Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 18 July 2018

Bangalore rising: new sounds from India’s tech city

Forget Mumbai and Delhi. A Facebook page-turned label is showing how artists from Bangalore are exploring the fringes of popular music.
Rahul Giri, aka _RHL, founded the Consolidate artist collective first as a Facebook page through which to share the best of Bangalore’s electronic music. Courtesy Tenzing Dakpa.
Rahul Giri, aka _RHL, founded the Consolidate artist collective first as a Facebook page through which to share the best of Bangalore’s electronic music. Courtesy Tenzing Dakpa.

Mumbai and Delhi might grab all the headlines when it comes to the indie scene but if you’re looking for really left-field, experimental and innovative music then there’s only one place to go – Bangalore.

Since the early 2000s, the city – often called India’s Silicon Valley due to its high concentration of tech companies – has been home to a procession of artists keen on exploring the weird fringes of popular music. This could be the shoegaze-pop of Lounge Piranha; the avant-gardist performance art blues of Sridhar / Thayil; or Sulk Station’s liminal juxtaposition of British bass music and Hindustani classical.

Taking that legacy forward is Consolidate, a Facebook page-turned-artist collective-turned record label, which released an eight-track compilation called FMLY & FRNDS ‘16 in February.

“The idea was basically just to share the exciting new music these kids were making,” says producer Rahul Giri, who is one half of Sulk Station and performs solo under the _RHL moniker. Giri started Consolidate in 2013 as a Facebook page where he would share the most interesting electronic music coming out of the city.

Part of Giri’s motivation also came from the Indian music press’s unwillingness to cover anything not happening in Delhi and Mumbai, where most of the publications are based.

“I was sick and tired of how Bombay and Delhi were representing the Indian music scene,” he says. “There was so much cool stuff happening in Bangalore and I just wanted to consolidate the scene so that more people would hear it and know what was going on here. I think it was almost like a grudge that started Consolidate more than anything.”

The Facebook page was soon joined by a music blog on the microblogging website tumblr, where Giri would post mixes by various bedroom producers. Drawn to each other by their interest in weird and experimental sounds, these artists started to collaborate, and somewhere down the line Consolidate became an artist collective.

“Personal relationships, man,” says Giri of Consolidate’s evolution from music blog to creative community. “We all had the same kind of headspace, the same urge to make experimental music. Everyone in Consolidate is very serious about creating a scene together rather than just going it alone. So it was a mutual thing and it was very organic.”

“It’s like a family,” echoes Sandhya Vishvanathan, aka Pardafash, who was also the vocalist of erstwhile indie electronica band Machli – one of the first acts Giri championed on Consolidate. “I’m somebody who is very insecure about my music but Giri and the others keep pushing me to make more music. That’s what makes it work.”

In February last year, Giri put together a mixtape of unreleased material by artists in the Consolidate family.

Essentially a teaser for the releases they had lined up for 2015, the mixtape got the group a fair bit of attention in the press and pushed Giri into holding a series of gigs at popular music venue The Humming Tree. Titled “Consolidate Nights”, the gigs provided a much-needed avenue for Bangalore’s left-field producers to showcase their music. Starting their own record label just seemed like the logical next step.

“I always had the idea of a record label back in my mind,” says Giri. “But then both Aniruddh [Shivakumar Menon, producer and former Machli keyboardist] and Rishabh [Iyer aka Worm’s Cottage] were both putting out albums and I thought, I wish we could put together a label and put our music out together. So in one of my conversations with Aniruddh, we decided that, let’s just go for it.”

The label’s first release was a single titled Peach Tea Since July, a six-way collaboration between Consolidate artists Skippy, Maitreya Mer, Musharraf Shaikh, Pardafash, Disco Puppet and Aniruddh Menon. Mixing hip-hop beats with strings, keys, lush synths and effortlessly languid vocals, the track showcased the diverse talents of the collective’s members.

They followed it up with the FMLY & FRNDS ‘16 compilation, which was initially slated to be a two-track new year’s release.

“It was just going to be me and Giri but then we thought, we should ask around to see if anyone else wanted in,” says producer Menon.

“Within a few weeks the two tracks turned into a full compilation.”

The eight tracks on FMLY & FRNDS ‘16 (available on Bandcamp on a pay what you want model) veer all over the sonic landscape, mixing Bollywood samples, hip-hop beats, dreamy synths and distorted basslines. _RHL’s album opener Dard (Happy New Year) kicks things off with a kitschy Bollywood sample before segueing into classic footwork beats layered over elastically-distorted vocal samples. Disco Puppet’s Oriental Heart jumps between fairly straightforward electro-pop and ominous blasts of heavily-distorted bass and truck horn synths.

Other highlights include Aerate Sound’s Battle, with its lush, gently undulating synths and glitched-out electronics, and Oceantied’s Ice & Fire, the only out-and-out dance floor banger on the compilation. But despite all the diverse sounds and artists, there’s a unifying thread that runs throughout the compilation – a rough-around-the-edges aesthetic that defines the Consolidate sound.

“Probably weirdness,” says Menon’, laughing, when I ask him to define that unifying idea. “That and a strong opposition to the idea of generic music. All of us make music that is rooted in our surroundings, where we come from. We’re not trying to make trap music or EDM music, we’re just making music that feels true to us. Nobody is willing to compromise on their vision and their music.”

Having finished a series of gigs across the country to support the compilation, Consolidate is focusing on a string of releases this year, including records by Menon and Worm’s Cottage, and EPs by Oceantied and _RHL. They are also looking to expand in the future to include artists from other cities (FMLY & FRNDS ‘16 includes a track by Dubai-based artist Zubin Aroz), more live shows, maybe even an artist booking agency. Who knows?

As Giri says: “Consolidate is basically a lot of conversation, a lot of conversation, and then one day we just go ahead and do it. Nothing that has happened was really planned, we got here one step at a time.”

Bhanuj Kappal is a freelance journalist based in Mumbai who writes about music, protest culture and politics.