Indian artists to watch out for in 2014

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If 2013 taught us anything, it was that there’s a slew of terrific talent coming out of Indian music that we’re only just beginning to tap. We at Border Movement are excited to be excavating the freshest artists for your perusal, and what better way to do this than list our choicest new picks from the underground? These are producers we wish to see heralding their own unique sounds brashly into the new year, sounds we’ve watched them develop diligently thus far. Even Audio Pervert, we’re hoping, will approve of this one.In order:

10. Jamblu

In an interview conducted after the release of the first Lifafa album, Suryakanth Sawhney said, “I think Lifafa will eventually be a part of a long Peter Cat evening… So I think the endgame would be to create a six to eight hour entertainment thing, you know what I mean?” Kartik Pillai (aka Jamblu)’s Depth Training is the second step in that direction. The most obvious parallel to Depth Training is Demdike Stare’s Tryptych, or The Haxan Cloak’s Excavation: it sounds like it’s stuck at the bottom of a grave and is trying (and failing) to push its way to the surface.

The music is depressed, though never depressing: Pillai manages to interpose the gloom with enough tension and suspense to keep things from getting overbearing. What makes Depth Training a breath of fresh air in a climate throttled with EDM sterility is Pillai’s near-slavish adherence to his own aesthetic: he manages to retain a certain uniformity in his sound without succumbing to repetition. His arrangement sensibilities aren’t particularly well-attuned to the diminishing attention spans of today’s listeners, but his restrained manner ultimately proves rewarding.

9. The Ebullist

The Ebullist’s three Bandcamp EPs are pure bleep-heavy analogue worship. Wilfully obscure Mumbai based producer (Facebook name) Sean Seann intricately weaves unfolding spirals of bleeps over subtle, almost quaint drum murals. The approach is playful and uneager to impress: Sean will only introduce a new element in its right place, risking boredom but ultimately tethering tracks to a cohesive narrative that exudes warmth and benevolence.

Buoyed by beautiful analog bass sounds and organic percussive elements, The Ebullist’s vintage aesthetic sounds far removed from anything in its immediate environment. Sean has chosen to keep his music insulated from both himself and the broader cultural landscape of Indian electronic music: on his Bandcamp page, he refuses to reveal his name and location. Such a move might seem pretentious in an age when it’s been done before time and again, but somehow it makes absolute sense for a producer whose music displays such distinct, untethered character.

8. Lifafa

In 2013, Suryakanth Sawhney violated his resolve to launch an album every 1st of January. Lifafa – I came seventeen days late and caued quiet detonations of applause to ripple in from the absolute periphery of what some have come to call ‘the scene.’ The album itself is as subdued as the attention it got: it’s possibly the most introverted electronic music release of 2013; it’s echoey samples and technicolour synths, awash with nostalgic crackle, are the perfect soundtrack for waltzing with your confusion.

Despite being a collection of random recordings rather than an actual album, Lifafa – I is more thematically consistent than most recent Indian releases. What’s amazing is this thematic consistency extends beyond Sawhney’s own work, into the work that’s supposed to constitute his ‘Peter Cat evening.’ He seems to be in the process of developing a very well-defined aesthetic for it, with elements drawn from 70’s & 80’s Bollywood nostalgia filtered through the haunting manner of witch house artists like Raime and Balam Acab.

7. Su Real

Suhrid Manchanda isn’t a fledgling newcomer on this music scene by anyone’s standards – the New Delhi DJ had been curating top-notch nights at the (now defunct) independent Delhi venue T.L.R. since ’09, is a founding member of (DJ collective) the Grind, and has been a fixture at decks everywhere from the NH7 Weekenders to Grime Riot Disco parties. Still recovering from a long and dubious past experimenting with sound (amongst other things) out West, it’s a wonder Manchanda AKA Su-Real took so long to begin producing his own tunes.

In fact, his first ever release as producer, The Grind EP, only hit anticipatory ears toward the end of 2013. The Grind EP tossed a large sampling of Su-Real’s (many) influences together in a stylistic frenzy.The result was sometimes overwhelming (like attempting a seven course meal in a half hour), but showed us precisely what was most important – that the man knows his music. Skittering between the genres off his favourite artists as a DJ, Su-Real combined elements of footwork, TRAP, hip-hop, neo-pyschedelia and dancehall between snatches of samples pulled from a wide array of his favourite records.

We aren’t asking why this is the first of his own music we’ve seen – running on the fumes of his raunchy mixes (refer to the recent crowd favourite XXXMAS MIXXXTAPE) and punchy sets fit to butter any dancefloor, what we want to know is when we’ll see more of this stuff in the new year.

6. Blent

The one word I associate with Blent is: unsettling. The Bangalore-based producer weaves desolate found-sound tapestries that rarely exceed the two-minute mark, but why I keep coming back to his Dusk EP is there’s a subtle specter of misanthropy constantly looming over the post-sunset ambience. If Lifafa is introverted, Blent is positively anti-social. And the fact that the misanthropy is kept under the surface only serves to amplify its ominousness.

Blent is perfect bad day music: great headphone listening when your faith in humanity is on the decline. In a recent interview with Abhimanyu Meer, Blent (real name Aniket), made a point about a producer’s personality bleeding into his/her music. When asked what his music sounds like, he said, “A lot of the music by people who I feel are similar to me in personality. Four Tet, Flying Lotus, Amon Tobin, Aphex Twin, Squarepusher. I think we’re all similar.They don’t react with people a lot, they’re unconventional…”

Though his music isn’t quite in the league of the producers he mentions, his words shed light on an an interesting relationship between temperament and art: if Four Tet is playful, Flying Lotus is stoned, Amon Tobin is miles ahead, Aphex Twin is… weird, and Squarepusher is hyperactive, Blent is positively dark.

5. D_Poet

You may already be familiar with D_Poet, and have seen him featured on the pages of this very magazine – there’s a reason he’s a regular new favourite here. Ahmedabad native Gautam Sinha’s lazy, drawn out beats may sometimes bear striking resemblance to other young producers’, but with a steady string of tracks to his credit this past year he’s cemented a reputation for bass-led, off-kilter composition. If Sulk Station’s debilitating ‘Piya II’ needed anymore heartache, his understated remix of the song earlier in the year ladles us a generous extra serving.

Geographically, Sinha’s sensibilities run a gamut of influences, from the evocative trip-hop of the UK to far newer styles developing in America. What speaks highly of Sinha’s oft uploaded Soundcloud offerings (he hasn’t even released a debut EP yet) are the nuances – thick synths reverberating into a carefully slowed vocal croon, a smattering of deliberate TRAP percussive elements snapped on at just the right moment. With remixes gathered off some unlikely tracks (African Herbsman), D_Poet has already underlined his ability to introduce something that is recognisably himself into each production. This year, we can’t wait to see him dive deeper in.

4. Killer Fan

Despite releasing what is arguably the most polished full-length of all the producers on this list, Killer Fan seems one of those most severely under-heard of them. What really seems to count in this circuit, though, is the live show. Perhaps a paucity of these is the reason the Mumbai act has garnered little media attention so far, and only has a base of a handful of followers across online social platforms – something that’s set to change, hopefully, starting with Killer Fan’s first live performance in its home city toward the end of the month.

Composers Itek Bhutani and Fay Baretto grab at shades of industrial, ambient, electro and rock to wend together into a truly original debut. Everything about Hello Sin Nation is cleverly done – and not always quite what you’d expect – the title, the artwork, the production. ‘Suck’, for instance, is surprisingly reminiscent of Pantera’s ‘Walk’ until the vocals kick in. The album handles genres casually, though – despite tonal shifts, tracks have been placed and mixed well enough that they knit seamlessly into each other. Working on film soundtracks by day (you may have heard him on the music to the film ‘Jackpot’), Bhutani, who calls Killer Fan an ‘alternative electronic project’, is well acquainted with the process.

It may not be easy to see the act finding a niche for itself. In a scene inundated with dance-worthy electronic music, especially, Baretto and Bhutani’s unhurried narratives may be caught struggling for a foothold with the audience. The future seems bright, however, and we hope to see the project touring this year. Hopefully, they can recreate their intricate soundscapes on stage.

3. Big City Harmonics

Rohan Hastak is a planner. His downtempo project Big City Harmonics had been years in the brewing. This means that Hastak has, so far, shown the distinctly rare judgment of actually waiting to take each step, of biding his time until his music was truly ready. If accessibility is indie music’s Goliath, Big City Harmonics has been hacking at that giant consistently through a productive 2013 with his ear-friendly work. Initially a duo with Oozeundat’s Sidhant Naren, the project shrank quickly to a one man show, signing to UnMute toward the end of its first year.

What’s impressive is Hastak’s growth as an artist over this short span – from rudimentary bedroom experiments (and a few live hiccups) to a polished debut EP, Big City Harmonics’ SoundCloud is testament to the fact that he is far from stagnating. In fact, if there are any complaints, they center around his fumbling for a definite direction – but most stops along this path to a sound his very own have proven to be welcome interruptions along the way.

Compare, for instance, his (relatively) older stand-outs “Showdown No. 1” or “Playground Antics” to Foreward EP‘s “Within You” or “Down And Out” – the evolution is evident in how deftly he now weaves between genres, and that’s a fine trait: it gives the listener hope for Big City Harmonics’ 2014. Hastak’s compositional chops are solid, and this can only be a good omen of things to come.

2. Sid Vashi

It’s admittedly a point of contention whether or not a Boston-based producer fits on this list, and whether he ought to have been on last year’s (he ought to have – we just hadn’t heard him then); regardless, Sid Vashi’s solid debut LP Motherland Tourism, released mid 2013,argues fiercely in favour of his inclusion. Vashi was bred on Bollywood music in Detroit, and his Bharat flavoured tunes are steeped in samples of forgotten songs we all used to know (album shiner “Stones”, for example, threads in a throwback from Prabhudeva’s 90s-defining song.

Rendered a tourist when visiting his own country, Vashi felt the strange rift that broadens for every year that one is a culturally estranged native. He filled it by, in his words, “reappropriating Indian sounds into a Western context, mainly influenced by R&B, hip-hop and the whole ‘post-dubstep’ thing”. Easy transitions and smooth amphibian beats belie a childhood jazz training. Spilling over with smart ideas, Motherland Tourism was a fluid expression of the very sort of music we think should make its mark on the scene over the next few months.

1. Monsoonsiren

19 year old Bangalore based producer Nathan Menon’s collaboration with Tom Day resulted in what’s possibly the single most beautiful track released in 2013. ‘Love Is Rare’ leaves you fumbling for words and grabbing for cliches (lush, pastoral) like all good music should. Menon displays tremendous vocal ability: a falsetto unironically comparable to Justin Vernon or Jai Paul. His lyrics are devastating in their simplicity. But to take every element apart for inspection would kill the spark. Menon’s music, as the sum of its parts, bleeds into some ineffable plane that most musicians would sacrifice kittens to reach.

Apart from the EP he made with Tom Day, Menon’s output has been severely limited: a few stray mixes, collaborations and tracks on Soundcloud, but the emotional resonance mustered by this tiny repertoire is far greater than anything else we’ve heard this year. Maybe it’s the bloomy vocals — spellbinding in their subtlety — or the front-and-center affectivity of what surrounds them: whatever the reason, it’s hard not to compulsively fall for Monsoonsiren’s glacial grace.

written by Tej Haldule and Ritwik Deshpande

NEWS - 29. January 2014  

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