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Just beat it: Hip Hop Homeland Article Cover Picture

Just beat it: Hip Hop Homeland

India’s first beat boxing group on being niche and the challenges they face.

The advantage of being in a beat boxing band is that you just have to plug in your attitude without the added hassle of lugging around instruments.  And anyplace, from hotel lobbies, to elevators and flights, can turn into their practice and experimental space. But that doesn’t mean beat boxing doesn’t come with its hiccups.

Employing one’s vocal gymnastics during peak Delhi winter or in the mountains on a hot day can be a formidable challenge. And the country’s first beat boxing and acapella band, Voctronica, have been enduring some of these challenges as they chalk their way into the big leagues.

In their current format, the five member band consists of Arjun Nair, Raj Verma, Avinash Tewari, Warsha Easwar and Clyde Rodrigues. The quintet have already made some noise in the festival circuits with the added bonus of having opened for British superstars Alt-J, as well as collaborating with the John Olivers of Indian comedy group, All India Bakchod. Says Nair, who handles the vocals and bass sounds, “We’re still figuring it out as we go, but everybody does everything and have been assigned their primary and multiple roles.”

I met the band at their jam pad in suburban Malad where the members walked in pretty much empty handed for their rehearsal. Tewari had this tune in his head while he was commuting in a rickshaw that he wanted to check out on the mic. Warsha, meanwhile, hinted at Rodrigues about trimming his hipster beard before their next corporate gig.

The current set up has been zipping for almost two years after the sixth member didn’t work out. Since this was an initiative by Sony Music, the band came all signed up and labeled into the arena.

In a way we’ve all beat boxed at some point in our life in our own tapered way. Local mimicry troupes too indulged in their own marginalized form of beat boxing since the eighties.

“I would say it’s more imitation in this particular form,” Nair says about mimicry. “Beat boxing could be traced back to people who wanted to rap but couldn’t afford a boom box and had friends beat box to their vocals,” Tewari points out.

The city however got the first real taste of this genre when Austrian beat boxing juggernauts Bauchklang, dropped their beats, bass and melodies to a packed audience at Blue Frog in 2009.

It was like a smack in the face that bordered around shock and awe as the audience wondered how the fuck did they make those techno sounds with just their mouths? Voctronica members too have not been spared the scrutiny during some of their shows where people find it difficult to process the mellifluous pads, sprightly horns and booming nasal bass unloaded by the band sans any instruments.

“They look for instruments back stage or come to our sound console probing for pedals and plug-ins” says Tewari. “It helps to explain to people that these things are happening, especially in India where people are suspicious,” adds Nair.

The band dives into sets ranging anywhere from 20 minutes to over an hour as they feel it’s unfair to the audience as well to sit them through a set without any instruments.

The group believes that they’re not underground anymore, even though the genre is still nascent in India. Easwar, who handles the vocals, melodies and effects, says, “It’s not underground anymore, it’s niche.”

So did the exit of the sixth member affect their sound? While Easwar feels that it hasn’t affected their sound, Tewari adds to it by saying that they didn’t feel the urgency to get someone on board to fill the spot. Rodrigues and Verma agree that it has been a positive journey in terms of growth with one less member to deal with since it has helped the current set up juggle with additional sounds and duties.

“It worked well; growth curve has increased a little bit as people took up additional responsibilities. Between the five of us, the connection has grown stronger,” Nair says.

Except for Easwar, who is also a practicing psychologist, the rest of the gang is pretty much into music related work with this set up and other bands and projects. Having graced the TEDx stage followed by a tribute to classic Indian ads in collaboration with AiB and a recent mash up of A R Rahman classics, the band is firing up their presence on YouTube as well.

The members agree that they want to dish out more originals and more importantly, lots of video content, since the latter connects better with the audience in this genre. Since drums, bass, pads and horns are their go to primary instruments, I wondered aloud on how they would deal with a new instrument or sound. For instance, a didgeridoo, I said. No sooner I said it; Verma immediately ignited his throat into didgeridoo mode.

Voctronica is featured in Hip Hop Homeland, a series about India's underground hip hop scene.


By Mohan KK