Let’s take a trip through memory lane and revisit some of the most memorable songs created by independent Indian bands and songwriters. They made non-commercial or ‘alternative’ music stand out and get noticed on a larger scale, in turn, contributing to its later acceptance at large public events, concerts, TV shows, and eventually even into the film industry. We list out, in no order of priority, the inspirational 10 timeless Indian indie hits that made a mark on our ears and emotions.
Them Clones – My Life
One of the most notable alternative rock bands to come out of Delhi, Them Clones won many college competitions in and around Delhi doing covers of rock and grunge songs of the 90’s and made some notable music themselves while they were at it. ‘My Life’, with an anthem-like uplifting chorus saw a completely new sound from a local band. Heavy riffs, open and loud drums, an organically raw garage sound with a beautifully harmonising chorus that crowds would scream their lungs off to! Them Clones were the “chosen ones” on Channel [V] Launchpad 2005 and released their debut album ‘Love.Hate.Heroes’ in 2009, from which ‘My Life’ was the most popular crowd favourite.
Pentagram – Voice
Really pushing the boundaries of their sound with every release, Pentagram was known for innovating music and carving their own niche with their unique brand of grimy electro rock. Their politically charged lyrics, break-y and sometimes running drum rhythms, effect-driven guitars, use of synths and drum machines, fat bass tones and notably their in-your-face front-man Vishal Dadlani (now also a prominent Bollywood music director), who could modulate melodies like a knife through butter and consistently deliver the intensity required for this high energy act, made them one of the forerunning Indian bands. They were the first Indian band to play Glastonbury Festival in the UK in 2005. The song ‘Voice’ (from the album ‘It’s OK, It’s All Good’ from 2007) was a huge hit and was used in a music video competition by Nokia and VH1 India, compiling phone videos from Pentagram’s fans from across the country, which were part of the final official music video.
Indian Ocean – Bandeh
A landmark band in the history of independent music in India, inventing their own sound was Indian Ocean, who debuted their first album in 1993. The band was commissioned to create the soundtrack, teaming up with music producer K.J. Singh, for the controversial Anurag Kashyap movie ‘Black Friday’. The director was looking for music that was unlike the run-of-the-mill typical-to-Mumbai Bollywood sound. The song ‘Bandeh’ became a huge crowd favourite and very soon, at every Indian Ocean performance, audiences overpowered PA systems whenever the band broke into this song. The song and the entire album received some major critical acclaim, being a well-crafted mix of Indian classical music, fused seamlessly with western jazz and Sufi influences, a specimen of beauty and diversity, just like the literal Indian Ocean itself!
Zero – PSP12
Besides having a very hooky, bouncy and funky bass-line by bassist Bobby Talwar, that almost every budding bass player around the time period just had to try out, Zero’s ‘PSP12’ probably had the catchiest and jumpiest chorus anyone had ever heard at the time. At the least, passive listeners in the crowd were seen bobbing their heads whenever this song blasted from the speakers at the many band competitions, concerts and music festivals that Zero played across the country. They’re also the band that has had the most amount of reunion gigs, because people still can’t get enough of them. Accompanied in lineups by metal bands most of the time, the lively chorus that incessantly goes “standing by, standing by, standing by…” many a time has made metal heads mosh to it, garnering acceptance from the toughest audiences in the country. Harmonising vocals from crooning drummer Sidd Coutto and a melodically extraordinary guitar solo from Blackstratblues’ genius Warren Mendonsa are just the icing on the cake.
Motherjane – Mindstreet
A real standout song when it came out on the album ‘Maktub’ in 2008, the song ‘Mindstreet’ created a signature sound everyone even today associates with Motherjane. It was the first time anyone experimented the amalgamation of progressive metal with Carnatic-infused guitar licks. Baiju Dharmajan, the pioneer of this style has inspired guitar players across the country from that moment onwards. The album received huge critical appreciation, including being named Album of the Year of 2009 by Rolling Stone India magazine. Motherjane was pronounced as Rock Street Journal’s Band of the Decade in 2010. More recently, after quitting Motherjane and assembling his own act, ‘Baiju Dharmajan Syndicate’, he toured around India playing pubs and music festivals playing classics like ‘Mindstreet’ and other hits he co-wrote with Motherjane in his era as their head axe-man.
Superfuzz – School
Fronted by the lovechild of Kurt Cobain’s ghost and an Electro Harmonix Big Muff guitar pedal – Sanchal Malhar, along with harmonising groovy bass guitar player Nikhil Rufus Raj and hard-hitting drummer Aditya Paharia, 3-piece explosive Delhi pop-punk band Superfuzz re-released their old ‘Superfuzz EP’ in 2020. It featured 4 songs, out of which, one was one of their all-time crowd favourites – ‘School’. Catchy chord sections accompanied by some melodic guitar hooks amidst the robust rhythm section, and a poppy vocal texture (with occasional intense shouts) are what gave Superfuzz their distinctive raw yet polished sound, which ‘School’ is a great example of.
Avial – Chekele
A touching story of survival during adverse times, Avial’s interpretation of the folk song ‘Chekele’, which thematically goes back to the days of feudalism and exploitation, is one of the many hit songs from their smashing self-titled debut album which released in 2008. Among music fans, and especially Avial fans, the immortal lineup on this album which consisted of singer Anandraj Benjamin Paul, bassist Naresh Kamath, guitarist Rex Vijayan, drummer Mithun Puthanveetil and turntables and synth player turned current lead vocalist Tony John, is always a topic of discussion and pleasant nostalgia. Avial really broke through the barriers and proved that good music appeals to all, no matter what language it is expressed in. They garnered a lot of fans in India and still play to large audiences in India and abroad, with strong support from the Malayalam community in many other countries.
Parikrama – But It Rained
Dedicated to the kidnappings in the Kashmir Valley in the years 1995-96, Delhi rock and roll band Parikrama released ‘But It Rained’ in 1996. An emotional rock ballad, the song became an instant crowd favourite and is the band’s biggest and most memorable hit. In October 2020, the band released a version of the song with an extended guitar solo by their late guitar player Sonam Sherpa who passed away in Februrary of that year. For years Parikrama was known for their cover sets, playing songs from classic rock icons like ACDC, Pink Floyd and the likes. ‘But It Rained’ was a great addition to their live set, with massive audiences like the one at the first Iron Maiden concert in Bangalore in 2007, where they opened, saw about 40,000 people singing along.
Silk Route – Dooba Dooba
Now a highly revered Bollywood voice, Mohit Chauhan started off his illustrious career with his band Silk Route, which rose to fame mainly for their song ‘Dooba Dooba’ from their 1998 album ‘Boondein’. Music channels such as Channel [V] and MTV aired the video quite frequently and the band, as well as Mohit Chauhan going solo, enjoyed great crowd response for this hit song, which is still covered by many college bands and Bollywood cover bands. The band, who called it quits in the early 2000’s, were inspired by Sting, Dire Straits and Simon & Garfunkel and always had a distinct sound using acoustic guitars, harmonica, talking drums, adding something interesting to the mix.
Split – Holy Ghost Machine Gun
First appearing on their 2010 EP ‘P Is For Pig’ and the re-recorded for their full length album ‘Counting Perfume’, Split’s power packed riff-heavy song ‘Holy Ghost Machine Gun’ was a call to the mosh pit. They recorded the album at Yashraj Studios, produced by Zorran Mendonsa, with articulate new drummer Varoon Aiyer, who made a huge difference on the record and tightened up their live performances as soon as he joined the band. Their last notable show was at the MTV Indies Awkwards in 2015 at the legendary Mumbai venue Blue Frog. Split was one of the few alternative rock bands apart from Zero who got the approval of the picky Mumbai metal audience, connecting on principle with their songs and stage act being aggressive, loud and politically as well as alcoholically charged!