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Discover India’s most intriguing band names and the stories behind them

From Lawntuba and The Family Cheese to Sulk Station and Elephant In The Elevator, India’s current crop of indie music acts sports names that are equal parts intriguing and irreverent

music Updated: Dec 03, 2016 09:09 IST
Rachel Lopez
See how many Indian indie band names you can spot in this picture.
See how many Indian indie band names you can spot in this picture.(HT Illustration: Siddhant Jumde)

It’s gig season. Crop tops will be out in full force. Metal-heads will scowl deeper. Guitars will be tuned. Mics will be checked. And terms like post-punk, electro-house, progressive trance, EDM and third-wave ska will continue to defy definition.

With more than 50 music concerts and festivals across India over the winter months, some of India’s most intriguingly named bands are likely to perform at your doorstep.

Don’t fear them. India’s independent music scene tends not to rage against the machine – the artists revealed the stories behind their band names with more sheepish laughs than earnest manifestos. There are no Sex Pistols or Niggaz Wit Attitudes. The Indus Creeds, Indian Oceans, Colonial Cousins and Parikramas have given way to Unohu and Space Behind The Yellow Room, names that are quirky, cosmopolitan, and not focused on establishing Indian-ness. See how some of them got christened.

Clown With A Frown

“It’s not a very fun story,” warns guitarist Johnathan Reuben of the pop/funk rock outfit from Bangalore. “We took inspiration from a poem by Miloslav Holub, which asks what happens to the entertainer after the show is over: Where do clowns go? Where do clowns sleep? Where do clowns eat?” The band, he says, packages a serious message through happy music. “This is a way to reference that idea”

Here’s how they sound

Space Behind The Yellow Room

If you ask, the Bangalore post rock/space band with minimal vocals will say that the name comes from a faraway space behind the sun, to show how the universe is connects us all. But in reality, drummer Shoumik Biswas says they “were just a bunch of kids who needed a quick name for their band before they entered a competition”. They took it from the yellow door behind which they spent a lot of time at college. “We often make up stories about the name,” Biswas says. “And when people think the story is deep, we laugh at how full of it they are. We’re luckier than previous generations because we have so much access to information. But in today’s world, if your music works, the name doesn’t matter – look at Foo Fighters.”

Hear some of their music here

Sulk Station

Electronic/triphop duo Tanvi Rao and Rahul Giri are married childhood sweethearts. So it’s understandable that Giri got away with calling Rao ‘Sulk’ because “she used sulk a lot”. It would have made a great band name, except it was already taken so they added Station. “It doesn’t mean anything and has nothing to do with our music,” Giri says. “I like that we’re not confined to its associations.”

Make up your mind about Sulk Station here

The Family Cheese

Drummer Yohan Marshall says the progressive blues band from Chennai had no name when they formed in 2011. “It struck us that so many band names sound so negative. We didn’t want that.” Then in Ahmedabad, at a garden breakfast they looked that their spread and thought up the name. “With our music, we touch on cheesy things that make no sense, but who says they’re not important?” he asks. “A name like this has no baggage, which is liberating for us and the listener.” The band loved it. The others, not so much. “My mother said it’s the dumbest thing she’d heard in her life, that we’d go nowhere with a name like that. But we released our first album on Thursday,” he says. They end every song with “We are The Family Cheese.”

The Family Cheese’s music sounds like this

Lawntuba

The four-member experimental pop, neo-psychedelia and folk rock act had already recorded four songs and were all set to debut as Roam early this year when they realized the name didn’t sit right. Then guitarist Krishna Purohit visited Kolkata, stayed at the Fairlawn hotel and loved the peaceful connotations of Lawn. Another member added Tuba. Why? “When you hear the name it evokes some kind of shamanistic ritual, maybe invoking demons, mixing real life with magic, like a glitch in the Matrix,” he says. He’s not serious, and the name isn’t supposed to be either. “But it’s good to have a name that s fun to pronounce and feels good to say – think of Tool and Radiohead.”

See Lawntuba take the stage here

Laxmi Bomb

The electro-pop outfit from Mumbai was formed in 2014 and singer Keegan Pereira says they wanted a name that reflected the audio and visual spectacle of their music. “It comes from the firecracker that sets off sound and light when lit,” he says. “You hear it and you then see a scattering of charred images of the goddess on the ground.” Laxmi Bomb reflects their rooted-in-India sound, he says. “It’s local, street, fun and provides the perfect foil to the nation’s background.”

Laxmi Bomb’s tracks are playing here

When Chai Met Toast

“Naming the band is the hardest part,” says vocalist Ashwin Gopakumar of the four-member year-old acoustic folk band. “I love chai. I’ll have seven cups a day sometimes. We tell people that it’s Chai for India, Toast for English. We’re four brown Chennai boys playing international music and the combination is designed to feel good.” It’s a better story than what actually happened: There were a lot of band names, a lot of beers and a lot of confusion.

The band’s song Firefly is a good gateway to their music

Elephant in the Elevator

The Guwahati alternative band of four know how surreal their name sounds. “It references the elephant in the room, that which we know but never acknowledge,” says vocalist Rishikesh Thangjam. “It is also what comes from avoiding what’s in your mind. And also, I like elephants!”

Here’s one of the band’s popular works

The Riot Peddlers

The hardcore punk Mumbai band formed in 2010, taking inspiration from the news. “It was all about protests and riots, and we wanted to respect and defend the idea of taking a stance” says vocalist Arun Singh Ravi. “The name will stay relevant because there is always something to protest.” Good band names should stand out and reflect the music,” he says. They added Peddlers because “it sounded punk” which has caused unexpected problems. One Delhi venue introduced them as Riot Paddlers. “They turned us into a BDSM band,” Singh says.

Hear the band express their thoughts on Bollywood songs

The Lightyears Explode

The alternative pop punk Mumbai band formed in 2009 was originally called The Lightyears, after the Toy Story character Buzz Lightyear. But after an English band turned out to have already taken the name, the hunt for a new title began. Nothing felt right, until they added Explode. “It worked because our music at the time was charged and energetic,” says vocalist Saurabh Roy. Band names are serious work, he says. “People identify you through your name, even before they hear you. A cool sounding name will get people to want to check you out. But it also has to sound neutral so you can play different genres later.” The name change hasn’t hurt much except when they write their name as one word, as a website for instance. “People say ‘Hey, you have Sex in your name’ and get a kick out of it.”

Sample a bit of the band’s sound and their animated video here

Unohu

The way bassist Yohann Coutinho tells it, their three-member alternative band from Mumbai had the music, but it’s the name that took long. “I remember walking into the jam room one day and suggesting Unohu. Imagine how we’d be announced onstage: ‘Coming up next, you know who!’” It’s lame, he admits laughing. “Maybe we just like lame jokes.” Audiences, however, assumed they were smarter. “They thought it was a Japanese word, but they’ve figured it out now. If I waked into that jam room and was given a second chance I wouldn’t change the name.”

Could you know Unohu? Find out here

Dark Circle Factory

Drummer Lindsay D’Mello’s project, which mixes sounds from computers, samples, softwares and live recordings at home, has nothing to do with pandas. “I’d done a lot of commercial work, and played about 10 gigs this year alone,” he says. “So when I put out a CD as a producer, I did a lot of the work myself, mostly at night, which explains what I looked like.” The dark circles are hereditary – he’s performed on TV with sunglasses. “Most people just call the project DCF, but my first album was called Positive, so I wouldn’t read too much into the name.”

Find Dark Circle Factory’s work on Lindsay Dmello’s Youtube channel

Lucid Recess

Siddharth Barooa had a name for the band before he even had a band. “He came up with the name in school,” says Amitabh, the vocalist and bassist for the three-member alternative metal Guwahati project they formed in 2004. “Sid was reading The Testament by John Grisham and came across the medical term lucid interval,” he recalls. “We switched interval for recess; it sounded like way to briefly make an escape, much like our music.” Band names matter and every part should fit, says Amitabh who also writes the lyrics. “But today music and live performances matter more.”

New music from the band here