Think back to 2007. Times are simpler in retrospect, only if you have donned your rose-tinted glasses. For music, and musicians in India, however, things were looking up. The seeds for what would later be an ‘Indie’ revolution were planted.
Emerging from a cultural heritage of contradictions- brilliant, original composers on one hand, and trite Bollywood on the other, musicians in India were well aware of their challenges. Access to instruments were limited to the wealthy with ‘foreign-return relatives’, recording studios were reserved for, again, the rich & connected, and experimentation was encouraged only in theory. Oh, how quickly things turn around.
The advent of the internet opened up a brave new world for the Indian musician. Social media and music-based forums filled the gap between the creator and the consumer – hordes of disillusioned brown kids, bored of their parents’ music.
The nomenclature is important here. ‘Indie’ is the term reserved for independently-produced music, devoid of labels. The ‘indie scene’ is a movement built of hungry musicians, hungrier fans, homegrown talent, and zero corporate influence.
The roots of the Indian indie movement took hold more than a decade ago. Pioneering bands like Indian Ocean, Motherjane, and Parikrama have the full authority to board the rusty ‘back in my day’ train. Strumming since the days before dial-up, they made a name for themselves, made space where there was none, and paved the way for the new lot. Days of jamming in restaurants & abandoned spaces, performing at poorly-organized college festivals, and recording songs in bedrooms are the pillars of the Indian indie scene. Music was social contraband – smuggled to school in clunky mp3 players, and consumed with excited friends in narrow lanes. As the years passed, musicians started becoming the norm at pubs, but even then, they mainly covered songs written by the gentlemen on the posters around them. The original music was being made, just not on stage yet.
Oh, festive days!
Once the festival circuit started gaining strength, things started looking brighter. Here was the perfect platform for the local talent to a) receive the attention that music singularly deserves, and b) present their work directly to the very interested public.
Plus, festivals went the extra mile to bring down bands of global repute, giving artistes the opportunity to have their names on the same banner as international peers. Music festivals like Nh7, Sunburn, Magnetic Fields, and Supersonic have been invaluable to the music culture of India.
The Digital Revolution
Add our glorious Lord & savior the internet to all of this, and the music scene is unbeatable. Soundcloud, Youtube, and Bandcamp were the first ones to provide artistes with the platforms to showcase their work directly on an online stage that is large and exclusive. Now, our indie artistes had the means to push their work to listeners in every corner of the planet.
Coming to our shores, music streaming service Saavn’s Artist Original program is a fantastic initiative, roping in Indian artistes to make their music, on their terms, and providing their platform to showcase it. This goes another step in empowering the artiste who isn’t being noticed by label bigwigs with their own agenda. The AO program has had a powerful start with Naezy, and his song Azaad Hu Mai. Other artistes on their roster are indie sweetheart Prateek Kuhad, all-around queen Monica Dogra, and techno-king Arjun Vagale. Similarly, Saavn’s Artist-in-Residence program aims to highlight the best in the constant stream of fresh talent around us.
The journey of the indie music scene is one of dedication, persistence against greed and apathy, and a trajectory of hope. Struggling artistes should hold their chin up high, there are good things coming.