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Opinion I Five Indian bands for an I-Day playlist

From India’s vibrant rock scene, here are five bands from diverse genres to check out

Songs by the Kolkata band Underground Authority are fiercely anti-establishment.
Songs by the Kolkata band Underground Authority are fiercely anti-establishment.

We live in an era where listening to music is so effortlessly easy that it is difficult to imagine what it was like in the pre-internet days. Today, streaming platforms guarantee that you can find almost anything, no matter how obscure or rare the albums or bands are. Back in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, it wasn’t so. If you were a rock fan in India during those decades, you will likely remember how frustrating it was to get music that you really loved but never found in stores. There was, of course, another way to discover new bands and music. If you lived in one of the larger Indian cities, there was always a thriving local music scene and gigs that you could go to. In cities like Kolkata, Delhi, Mumbai, Bengaluru and Chennai, the local rock scene has been thriving from as early as the mid-1960s.

That scene is now more vibrant than ever and finding Indian bands of every genre has never been easier. It has become simpler for bands to record and distribute their music; and with more Indian bars and nightclubs offering live music, there are more venues for them to play. For this edition of the column, I have a list of five Indian bands, from different parts of India, and of varied genres.

Avial have been around for nearly two decades. Formed in Thiruvananthapuram, Kerala, and named after a traditional south Indian dish, Avial are a unique band whose songs have Malayalam lyrics set to rock music. Their alternative rock sound is tightly crafted and even though their songs are in Malayalam, and they have only one eponymously titled full-fledged album, their popularity hasn’t waned. In recent years, Avial have composed and recorded songs for a number of Malayalam films.

At Avial’s gigs, you will likely find many diehard Malayali fans—but also many others who probably don’t understand the lyrics but love the music. Vocalist Tony John is known to appear on stage in a lungi and the band and he always have a great rapport with the audience. The 12-year-old video of their signature song, Nada Nada, is still a hit, though it’s a pity that Avial haven’t recorded or released a new album since their debut.

Formed in 2003 in Shillong, Soulmate are a blues rock band that has been making waves for a while. Vocalist Tipriti Kharbangar and guitarist, vocalist and songwriter Rudy Wallang form the core of Soulmate, who also enlist session musicians to play other instruments. Soulmate have released at least four albums—Give Love is the most recent, released early this month. Kharbangar has an impressive vocal style and she and the band played at the International Blues Challenge, organized by the Blues Foundation of America, in Memphis, Tennessee, in 2007.

Soulmate’s music also has a deep back-to-the-roots feel. On Give Love, the 10 tracks reaffirm the band’s commitment to unalloyed Chicago-style blues. Wallang’s guitar and Kharbangar’s vocals complement each other, and it isn’t any different on the new album. There are original compositions, such as the title track Give Love, but also covers, including Koko Taylor’s Voodoo Woman, on which Kharbangar’s vocals are impressive. An iconic band that has stood the test of time, Soulmate are a treasure of the Indian rock music world.

Bhopal, the capital of Madhya Pradesh, may seem an unlikely city for a metal band but that’s where AcrimonY are from. Formed in 2008, AcrimonY’s brand of music has influences ranging from Indian classical to hard rock and metal. But the band has its own trademark style, a sort of blend of progressive rock and metal. Lead vocalist Dhairya Anand has the ideal metal-ready snarl and yelp and his four bandmates on drums, guitar, bass and keyboards make perfect head-banging music—but with surprising little riffs and instrumental interludes. I am not sure whether the band is still active but there is an EP on Bandcamp titled False Vacuum that metal fans ought to check out.

Delhi’s Peter Cat Recording Co. have been around for a while but the five-member band with a couple of albums to its credit is difficult to pin down to a genre. On Bismillah, their most recent album, there are lo-fi tunes; jazz-inspired melodies; nostalgic 1950s-style compositions…all of which make them a delightful band of mavericks. Vocalist Suryakant Sawhney has a brooding voice that floats softly and delivers lyrics that are often introspective and melancholic. In Freezing, from the new album, he sings: I was freezing/ It’s sunny out there but I am freezing/ It’s sunny out there and June is just a gift, but I hate this. Peter Cat Recording Co. are a cult band, but one that stands apart from the rest. Their originality is their strongest appeal.

Kolkata band Underground Authority blend alternative rock with rap and deliver songs, in Hindi and English, which are themed on sociopolitical issues. Fiercely anti-establishment, many of the songs are protests and comments on injustice, materialism and racism. Lead singer Santhanam Srinivasan Iyer is the emcee and frontman and writes most of the songs.

Quite accurately, Underground Authority describe their lyrics as “protest poetry". Many of their songs can seem like raging rants by Iyer, but given the tight music, they don’t jar. The influence of Rage Against the Machine or Michael Franti & Spearhead is unmistakable on the band’s sound and style but they, like Peter Cat Recording Co., are different from the herd.

First Beat is a column on what’s new and groovy in the world of music.


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