One of the veterans of 90's independent music scene -- Euphoria -- took the stage at NCPA, Mumbai this weekend to toast their 20-year long career. As the band, lead by Dr Palash Sen, belted out their popular numbers -- Dhoom Pichak Dhoom, Gully, Ab Na Jaa, and Maeri (remember those?)-- the audience sang along, danced and was ecstatic with joy.
With songs from other Indian and Pakistani bands that were popular in India almost two decades ago, Euphoria evoked a swirl of nostalgia too. In fact, that evening was almost like a wormhole leading us to the 90's, a paid passage back in time when India had a vibrant independent music scene (apart from Bollywood) which unfortunately exists no more.
In 1998, when Euphoria released their first studio album, Dhoom, little did Sen and his bandmates know that not only will they be a part of an uprising new Indie Pop culture in India, but in merely ten years time, they would also see that culture fade into oblivion.
From mid-90's to early 2000s India saw many Independent musicians making their mark. From Lucky Ali's wanderlust-inducing songs like Anjani Rahon Mein, to Bombay Vikings' numbers which were full of mischief and fun. Back then, the Indian audience -- which consumed music through mainstream media-- had lots of choices. MTV and Channel V, not only brought home Alisha Chinai's Made In India but also Falguni Pathak's Yaad Piya Ki Aane Lagi. There was also Colonial Cousins soulful melodies and Jagjit Singh's ghazals, as there were bands like Junoon and Silk Route's intense songs. Sonu Nigam and Shaan also gave us many memorable songs as independent singers.
But, things changed suddenly. "Somewhere in mid-2000, what really changed was that all these music labels realized that to keep on supporting independent music means putting in their own money," said Palash Sen, the lead vocalist of Euphoria.
"However, Bollywood gave them the alternative where they didn't have to spend their own money to take out music videos which were shown on different channels. At the same time, what these film people did was that they bought all the spots on television and radio and eventually what happened was, the only music people got to see was film music," he added.
Only Punjabi artists survived because they did not let others enter their industry, but all the other independent artists were either absorbed by Bollywood or completely wiped out, pointed out the singer.
"If you see, Mohit Chauhan, who had a lovely band (Silk Route), and Atif Aslam who was also part of a band (Jal) have joined Bollywood. I, however, refused to do it. I had the best chance to do it because I was also an actor but in my heart, I knew that music has to stay an independent channel in life. It cannot be according to a script, it cannot be according to someone else's vision." said the singer. Sen said that music in the film industry is not made for music's sake, it is only made to make an actor or actress look good.
Today, Euphoria band members are perhaps the only independent artists from the 90's Indie pop music scene who are still surviving and making music. This doggedness of the band members, especially of Sen who kept the band going for so long is a welcome relief for us as an audience, who are constantly being fed old rehashed songs in new flashy garbs by Bollywood. Bollywood's lack of originality has hit a new low in recent years and for music lovers, there is hardly any variety. Every song is either a Badshah's hip-hop number or a love ballet by Arijit Singh or even worse, by some actor or actress who cannot sing to save his/her life.
"The film industry -- which has a lot of financial power-- have actually wiped music from this country. Forget about good music... India does not even have an independent music industry." Sen pointed out. But, that isn't deterring him or his plans for the band. While most other independent artists and bands have already become history, Euphoria is marching ahead into the future with new and different tunes.
Euphoria's new album is ready, but instead of releasing the album, they are putting out one single at a time. Their first single came out earlier this year called Jiya Jaye Na along with a short film and recently the band launched their second new single Iktarfa, which overlays another short film.
Sen said while Euphoria's new works have been receiving a great response online, even YouTube's algorithm is such that only those who pay more money (which is mostly Bollywood) enjoys more visibility. He wants to remedy the situation and level the playing field so that independent musicians can get exposure to a bigger mainstream audience.
"I would personally like to make a representation to the government and ask them what independent musicians should do. Everything is so commercialized that it is hard for independent artists to survive on their own... There has to be a window for talented people who are not particularly rich, who don't have a big production house behind them." said the singer.
In the last two decades, Euphoria's music videos have changed considerably -- from playful romantic videos in the 90's to their latest music videos that talk about important issues like mental health and suicides. But, their core tunes remain very much their own -- the folksy rock that they initially started out with. Euphoria's songs not only serve as pieces of nostalgia, a marker of a time when India had a vibrant music scene but also are representatives of contemporary non-filmi music in India today. And that representation is very crucial, because that tells us that music doesn't have to come out of Salman Khan or Katrina Kaif's lips to sound beautiful. There is all kinds and genres of music in a country as diverse as India, and all of them deserve to be celebrated equally.