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2020 was the year of bedroom pop in Pakistan

'Despite everything, this was a happening year for music'

SAMAA | and - Posted: Jan 3, 2021 | Last Updated: 2 weeks ago
Posted: Jan 3, 2021 | Last Updated: 2 weeks ago
2020 was the year of bedroom pop in Pakistan

Photo: SAMAA Digital

Tech started in the garage, Pop in the bedroom.

In 2020, at least. Bedroom pop is not a new genre, but the name became popular fairly recently. It is music that is produced using usually a small set-up in a room that is not a specialised studio. The genre does not follow the basic rules of recording or producing music: a noise-free and clear recording of the vocals and music. In fact, the imperfect, glitchy recordings are what characterise the genre.

In Pakistan, where arts get little state support, the trajectory for original, high-budget music production was never straight. Then came the high-speed internet, advanced computers and music production software. It was not just dance or techno, other genres fiddled with the new tech. Globally, indie cropped up and genres that you’d never thought would cross over, crossed over. Folktronica, Rammstein’s dubstep mashup, and Arooj Aftab nailing a psychedelic version of Rass Kay Bharay Toray Nain with western instruments.

Indie and bedroom pop are not synonymous. But in a country where musicians lose their equipment kept in their basements, to rain water, because both urban planning and music infrastructure are abysmal, the two overlap in Pakistan, in the literal sense, that is.

Happening year for music

The coronavirus brought everything to a halt, but music flourished. Vocalist Elina Shaukat and Zahra Paracha, who has played for multiple indie bands, have collaborated on a couple of songs that became quite popular.  An electro mashup of Nazia Hassan’s Aap Jesa Koi was a bold experiment. The 2:03 minute-long version has sampling from the original, giving a background to Elina Shaukat’s resonating voice. It is bold, because not many would dare anger Nazia Hassan’s fans with bad covers. The other version was by the awesome Meesha Shafi. So, enough said.

Elina told SAMAA Digital her journey of initially singing alone at her house, collaborating with others, and now internationally too. She does not own a studio equipment, and would “initially just record on my phone, hiding away… in a corner of my house”. Now, she has access to studios of other independent musicians.

She collaborates with diverse, underrated musicians, and her music is a fusion of various genres. She says for music, it has been a very “happening year” despite it all.

It’s because, for Pakistani artists, not a lot changed. Natasha Khan, one of the artists on Coke Studio, said that artists here were already self-sufficient in the absence of record labels or a functional music infrastructure.

But there are those that depend on live music and concerts. Musician Saad Hayat told SAMAA Digital that musicians who perform live were significantly affected because their main sources of income through music were concerts, public or private events.

Natasha said she had many international tours lined up for this year, but everything was cancelled.

Both Elina and Natasha say the musician does not get as much appreciation from the public. “The public has no idea how instrumentalists, vocalists and everyone works to produce music and present to them. It takes time, money and resources.” Elina said that established and/or popular musicians could support them more; even a retweet gives you many plays on streaming apps.  

Speaking about the art itself, this year was also when young twitter-musicians produced music how they liked, not caring about the rules. Gatekeeping was abolished, to speak in Twitter lingo. Bedroom pop reigned supreme.

For Elina, it’s the process that is most enjoyable.

“I really enjoy the process, I’m always less worried about the final product. I really enjoy the memories I get to make in the process of making a song happen, from its musical conception to its lyrics and then the singing. It’s just overall a very cathartic experience for me and it’s what keeps me sane. I live for these moments.”

@NotSoWiseMann is another twitter user who does catchy covers that range from Bollywood and Allan Faqir to ghazals. It’s just mostly his guitar, and sometimes his cute little son stars in the video.

Build your brand

Like with other media, building your social media brand helps with marketing your music. Talal Qureshi, Natasha Noorani and others are relatively active Twitter users. And that is where they post theirs songs, retweet their praise, and less often, talk about the music industry’s issues.

Some use the paid posts options on social media. “We have to spend money from our own pockets, which is also sad because at the end of the day the music isn’t bringing us any royalties. It’s all just a labour of love,” says Elina.

Music productions marketed and supported by big brands are nothing new in Pakistan, with Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement as the first and major names. But this year, Pakistan saw multiple shows at one time: Velo Sound Station, Coke Fest – Patari, and of course, there was Coke Studio. Bisconni music has been announced for 2021.

Common among them was controversy. Velo is a tobacco brand, Patari got caught in a sexual harassment controversy some years ago, and Coke Studio was sent notices over allegedly using songs without copyright last year. At least two were removed. So this year, all songs are original.

Regardless, music kept everyone’s spirits afloat this year, Elina says. And we agree.

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