When I tell people I work at Patari, they often ask me, “Music industry ‘ka kya scene hay?’ Does Jal still exist? Is Junoon reuniting? Will Fawad khan ever sing again? Can I get a free Patari kitty sticker? Is there a new Meesha Shafi music video out?”
The mainstream industry in Pakistan has been going downhill for years. No one wants to make music unless they can sell it to a fizzy drink company, or give it to Bollywood. But to this question, I nearly always say “Indie music ka bara scene hay.” Lekan ye indie music hay kya? How has this alien term become suddenly so important? Isn’t all music currently being produced in Pakistan technically independent music? Functional record labels scarcely have a presence anymore. Everyone from Noori to Tahir Shah is making their own music. In that case, what is Indie music? Is it a genre? Do you have to have a house in Defence for it? Do you have to be an IVS or LUMS graduate to make it? What do artists like Ali Suhail, Asfandyar Khan and Poor Rich Boy have in common?
Indie is as much about the music as it is about how the music is made. It is associated with being ‘authentic’, somehow unlike most other mainstream music. Most of the musicians in the indie scene in Pakistan are either college students or people with day jobs. At the risk of sounding cliché’d, it wouldn’t be incorrect to say that for these musicians, it is not about the money but about making art. But this is also true for a lot of mainstream music, since music is barely a profession in Pakistan these days. It’s easier to sense this honesty in indie music because of these artists bold attempts at experimenting with sounds and genres not traditionally explored in mainstream Pakistani music. We have Poor Rich Boy and Saad Follows exploring folk/alternative rock, Tollcrane and Dynoman making electronic dance music. 6LA8 and Atif Farooq making post-rock. It is not only their music but the musicians themselves often to seem have an eccentric almost quirky character to them. With names like Janoobi Kharogosh, Sikandar ka Mandar and Basheer and the Pied Pipers you automatically know that these guys aren’t your traditional rockstars.
Songs should be able to capture ideas and feelings, this is why the lyrics should be given as much importance as the music itself. This is something that a large strain of Pakistani pop music, unfortunately, has recently ignored. Lyrics have either revolved around a handful of folk poems and ghazals or laments of ‘neend ati nahi’, ‘dil roya’, ‘raat jaga’. Artists like Shajie, Poor Rich Boy and Saad Follows are great examples of Indie artists whose words are both powerful and distinct. Sometimes their absurdity is what sets them apart from the emotionally loaded lyrics of mainstream artists.
It is not always easy to categorize artists as mainstream or indie as the boundaries between these two groups are not well cut out. A lot has to do with perceptions about the music’s origin and its creator. Indie is a relatively new term in Pakistani music and this new generation of post 2010 artists including Dynoman, Shajie, Asfandyar Khan, Nawksh are the first ones to define the labels meaning and connotations.
To explore this new turn in the Pakistani music industry that promises to revive the music scene, there can be no better place to start than Pataris own indie playlist.