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Indie music scene today is the best anyone's seen

We round up 11 indie musicians for a conversation about fame, art, sound and musicmaking. The most important question: what is this scene?

brunch Updated: Dec 01, 2013 11:26 IST
Amrah Ashraf

Indie music is growing up. But are indie musicians? Well, yes, somewhat...

Ten years ago, an indie musician would collect ‘chanda’ from his friends, beg an uncle for his farmhouse or an aunt for her loft, borrow speakers from the local shaadiwala band and even bribe the cops with a ‘pachaas ka crisp’ to play a gig for not more than 50 in the audience. And if they dared belt out a couple of original tracks, they’d be assured of an empty loft the next time. And after all this, they wouldn’t even make enough money to cover the cost of the diesel for the generators.

That was then. The scene, what musicians and fans call the independent music industry, is growing up. Shows are getting bigger, more venues in more cities are giving performers rockstar-like treatment, fanbases are widening and money is pouring in from sponsors. Things are looking up. “Last year, more than 10,000 people attended Bacardi NH7 Weekender and the Sunburn Festival saw over 1,00,000 people,” says EDM artist Sahej Bakshi of Dualist Enquiry. “The underground days are over.”

(Hover your mouse over the image to see artists' profiles)

So what’s new? We rounded up 11 artists (no mean feat, by the way!) for a conversation about fame, art, sound and musicmaking:

Everyone keeps talking about the scene. What is this scene?
Sanaya Ardeshir: Someone started calling it the scene and we just hung on to it. The scene, as of today, is bigger than ‘marginal’ and smaller than an industry. It means space for independent musicians to create something. But don’t get me wrong, it is not just a space for musicians. It is everything that facilitates independent music.
Sahej Bakshi: That’s right. Fans, show promoters, gig venues, sponsors, artist managers and writers make up the scene.
Sky Rabbit: It is the antithesis of the Bollywood music industry.
Scribe: Today, the scene is the best anyone has seen. There’s a pool of talent and with many festivals and events, there are a lot of opportunities.

And yet, the general public has a narrow notion of indie music. What stereotypes are you still battling?
Ankur Tewari: Well, that we smoke a lot of pot. But for a lot of us, that’s true. And that we party a lot. But again, that’s true. And that we are good-for-nothing lazy blokes who can only make music. That’s partially true.
Bakshi: People think that we get all the pretty girls. Lies! They also think that we party every day. We don’t! We play shows, get paid, party a bit and go home.
Ardeshir: People think we live on our mum’s couch!
Nischay Parekh: We are not necessarily long-haired, unclean, beer-chugging weirdos with an attitude problem. We are well-groomed boys with decent manners. And our mummies approve of our choices and even watch our shows.

Indie music is definitely not underground anymore…
Everyone: And that sucks!

Why is that such a bad thing? Surely going mainstream has its rewards.
Bakshi: The fact that some of us are full-time musicians is possible because more people are paying a lot more to watch us perform. But I believe that you shouldn’t change your sound just to become more commercial.
Sky Rabbit: If by mainstream you mean Bollywood, everything is wrong with that.
Tewari: I don’t agree. AR Rahman and Amit Trivedi have scored some great compositions for movies. And if you stick to your sound and can still make some money off it, why not?

So, can you be a full-time indie artist and still live the good life?
Tewari: I’ve been a full-time musician for the past seven months and I am still alive. A couple of kilos lighter but still around, making music and having fun.
Bakshi: The first few years are not easy. But be patient.
Scribe: All of us in Scribe have day jobs.

Who is a successful indie artist?
Ardeshir: The day a band or an artist is recognised internationally, he’s made it.
Tewari: Any artist whose songs make a difference. A friend told me that he made his baby to one of my tracks. That’s making a difference!

Even today, the indie scene is a mish-mash of many genres – pop, electronic, rock. Is there such a thing as Indian indie?
Ardeshir: It’s interesting that you ask this. Some people like to call our voice South Asian. I don’t think we’re there yet.
Sky Rabbit: Our music is no longer borrowed from anyone. No one wants to remind anyone of another band when they play.

From HT Brunch, December 1

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