It’s an empty warehouse. In two days, it will transform into a culture space dedicated to art, history, fashion, music and technology. For now, amidst the cacophony of nails being pounded into walls and holes being drilled, comes an unusual sound. In one small corridor off the warehouse, five youngsters stand in a semi-circle creating music. There are no instruments - they only use their vocal chords, alternating between singing and creating sounds using only their mouths.
Avinash Tewari, Meghana Bhogle, Raj Verma, Arjun Nair and Clyde Rodrigues (the sixth member Warsha Easwar was missing) are part of Voctronica, India’s first beatboxing and a cappella band, or all vocal orchestra. These six are the new face of Voctronica, brought together four months ago.
And as the new restructured band practice for what will be their first gig together, a group of four workers in the warehouse stop their drilling to listen. It’s a reaction that’s quite common when they perform, say the older band members — Avinash, Raj and Meghana. “It’s a novelty factor for people. The sound is uncanny and a human is actually making it,” says Meghana.
The group have defined roles while performing, although they do tend to switch. Raj and Avinash do the beats, Arjun does the vocal base and sings and Clyde, Warsha and Meghana take turns to sing. “They do the harmonies and the melodies...,” says Avinash. He is interrupted mid-sentence by Arjun who calls the trio a “three headed dragon”. There’s a refreshing camaraderie and chemistry among the group which makes for an extremely hyped band according to Meghana, and better yet, which shows when they perform. According to Clyde, the problem in recreating music is not about the lack of instruments but about the blend of textures and chords. “With Voctronica, the blend comes very easily...and that’s what is really important for a group to flourish.”
The members trade off song styles, influences and even musical traits off each other. “Even on stage when we are performing we see these trade offs between Avinash and Raj, it’s what you would could call a jugalbandi,” says Arjun. “Music today is a collaborative thing.”
Raj and Avinash met three years before Voctronica came about, they were both part of an online group of beatboxers in India (back then there were six, today there are over 200). The duo are still often asked if they have taken classes or if they will teach how to beatbox. “We learned by ourselves, using Youtube,” says Avinash.
Voctronica aren’t limited in their sound or in the kind of music they choose — it features everything from old classic Hindi songs (“good Hindi music”) to dubstep. They wouldn’t mind doing a tribute to 90’s pop music or tackling an AR Rahman or Amit Trivedi track either because they “love Bollywood”. The band picks songs they genuinely want to perform and then reinterpret them.
“Anything can sound great because it is a fresh genre,” says Arjun. Although the focus now is on doing ‘Voctronica covers’ — it serves the dual purpose of giving people a chance to hear the band’s sound but in the familiarity of a song they know. Voctronica has already started working on original music.
Voctronica’s performance a week ago was the first of what they hope is many gigs which will help them create an identity for themselves and hopefully, get them some groupies. They believe that groupies don’t exist with Indian bands, only with Pandit Ravi Shankar and a few South Bombay bands. But they wouldn’t mind a few of their own.