Trade Your Guitar For a DAW!
Over the last few years, the bedroom has come to occupy an important, even iconic place in the world of independent music. It’s a place where modern technology meets punk’s DIY ideals to pull down one of the last remaining barriers to making music – access to a recording studio. In that sense, the ‘bedroom’ is only the latest destination in a journey that started with hundreds of small fly-by-night studios that popped up during the garage rock boom of the 60s, with the arrival of punk rock, synthesisers and digital recording as major stops on the way.
But while those earlier advancements were accompanied by new music that made grand statements and stayed true to the 20th century idea of pop futurism (psychedelic/garage rock/punk/rave); bedroom recording tech has given rise to a distinctly 21st century style of indie-electronica – intimate, self-involved and more often than not awash with nostalgia.
India is no longer as immune to these global trends as it once was, and the last year and a half has seen a number of local bedroom producers pop up, perhaps encouraged by the success of Indian electronica poster-boy Dualist Inquiry. Most of it is anonymous background music masquerading as lo-fi electronica but some of it shows promise, such as Pune-based duo Castles In The Sky.
Castles In The Sky consists of Angad Bharaj and Shubham Mehra, who met at their college in Loni, Pune. Inspired by acts like Crystal Castles, they started making their own music in true DIY fashion, armed only with a guitar, an iPod app and a mic they used as a hammer. After getting their hands on some better gear, they released their debut EP ‘Fugu Fish’ – five tracks of lo-fi minimal electronica. Drawing inspiration from indie electronica acts such as the XX and Caribou, along with a hint of British bass music, their sound eschews dense samples and complicated structures in favour of simple song-writing and a penchant for catchy hooks.
Both Bharaj and Mehra started off as fans of alternative guitar music and some of their tracks have a distinct post-rockish quality in terms of the song dynamics. ‘Introduction’ sets the tone and introduces the few elements that make up their sound – strong, dominant basslines, minimal beats and percussion and a handful of carefully selected samples. ‘Bells’ starts off with a chiming bell sample that serves as the hook, before the other elements – downtempo beats, bright and clear bass, a dream pop synth line – join the mix one by one, slowly building up to glitched out crescendo. The aptly named ‘Covert’ is the best track on the record, with an ominous reverberating bassline and horror film keys combining to create dark, brooding atmospherics that make for perfect late night listening.
Of course the EP still has some rough edges; Bharaj and Mehra’s inexperience shows them up on occasion, especially with the production. But Castles In The Sky have what too many of India’s ‘minimal’ bedroom producers lack – a distinct sound, a good understanding of how to use space and the ability to create simple but engaging songs. With some more experience, and perhaps some better gear, they have the potential to be at the vanguard of India’s fledgling indie electronica scene. Now it’s up to them to make that happen.
written by Bhanuj Kappal
Photos by Maanas Singh