Artist of the month – Donn Bhat

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Donn Bhat made his foray into the big league of the Indian independent industry with Orange Street, right after the turn of this millennium. The iconic Delhi band was looking for a guitarist and Anirban ‘Ban’ Chakraborty, their lead singer, approached Bhat, who was still in college. “I was just flat-out new when Ban called me, and I was like, ‘Wow! These are the same guys whose songs I listen to on the GIR (Great Indian Rock) tape…’ So I was just flattered that these people wanted me to play with them and I couldn’t understand why they’d want me at all,” the musician says.

Things have come a long way for Bhat since those initial, heady days in the national capital over a decade ago. And after Orange Street disbanded, he moved to Bombay in the mid-2000s, with a ‘Dostoyevskyan idea’ of struggling it out. “I had only 7,000 rupees, and stayed in a garage in Bandra, because everyone told me that you have to stay in Bandra,” he says. And, significantly, he also adds that this is the phase when he also decided to make it on his own as a musician, opting out of playing in a band, creating his own drum solos and vocal melodies on a computer programme called Reason. “It was so liberating to actually not have to wait for someone to arrive, and to not have the band sit together and then hope that the bass player is not having a fight and is on the same page as you are. It was just enormously liberating to sit in a room, and then take one week to write a song instead of a day, you know?” Bhat says in explanation.

A brief stint followed when he made ‘music commercially’ (read: composed advertising jingles). “I had a very clear idea that I wanted to struggle. But when I came here, it was SO bad, that I was like, ‘No, no, it’s okay, I don’t want to struggle that much,’” he says with a laugh about making music in Bombay for monetary purposes. He found his feet in the city within a year, ‘learning how to cook and live on my own’. And then, gradually, he went back to his laptop more and more to create his own music, which, in 2006, resulted in his debut album, One Way Circle.

Now, after an inordinate gape of eight years, Bhat’s back with his second offering, Passenger Revelator. It is an eclectic collection of songs that stretch from dance-y, disco tunes to mellower, more contemplative electronica. This variety of range, he says, stems from the fact that most of material has been collected over a long period of time – ‘Was an Animal’ and ‘Belong’, a couple of songs on Passenger Revelator, were conceived of during his first year in Bombay, for instance. There is also an unlikely collaborator, Malabika Brahma, who gave the vocals for ‘107’, and whom Bhat met at a baul festival in rural West Bengal a few years ago. But the others who feature on it
are the musician’s usual clutch of co-conspirators – Ban, Audio Pervert and Toymob of Delhi electronic duo Teddy Boy Kill, and Nikhil Kaul aka Frame/Frame.

The Soundcloud stream for the album is linked below. Go through it and watch out for tracks such as ‘Disco, Disco’, which promise to bring even dedicated couch potatoes out on to the dance floor. But then again, there’s ‘Stars Align’ at the other end of the spectrum, which could make a person moving his feet take a pause and contemplate life, the universe and everything. And it is this wealth in choices on Passenger Revelator that makes Bhat our ‘Artist of the month’, and his album seem like a box of chocolates, considering you never know what you’re gonna get.

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