Few Indian rock albums were as divisive on their release as Bengaluru noise-punk act Hoirong’s 2013 debut, The Resurrection Of The Princess Of Woe And Her Vampire Hound Posse. Recorded at home by Kamal Singh on an old laptop with a pirated version of Logic Audio Pro, the delicate alt-rock tunes were buried under layers of jagged, post-industrial guitar distortion rendered in painfully low fidelity. Under the cover of this bracing sonic assault, Singh sang absurdist little ditties about rising Hindu nationalism, trend-hopping musicians and gloomy existentialism. Raw, inventive and unique, it was exactly what the Indian underground claimed to aspire to.
But it was also a record that was out of tune with a rapidly professionalising scene whose gatekeepers valued accessibility and studio spit-and-polish over DIY genius. The Resurrection… received critical acclaim and earned Hoirong a small, devoted audience but the band was largely ignored by the scene’s promoters and festival curators. Live shows were hard to come by, with promoters preferring anodyne, brand-friendly acts over anything with the slightest hint of edge and danger. Hoirong—now a full band with a core lineup that includes Akshat Nauriyal and Akhil Sood—increasingly became a studio act, releasing a new record every few years to a chorus of Hallelujahs from the faithful.
Singh, the perennial outsider, took this all in his stride. If the scene preferred the soporific sounds of Prateek Kuhad, that was okay. He would just keep writing songs with his bandmates, hoping they would strike a chord. They would occasionally get a heartfelt message from a fan about how this or that song helped them through a difficult time, and that was enough.
Largely unknown to him, though, these songs had percolated into the experimental fringe of Indian independent music, a network of loosely affiliated sound-makers and avant-garde artists intent more on pushing boundaries than on record sales. For years, young new producers and artists at the Listening Room—an experimental music concert series run by Rana Ghose that I often help out with—would wax eloquent about Hoirong’s noise-drenched confections. The band—alongside a few contemporaries like Hemant S.K.—became the unwitting flag-bearers of abrasive, angry noise music in India.
So when Singh first floated the idea of an album of other artists covering songs off The Resurrection… a few years ago, he was shocked by how many artists were willing to sign up. “I didn’t want to do a boring remaster, so I thought it would be more fun to do these reinterpretations of the songs,” he says. “But I had no clue that the album had impacted people on so many levels. These bands like False Flag and Pacifist were very candid about how this album influenced them and I had no idea.”
The result: The Reincarnation Of The Princess Of Woe And Her Vampire Hound Posse, featuring the original record’s 10 tracks reimagined and re-recorded by 12 acts. Given Hoirong’s irreverence for both musical tradition and contemporary taste, it’s fitting that nobody has tried to reproduce the originals. Instead, you have acts rendering these tunes in everything from anthemic pop balladry to post-industrial stomp. At its best, this covers album showcases not only the craft of these noisy lo-fi songs but also the breadth and depth of the experimental music landscape.
Mumbai post-hardcore act Pacifist transform the sardonic Bajrang Bali into a full-throated war cry, all spiky distortion and shouted vocals shrouded in fuzz. Pune’s False Flag give the woozy disco-punk of Cyborg Lipgloss Supernova a full-on screamo makeover, vocal cords shredding themselves over tight slabs of guitar noise. Siddharth Basrur’s Runt bring a 1990s grunge gaze to XOX, while Mumbai guitarist and producer February 31st adds a high sheen gloss to Fancy Dress + Hindi = Awesome, showcasing the anthemic arena-sized songwriting beneath Singh’s layers of badly recorded guitar fuzz.
But the real highlights are the covers that take the songs into unexpected directions. The doomy dirge of Glass Jaw gets two such exceptional reworkings. Aptebhau replace fuzzy guitar riffs with taut, crunchy synths and manipulated uncanny-valley vocals: a fight song from a cyborg future. Delhi’s The Jass B’stards stretch the four-minute cut into eight minutes of bizarre lounge-meets-electro, with strings, keys, synths and a woozy female voice singing lines like “Ovulate, ovulate/It’s only dynamite so concentrate” with all the panache of a 1970s Bollywood diva.
Bengaluru experimental producer Disco Puppet takes on alt-rock doomer ditty Russian Roulette Gandhi (with its refrain of “It’s all right/ Nothing will be fine”). His version seems to eschew the original’s detuned guitars for sweeping synths, operatic keys and vocals fed through a vocoder. And then, with less than a minute to go, the guitars gatecrash the party, turning this serene, cinematic soundscape into an orgy of thrashing guitars and drums.
Crumbit 335 also chose to go electronic with their two covers of Bonda and hilarious Danny Denzongpa tribute Danny, though their renditions lean even further into industrial noise and terror, with slabs of eerie synth-noise that sound like a love-child of Godflesh and Nine Inch Nails. There’s also Lo! Peninsula’s reverb-drenched shoegaze turn on Super Glue, punk-musician-turned-politician Daniel Langthasa’s amphetamine-tempo Bonda, and the serene balladry of These Hills May Sway’s Namaste. The diversity shows Hoirong’s wide-ranging influence, far outstripping their commercial success. Whether you are an OG fan of the original album or a newcomer to Hoirong, The Reincarnation… breathes new life into these songs and shows that they are still—if not more—relevant in today’s darkening social, cultural and political climate. And that, far from the glitz and glamour of corporate music festivals and branded content, outsider music is still alive and thriving in India.
As for Singh, he’s busy with his day job as a music therapist and is already looking forward to his next collaborative project, Ereimang, which blends his trademark noise-punk instrumentation with Manipuri folk music.
The group’s first song and video—Kwakta Lamjel—is already out, a goosebump-inducing medley of chugging alt-rock guitar and droning pena (a Manipuri folk instrument) riffs. “It’s adapted from Khamba Thoibi, a Meitei folk ballad, and what we have released is just one of four parts,” he says. “I am hoping to release the rest of the songs and videos soon and eventually take this live.”
Bhanuj Kappal is a Mumbai-based writer.
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