Here are the companion playlists for this article:
On YouTube, with the songs mentioned in the article
On Spotify, with the songs mentioned in the article and a lot more
Music means a multitude of things to each of us. Some of us (I’m mostly talking about me) cannot even describe what it means, but we know that the feeling is somehow closely tied to being able to “live”. I have been listening to music since my childhood, thought trashy songs were masterpieces, been through the AR Rahman vs Ilayaraja phase, developed a distaste for Harris Jayaraj because I thought he reused tunes a lot, called myself an “old soul” for listening to approximately 10 Ilayaraja songs and did most things a respectable teenage music fanatic would do. While this was happening, I was also on a side quest listening to Western music because that was “cool”. Even if my introduction to them was through self-induced peer pressure to fit in, I later discovered them for what they were.
And in this process of discovery, one simple fact stood out. I asked myself why anyone would want songs that a good looking lead pair of a movie can’t launch into a perfectly choreographed dance with strangers on top of a moving bus? I realized that in the West predominantly, music in itself was an art (and also a business), independent of films. This is a heavily subjective statement, but this notion struck me as it being a purer form of music. The reason being that it is independent of any external impositions like the actor’s compatibility with the song being composed, satisfying not just music fans but movie fans as well or making sure that the choreographer and the actors don’t bite each other’s heads off. I was looking for Indian composers to break free of these shackles and that is when I made one of the most important discoveries of my life – Coke Studio. This opened the doors of independent music to me and it has been a terrific experience ever since.
Interestingly, the term “independent music” has taken a bit of a different meaning in India, precisely to suit the context I provided above. Any music that was not featured in a film became independent. Though technically not the same as what the real meaning is, I have found that this is a better description that suited my expectations and so, I started rolling with it.
This list contains a meagre amount of artists (that is unfortunately biased towards artists from the South) in the independent scene and I hope that if you’re interested in discovering Indi(an/e) music, you will use this as a starting point.
This band is the reason I know independent music would be rewarding to listen to. I fell in love the first time I listened to them and have remained a true fanboy since. They label themselves as a “Carnatic Progressive Rock band” and they have always stayed true to that description. A very intriguing aspect of their music is the rich soundscape in each song, aptly matched by soulful vocals and carnatic riffs.
Top Reccos: Koothu Over Coffee, Over the Horizon, Seventh Ocean
When I was convinced for years that Agam cannot be replaced as my favorite band, Jatayu came about and proved me wrong. This is an instrumental band that combines Jazz, Rock and Carnatic music to create beautiful music. They occasionally have vocals in their songs when the insanely talented drummer doubles as the vocalist while simultaneously drumming. If you are someone who has never given instrumentals much thought, this band might change that for you.
Top Reccos: Chango, Shringara, Marugelara, 69
The Down Troddence
If someone thought Indian musicians couldn’t give us head bang worthy metal, TDT will prove them embarrassingly wrong. Taking inspiration from bands like Meshuggah and earlier Indian metal bands like Motherjane, TDT is a band that produces great metal that has obvious Indian sounding riffs combined with harsh vocals.
Top Reccos: Forgotten Martyrs, Hell Within Hell, Nagavalli
Insanely fun – that is exactly how I’d describe their music. Even if the songs deal with not-so-fun concepts like capitalism or injustice, filled with catchy guitar riffs, the unmissable flute, the cheeky lyrics or the ever surprising synth, they guarantee a fun listening experience.
Top Reccos: Money, The Mad Song, Uplift
Kurangan (Kaber Vasuki)
This is a special artist in this list. The lyrics are in beautiful colloquial Tamil and can lead to existential crisis or existential satisfaction, based on your perspective on life. The compositions are very simple and minimal, but the impact is quite the opposite.
Top Reccos: Mugamoodi, David Foster Wallace
Sean Roldan and Friends
Yes, Sean Roldan is a prominent musician in the independent scene too. Before he turned to movies, he had produced really good work in collaboration with his band called Sean Roldan and Friends that was heavily inspired by bluegrass music (an influence which still seeps into his film music). His unique voice adds a very rustic feel to their songs, which are mostly about trivial human experiences.
Top Reccos: Mayakkura Poo Vaasam, Muttala Iru
Pradeep Kumar (Poorvaa, Yodhakaa)
Whenever there is any talk of Pradeep Kumar or Sean Roldan, things get confusing because their works are so intertwined. Pradeep was in Sean Roldan and Friends and Sean Roldan was in both Poorvaa and Yodhakaa (which also included Darbuka Siva). They are amazing collaborators who can produce entirely different kinds of music equally well. Poorvaa and Yodhakaa are projects that present verses from Indian scriptures in a new light (there are some original works as well). Poorvaa recently released a very heartwarming documentary called ‘Arunagiri Perumale’ that has Tamil poetry arranged to an orchestra.
Poorvaa (from Arunagiri Perumale: Live in Boston): Iravu Pagal, Marukkulaviya, Ullasa
Yodhakaa: Shwethambara, Oshadhe, Poorvam
Hip Hop Tamizha
No, this is not a troll. For most of us in TN, this duo gave us the first instance of popular independent music in their self-titled album. To be honest, this is their best work till date, including their compositions for films. At least from a historical perspective, Hip Hop Tamizha deserves a mention in this list.
Here are some other bands that I like with some of their songs:
Ilaiyaraja – How To Name It, Mad Mod Mood Fugue, Puttril Vaazh, Pooerukonum,
Project Mishram – Spoonsh1ft, TamasaT, Cynic Machine
Flaw and Order – You Only Lobotomize Once, E Minor Inconvenience
Kelvikkuri – Nangooram
Skrat – Chaos, Fireworks
Oorka – Naan
The Revisit Project – Did You Just Assume My Fender, D110
Trash Talk – Ruuster, Sekratari Burd
Even though I can’t describe what music is to me, I know that the discovery of new bands and songs is most rewarding because it instills hope that there are always good things to look forward to in life. I hope that this list helps you too. Happy listening!