The Indiecision Decade In Review is our retrospective of the last 10 years in Indian independent music.
These are our picks of the best Indian indie songs of the last decade.
#05: ‘Kandisa’ – Indian Ocean
Indian Ocean is possibly the most indie act of them all. In their 25 years of existence, they’ve never played a cover, and their original compositions often have loose structures and few lyrics. They don’t exactly make radio-friendly music; they’ve become one of, or arguably, the biggest band in the country by doing it the old-fashioned way: playing their asses off. They’ve played thousands of concerts but each of time you watch them it’s a different experience. But we were fans long before we saw them live – which other band could take Indian classical and folk music and seamlessly merge it with Western rock and pop sensibilities, in a way that does not sound pretentious? ‘Kandisa’, the eponymous lead song off their breakthrough third album, is based on a prayer in an ancient language called Aramaic. When Indian Ocean gave it tune, it was like they had captured on record the sound of nature itself. It’s like they put in guitars, bass, vocals, drums, and what came out were the clouds, the sky, the forest, and the hills.
Stream: ‘Kandisa’ (YouTube)
#04: ‘Drive’ – Pentagram
Sometime between the release of We’re Not Listening (1996) and Up (2002) Vishal Dadlani began becoming Vishal-Shekhar and Randolph Correia started being Func. As both these musicians dove deeper into their musical pursuits, their songwriting evolved from being largely imitative to being largely assimilative. The result was a raw, largely unpolished blend of their inital RATM penchant and a new electronic groove that was just the right amount of crazy; a product not overthought, not overproduced, and not oversimplified to sound like just another band trying to be The Prodigy. What we had was an act that took itself seriously enough to write some monster jams without seeming pseudo, and lightly enough to throw claymation animals into its music videos. ‘Drive’ was the culmination of all this; despite all its influences, one of Indian rock’s most original moments.
Stream: ‘Drive’ (YouTube)
#03: ‘Bulla Ki Jaana’ – Rabbi Shergill
People might debate Rabbi Shergill’s place on this list. Yet the turbaned troubadour was single-handedly responsible for saving non-film Hindi popular music from being little more than regurgitations (they called them remixes) of old Bollywood hits. And he did with a song that wasn’t even in Hindi. ‘Bulla Ki Jaana’ is a folk-rock rendition of a three century-old Punjabi poem by Sufi philosopher Bulleh Shah; suffice to say it was unlike anything anyone had ever heard before – yet everybody loved it. If indie musicians are characterised by their love for the radical, for the genuinely original, and for being artistically sincere, Rabbi Shergill’s debut single is right up there with the best.
Stream: ‘Bulla Ki Jaana’ (YouTube)
#02: ‘Jupiter Cafe’ – Thermal & A Quarter
The story goes that one of the band members had a friend at an IIT with a sign outside his room that said “Jupiter Cafe. Regular shuttle services to Jupiter and beyond”. The band were so inspired by this signboard that they wrote this sprawling doozy of a song. Make no mistake, ‘Jupiter Cafe’ is not TAAQ’s ‘Hotel California’. It’s not some Douglas Adams-esque fantasy, and neither is it some crazy, shrooms inspired psychedelia. What it is is Thermal & A Quarter’s magnum opus. The sheer number of goosebump-inducing versions of this song performed live is testament to the incredible proficiency of Bruce Lee Mani and Co’s songwriting; its ability to transport the listener to vivid places accentuated by the fluid guitar work. That sign perhaps said it best.
Stream: ‘Jupiter Cafe’ (YouTube)
#01: ‘PSP 12″‘ – Zero
It’s one of the last I-Rocks at Mumbai’s legendary open air theatre Rang Bhavan. The kids are going mental for this one band that’s just pulled off a cover of Live’s ‘I Alone’. The band looks a little nervous, like they’re not used to this level of adoration. They look at each other hesitantly, soaking in the enormous goodwill being showered upon them. Then this familiar bass line kicks in. By itself it’s not unduly impressive but it’s followed by a light guitar refrain that perfectly completes it. While it betrays a far less extravagant song, those who know it, know there’s chaos coming. The lyrics themselves mean nothing, they’re placeholders for a sentiment everyone at the venue shares. Everyone. And just as this mood builds, BAM.
‘PSP’ is the defining Indian indie song of the last decade, its chorus the vociferous chant of a scene on the cusp of breaking through; every time we sing it, it drives us closer.
Stream: ‘PSP 12″‘ (YouTube)