The contradictions of modern India are well documented in the literature of the subcontinent. Now they’re finding a place in its musical landscape.
FuzzCulture, an electro-rock duo from Delhi, have carved a niche in the nation’s underground music scene with a sound that marries heavy metal and dance with a Dadaist aesthetic cast from the chaos of life in the world’s largest, and most restless, democracy.
Formed through a childhood friendship, they’re at the vanguard of a new confident wave of Indian indie rock that began blossoming in the country’s biggest cities just over 20 years ago.
And, like the nation’s famous novelists and poets, the bands are grappling with what it means to be Indian at a time of huge economic and social change.
“It’s the general angst and sometimes the crazy stupidity of being someone like me in a country like ours,” songwriter and arranger Arsh Sharma says of the emotional content of the Delhi-based band’s material.
Far from Bollywood’s clichéd glitter and spectacle, the aggressive and sometimes unsettling music of FuzzCulture is rooted in a darker corner of the Indian psyche. Like much of the rest of world, the subcontinent is in the grasp of a populist leader pursuing a conservative agenda that’s reshaping the way its inhabitants live.
On their debut album No, FuzzCulture give voice to the unease that’s produced while zooming in on the absurdities thrown up by India’s particular experience with change.
“I’m a person who sings in a language and thinks in a language that isn’t my mother tongue,” says Sharma. “I’m from Asia but have grown up on European and American music and the general cultural clash that my education provides in sharp contrast to a lot of my everyday surroundings.”
While FuzzCulture came into the world just a couple of years ago, the duo’s gestation began when Sharma and his drummer and right-hand man Srijan Mahajan met as four-year-olds at school. A friendship struck up in music classes developed into a shared love of heavy metal, especially Metallica, and the formation of many a scrappy band.
After a few years apart, in which they pursued separate careers in a variety of rock bands, they reconnected over a newfound passion for hip-hop and, accordingly, began formulating the guitar-based electronica that is now their musical calling card.
“I had been messing around with production and electronic music programming for a while and I thought to myself ‘I would really like to take this live,’” said Sharma.
Taking their name from a shared love of distortion, they combine the ferocity of their beloved Metallica with the pulsating urgency of EDM in a loud, squalling and beats-heavy brew.
“I would say if Nine Inch Nails, The Prodigy and Aphex Twin had a baby and someone fed that baby some steroids, you’d get something like us,” boasts Sharma.
FuzzCulture are almost a scene unto themselves. As well as fronting a number of other leading Indian bands, the multi-instrumentalists also comprise the creative backbone of StudioFuzz, a music and film studio whose hi-tech booths have played host to a slew of fellow pop upstarts.
There, they can be found with partner Nikhil Malik recording and mixing music, including soundtracks, tinkering with new production techniques at their digital audio workshop.
For Sharma, the studio and the music are an escape. “It’s quite a crazy, sometimes religiously very conservative country, but once you’re inside the venue gates it’s the same as anywhere else in the world – you can spot an alternative or indie music fan from a mile anywhere on this planet, and it’s the same here.”