Indian Artists Ride The Digital Wave
With the meteoric rise of the Indian electronic scene these last couple of years, several musicians in the country have been gripped by the world of production. Some have made the plunge, jumping definitively off the bandwagon, while others have stayed loyal to their bandmates exploring a parallel world of beats, loops and infinite sounds. For most of them, this journey in electronica has been an organic and often liberating transition.
It was a series of uncontrollable and unforeseen events that led Nikhil Kaul to form Frame/Frame in 2012. Frustrated by the demise of several promising bands caused by the sudden departure of band members and scheduling conflicts, the Delhi-based guitarist got hooked on to electronic music. “I got exposed to crossover acts like O7, Bonobo, Massive Attack and Radiohead. I was very adverse to electronic music at first, but before I knew it, it started to creep up on me.” A two-year stint doing commercial music work (read: jingles) enabled him to hone his production skills in his free time, sharpening his yet-to-come electronic blade. Kaul still whips out his guitar for live shows and states that he “enjoys the human element” of playing with various musicians. But electronica has allowed him to enter a boundless world, its threshold faster and easier to cross. “In terms of composition, electronica was not much of a different process, but you have the choice to use every sound in the world. And there’s no one to stop my project when I’m alone!”
Practicality seems to be a common thread. “A band is difficult to coordinate; you need to find the right kind of people. With electronica, there is a little more control”, admits Karthik Basker, who formed electronic duo Klypp after the split of Bicycle Days, a Bangalore-based rock group that dabbled in electronica. But for him too, the process came naturally. “It just happened. I enjoyed that kind of music – stuff like Boards of Canada, Radiohead and Flying Lotus changed the soundscape in my head”.
Suryakant Sawhney spawned his own electronic baby in 2012 – Lifafa, in addition to his role as frontman and main songwriter for Delhi-based experimental quartet Peter Cat Recording Company.“I go insane if I’m not doing something!” he justifies, adding that “Electronic music sped up the process of writing good music; it is the easiest option. There are more limitations with a band: at the end of the day, I still have to wait for everybody”. Lifafa has indeed enabled Sawhney to improvise a small tour in Europe recently, something understandably more difficult to organize with a 4-piece.
While his music differs radically from Sawhney’s cinema noir-infused brooding tones, Raxit Tewari’s journey into electronica is comparable to that of the PCRC frontman. Lead singer and guitarist of Bombay band Sky Rabbit, he launched Your Chin at around the same time as Lifafa, also initially as a side project. “I had been messing around with my computer and wanted to start making music with it – stuff that I wrote over a period of time became songs. I just put it out there and one thing led to another; I got a good response and more gigs started coming”, says Tewari.
Another musician that got bitten by the electronic bug is Bombay keyboardist Sanaya Ardeshir, whose solo project Sandunes has truly taken off since its inception in 2011. “It happened really organically, I was into trip-hop at the time, and once I started producing, I got sucked into the world of synthesizers”, says the jazz-trained musician, who has played in several Bombay bands and accompanied singers on the keys numerous times since her college days.
Echoing the words of Nikhil Kaul, Ardeshir believes her instrumental background has been an asset: “Any kind of music registers in your being. It helps a lot with composing and writing. Rarely will a musician not apply what he has learned from his organic world to his electronic music. You don’t have to be a instrumentalist to be a producer, but as an artist you can hear the difference”.
So is it easier to make a living as solo electronic artists? The share of the pie is naturally bigger once bandmates are out of the picture. The growing enthusiasm for electronic music in India is also a substantial factor, and individual electronic artists are evidently easier to book, pay and accommodate in the mostly small venues that dot Indian metros. “I think it’s easier because of where everyone is at from a listening point of view right now. Maybe it’s a little too easy for DJs!” says Ardeshir. “But I think that’s how it was for classic rock in India a decade ago”, she adds. “We’re making a slightly better living, but not that much better!” says Klypp. For Raxit Tiwari, “everyone is figuring stuff out on a one to one basis”, in terms of performance as well as an economic model.
Many electronic artists can and do play DJ sets – the “dance” option is always there, but it doesn’t seem like an end in itself. “There is the DJ option, but at the end of the day, you’ve booked Frame/Frame! And that has to have me playing guitar and singing. If you look at the UK for example, most electronic artists like Nicolas Jaar or Darkside are now playing shows with live instruments, and this is slowly happening in India too”, explains Kaul. Is the circle complete? Not quite yet according to Suryakant Sawhney: “I’m a bit turned off by electronic music right now, because it’s all fancy and quite pretty. There’s no Velvet Underground!” We thought he’d say that.
written by Tony Guinard