Independent music label nrtya’s SoundCloud stream offers a sonic trip down the rabbit hole. You’ll find yourself being lulled by the gentle, atmospheric intros of Sq. Feet’s EP Motion, jolted by the glitchy interlude in The Mellow Turtle’s otherwise undramatic single Laced, and bobbing along to the cinematic swells in Hill of Non’s Lost In Hind. It’s a curious assemblage, with curiouser artist identities like Salty Prawns and Owlist.
This busy, predominantly electronic soundscape spans across genres like trip-hop, ambient, techno and acid-jazz, and features upcoming artists from the Indian metros and beyond. Some of these experiments, though earnest, are slightly rough around the edges, but nrtya’s rapid pace of releases ensures a wide sample range to choose from.
The label was founded last May by Mumbai-based Raghu Vamshi, Sharan Punjabi and Parth Taco, all three with close ties to the independent music scene. Vamshi and Punjabi are artists themselves—they make up the electronic act Tansane—while Taco is a former music programming consultant. Tansane’s debut EP, A Series Of Happenings, was the trio’s first release as nrtya, a name that encompasses their eclectic vision. “Nrtya signifies the cosmic dance of the universe, containing the five principles of eternal energy—creation, preservation, destruction, illusion and emancipation. It signifies the eternal timeless nature of art over the rise and fall of civilizations,” explains Punjabi.
In the 10 months since nrtya’s launch, the label has featured over 100 releases on its social media pages by more than 30 artists, and they manage 12 of them. Vamshi confirms both numbers are set to spike considerably in the coming months. “There is so much quality music coming out by musicians who are not known at all,” he says. “People have been finding nrtya and sending us their demos, like Ranchi-based Rishabh Lohia (aka The Mellow Turtle). We help artists at different stages of their evolution, but since many producers are not performers, there has to be a unique live element involved for us to also manage them.”
Three such live acts have been gaining ground on the festival scene. Aditi Ramesh—also part of the new all-girls’ outfit Ladies Compartment—stands out as a powerhouse vocalist who can effortlessly infuse Carnatic interludes into whimsical jazz and blues compositions. After the launch of their debut EP, Mumbai-based Nirmit Shah and Sid Shirodkar of Ape Echoes found a spot on the 2017 Magnetic Fields Festival line-up, while prodigal guitarist Rhythm Shaw performed at the Shillong edition of the 2017 Bacardi NH7 Weekender.
In the last few years, there has been a heartening increase in the number of independent labels in India. Delhi-based Azadi Records propelled home-grown, politically conscious acts like Naezy and Prabh Deep to the mainstream while Bengaluru’s Consolidate Records forefronted young electronic artists such as Disco Puppet. A relative old-timer, Pagal Haina, has added to its roster of singer-songwriters (Prateek Kuhad, Aditi Veena) with Rounak Maiti, who released the folksy album Bengali Cowboy last year.
According to Vamshi, this sprouting of new and diverse labels is a first step towards building a more substantial audience for home-grown music. “Even if 20 more labels start tomorrow, that’s still not enough. We need hundreds of labels and agencies for there to be a significant change. It’s not going to be 5-10 labels in India that are going to inform the listening culture evolution. Our goal is to increase the bubble of listeners that are consuming Indian music, and that doesn’t happen much apart from Bollywood.”
In comparison to other indie labels, nrtya’s brand of music is not instantly identifiable, functioning under an amorphous, genre-agnostic philosophy in an increasing crowded electronic space. “We don’t believe there is an over-representation of electronic acts,” argues Vamshi. “The lines between the production and performance of electronic and acoustic elements are blurring and there is definitely more of an audience for experimental artists.”
In the months to come, nrtya plans to add to their event properties like “mrtya by nrtya” (featuring a genre-based line-up) and spotlight young artists from music schools. “Next week, we’re releasing an amazing track by Kali Mirch, these are students of the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music in Chennai,” says Vamshi.
With a collective outreach of around 25,000 on all their social media channels, the label is poised for a gradual upward graph. For young music start-ups, Vamshi prescribes a patient, passionate vision, one that outweighs a hunger for numbers. “It’s not always about how famous our artists get or how many downloads they have. Success for an artist is also being able to create something authentic—and this itself is unbelievably difficult—so to see our artists do that makes us proud.”