What independent music visuals do designers dig?

The independent design and music communities in India are both niche but thriving with a big pool of talent and content, all of which has been making a huge splash of creativity on the screens and speakers of unknowing consumers. While they are both different mediums of expression, they often intersect in a colourful Venn diagram as more and more musicians are choosing to commission professionally designed artworks and promotional visuals for their releases.

In this age where digital streaming platforms and old-school vinyls have somehow managed to co-exist and flourish, a good cover art can convert new listeners and make casual fans stay. From how they look on people’s Instagram stories -an absolutely visual medium- to how they look when you blow them up on a vinyl cover or a funky t-shirt, a good album art will make it a lot easier for an artist to monetize their work. 

Given the response to last year’s feature and the output of great visual content in the independent music industry, we decided to follow it up and make this a regular feature. Through this feature, we try to highlight some of the best pieces of artworks that have come out between 2017-2019. Picked by some of the experts in the artist community, this time their choices are not only limited to album cover arts but also include other visuals which have been used by musicians as promotional material. 

Mohini Mukherjee

Illustrator and typography expert, Mohini Mukherjee diligently of collated some of the best visuals that have been created for the Indian independent music industry and put them all in one archive for all to admire and remember: https://indiangigposterarchive.in/about

Hoirong – Cow Gives Milk, cover art by Amitabh Kumar 

Hoirong - Cow Gives Milk

Mohini feels she is slightly biased in picking this cover art, as this is from the latest album by her favourite Indian band, Hoirong. “Created by fine artist and founder of the Pao Collective, Amitabh Kumar, the cover is perfect for Hoirong and one of the finest, noisiest records to be created in India,” she exclaims.

Lifafa – Jaago, cover art by Vivitsa Kohli

Painter and potter Vivitsa Kohli designed the cover art for Suryakant Sawhney aka Lifafa as a technicolour portrait of the artist. “Inspired by paintings of Tamil actor, politician and public figure MG Ramachandran that cast him as an iconoclast, the image has the exact same timeless charm as the music. The artwork only helps solidify my theory that this music is old Bollywood for sad girls in modern clubs” she says about the cover and AHH’s #1 indie album of 2019 so far.

Armaan Yadav – Bad Blood, cover art by Anirudha Hajare and Gaurav Wakankar

“If Armaan Yadav’s single Bad Blood is a narrative of pent up rage and destruction as a creative force, the accompanying artwork by Anirudha Hajare and Gaurav Wakankar is the post-apocalypse comic book cover for it that we all deserve,” comments Mohini.

Ape Echoes – Hold Tight, cover art by Sachin Bhatt 

Sachin Bhatt of Blankfound Creative has been collaborating with musicians for the longest time, and has made some outstanding visuals. Gushing about the studio and one of his more recent works in the music industry, Mohini says, “[Blankfound Creative] is an independent studio working primarily with Indian musicians and helping them craft a visual identity for their work. I especially love Sachin’s linework and the odd unsettling characters he draws.” The sibling duo of Bangalore-based Blankfound Creative also participated in this list, their picks below.

The artists who have participated in this feature were limited to picking visuals from a relatively short period of only the last two years, they had a hard time picking their favourites and were spoilt for choice. So, Mohini went ahead and decided to make some honorable mentions:

Bismillah from Peter Cat Recording Co has had one of the visually pleasing album rollouts I’ve ever seen with visuals being drawn from frontman Suryakant Sawhney’s wedding for everything from album art to music videos. The crowded Renaissance painting style album cover is a perfect accompaniment to the chaotic mix of genres that the band is used to pulling together.

Jayesh Joshi’s Peter DSouza Sucks is a mysterious little album under a mysterious moniker, and the cover art features a mysterious butt and a Haldiram’s packet, so overall I was sold.

Steppin Stoned by yung.raj comes with the surreal work of Psycollagist.

Stuck in November‘s First Visit to Camp Telepathy is covered by a Where’s Waldo style campsite by Copycat Design.”

Denver Fernandes 

Denver (with the good hair) is a designer and music enthusiast, and has been designing gig posters among other things for musicians, including this killer poster for Skrat and aswekeepseraching’s double bill tour across five cities. Denver’s picks are below. 

Smalltalk – Tacit, cover art by Sajid Wajid Shaikh

The Mumbai band made a solid debut with Tacit in 2018 and this artwork was undoubtedly one of the many things that pushed the release in the right direction. Denver says, “Sajid Wajid Shaikh’s Steadman meets Dali inspired aesthetic, sprinkled with some of his own unique madness, has spawned several pieces, one of which is this beauty. I’m yet to decipher any deeper meaning from it, but damn it looks good.”

Dirge – Ah Puch, cover art by Gaurav Basu aka Acid Toad

Gaurav Basu has been one of Denver’s favourite illustrators for a while, and quite easily one of the best India has to offer. “Apart from this piece being aesthetically pleasing, the subject matter and amount of detail that has gone into this piece, is what makes it stand out for me,” tells Denver. 

This artwork was also picked by Aaquib Wani, who explains, “A finely detailed design can be time-intensive to create but is absolutely worth it at the end. When it comes to album cover design, it is easy to consider the design from the standpoint of each panel being separate. But another option is to embrace the entire length of the case, just as Gaurav Basu aka Acid Toad has done for Dirge. Instead of limiting your artwork to just the front panel, the stunning artwork extends and expands over the width of the case to create a larger image.”

Seedhe Maut – Bayaan cover art by Jayesh Joshi

“For a similar reason to the the Ah Puch artwork, subject matter is what makes this interesting, coupled with a style of art that I haven’t seen too often in album art (also not sticking to trending styles). The album is a banger itself. In general, the Azadi boys have been coming correct with everything that they’ve been doing,” explains Denver gushing about the art and music and everything about the New Delhi-based rapper duo’s Bayaan. 

MadStarBase – Mollywood, cover art(s) by Riti Wig

The electronic production and DJ duo, Ase and Neal, form MadStarBase and their collection of remixes of old Bollywood songs is an absolute delight, and so are the different visuals for each track. Denver gives a special shoutout to the collection of animated, retro Bollywood style artworks for each track on the Mollywood album. “These guys, in general, know how to package themselves. They got stickers for everything,” he concludes. 

Aaquib Wani 

Aaquib Wani wears many hats as an experiential designer and can wave his creative wand over anything – weddings, venues, posters, what have you. Recently, he has been turning old worn jackets into beautiful pieces of wearable art. Wani has also worked with musicians or music communities in India in the past and keeps a close eye on the material coming out of there. In addition to Dirge’s Ah Puch cover (mentioned above), he presented a variety of picks in the following cover arts. 

May Island – Eleonora, cover art by Dangercatstudio

“Simple. delicate and dreamy. Some of the best things in life are usually a combination of these three and this cover art combines all into one powerful art piece,” says Aaquib about Sonali Zohra aka Danger Cat’s cover of the New Delhi-based not so delicate rock outfit, May Island. 

Parvaaz‘A Rooted Departure’ tour poster , designed by Anoop K Bhat

“Check out this impressively intricate hand-drawn poster for one of my favourite musicians Parvaaz by Anoop K Bhat that proves sometimes there is no better way to tackle a brief than to pick up the pencil and draw,” suggests Aaquib. The poster was designed by Bhat when the band was going on tour to Canada back in 2017 and sold many copies. Talking about Bhat’s working method, Aaquib advises that “technology is an amazing thing, and by all means, work with it and learn from it whenever you can, but don’t limit yourself to it.”

Ritviz – Ved, cover art by Santanu Hazarika

Adding on to the anticipation of Ritviz’s awaited album is Hazarika’s final album cover which was shared by Ritviz recently. Aaquib explains, “album covers can be a great chance for you to experiment with some typefaces and type treatments than you normally would. The design is built on a strong colour scheme, showcased in the type itself and the portrait of the artist and the free-falling of things makes it an eye-catching, effective design.” Hazarika has also made different versions of the artwork for all the singles that have been released by Ritviz so far in the build-up to the album Do What Moves You. 

Dreamhour – VLLNS, cover art by Visual Amnesia

“I love when I see an art piece that tells a story just by looking at it. Synthwave has gotten more and more popular over the last couple of years and I’m a huge fan of this music style. The album cover is cheeky with 80s style typography and all the villains from that era of Bollywood. Very cool piece, so badass! It deserves a top spot in any list,” exclaims Aaquib talking about the cover of Debo Sanyal aka Dreamhour’s debut release from 2018. 

Sachin and Sanjana Bhatt (Blankfound Creative)

Blankfound Creative is an art collective working tirelessly on bringing their love for all things purely art and music together. Exclusively dedicated to giving Indian musicians a visual voice, Sachin and Sanjana also got a mention on AHH’s 2018 artwork feature for their incredible cover for the F16s’ Triggerpunkte.

Stuck in November – First Visit to Camp Telepathy, cover art by Mayur Nanda aka Copycat Design

Also mentioned by Mohini Mukherjee, this cover art is unmissable. Sachin says, “Mayur is a close friend of ours and what we absolutely adore about his work with this particular album is that he taps into this completely unique world that he has created filled with people/creatures and objects and environments that seem to exist so naturally and cohesively. It always feels like his artwork gives you a tiny sneak peek of what could be in this world of his. And the mystery of what more there might be is what truly makes it incredible.” Mayur also takes on the keys and percussion duties for the band.

Blot! – Paradise Lost, cover art by Priyesh Trivedi

“We fell in love with Priyesh’s work the same way the rest of the internet did; via Adarsh Balak. But, his work for the Paradise Lost album cover is outrageously insane. Even through a screen, the details and the textures make you feel like you’d want to scrape the paint off and lick it,” claims Sachin.

Sid Vashi – Birds, cover art by Svabhu Kohli 

Sid Vashi’s music turns into a whole other experience when heard with the visuals associated with it. His single ‘Birds’ was no different and was accompanied by a stellar video and cover art (refer to the full artwork on his instagram along with the partial one attached to the song). Sachin explains, “A common link between all our choices is a love for illustrators who create pieces that look like they come from strange and unique environments that exist in their heads and this is no exception. This is one of the best examples of a situation where the art perfectly represents what the song looks like. Anyone who listens to the track will instantly agree with me.”

Aditya Dutta

Adiya Dutta is the founder of Improper Design and has worked with a bunch of musicians in the independent industry. Through his vibrant designs, he hopes to make loud and proud statements. His choice of art on this list is no different. 

Native Indian – Vol 1: Nature of the Self, cover art by Sijya Gupta

Aditya’s first pick is the artwork for Chennai-based Native Indian aka Siva Baskaran which was released in April 2019. Talking about Sijya Gupta’s brilliant work on the cover for the hip-hop album, Aditya says, “Sijya collages Indian elements through a fresh lens, that is entirely her own. Repetition and symmetry used in a super nice way!” 

Mehmet Aslan India tour gig poster Shelter, designed by Furqan Jawed for the Shelter  

While the list was to be restricted to Indian musicians, we could not resist including this one designed for Turkish musician Mehmet Aslan’s 2018 tour in India. “I know Mehmet Aslan isn’t Indian but the poster features a bunch of great Indian acts such as Daisho, MC Soopy etc. [The artwork features] super unique type design and image manipulation! Nothing else looks like this. The hierarchy is great and I love that the info and sponsors aren’t all up in your face,” quips Aditya. 

boxout.fm portraits, designed by Mehr Chatterjee

boxout.fm, the New Delhi based online radio community has been a major player in bringing all forms of art together. Mehr Chatterjee’s designs for its artists are so exceptional, Aditya had trouble picking one, so he just pointed out some of his favourites saying, “the volume of these portraits is insane! They’re so simple but so endearing and introduced me to so many new faces in the Indian music circuit.” Take a look at all of them on the boxout Instagram at boxout.fm.

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