There are debuts, then there are dream debuts. To hit the ground running with your first song or EP is a feat in itself. This list features independent musicians who made the scene take notice of their debut work in 2018.
It is not easy to classify Shorthand’s music into a particular genre. The band’s music is peppered with country, folk, rock and jazz influences. After winning IIT Delhi’s Battle of the Bands in October 2017, Shorthand started recording its music. The Delhi-based band released its fantastic debut single ‘Impressions’ this year and quickly followed it up with another equally laudable single ‘Springtime’. In both the singles, lead vocalist Sreya Muthukumar’s silky vocals flow beautifully over the impressive arrangements. With only two songs, the band manages to showcase their wide range of influences and techniques and places itself as one of the promising acts to come out of the capital.
The DIY bedroom project explosion in India has seen many emerging talents. Musician and bass player, Nathan Thomas has played in numerous bands and projects. In 2018, he found himself dabbling with electronic music under a new solo project, NATE08. The Mumbaikar producer has tinkered with the use of distorted samples and obscure cuts to create the crux of his new Lo-Fi EP DRMZ. Moments on which the EP shines are definitely the opener ‘DRMZ’ and penultimate track ‘Pale Blue Dot’. Nathan attempts at creating a unifying experience amongst a confluence of influences including jazz, R&B, and hip-hop among others. He has also collaborated with vocalist and friend Azamaan Hoyvoy on three out of five tracks on the EP. His flair for creating is a precocious, young talent and we hope to see a more seasoned NATE08 record in the future.
From their fun-loving yet Wes Anderson-esque ennui-heavy head-turner track ‘Happy Sad’, to the eventual release of their self titled EP, The Derelicts’ whimsical fusion of alternative and electronic music does stick out like a cute pink nail polished thumb in the current landscape of Indian electronic music. The band has a penchant for fusing funky and glittery guitars with grounded, dance-floor electronic music. However, this is not to say that the band is all style and no substance. Quite to the contrary, the band deftly explores the heavy and sometimes taboo topic of mental illness and the pressures of being an adult in the world with surprising amounts of soul and nuance. This refreshing take on indie pop is sure to bring a smile on the face on anyone going through a tough time and unquestionably force everyone else to conquer the dance floor.
In an ocean of Hindi acoustic pop releases which came out this year, Mumbai-based Pavan Gaikwad’s debut EP Zaraasa stands out the most. Gaikwad’s voice is characteristically warm and earnest. Gaikwad’s growth as a musician and songwriter has been rapid. He started playing open mics across Mumbai in early 2017. He subsequently released a mostly forgettable single in September last year. However, his songwriting in Zaraasa is top-notch and if he goes on in this trajectory, could easily be on par with the genre’s bests in the country.
Baemaani is an explosive and immensely entertaining record from Amrit Rao and The Madrascals. Needless to say, the band’s unique satirical take on the minutiae of everyday Indian life is endlessly hilarious and accessible by Non-Tamilians and Tamilians alike. The band’s quick-witted lyricism and almost Seinfeld-inspired observational humour quickly segues into pretty intriguing social commentary. This, coupled with the band’s penchant for hard-hitting and passionate performances all over make for a singular experience.
This year, after spending several years playing gigs and covering pop songs from the West, Raghav was able to put out some original content, thanks to a little push from his fans and friends who helped him crowdfund the production of his debut album, Songs From A Matchbox. Now with a full-length album to his credit, Raghav Meattle has finally arrived on the scene. He focuses on vocals and words, but what he brings to the table is a fresh and honest look at a musician’s life in the urban, and not so urban, parts of India’s metropolitan cities. On the album, he giddily sings about the struggles of making music within the four walls of his tiny apartment in Mumbai. It is apparent that he is aware of the struggles that lie ahead, but so is his conviction to take on the challenge. With eight songs and cute merch, Raghav Meattle is definitely on the rise.
It will be foolish to judge a band by its name, especially and a band like Cinema of Excess. Their music is neither cinematic, and neither does it feel excessive. It’s purely laidback, good acoustic music. It started out as a solo project by Bengaluru-based Anirudh Ravi before he was joined by guitarist Bharath Kashyap and bassist Abheet Anand. The acoustic trio released its debut EP Bring Back the Sound early 2018. It’s a breezy five-track EP which could easily find its way into anyone’s “travel”, “walking on the beach”, or “background music while watching the sunset” playlist.
The band was put on the radar when it won Mood Indigo’s Livewire in 2017, and without wasting any time, it debuted with the 4-track EP Tacit in March this year. With just four songs spanning 23 minutes, Smalltalk has become one of the most talked about R&B/soul and funk bands of 2018. Produced and mixed by Jehangir Jehangir at Cotton Press Studio, the band has made no compromises on the quality of sound on the EP. Smalltalk offers a different theme and a unique feel on every song. Within the span of just one year, the band has released an EP, gone on a four-city tour, won several competitions, played gigs at almost all venues boasting good live music and performed for platforms such as Balcony TV. Smalltalk finds beauty in funky chaos, as portrayed in the artwork for Tacit (done by Sajid Wajid Shaikh).
One of the most visceral splashes of the year occurred courtesy of Indi Graffiti’s debut prog rock opus, Tumse Na Ho Payega. The band has been around for over a decade experimenting and perfecting their sound which draws from 80s rock, carnatic music, jazz, blues and Hindi pop. The band manages to pull off the herculean task of being artistically groundbreaking while still remaining relevant. The band is the answer to everyone out there who states that “rock is dead” while being so much more than just a revival outfit. The record that they put out this year is by no means generic and manages to stand out in the over-saturated carnatic-rock fusion landscape that has been dominating the Indian independent scene lately.
Tienas came out with one of the freshest sounds in rap, with a trifecta of tight production, impeccable flow and thought-provoking words. The Mumbai-based rapper, signed by Azadi Records, is one of the most unique voices in their stable of musicians and his 15-track debut mixtape Unavailable is a testament to that. He is not afraid of experimentation and in fact collaborated with 14 different producers in his debut mixtape. This doesn’t mean he’s still cruising through to find his aesthetic; one playthrough makes it evident that Tienas has a clear vision of what his tracks and the overall production ought to sound like. Tienas brings in a refreshing arsenal of tracks in a hip-hop scene which is going through its own version of the ‘loudness war’.
Music producer Kabeer Kathpalia adorned the moniker OAFF and released two electronic singles this year. His first single, ‘For A While’, has already crossed 250,000 plays on Spotify, making him one of the most discoverable Indian independent artists on the platform. The song features vocals from Savera Mehta who is also one half of the Slo Flo Sounds duo with Kabeer. Lothika Jha features on the second track called ‘Frontline’. The calming, low tempo electronic sounds create a mellow, soothing soundscape, although the imagery evoked on the cover art is dark and wintery. Somehow, the contrasting audio-visual works. His other projects aside, OAFF has arrived at the right time, just when the electronic music scene in India is undergoing a silent movement of its own.
As the name suggests, The Revisit Project is all about reliving the glory days. An ode to everything golden, this ragtag group of New Delhi musicians has set out to create instrumental pieces in honour of India’s distinguished musicians. Owing to their celebrated covers of classic songs, the group has built a thriving fan base. Teasing their debut release with singles in late 2017, The Revisit project opened 2018 by dropping their debut album Here We Go. According to the band, this record is about putting music to real experiences. The album perfectly captures their conviction, delivering honesty across its 33-minute runtime. The interplay of the saxophone and bass guitars makes for an engaging relationship with the listener. The record is a cohesive assimilation of the band’s strengths. There’s little singularity and when it appears, its presence is conscious and deliberate, demanding attention to a pleasant cadenza.
The band is working on its second album and has already released two singles from it. This is where the Revisit Project stands apart from others on this list. Despite the shake-ups within, the band has managed to be prolific since its inception and is regularly putting out quality music.
With a great voice, real emotions and impressive promotional skills, Hanita Bhambri is what the independent singer-songwriter scene had been missing all these years. Hanita managed to leave a long-lasting mark with her vulnerable words and bold voice on her debut single ‘Let Me Go’ in August this year. First written when she was 13, Hanita reworked the track when she was going through a loss in her life and poured all her feelings into it. What came about was a song laying bare all her insecurities and struggles. She created strong imagery with the accompanying music video where she embraces her insecurities and urges the listener to do the same. Hanita’s healing music is not only relatable but also important for the masses to understand the cons of burdening ourselves with issues rooted in society’s image of a perfect body, image, vacation, person. She has attracted not only listeners but also big brands – Anand Ahuja’s Bhaane sponsorer her music video and musicians like Ehsaan Noorani gave her a shoutout. She topped it off with the second single, ‘I Tried’, closing the year with two hit singles and an ever-growing fan base.
There is a dearth of women rappers in India so Meba Offilia stomping the scene with ‘Done Talking’, made in collaboration with Khasi Bloodz co-founder Big Ri, was even more special. Whatever the case may be for not as many female hip-hop artists —sexism, patriarchy or the lack of exposure— female voices have been missing from the scene, with many of those gaining prominence sounding just about average at best. Meba Offilia swoops in. She has just the right attributes – vocal prowess, flow and delivery and ‘Done Talking’ beautifully showcases that. The fact that it earned the Best Indian Act award at the 2018 MTV European Music Awards was hardly surprising, and perfectly illustrates the brilliance of the track.
Sutej Singh managed a rare, if not impossible feat this year. An indie artist coming to the fore for the first time managed to find a place in the playlists of a diverse audience – from festival hoppers to Katrina Kaif. The guitarist was able to scratch more than just the surface. The Emerging sounds like the work of a veteran. Singh wants to create an operatic experience with the album and the execution is masterful, thanks largely to Leon Ross’s orchestral arrangement. It really is impressive to have a debut album as authoritative as this, with the artist fully in control of his intention and his craft.