too much. But a growing independent music scene is flourishing in India, mainly due to rising economic levels and more people willing to pursue their dreams. Here are some great Indian artists that I’ve recently liked. Vishal Shah and Indian Music Revolution are instrumental in introducing some of them.

Advaita

I first heard of Advaita and Swarathma in ”Hindi Hein Hum”. Advaita term themselves as a ‘Rock/Eclectic/Organic Fusion’ band from Delhi and are similar to The Raghu Dixit project. Finding their music is extremely hard, both legally and illegally because they haven’t launched their music on Flyte, and everywhere else is too expensive. I’ve been resorting to streaming from Spotify, but finally caved in and ordered one of their CDs from Flipkart (low-tech maybe, but also the cheapest). Not much is known about them, but they are an octet (geeky?) who had their breakthrough when John Leckie selected them (and Swarathma) as one of the four Indian bands in the India Soundpad project.

Their debut album is Grounded in Space, released in 2009. Ghir Ghir is an amazing number on this album. Advaita makes very good use of some Indian classical vocals and raagas, while injecting western instruments and sound structures with the tabla and sarangi. In fact, Ghir Ghir has parts which wouldn’t sound out of place coming from Dream Theater.

Perhaps their best song is Mo Funk from their latest album The Silent Sea (2012). Vocals (by Ujwal Nagar) and tones that would make my (stuck-up) school music teacher very happy, layered on a background score that is like trance or house music make this 6 minute piece a must-listen. 4 minutes into the song, western vocalist and acoustic guitarist Chayan Adhikari takes over and culminates the ‘Funk’ part of the song.

Other songs to start with are Tremor (SS) and Drops of Earth (GiS).

Swarathma

I think I’ve already introduced Swarathma in the previous section :) Swarathma is a 6-member ensemble from Bangalore (out of which 2 crack PJs). They’ve featured on The Dewarists Episode 7 with Shubha Mudgal.

One of their SoundPad project compositions – Yeshu, Allah aur Krishna – goes “Sant Kabir aye dharti pe, …, jo socha tha woh reh gaya sapna …” and seems to reflect the band’s philosophy. Techies, B-school grads and other achievers, pursuing their passion and making their dreams come true. Their only album is self-titled and released in 2009.

Leader Jana Kahan Hai Mujhe is about “choices we face at each step in our lives, and we are frequently at a loss when called upon to make a decision”. In contrast to Advaita, Swarathma has restrained instruments, a slow, low chord guiding the vocals, and a splash of tabla here and there.

My other favourite is Ee Bhoomi. Kannada must be a happy language indeed, to produce gems like this one and Raghu Dixit’s Lokada Kalaji. This upbeat song describes the transformation of the Earth to Paradise (… bhoomi swarga …) as you let Swarathma wash over you.

Peter Cat Recording Co.

In a case of last but not the least, PCRC is the band I’ve actually been listening to the longest. They remind me of the 60s and 70s when Rock was being born and could be happy and everyday, not having to force melancholy or abstract ideas to be appealing. I’ve been a fan before they had a released album and were tracks on SoundCloud, and these guys doubled that by distributing both their albums ( Sinema and Wall of Want) free for download. The New Delhi quartet describes their music as “Gypsy Jazz to Ballroom Waltz to Midnight Moonlight car chase music”.

Sinema is their older and better album. All the songs have a grainy distortion throughout as if playing from vinyl, although whether this adds to their charm or not is a personal opinion. To quote Helter Skelter:

That it screams ‘SEX SEX SEX’ right under the ‘Free Download’ link for their album Sinema on the Peter Cat Recording Co. web site should be argument enough for you to go ahead and download it.

The Clown on the 22nd floor sets the mood for the album, with old hindi movie clips tacked on to the end. The album crafts a series of love affairs that end badly. Suryakant Sawhney’s rounded drawl adds warmth to the songs, while clever lyrics mingle girls and philosophy. Coming from a band obsessed with humour and subtlety closer Tokyo Vijaya’s lyrics just go ‘AAAaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa’ against a dense instrumentation of drums and dragged out guitars ending the story inconclusively. PCRC is a band that aims big and delivers funny.