End-Of-The-Year-List: Indian artists to watch out for in 2013
Lay down the incredulity you reserve for the undeserving on end-of-year lists.
This isn’t that round-up. We’re not looking back or patting backs.
In 2013, we’re looking to widen roads for artists on the cusp.
All of last year, we saw alternatives to commercial electronic music bloom across disparate pockets of the nation. This year, we’re are counting on these very musicians to grow and establish a legitimate wave that has very little to do with the mainstream. We have picked out our ten most promising producers to have emerged in recent times, a list of who we look forward to remembering.
These aren’t heroes firmly entrenched in the scene, they’re a sign of the evolving times. This isn’t about BLOT! or Teddy Boy Kill or Midival Punditz or Arjun Vagale, artists heard and spoken of for years. You may or may not have heard the ones on this list, but you certainly should be giving them a listen now.
In order, then:
10 – Sandunes
Running w/ Claws was among the most astonishing singles the year 2012 saw. Having more in common with the post-dubstep/future garage scene than its immediate environment, it utilized tropes apparent in mid 00’s bass music to keep Zomby-esque synth-stabs afloat over sharp percussive elements. Ardeshir takes cues from the past to craft music of the future. There’s a reason Sandunes might seem sonically detached from the Indian scene at large: no one’s making music quite like this at the moment.
9 – FuzzCulture
Delhi’s FuzzCulture has Parikrama’s Srijan Mahajan and the Circus’ Arsh Sharma doing together what, in a less complex world, no member of either band would be expected to do. Regulars on the capital’s music circuit have however, by now, left their surprise back in TLR or similarly abbreviated venues. Though sometimes heavy-handed and teetering dangerously on the brink of daaru dubstepism (ref: ‘Et Tu Brutus’) – a genre I have, over the course of the year, fervently grown to loathe – even only the lovely ‘I See Ghosts’ is enough of both promise and redemption for them. Definitely my pick for 2012’s unsung anti single – sweepingly orchestral and, more importantly, never boring, the track shows prudence beyond several releases by more experienced electronic producers this year. If FuzzCulture was a button on your modern audio player, it’d be the dedicated volume rocker.
Did I mention that Srijan Mahajan also plays with Shubha Mudgal? Yeah.
8 – Apocalypse Meow
Apocalypse Meow was a bright and momentary blip on the clubscape of 2012 (which has been, you’ll remember, an otherwise remarkably non-apocalyptic year). As Wild City marked in a review of their original mix (equal parts surprise and adulation), the three-piece Delhi brainchild of Aalap Davjekar was a bedroom project whose work sat primly besides practiced studio EPs and didn’t bat an eyelid. Certainly some may go so far as to attribute their lackadaisical on-stage attitude to herb-induced inexperience, but truth is that even at its most slipshod the mix never runs cheap.
Some of the best loop snatching atmospheric inventions this year flowed from the minds of absolute unknowns, peeled a select few heartstrings and then slipped quietly back into the void when they were done, the way of their creators. Nothing has been heard of the trio since a couple of lukewarm mid-year shows; the brooding glimpse of greatness we found in ‘The Night’ may sadly have been lost, along (it is rumoured) with the frontman in the foothills of Nepal.
7 – Paralights
Ayan De’s formidable debut EP, Scores For Your Background, was all at once a homage to his many influences and a sign of things to come. Flitting enthusiastically between genres, Paralights managed to capture everything you’d expect a professional producer to. Halfway through the tracklist, the EP begins to showcase the older and the wiser: soaring island verses (‘Wide Awake’) and catchy piano single material (‘Nightwing’) are easily favoured. Not one to dull as it winds in, the Wisp-esque ‘Chaos Control’ tapers into string instrument – effortless, slick, conclusive. Ayan De is proof that it’s not only Frank Ocean picking at his own musical scabs between prettifying the art of another – India has never lacked for homebred veterans. 2013 will probably hear his sophomore effort, and a more personal record than this one could go a long way towards battling the dreaded slump.
6 – Mode7
Raphael Kably’s post-BBC first step as Mode7, the All In Faded Days EP, was perhaps the most cinematic release India saw in 2012. A conscious step away from the commercial electronic music establishment, Kably made music not just dark but subtle as well. Constructed around the motif of an underlying piano melody, All In Faded Days unfurled as it progressed. Kably used silence as a weapon, often letting a track collapse into a second of perfect nothingness. This was moody music controlled in composition. But the sheer quality of the tracks is best apparent when heard as part of his DJ set. They sit so comfortably alongside the work of established leftfield electronica artists in the vein of Baths and Jamie XX, it’s scary.
5 – Frame/Frame
It’s as if Nikhil Kaul is always in motion. The New Delhi producer is consistent when it comes to innovation. It’s easily possible to track his evolutionary graph by just going through his SoundCloud account chronologically. Kaul finds ineffable middle ground between post-rock isolation, IDM abstraction and glitch-hop bounce. Driven by playful experimental tendencies, the primary reason why Kaul is so fascinating as a producer is it’s impossible to predict where he’ll go next. Not just impossible, futile. Few producers in the country are as subtle yet effective in their unpredictability.
4 – Your Chin
If Your Chin were a movie, he’d be Napoleon Dynamite. For one, they’re both definitely growers. Both are decidedly unlike their peers. For another, Raxit Tewari’s practised deadpan and monotonous drawl, too, are the perfect soundtrack to your everyday existence. He’s made music for the utterly bored, he’s made it intelligently and made it work. Granted it may take a while for the listener to fall into the basic drum and synth pastiche, but this self-titled first is a new-age ritual for electronic cavemen, heartfelt poetry from one ambivalent cog in the machinery to another. The guitar is tactful and lush, the lyrics almost tongue-in-cheek.
‘If you want to get
I could learn to drive
That alone deserves a place on any end-of-year list you’d care to mention.
3 – SnowShoe
What some writers call composting is the process of letting work accrete. Abortive paragraphs, half-finished concept art, four-bar loops; what the creator might perceive as trash today could very well inspire his/her magnum opus in an year or so. As a result, hitting delete could be a bigger mistake than you think. Was Rahul Nadkarni consciously aware of this when he let the sonic doodles he drew during the making of Sky Rabbit’s debut gather dust on his hard-drive? We can’t tell. What we can is his refusal to hit delete gave us SnowShoe. Equal parts Hammock and a temperate Boards of Canada, the sixty-minute set is among the freshest electronic music to have come out of the country.
2 – East Stepper
Abhishek Jha is currently providing the most legit alternative to commercial bass music in India. On his November full-length, Blue Leaf, the New Delhi producer fired off track after track full of expertly layered instruments and non-instruments over subs that’d melt the walls of your stomach. Blue Leaf was a natural evolution of the sound he first showcased back in June with the Radio Bass EP. Past the compositional chops and slick production quality, it emphasized on Jha’s uncanny ability to introduce Indian sounds without sounding tacky. His work bridges the gap between the sounds of his influences and the sounds from his surroundings. It sees sounds as diverse as temple bells harmoniously coexist with harsher synthetic elements. His production is busy, but he somehow ensures it’s never overbearing.
It’s rare that someone produces a record of the year, effortlessly lays live sets at nationwide venues and skips entire chapters to an evolved sound that the scene was unprepared for until about 2014. It is even rarer that barely anyone has heard the man make music before. Jamie xx did it, quiet and efficient out West. In India, minus the bluster and the ceremony of more famous artists, Rahul Giri has been producing music for local hipsters to aspire to.
Sulk Station’s endearing Hindusthani slash piano brand trip-hop set the standards for bedroom production in a year that was dominated by the small-time. Till You Appear, arguably the country’s best debut in a decade, was never going to be perfect – but like a true classic, it tried. Over subtle journeys into reverb caves it might take a few listens for the album’s maturity to sink in, but they’re far from tedious.
As _RHL, Giri released Soundcloud teasers, monochromatic frames off the inside of his head. His Nada Bramha mix showcases an array of an year’s smart, deft influences, flitting tirelessly between Kidkanevil and Flying Lotus, Fantastic Mr. Fox and Rekha Bharadwaj.
Fresh off a tour in the UK and settling to release a new EP, the burden of a true independent sound sits tightly indeed around Sulk Station’s diminutive frame.