These are exciting times for the independent music movement in India. With the spread of music festival culture, genre-bending musicians are experimenting boldly and challenging mainstream cultural perspectives. And along the way, they are getting a little help from inventive filmmakers, who are reinterpreting the indie music video.
As Paul Thomas Anderson’s video for Radiohead’s Daydreaming proves, a fitting visual can complement, and not just accompany, a song. Whether that is for a composition by one of Britain’s greatest rock bands or by a fledgling musician. With media consumption centred on a cohesive, well-rounded experience, music listeners are just as enthusiastic about an associated visual experience as they are about the release of a new track.
This is as true in India, where the music video has had a fairly long history. After all, who can forget the enduring Indipop videos of the 1990s. The modernisation of film may have resulted in the death of the Indipop industry, but the evolution of the independent music scene over the last few years has squarely created a standalone cultural space, away from the poaching gaze of cinema.
Independent musicians are seeking out radical, out-of-the-box filmmakers to create an audio-visual platform for their art. Established performers such as Ankur and the Ghalat Family, Monica Dogra, Dualist Inquiry, Indian Ocean, Swarathma as well as upcoming artists such as Your Chin, Achint Thakkar, The Bandish Project, Peter Cat Recording Co. and The Ska Vengers have all gone ahead to collaborate on some amazing music videos.
Musician Achint Thakkar, whose VFX-laden video Impressions was a hit on YouTube last year, agrees with the collaborative importance. “I think it helps to put your music in a visual environment, so that your audience can get a better sense of your work and hopefully relate to it more.”
Here are a few astute filmmakers whose work is worthy of recognition.
Sachin S Pillai
You may know Sachin S Pillai as the man behind the popular For What, For What II, and Cold Water videos for singer-producer Nicholson, but when it comes to indie music videos, the filmmaker is a veteran. Having worked on videos for musicians such as Prateek Kuhad, Sandunes, B. R. E. E. D, Fuzzy Logic and Jamblu, Pillai brings a characteristic aesthetic to his work.
“Indie music videos are far more versatile and open to interpretation than mainstream music,” he said. “Most of the artists I’ve worked with are experimental and clutter-breaking in their own ways and want the sort of experimental approach that I like to play with. Primarily though, since there is no client or investor insisting that we need to dumb it down or make it more ‘relatable’ we are able to have a free rein and make something not seen before.”
Misha Ghose was the filmmaker responsible for the well-received Sound Trippin’, the MTV show that saw Sneha Khanwalkar traverse the breadth of India on a musical journey. Though she had directed videos for Swarathma and The Wanton Bishops before, it was her highly eccentric video for Your Chin’s Who Would Have Thought that got the most attention on the indie scene. This year, Ghose returned to collaborate with Your Chin. For Fighting The Sumo off Your Chin’s latest album, she made the video on Powerpoint, as an inventive DIY project.
“When there’s money you can do exciting and big things,” she said. “But when the budget is low, then you have to figure out a way around it. Music videos in today’s content-consuming age are important for musicians and luckily the tools to make them are getting more and more accessible so you just need to be innovative and get moving.”
Harshvir Oberai is the visual mastermind behind the avant-garde video for Achint Thakkar’s Impressions. The VFX-fuelled visuals brought the song immense popularity on YouTube last year. “The concept was basically about a musician going through the journey of making a piece of music in an extremely surreal environment,” explained Thakkar. “It was almost like the whole thing is happening inside the artist’s mind while he makes the music. The concept was entirely Harshvir’s brainchild.”
The Impressions video is a rare example of the growth in extravagance in indie music videos. With Times Music lending their support to Oberai’s vision by funding the video, it became possible for him to realise his unique narrative for Achint’s composition.
The Outbox Project
When popular ‘Drum N’ Bass’ producer SickFlip took off to Ladakh in 2014 for an alternative sound experience, he was aided in the journey by the visual team of The Outbox Project. The result of that excursion was the highly arresting The Ladakh Project EP. While the melodies in the songs are reflective of the time spent there, the videos document oft-visited Ladakh with rare intimacy.
Aneesh Prasad, founder of The Outbox Project, says of the experience, “The objective was to shoot Ladakh in all its glory from our perspective but the bigger challenge here was to shoot it all without any music reference as the audio tracks were being made at the same time while we procured footage. The entire project was self-funded. We did not want to have a fixed deliverable or a timeline given by someone else for a project which is so close to us. It was quite an empowering feeling especially when we toured with the A/V set across a few cities.”
Visual collective Ekabhuya have shot videos for musicians Maatibaani, Mehreen and Anahad Foundation, among others, but it is their video for The Bandish Projekt’s Alchemy that firmly established their aesthetic bend. The award-winning video is a visual delight – with frames superimposed with masterful animations and graphics. The highly experimental filmmakers have gone on to crowdfund several of their videos, but hardly ever compromise on the visuals. “Alchemy is a story about modern-day India,” they said. “We wanted to celebrate our country’s many different faces through art and visuals. For the entire Team of Ekabhuya, it was exciting as we were constantly throwing ideas, experimenting with different styles and visuals and always improvising.”