What’s indie music anyway?

Imagine being at one of these multi-artiste gigs or award ceremonies that are becoming the norm across India. They start with a Hindi singer-songwriter, go on to a band fusing Hindustani classical with rock, and end with some dude belting out a mix of rap and electronica.

“I love indie music,” half the audience agrees. The other half is totally confused. As for the organisers, they are often clueless about what exact genre is being played.

Yet, like it or not, ‘indie music’ has become quite a fad in India over the past few years. Promoters like Artist Aloud, venues like BlueFrog, channel MTV Indies, the event NH7 Weekender and some radio stations have all done their bit in popularising this trend. And to be fair, a lot of music one hears in this slot is innovative, appealing and very cool.

There’s one hitch, though. Ask most fans or even industry folk to define this genre, and they are at a loss of words. Their very loose concept is that if isn’t Bollywood or mainstream, it has to be indie. And if it is indie, they have to praise it because it’s fashionable, whether they understand it or not.

So, what’s the deal? Let’s begin with the way the term was used abroad and then link it to the Indian situation. In the West, ‘indie’ stood for music produced by artistes who were independent or partly dependent on the mainline record labels.

These acts would play for, record and produce albums or songs on their own. In most cases, they would sell directly to stores or even online. However, at times they approached the big labels for distribution. Some successful indie acts were even picked up by the giants and added to their roster.

Depending on the kind of music, these groups were clubbed into sub-genres like indie-rock, indie-metal or indie-pop (not to be confused with Indipop or Indian pop music). Bands like the Buzzcocks, Radiohead, Arctic Monkeys, Death Cab For Cutie, the Killers, Kings Of Leon, the Strokes and Snow Patrol were part of the burgeoning indie scene.

What’s indie music anyway?

In the Indian context, the term was also used to describe independent artistes who suddenly appeared in big numbers around 2005. Record labels had by then reduced their emphasis on establishing new acts, and many musicians sought to go their own route. Some concentrated on live performances, videos of which they eventually put up on YouTube or on the social media.

With more such acts entering the zone, promoters sensed fresh opportunities to build their brands. Some great and new music was heard. The problem was anybody non-Bollywood, non-classical, non-ghazal, non-devotional and non-regional was broadly clubbed under the indie umbrella.

Today, check out the names of those associated with indie music in India, and the actual genres they represent. We have rock and alternative acts like Thermal And A Quarter, Parvaaz, Spud In The Box, Sky Rabbit and The Local Train, blues-rock bands Kanchan Daniel & The Beards and Mihir Joshi Band, percussionist-composer Karsh Kale, classically influenced musicians like Maati Bani and Anand Bhaskar Collective, Sufi singers Dhruv Sangari and Deepa Nair Rasiya, pop boy band Sanam, rapper Divine, fusion act Agam, reggae-influenced Skavengers, jazz acts like Vasundhara Vee and Shefali Alvares, singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad, and electronica outfits Nucleya, Sha’air + Funk, Sandunes and Dualist Inquiry.

Now, how could one possibly club musicians with such diverse sounds under one headline called indie? Most of them have been pretty successful, but what’s the connection between one sound and other?

The good thing, of course, is that the industry hasn’t missed out on an opportunity to promote some really diverse talent, either by backing their audio and video recordings, or by giving them live opportunities. For instance, this evening, High Street Phoenix, Lower Parel, is hosting folk-pop singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad and Delhi rock band Local Train as part of their Awestrung series. Acts like Nucleya, Parvaaz, Maati Bani and Dualist Inquiry have also made a mark on the local scene.

What one needs, however, is an organised way of differentiating one sound from another. One option would be to avoid the indie ghost and describe acts by their genres. Another would be to broadly classify them like in the west under Indian indie-rock and Indian indie-electronica.

Or maybe someone could come out with a completely new term. How about Independent Non-Film Music or INFL? Or does that sound too much like IMFL — Indian Made Foreign Liquor?

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Printable version | May 14, 2021 1:11:00 PM |

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