2023 In Review

2023 In Review

15 March 2024

2024 is well underway and shaping up its own identity. However, no year is immune to the shadow of its predecessor and no change of digit has ever put a break on the continuity of trends, talent or conflict.

The exercise of shedding light upon the developments in alternative music in the Indian subcontinent in a particular year and highlighting what we predict will ripple forward doesn’t just help people reflect on what has been and catch up on things they might have missed or overlooked. It also has proven to signal the upcoming prominence of budding artists.

For instance, from our 2022’s reflection, Chaar Diwaari has since released on Def Jam India and collaborated with Yo Yo Honey Singh and all 3 of Noni-mouse, Sijya and Kiss Nuka made their Boiler Room debuts with the latter two also doing prominent shows in UK and Berlin respectively.

Eitherway, we find it worth pausing to take in what we witnessed in 2023 – a year, that wasn’t the first period out of the pandemic but the one where the visions, growth and ideas developed on an individual level during the pandemic were exercised and showcased to its fullest.

See what that looked like by focusing on handpicked artists and their work in the past year below:


A long-standing figure of Indian dancefloors, Vinayak^a would have defined 2023 in alternative music space just through the sheer quantity of his releases alone. While things had been sporadic on the release front in the nearly two decades-worth of career for the Chennai-based DJ-producer, 2023 was filled with a drop after another. Out of them, ‘Andar Bandar’, Vinayak^a’s second-ever solo LP looms large. Layers from electronic to sampled organic collide to create rich atmospheric tapestries while Vinayak^a shows how spoken word samples can be used to add to the textures rather than as devices to spoonfeed a message and emotion.


Almost every year is filled with some commendable work by this electronica frontrunner but 2023 stands out for Sanaya Ardeshir aka Sandunes through her most ambitious release to date: the album ‘The Ground Beneath Her Feat'. The 13-track release combines all the aspects Sandunes has become known for: the meticulously layered synth layers, syncopating grooves and experimentations with guest vocalists. She dials it all up another notch with the sweetness of woodwinds. The result is a work of electronica that’s in parts at par in its reflective emotionality with the best of any year or region. I recommend going in with ‘Tsunami’.


If we are talking ambition, Tarana Marwah aka Komorebi’s album ‘The Fall’ isn’t just one of the most ambitious works of 2023 but of any year so far for India’s indie music. Released with a comic, music videos, tying lore and scores of collaborations within it, the multi-tiered album goes back and forth between being an electropop effort and a progressive structured work suitable for a musical with its dramatic shifts between ideas.


In the case of Mali, it’s been about focusing on the basics. There were no added frills, just an album i.e. ‘Semi Automatic Butane’, music videos to help present it and a busy tour to support it. Within those basics, the Mumbai artist tightened her songwriting to indie-pop perfection and offered it with economically picked ideas. For a listener of the style, the album is destined to achieve that rarer-than-expected feat among independent releases, which is, to be part of people’s playlists beyond its promotional cycle.

That itself is enough and yet, the singer-songwriter enjoyed another breakout success with her efforts in Tamil music with the worth checking out ‘Anniku Raatri’.


After a long buildup to it, Gujrat’s rap artist Dhanji released his debut album ‘Ruab’ and the whirring repetitions of the title have been echoing in our brains ever since. The 11-track release brings in elements from funk, rock and even electronica but without compromising on the qualities of hip-hop as meticulously written verses flow through a dramatic progression of ideas. The album, supported via live performances throughout the year, is an instance where the ambitiousness is purely musical and demonstrates the kind of risk-taking that hasn’t been seen in Indian hip-hop for a while.

Kinari / Finsta

Another occasion of something fresh dropping in the space of hip-hop came through the New Delhi artist formerly known as Finsta with their EP ‘QUEERBOPS’. Not just due to the still rare instance of queer narratives finding a space in the genre, but rather for the merit that Finsta deals with both hip-hop and themes around queerness with a distinctly and naturally fitting Indian flavour. Though the artist has since reinvented themself as Kinari with already an album entitled ‘KATTAR KINNAR’ in the pipeline, the strong statements over the added delight of an experimental edge of the 6-track release still manages to move the body and shake the brain.


While her involvement in the lead cast of ‘The Archies’, Bollywood’s most-talked-about movie of 2023, looms larger than anything for most, it was a good year for people who know Aditi Saigal aka Dot. as a musician first. Alongside inviting the audience to witness her growth as a live performer over the year, the singer-songwriter ended the period with a collection of recordings from her practice room as an album entitled ‘Practice Rooms’, which even kicks off with her most popular raw take of ‘Everybody Dances To Techno’. At the same time, the year saw her at her most polished with the soft pop of ‘Indigo’.

Long Distances

A product of remote collaboration during the COVID-19 pandemic, Aarifah Rebello, Apurv Agrawal aka Cowboy & Sailor Man and Zubin Pastakia’s combined effort Long Distances has outlasted the shadows of the pandemic, outliving most other projects born in that period. In 2023, the trio started unfolding singles that would lead up to the EP ‘How the Mighty Will Fall’ and through live performances, solidified their name among the newest generation of indie live groups of India.

Excise Department

2023 was also the year New Delhi got to familiarise itself better with their new alternative hip-hop heads Excise Department – which always remains tricky for an act that likes to stay anonymous and operate in English, Bengali and Punjabi. Alongside their debut live show and several others since, the group released 3 defining singles, namely ‘Baaro Maala’, ‘Birhada’ and ‘Billo’.


While talking of acts we got to familiarise ourselves with in 2023, Yuhina Lachungpa is an easy mention for her debut EP at the tail-end of the year. After years of having just the occasional collaboration and self-released work, the Bangalore-based Sikkim-rooted artist combined Buddhist chants and equally meditative lyricism about self with electropop production on the 5-track EP ‘Mnemonic’.

Bengal Chemicals

Even with the occasional emerging and new acts, it still felt like the alternative music space of the region had a decline in fresh talent and fresher growth. That story seemed completely different in leftfield genres like noise and ambient. Pritam Das aka Bengal Chemicals emerged as a good representative of the renaissance that seems to be emerging in Kolkata in these genres. While there is no shortage of recommendable works (shoutout to Nilotpal Das’ ‘Harmonium I’), Bengal Chemicals’ sophomore EP ‘তা​র​ক’ is the best way into unravelling the leftfield undercurrents that hopefully will get their rightful place in the discourse and industry around alternative music.


Whether the spotlight is on noise or not, Ladakh's Ruhail Qaisar’s album ‘Fatima’ is one of the strongest albums of the year. A most uncompromising and unflinching take on identity and personal history, Ruhail’s debut album, released via Danse Noir, is both about self and the world he comes from – its people, its transformations and tragedies. A layered work that uncovers meanings the more you dig into it and learn about its references and elements, ‘Fatima’ is a testament to the merit of being free from expectations and believing in one’s own artistic impulses – a quality that has also taken the artist to stages across the EU including Berlin's famed Berghain for the CTM festival.


Sanjay Das aka Philtersoup has been present in the undercurrents of India’s alternative music for a while but the Mumbai-based producer-composer found greater agency in 2023. Besides experimental A/V shows in art studios and synth jams, Das performed alongside Karshni Nair and released the collaborative single ‘Long Gone’. Parallely, he served as a music supervisor on the OTT-release ‘Rainbow Rishta’, helping cross over more of India’s independent music to the OTT-media audience.

Sourya Sen

Operating in close proximity and joining in on the aforementioned synth jams with Philtersoup, Sourya Sen (also known as Oblique) has not only been a longstanding presence as a live visual artist for some leading independent artists but has also been one of the most evocative abstractionists within the modular synth space. The claim is no less potent when paired with his 11-track memoir of the places he has lived entitled ‘In The Cities’. Top that with his input at the earliest A/V show at one of Mumbai’s newest (certainly one of its most heavily discussed in recent memory) spaces i.e. the NMACC, and the Mumbai-based artist’s creative footprint is as relevant as it is subtle within the portrait of 2023.


It was a year of growth for Safar collective co-founder I7HVN, who stepped beyond his IDM and trip-hop experiments for two long-form releases that showcased moments of self-realisation and a comfortable embrace of his styles. After the abstract atmospheres of Qilla Records-released ‘Youthful’, Bangalore producer put out a broken beat techno EP ‘Anodyne’ at the end of the year. His best moments emerge within the restrained ambience of ‘Youthful’s closer ‘Imaginary Love’, which features Sanoli Chowdhury, and the opening title track of ‘Anodyne’.


While the Goan sibling duo Merak isn’t the first to bring jazz into electronica, there is a balanced tastefulness in their work which gets rendered even more potent in the hands of seasoned acts like MadStarBase and in the shared prowess of collaborators like Shreyas Iyenger – both of whom appeared on the duo’s EP ‘Manic Mode’. Besides the appreciable release, Merak frequently became part of the festival lineups around the year to leave a lasting imprint on Indian alternative music’s 2023.

Seasonal Affected Beats

It’s hard to think of an artist who has seemed harder working in 2023 than New Delhi’s Tarun Balani. The multi-instrumentalist, educator and composer kicked off the year by touring his A/V show ‘2°’ with Parizad D as Seasonal Affected Beats and filled the year treading the line between meticulous and intuitive through the music from his album ‘Where the Ice Meets the Water’. Add to that another tour in support of the album and two singles focusing on his more jazz-centric work with the Dhamma Collective, and it’s been undoubtedly big 12 months for Tarun Balani.

Debo Sanyal / Dokodoko

Is it a cliché to call something ‘underrated’ at this point? If it is, then it’s unfitting of me to use a cliché for someone who usually offers anything but that. Siliguri’s Deno Sanyal aka Dreamhour has been dropping quality music full of humour, underexplored styles and singular quirk for years now. More recently, it has found a partner with the complimentary irreverence and straightfaced attitude (which translates sonically as well) of Dr. Kritika as the duo releases music as Dokodoko – gracing 2023 with a foray into Hindi electropop. For more puristical Dreamhour synth bops, the album ‘Now That We Are’ is as punchy as it comes alongside proving that there are still grounds to explore and fun to be had with synthwave.

Warehouse Mix

Warehouse Mix is the latest (and increasingly rare) case of a bunch of young creatives coming together not for the primary purpose of making a quick profit but rather to create something “cool” or something that they believe in. In this case the belief is around the original ethos of house music and its ability to provide spaces for diverse expression. While the collective has been budding over the years, 2023 saw them break their immediate bubbles to create bigger impacts, hosting their flagship Anticlub parties, live percussion dances and vinyl-only sessions at the city outskirts.

Dynamite Disco Club

Another collective based near house music (and several other adjacent styles) but more defined by its experienced members, Dynamite Disco Club has been one of our year-defining acts in the past – the year it announced that it would function as a label as well. But this year, DDC embodies the idea that 2023 was the period all the visions developed during the COVID-19 pandemic about life after it were fully realised (as much as they will ever likely be). Besides a string of its parties throughout the year and having a space at almost every notable music festival in the country, the label realised releases from not just its well-known members like Stalvart John and Hamza Rahimtula, but also newer talents like ISHXN and even bigger list of foreign acts. On top of importing off-shore acts to its label, the collective also took its domestic talent reach out to shores beyond with Stalvart John touring through parts of South and East Asia.

Lush Lata

It was a big year for New Delhi’s Lush Lata, who reached a milestone in her ascent as a DJ with a set at dance music mecca Berlin’s The Berghain early in the year as part of CTM Festival. Since then the stripes have kept attaching in the form of live sets for the likes of HÖR, Rinse and Kiosk Radio, and, constantly, the Indian dancefloors.


Through his work as a longstanding promoter and DJ, Sohail Arora aka Rafiki has maintained his relevance for a while. This year, however, there was heightened emphasis on his musical output in the form of two EPs: first in the form of ‘The Source’ and then ‘New Shifts’. Surrounding it, the Mumbai-based music industry professional delivered notable mixes, joined his curation for Boiler Room, and toured through Europe, Sri Lanka and clubs across India.


2023 also was the year of the return of Aditi Veena aka Ditty. Though the singer-songwriter was hardly gone, having toured in the latter half of 2022 and releasing music as part of the group Faraway Friends before that, this year saw her put out her first solo release in 4 years – during which she battled a major illness, got married and partly relocated to Berlin. The trickle of releases started with a collaborative track with Jordan Johnson (another artist who put out standout work in 2023) and followed into the rollout of her own EP ‘Skin’ with live dates punctuating the process.

Bulli Bainbridge

If you’re an avid listener of indie music and yet don’t know who Zain Calcuttawala is, it’s still likely you have unknowingly enjoyed his contributions. Besides his past as a gig programmer, the multi-faceted talent has been hosting podcasts on mental health and more popularly producing for everyone from Bhrighu Sahni and Second Sight to Raghav Meattle. His work with his moniker Bulli Bainbridge has been no less versatile. He kicked off the year with an album entitled ‘Seasons’ that saw contributions from the likes of Ankit Dayal, BobKat, and Bombay Dub Orchestra and followed it with a collaborative hip-hop single ‘One Me’. Since then, the producer, engineer and composer has been reimagining some of the most popular recent indie hits – cue an orchestral version of Bloodywood, a lo-fi cut of Raghav Meattle’s ‘City Life’ and a swing-era take of Dot’s ‘Everybody Dances To Techno’.



Words: Amaan Khan

Image Design: Sijya Gupta


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