John Leckie searches India for four emerging bands on behalf on the British Council with the aim of generating a dialogue between the emerging alternative music scenes.
India Soundpad is an ambitious new project from the British Council and the University of Westminster’s Faculty Music label, aimed at generating a dialogue between the emerging alternative music scenes in India and the UK. This project celebrates creativity and talent through the music of four auditioned and selected bands (Advaita, Medusa, Indigo Children and Swarathma) and contemporary design (Zip Design), and explores the art of studio production with the help of John Leckie and Dan Austin.
John Leckie, who has formerly worked with Radiohead, Stone Roses and Muse, among others, was approached by the British Council to find some rock bands in India, to scour the up and coming scene for this project. This became a hectic enterprise, yet a learning experience as he explains: ‘we researched extensively and in March last year we auditioned all these bands, about 36 different ones in each city - Mumbai, Delhi and Bangalore. We wanted to go to Calcutta too but it never came together. We had two days in each city so by the time we arrived we would go straight to rehearsal, have the PA set and audition all these bands. Dan Austin (Doves, The Hours, iLikeTrains) and I chose these four bands because they had the charisma the others didn’t and they played really good shows.’
It was this authenticity and talent that the producers focused on when choosing the bands for this CD to be released on the 12 May. As Medusa, who put an electronic spin to their Mumbai sound, say: ‘I guess we offered originality and that is the reason why we were short-listed’. As John Leckie further explains: ‘Going to India and seeing these bands made me realise how universal music is. There are all types of music in that country, not just the traditional kind like Rabindra Sangeet… we auditioned 3 or 4 metal bands! So I was trying to challenge the idea of India and its music culture when choosing these bands because I’m always looking for something unique and special not only musically but even with characters – it’s to do with what ‘grabs’ me.’
Misconceptions about India and the West happen all the time so the purpose of this project was ideally to challenge that view ‘as an old exotic land and that image; the great thing about India is that its incredibly multi-layered with a lot of different cultural currents intersecting’ as Abhishek Advaita reiterates.
In fact it is these multi-layered and clashing contrasts what comes to ones mind when listening to these four bands and their varied approaches to sound. All bands coming from completely different backgrounds and music influences as disparate as Massive Attack, Coldplay, Gorillaz, Boards of Canada, Prefuse 73, The Chemical Brothers, Toto, Steely Dan, as well as A.R Rehman , Talvin Singh, Nitin Shwhney, Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, Shakti or Indian (Hindustani) classical music, it is hard not to deny that this misconception exists.
Neil Bowen, senior designer of Zip Design, who worked on the CD packaging and booklet for this project agrees with this dynamic perspective on music: ‘I’ve always loved Bollywood’s typography and the lettering you find in India’s trucks so that’s why we went for something bold and vibrant, taking influences from different bits and bobs. It’s meant to have that faded hand-painted, wonky and distressed kind of look about it because it was important to get the flavour and textures of India, which represent the Indian bands and their contemporary views and music as well as their colourful identity.’
Experiences and influences are key in the bands approach to music. ‘I love to travel in general and especially to the Himalayas and experience the stunning silence’ Abhishek Advaita explains. Or as Medusa clarify: ‘It differs each time you create something. Some things pop out of nowhere, like an image you can’t trace back to anything you’ve experienced. Our mood plays a role in the songwriting process. You want to hear certain sounds at certain times. In the end that’s what determines what shape the song takes. Because it’s such an instinctive process, we don’t realise when experiences or events take part in it. There’s a particular kind of peace you want to achieve when you hear your song back. That’s pretty much what gives our creativity its momentum.’
Momentum and excitement happen on tour as well. On the 13 May, there will be a filmed day at the University of Westminster, with Q+A with John Leckie and live performances from the bands. This event will be followed by their acts at The Great escape festival, which they are very much looking forward to. Anindo Bose, electronics and keyboard player from Advaita is thrilled, ‘this is our first international show, we are really excited about the performance at the Great Escape festival cause it’s where bands from different parts of the world come and perform! We’d love people to come hear us with an open mind, and not think about us as a ‘FUSION ACT’ just deliberately trying to mix eastern and western sounds. We want to be seen as musicians who represent our own culture through our influences of western music.’
Soundpad is out now through Faculty Music on the 12 May.