Extra exceptional

Anjali Jhangiani
Wednesday, 9 May 2018

Making experimental music more accessible, a series called 
The Fringe At The Quarter is being kicked off. Chatting up 
Nikhil Narendra, Shreyas Dipali and Palash Kothari who will 
perform at the first gig

What would you call experimental music? Some might say it’s unusual, some might even call it eccentric, while a few others might think it’s exceptional. This avant-garde form of music is called experimental because it doesn’t fit into any other categorisation, and no matter what words you use to describe it, the only way you will really know what experimental music is by listening, and sometimes watching it too. In association with The Quarter, a cultural and entertainment enclave in Mumbai, Mixtape is launching a new gig series aimed at putting the spotlight on experimental music, which presently exists in a nascent stage in India. The series is called The Fringe At The Quarter, and the gigs will be organised once every two months at the venue. 

The first gig kicking off the series today will feature impressive producer-drummer duo from Bengaluru Nikhil Narendra and Shreyas Dipali, and a young Mumbai-based music producer Palash Kothari, aka Sparkle & Fade. We speak to the artists.

Nikhil Narendra and Shreyas Dipali
Narendra (synths, samples) and Dipali (drums) form an experimental electronica outfit with a ‘live-in-the-room’ sound. Their music entails a range of sonic layers created electronically and then fused with live drums. Dipali says, “Making experimental music means to explore sound freely without any confinement of genre or common song writing themes. It’s to mess around with the process and value it as much as the product.”

According to popular notion, experimental music is, let’s just put it bluntly: weird. But this need not hold true all the time. “A natural outcome of experimenting with music is that it turns out to be more or less fresh and individualistic. The outcome need not always be too far out or wacky. It’s a matter of proportions. It’s about that particular piece of music, it can go either way depending on the composer,” says Dipali. 

But even if the music is not too far out, it’s quite difficult for experimental music artists to gather an audience. Narendra says, “I think most audiences resonate with what’s already familiar to them. Even if they are looking for something fresh, the human mind seems to be at ease when it recognises familiar patterns. Having said that, I think audiences should be exposed to all types of music. It is only then that people can find their niche and gravitate towards the music of their choice. You can be selective once you know enough of what’s out there. I feel like audiences are underexposed especially in our country.”

This is precisely why The Fringe At The Quarter is being launched. “Giving the audience an opportunity to experience it live is crucial. A lot of what we play is mostly just performed live,” says Dipali, while Narendra adds, “Thriving underground music scenes all over the world are a result of not only starting something great but also persistence and regularity over many months or even a few years.”

Though the artists feel that this genre is quite sidelined in comparison to commercial music, they just want to be doing the music they like without worrying about how commercially viable it will be. Dipali says, “We will definitely make a few take notice and hopefully inspire a few more to write and listen to music like ours.” 

The duo find a stage at music festivals and various venues across India. People seem to get the music and that’s enough to motivate them to keep performing and making more music. 

“Apart from Bengaluru, we’ve played at festivals like Magnetic Fields and also at venues in Mumbai and Delhi. Shreyas and I have always had our ears open to all sorts of new sounds. It is through this mutual interest that we wanted to explore more sonic territories with our own music. It comes naturally to us,” says Narendra.

Sparkle & Fade
Mumbai-based music producer Palash Kothari admits that he’s not a big fan of the term ‘experimental music’. “It’s a sentiment shared by most people who make, what you call ‘experimental’ music, but I get why it’s necessary to have a tag like that. ‘Experimental’ is more to do with the audience than it has to do with the artist or music anyway. I say experimental music is something that defies your sense of structure, expectation or taste, and it’s very relative. For someone who listens to a lot of Bollywood music, cookie-cutter hip-hop would be ‘experimental’,” says Kothari. 

His work is an outcome of his training in Hindustani classical, his love for free jazz and a general attitude of not really caring about labels or accessibility. 

When he was a generic EDM artist at the start of his music career, Kothari realised that it wasn’t fulfilling enough for him. “One of my favourite artists at that time, Porter Robinson, came out with something drastically different than what he was doing previously (Worlds 2014) and it inspired me to explore beyond the ‘party’ music space. Art will only move forward when traditional ways of doing things are rejected,” he says, adding, “I don’t see my music fitting in conventional ‘mainstream’ formats of music consumption or broadcasting anytime soon. It won’t find its way into parties or peak-hour radio or summer hits so no, I don’t see it becoming mainstream. What I do think is that the number of people who listen to my music or similar will grow.”

Kothari believes that being in the right place at the right time has helped him find the right audience. “In the past year, I’ve mostly found myself being booked for one-off ‘experimental’ situations at clubs or art residencies or studios. The feedback has also been very positive. People are very receptive of newer sounds,” he says adding that there are a lot of people who want to get into all sorts of music but entry points into the experimental scene are limited. “You need to know someone who knows someone who could get you into a room where such music is played, but having gigs like The Fringe At The Quarter, which is a popular venue, could be a way to introduce more people to this,” he says.

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