It is an oppressive summer day at Delhi's favourite hipster haunt Hauz Khas Village. On the first floor balcony of a restaurant tucked away in a corner, four girls are hard at work, jamming. The camera stops rolling as they finish, cursing the heat.
The girls are from Vinyl Records and have just finished a shoot for an episode of Balcony TV. Managed by Mumbai-based Oijo!, Balcony TV is a web run performance space that showcases an artiste or band on a balcony every week. Starting out in Delhi in 2012, the Mumbai leg was launched last month.
Balcony TV is also a content provider for MTV Pepsi Indies, a new channel that attempts to showcase indie sub-culture. "We have a deal with Indies, where we provide a bank of content from both our previous videos and our upcoming releases. We will now release new videos simultaneously on the web and on Indies," says Kavi Bhansali, producer at Balcony TV and a partner at Oijo!
As an emerging sub-culture that is slowing inching towards the mainstream, indie music in India has of late found space in successful festivals and better performance venues. It has, of course, marked its spot in internet platforms like YouTube and Vimeo, but found little space on television other than shows like Coke Studio, The Dewarists, Sound Trippin' and MTV Unplugged. In this scenario, a channel dedicated to indie music fills a huge void – particularly for someone sitting in Jorhat, for instance, who may not know exactly what band to listen to.
"TV delivers effectively; it's like having someone's iPod on shuffle. You may not like everything you see, but at the least you know that a particular band exists. It is a boon for bands and artistes," says Uday Benegal of Indus Creed. In the 90s, known mostly in India as the decade of the music video, Indus Creed were the first artistes to be shown on MTV Asia. Their successful videos include Pretty Child, Trapped and Top of the Rock. Pretty Child featured ninth on MTV Asia's top 100 videos of the year in 1993 and also picked up the MTV Asian Viewers' Choice Award that year.
"Videos helped us tremendously; it was a great way of reaching out to people who did not know of non-Bollywood music. It took our music from the usual gig circuit of a few metros and college festivals to a larger audience," says Benegal.
Two decades later, the music video is a different species. Take, for instance, Nucleya's Akkad Bakkad that released late last year. Sporting the audacious "F*ck that sh*t" as its lyrical hook, the video took on moral policing by showing a fictitious politician that puts the blame on "Western culture" for violence on women by the day, and sports a wig to moonlight dance bars in the night. The video was directed by Nishant Nayak and was sponsored by H&M as part of its global project to fund videos of upcoming artistes.
"The music video today is not genre-driven. I wanted to incorporate the uselessness of the news on TV or newspapers around us, and the video was our comic treatment," says Udayan Sagar, or Nucleya. "I had the fortune of someone else paying for the video. Otherwise, it is mostly a band's keen interest that pushes for a video these days."
To resurrect a cliche, a visual entity is always more appreciated. "The minute you extend a song to a visual medium, there are more platforms to connect. Videos make it more wholesome, easier to connect," says Bhansali.
Ankur Tewari, who heads programming at Pepsi MTV Indies and is frontman for Ankur and the Ghalat Family, agrees. "Videos go a long way. So many bands get picked up for international festivals when scouts see them online." For him, the importance of a good ideator is sacrosanct.
"Songs definitely form the base on which the idea can springboard off. I love how Ravi Udyawar made an underwater video for Silk Route's Dooba Dooba -- so simple yet effective. A good concept rules over everything else. One doesn't need to spend millions on a video, instead one should invest wisely on the ideator," he says.
The resurgence of music videos comes with evolved ideas because the world around has changed. "Budgets have dropped drastically. In the 90s, when Ken Ghosh would make a video, he'd have at least Rs10-15 lakh at hand. Today, you are lucky if you have Rs1 to 2 lakh," says Nayak, who directed CokeStudio, MTV Unplugged and the first season of Sound Trippin'.
"With tighter resources and newer visual styles, your imagination as a director is pushed further. But luckily, technologically it is much easier to make a video now. I try to tell a story and play with techniques; for Akkad Bakkad I employed slo-mo and graphic composites."
Nayak remembers how the now-iconic Tung Tung from the first season of Sound Trippin' featuring the Nooran sisters came about. "The whole crew reached this village in Punjab for an altogether different artiste, but somehow things did not work out. Suddenly Sneha (Khanwalkar, music director and the show host) remembered these two young granddaughters of a famous musician (Sufi folk singer Bibi Nooran) who lived nearby, and we went in search of them. The song just happened right there," says Nayak, adding that he used quick editing of scenes to match the vigour of the song. At last count, the video had been viewed more than 3.2 lakh times on YouTube. It also helps that the three most searched items on YouTube currently are music videos.
The audience is there and wants more. As Monica Dogra of Shaa'ir and Func, who hosts The Dewarists, puts it: "Before we started, there was no programme that documented a musician while he or she made music. They said there was no market, but with the reception the The Dewarists got, it was obvious that there was a hunger within the audience." Shaa'ir and Func is currently producing three videos for Indies.
Feed the hunger… the cameras have just started rolling.