Top 5 Artists from Chennai

28 Jun

Due to a certain chain of events in my early twenties, I was made to spend the first half of this year in (what I assumed was) India’s capital of fervent orthodoxy, Chennai. When people heard of my move, they offered their condolences and (more often) their schadenfreude: but not one of them offered me a heads up about the thriving musical scene here. Now, when you see the words “Chennai” and “music” in the same sentence, it’s natural to expect the word “Carnatic” to pop up soon after. The only phrase I knew that went against this intuition was “Junkyard Groove”. But, as I eventually discovered, Chennai is one of India’s premiere hotbeds for young, alternative talent. Here’s a list of the best alternative indie that the city has to offer.

5. Little Babooshka’s Grind 

Rounding out the end of our countdown are the excellently-named veterans Little Babooshka’s Grind (LBG). They really are pioneers of Indian original rock music, making great electro-rock songs (see: “Doll” on the Blue Butterfly Express EP) way back in 1999 when most other bands on the scene were covering songs that had already been covered a million times. Songs like “Codeine” and “Money” brought sufficient funk to their old-school classic rock sound on first album This Animal is Called the Wallet, while “Basics of Life” is our favorite track off of sophomore album Bad Children.

They’ve been around for almost two decades, but the all-originals band isn’t going away anytime soon. Last November, they released new single “Big Words”, from the upcoming album Wake Up… The Break Up, when they got selected as one of the five bands at the Ray Ban Never Hide Sounds band competition. As an added bonus, here is a rare LBG cover of Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” at The Great Indian Oktober Fest, Bangalore last year!

4. Harsha Iyer

Next up on our list is a young singer-songwriter from Chennai whose debut made quite the splash last year. Harsha Iyer, at all of 19, released an album on which he wrote, sang, performed, and produced all of the twelve original tracks. Not bad for a kid who in an alternate timeline would be getting ragged by college seniors. Dabbling in a plethora of genres with a self-confidence that most 19-year-olds don’t possess, Harsha took the Indian indie scene by storm with Curious Toys. Tracks like “Overcautious” and “I Find You Boring” celebrate his considerable youth, whereas on songs like “Money” and “Not Dead Yet”, Harsha weaves tales of imaginary characters with surprisingly shrewd songwriting skills. The Chennai musician is now releasing a second album, a twenty-track behemoth, in two separate installments a month apart. His first single “Mystery Woman” is out already, and you should definitely give it a listen.

3. Adam & the Fish-eyed Poets

AATFEP is a real gem of the Chennai scene. The band is the solo singer-songwriter project of a certain Kishore Krishna, who also happens to serve as something of a mentor for younger city musicians like the above-mentioned Harsha Iyer. Both his debut Snakeism (a la the shape-shifting slitheriness of the genres on the album) and his sophmore Dead Loops are spectacular examples of what the country’s indie musicians can do if they push themselves to their boundaries. It really needn’t be said how there are far too many ‘indie’ ‘musicians’ in India who do no such thing. Snakeism in particular is dark, seething, stylish and clearly bursting at the seams with exceptional talent. “Black eyed Monster” and “Little Monkeys” are the shiniest in this gem box of a debut, whereas “Purgatory City” (Chennai?) captivates on Dead Loops. Don’t think too much. Go download both albums and just listen. Don’t be shocked if you are genuinely amazed at the influences and styles and genres that are at play in AATFEP’s work. This, my friend, is music for the cynics.

2. Junkyard Groove

At number 2 is the band that originally put Chennai on the indie map: Junkyard Groove, or JYG as it is fondly known. Ever since their debut way back in 2005, JYG has opened for some of the most famous international acts to perform in the country, and for good reason. Exceptionally refined production values, good songwriting, and truly gifted musicians: there is little that this band lacks. The energetic funk on “Feel Like a Knife” (from their 2009 album 11:11) entrances you seconds into the song, and just wait until you get to the fat bass interlude. “Folk You” and “It’s Ok” are pretty snazzy too. Their latest single “4 to 5 Things” sounds like a rocked-out Irish jig. We really suggest you listen to it.

1. The Shakey Rays

It’s hardly over-stretching the truth to state that there’s nothing in India quite like the Shakey Rays. Tight arrangements meet genuinely good songcraft in perhaps one of the most innovative bands ever to call India their homeland. You can literally listen to any five seconds off their debut, and conclude that it is both shockingly original and unnaturally good. Divine pop tunesmithery and a certain inimitable sense of musical intuition run wild and free on Tunes from the Big Belly, bringing up DMB and the Beatles and RHCP and the Kinks and whoever else with the greatest of skill: i.e., influenced by, but not imitations of. It can be safely said that there are about three or four new bands in India who have mastered this art, and possibly none as well as the Shakey Rays. As their name suggests, this band is truly the sunshine filtering through the smog of the Indian indie scene. Perhaps it is only apt that they hail from the city of year-round sunshine.

It’s impossible to pick favorite tracks on the album, but “I’m Gonna Catch That Train” is a good place to start. It takes a lot of talent to beat Junkyard Groove at their own game, but the Shakey Rays show immense promise. Music fans in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Delhi rejoice, for the Rays are coming to a venue near you in July! Please don’t miss it.

Agree with the top 5? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section! 

Advertisements

3 Responses to “Top 5 Artists from Chennai”

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Saturday Morning Breakfast Songs: A List | Top Five Records - April 13, 2013

    […] at Top Five, we’ve already heaped a lot of praise for our favorite Chennai boys, The Shakey Rays. This beautiful track from Tunes from the Big Belly […]

  2. Happy Birthday to Us! | Top Five Records - June 25, 2013

    […] nor country. We wanted to talk about hip hop as well as psychedelic rock. We wanted to talk about Chennai as well as Massachusetts. We wanted to make lists; lots of them, about lots of […]

  3. The F16s: Kaleidoscope | Top Five Records - August 28, 2013

    […] stranger to the Chennai Music Scene; we’ve done our best to highlight the polished, challenging, unique indie sound that comes out of a city that normally has a less-than-stellar reputation for indie music. Bands […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: