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Indie on the airwaves

Bhanuj Kappal | Updated on January 08, 2018

Radio, what’s new? Boxout.fm co-founder Sahej Bakshi (left) and curator DJ MoCity. Photo: Zacharie Rabehi

Broadcast out of a basement, online community radio station Boxout.fm is all about underground music from India and abroad

There’s never been a better time to be a fan of independent music in India, what with more artistes putting out more singles and albums every month than we used to get in a year. Widespread access to the internet, coupled with affordable home recording technology, has opened up the once esoteric field of music-making to anyone with a laptop, a microphone and time. But the glut of new artistes and music has made it increasingly difficult for someone to get noticed. Unless you’re signed by a label with a marketing budget, your release might sink without a trace in social media’s endless stream of YouTube videos and SoundCloud links. And with Indian promoters and venues being notoriously risk-averse, breaking into the live music scene — still the primary platform for indie music consumption — is easier said than done.

It was this conundrum that motivated New Delhi-based promoter, DJ and former artiste manager Mohammed Abood (aka DJ MoCity) and EDM producer Sahej Bakshi (aka Dualist Inquiry) to start Boxout.fm, an online community radio station dedicated to underground music from India and abroad. Broadcast from a basement studio in south Delhi’s Gulmohar Park, the station has generated quite a buzz since it went on air on April 7.

“I’d been doing a weekly podcast called Motellacast in Dubai, for almost two years, where I’d play music that I wasn’t comfortable dropping in my DJ sets,” says Abood, who returned to Delhi in 2016 after four years in Dubai. “It helped me connect with a small community of people who understood the music I was trying to deliver. And I wanted to create that for other people. I felt that we need to enable the artistes to just focus on creating music, and the channelling should be done by promoters. We need to help them find new listeners, reach new audiences, and I thought the best way is through an online radio station.”

“When Mo came up with the idea of an online community radio, lightning bolts went off in my head,” adds Bakshi. “Because there’s a lot of great music being made in India, but it takes a certain amount of effort and a good degree of luck to actually find all of it. So when he was talking about a curated platform where the emphasis was on the curation, that made a lot of sense to me as an artiste.”

Last November they decided to pool their resources and spent a few months getting a grip of the technical side of things. They worked with Mumbai-based creative agency Skarma to build a website and brought British online streaming service Mixcloud on board for the hosting. They reached out to like-minded community radio stations for advice, particularly Seoul Community Radio and Giles Peterson’s Worldwide FM. But the biggest technological challenge came from an unexpected quarter. “We realised that all the broadband providers offer you whatever download speed you can pay for, but the upload speed remains fixed at a painfully low 256 kbps,” laughs Bakshi. “And for us, we’re uploading 99 per cent of the time.”

For the past few months, they have been expanding their scheduled programming from the initial four hours to 12 hours, eventually hoping to stay on air 24 hours a day. They plan to add talk shows and podcasts, though currently the programming mainly has guest mixes and regular shows by local DJs and artistes. One of the highlights is Minority Report, curated by music journalist and Azadi Records co-founder Uday Kapur, dedicated to music made by minority artistes worldwide. Another must-listen is Delhi Sultanate’s fortnightly Dubplates & 45’s show, in which the New Delhi-based vocalist and selector spins cuts from his extensive dubplate collection. Then there’s the live sets from Boxout.fm’s two events — boxout social and boxout Wednesdays. The former takes place at co-working space/bar Social’s locations across the country, while the latter is a weekly residency at Summer House Cafe in New Delhi.

“A lot of the time the artistes hold back because there’s so much pressure in a club environment or the usual concert space,” says Abood. “But the vibe we create (at these shows) hopefully lets people focus on just hanging out and playing music.”

The station also aims to showcase experimental music that doesn’t fit into a club or music festival setting, and they encourage listeners and artistes to contribute ideas, songs or mixes through a form on the website. They’ve also launched boxout sessions, a video series capturing live performances by electronica artistes, which Bakshi has created in collaboration with film-makers like Vikramaditya Singh. There are two more video series in the pipeline, and a lot more original content. “We’ve got lots of plans but we’re trying to be patient, doing things slow but doing them right,” says Bakshi, when I ask what they hope to achieve in the station’s first year. Abood is much less circumspect, declaring, “We want alternative radio to change the way music is consumed in this country.”

Published on October 20, 2017

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