In the first half of 2012, over 20 Indian indie acts released albums (I’m excluding EPs for the purpose of simplicity and yes, convenience). While that may not seem like a big figure, it’s a decent sum for a genre where a large number of musicians believe the album is obsolete. However, while the question of who buys albums anymore may be a valid one, there are still plenty of people who listen to them. What’s interesting is the method of distribution employed by these acts to get their releases across to fans. I use the word fans rather than listeners because albums, at least those released on CD or sold in any form, are more like souvenirs for fans who have probably downloaded the songs for free already.
Major international record labels brought out only five of the Indian indie albums released between January and June 2012 (see the list below). EMI put out Sky Rabbit’s and Advaita’s CDs; Universal pressed those by Rabbi and Indus Creed while its recently-launched electronic music label ContraBass issued Calm Chor aka Jalebee Cartel’s Ashvin Sharma’s debut solo set. Even if we were to categorise Advaita and Rabbi as Hindi rock acts (an incomplete and tad unfair description of both), and were to say that Universal is banking on the strong nostalgic appeal of Indus Creed to bring home some bucks, the presence of Sky Rabbit and Calm Chor on the list is a sign that the major international labels based in India are looking at Indian indie seriously enough for one of them to distribute an alternative/electro-pop-rock band and an electronica act that isn’t going to push half as many records as their respective label mates David Guetta and Lady Gaga.
Sony Music too has jumped onto the bandwagon by forming an Indian indie division called Day One, which should launch a few albums, including those by electronica artists Gods Robots and Bandish Projekt soon. However, in all the above cases, the level of involvement of the record company is limited to manufacturing the CDs, putting them in the shops, or promoting them to radio, TV, and the press. The artists fund their own recordings.
If we to throw in “semi-indie” label Times Music, which released the debut Hindi rock effort by Papon, the tally of the major labels – Indian or international – goes up to six. Times Music is only “semi indie” because, even though it’s not an international label, it’s owned by the country’s largest media conglomerate, the Times Group. Incidentally, Papon’s album was ready for about five years before release but he was unable to share it with the world because he was bound by his contract with his old label, Phat Phish Records (the folks who released Rabbi’s first album in 2004 – about five years after it languished on the desks of majors).
Notably, just three of the acts are giving away their albums for free. Peter Cat Recording Co. put up Wall of Want, a collection of old recordings and alternative mixes up, for free download (http://petercatrecordingco.com/album/wall-of-want) on their Bandcamp page on New Year’s Day (as part of what they hope to make an annual tradition of releasing a new album every January 1) while Mumbai jam band Colaba Point offered their sophomore effort Traffic Jam for free download (http://colabapoint.bandcamp.com/) also via Bandcamp in April. Sridhar/Thayil, who share a manager with PCRC, also enabled their debut album to be downloaded for free (http://sridharthayil.bandcamp.com/album/std) but decided to sell a CD version, with plenty of artwork, at gigs as a keepsake for their fans. At their Mumbai album launch concert in April, they managed to sell over 40 copies, priced at Rs. 200.
Two other acts decided to try a new format: the download card. At their album launch gigs, The Mavyns and Karsh Kale sold paper cards containing a download code that you had to enter on the NH7.in website in order to receive the tracks. You could also buy the album directly off NH7’s online store. While The Mavyns included .rtf files containing the songs’ lyrics in their download folder, Karsh Kale, whose album came out in the US back in April 2011, threw in a few remixes for the March 2012 “India Edition”. You can also download Hindi rock act Paradigm Shift’s debut release Coalescence on the NH7 store, though they also sell CDs of the album at their shows.
To get hold of Bangalore-based duo Sulk Station’s album, or Delhi metal band 1833 AD's new effort, you need to email them your address and pay the cash for the CD on delivery. Up until last week (more about this in a bit), Skyharbor’s album was technically not yet released in India but you could use an international credit card to purchase it from the website of his UK-based label Basick Records, where you also have an option of buying it bundled with a limited edition T-shirt.
You can purchase almost all the other albums mentioned in this piece off international websites such as CD Baby, Amazon, iTunes, and of course, Bandcamp. That’s also the only way to purchase the Self-Released debut album by The Koniac Net aka singer-songwriter David Abraham, as well as the new sets by Baiju Dharmajan and Kaav, who are signed to UK-based label Cochym. Abraham, however, is in talks with the soon-to-be-launched Musicfellas to sell his music here, and from what we gather, it will be the third digital sale and distribution platform for Indian independent music to arrive in 2012.
The past couple of months have also seen the appearance of OK Listen! and NH7’s tie-up with Flyte, Flipkart’s mp3 download service. OK Listen! (http://www.oklisten.com/) is where you can buy either complete albums or individual tracks off them from Kendraka, Hashback Hashish, and Pragnya Wakhlu. All the releases from the Random Dream Project label (http://www.dreammakers.co.in/content/indie-label), the first release proper of which, that of guitarist Imli Imchen’s album, was out Tuesday, July 10, will be available via OK Listen! July 10 was the same day NH7 announced the opening of its micro-site (http://www.flipkart.com/mp3-downloads/albums/nh7-label) on Flyte, from where you can cherry picks tunes off the previously mentioned sets by Karsh Kale, The Mavyns and Paradigm Shift as well as albums by Swarathma, Skyharbor, and Blakc. The latter’s second album, Mothered Land, was so far only available for sale, at their gigs or online, bundled with a T-shirt and poster for a pricey Rs. 525. In other words, it’s clearly targeted at the hardcore fan.
Flyte’s parent site Flipkart is where you will find up for sale the aforementioned physical CDs by Sky Rabbit, Advaita, Rabbi, Indus Creed and Swarathma, as well as the Self-Released Counting Perfume by Split which, like most of these albums, is also being sold at the artists’ concerts.
In May 2008, I had done a magazine cover story on the country’s emerging indie music scene pegged to the formation of three Indian indie record companies, Phat Phish, Mumbai club Blue Frog’s eponymous label, and Only Much Louder’s Counter Culture Records. It’s ironic that none of them is active today even though many of their artists are thriving. Then again, in addition to Day One, two other new labels are scheduled to roll out releases in the second half of 2012 – the Random Dream Project has kicked things off with Imli Imchen, while Ribbit, the production company started by Blue Frog’s Ashu Phatak and composer-producer Mikey McCleary, will soon have a record label division. Whoever said that the album is dead?
Indian indie album releases in 2012*
(*does not include EPs, in case you know of any albums I may have missed, please email email@example.com)
Wall of Want, Peter Cat Recording Co., Self-Released, Free
Sky Rabbit, Sky Rabbit, EMI, Rs. 195
The Story So Far, Papon, Times Music, Rs. 149
One Last Monsoon, The Koniac Net, Self-Released, Available on International Websites
The Silent Sea, Advaita, EMI, Rs. 295
Till You Appear, Sulk Station, Self-Released, Rs. 200
Candy Album, Kendraka, Self-Released, Rs. 100
The Grinning Naked Bunch, Hashback Hashish, Self-Released, Rs. 200
III, Rabbi, Universal, Rs. 150
Cinema, Karsh Kale, NH7, Rs. 100
From The Tree of No Ledge, The Mavyns, Self-Released, Rs. 100
Tech Twist, Calm Chor, ContraBass/Universal, Rs. 150
Mildly Idyllic, Colaba Point, Self-Released, free
STD, Sridhar/Thayil, Self-Released, Free/Rs.200 (CD)
Evolve, Indus Creed, Universal, Rs. 175
Blinding White Noise: Illusion & Chaos, Skyharbor, Basick Records, Rs. 100
Topiwalleh, Swarathma, NH7, Rs. 150
Mothered Land, Blakc, Self-Released, Rs. 525
My Dark Symphony, 1833 AD, self-released, Rs. 500
Rhapsody In Rains, Kaav, Cocyhm, Available on International Websites
The Crossover, Baiju Dharmajan, Cochym, Available on International Websites
Journey To The Sun, Pragnya Wakhlu, Self-Released, Rs. 150