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A Band Called Machli

There is no dearth of struggling bands in this country. For every mainstream ‘indie’ band that blasts mediocrity to music starved throngs, there are tens of bedroom bands with their SoundCloud creations hidden like diamonds in the rough. One of those startlingly vivid stones - still unpolished and uncut, is a band called Machli.

Aniruddh Menon, Maitreya Mer, Musharraf Shaikh and Sandhya Visvanathan are the faces behind the band who “make weird music sitting in SFS Colony” in between the daily grind of college and work. I got in touch with Machli to get to know them a little better – the initial unavoidable formality soon gave way to an amicable familiarity and what I got was an unassuming, self effacing, unpretentious bunch who make music because they want to and because they love it.

Of course the first thing I had to ask about was the name. Naturally, I assumed there was either a story behind it or that the band members had a strong affinity for fish. For all those who are curious, there is no story behind the name."It was coined by Sandhya in the living room of the house where we jam”, guitarist Musharraf claims, though their vocalist "can't even remember".

It’s refreshing to talk to Machli – all of them have an infectious love for what they do and a cheery optimism that’s hard to find these days. Any naiveté one may expect to come across because of their comparative newness to the scene disappears on taking a listen to their songs which are chromatic, rich in melody and beautifully vocalised. Their tunes are often dark and singles like Fire and Biting lean towards the melancholy.

Of course, one can’t deny that their sound is still in its infancy and far from perfect – often trailing out and losing direction completely. But what Machli lacks in experience and technical accomplishment, it makes up for (as cheesy as it sounds) in good old fashioned sincerity.

The band came together with guitarist Musharraf and keyboardist Aniruddh who evidently coerced Sandhya into singing above the noise. Within two weeks they had their first single when guitarist (and self confessed Arctic Monkeys fanatic) Maitreya came in tied it all together. The end product – Black Eye – is an unusual and contemplative number with a melange of sounds that include Sandhya's hypnotizing vocals and a menacing Rajnikath sample from Basha – an impressive debut to say the least. In vocalist Sandhya’s words: “Machli happened. There’s no other way to describe it. None of us were looking to be in a band; we just came together organically.”

Their latest song ‘Bahaar’ -is an attempt to change the wistful tone of some of their tracks to something more upbeat. The single is their first full song in Hindi and the impact of Indian cinema and non musical influences is apparent – all four are art students and one is pursuing film. "I guess we were thinking of Shammi Kapoor in cold Kashmiri mountains. Atleast remember thinking of Yeh chand sa roshan chera." announces Maitreya before Aniruddh adds: “Maitreya is one of the most committed film students and directors I know. And Sandhya and I are both film makers, though not yet of the live-action kind. That certainly rubs off on what we write. Though Musharraf isn’t studying film as such, his riffs are the most orchestral and cinematic out of all of ours.”

“Financially we need all the help that we can get” – Musharraf states, in response to a question I ask about an upcoming EP/LP, exposing the chronic infirmity that ails so many upcoming bands. Machli still needs to gig as much as they can in order to earn some cash and take the next step – one that we hope will happen soon.

Despite the problems, Machli soon discovered in the living room where they gig what many artists take years to find – an unmistakable style and voice of their own - sometimes melancholic, sometimes vibrant, but always hopeful.

The Indian alternative and electronic landscape is changing in front of our eyes and the increased usage of platforms like SoundCloud means that we get to discover great new bands all the time. “I think the electronic music scene in India is going to be insane, there are so many more people doing their own thing and not mimicking the west, just doing their own shit. And it’s not just fusion stuff either - it’s a different ballgame entirely. Its collage mishmash music.” Machli’s vocalist Sandhya describes the scene best – the potential seen in bands like hers is massive and now is the time to play with sounds like never before.

Machli is still a work in progress and we’ll just have to watch and wait to see what direction they’re headed. Till then you can check out some of their singles on their SoundCloud page and listen to their first single 'Black Eye' down below.

Words: Diya Gupta

Image Credit (first): Najeeb Khalid
Artwork by Azra Sadr

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04 June 2014