Independent musician Arjun Kanungo breaks down his latest album, Industry 2

The artiste decodes the effervescent definition of music, what has changed and what more needs to be done
In performance
In performance

The magnetic characters in songster, Arjun Kanungo’s album, Industry 2, embody an unrestrained spirit, constantly challenging and redefining its artistic horizons. It embraces the clutter and fellowship that coexist within us, marking the amalgamation of light and darkness, joy and sorrow, and the ever-shifting contours of the human heart. As the final note fades into silence, one is left with the realisation that they have witnessed not just a performance, but an artistic divulgence of sailing through stormy waters, taking the road less travelled. When the musician unveiled the album’s inaugural single, Danger, a dance number that sets the floor ablaze, it transported us to the lively streets of Tokyo, where Arjun effortlessly grooves to the infectious beats. Notably, this marks a groundbreaking moment in the Indian music scene, as it stands as one of the first Indian music albums to be shot in Japan. While the visual style and aesthetics of the music video assert its identity, it is a daring act of resistance against the predictability and monotony of mainstream composition, taking an untrodden path — an ambition that seeks to overreach established norms and embrace the riddle. “I strived for realism, drawing inspiration from genuine emotions and experiences. This verismo breathes life into each composition, ensuring that the album carries a sense of genuine resonance and connection. The songs are born from the depths of my romantic relationships, my personal history with individuals, and the triumphs I have encountered on my personal journey,” he tells us. His music probes us to re-evaluate our preconceived caprices of what art should be, even as we critique it — much like a storyteller’s characters oppugn the status quo, defying the constraints of culture and convention. Arjun’s inherent iconoclasm eludes prefixed categorisation. Watch him step into the role of a narrator who is reaching the light at the end of a tunnel and utilises a less-is-more vocal approach and expert production techniques to create striking and resonant compositions. The album echoes with verisimilitude, outperforming the shackles of genre and style.

How did your personal experiences and inspirations shape the direction of Industry 2?
My journey and the experiences I’ve encountered along the way have played a pivotal role in shaping the direction of Industry 2, my most personal and faithful album to date. I found myself breaking free from any sense of stagnation that may have hindered my artistic growth. The album’s track, Danger, embodies an upbeat energy that sets the tone for what lies ahead. It was a significant moment for me, as it marked a newfound level of trust in my abilities to not only write a single but to undertake the ambitious task of making an entire album. I just followed my artistic instincts and allowed the creative process to flow seamlessly as if the songs were manifesting effortlessly from within. But what sets this album apart is the sincerity with which I approached songwriting. Each track encapsulates a different facet of my life. I am going to immortalise these moments and emotions through the power of music.

Speaking of ‘immortalising your cherished moments,’ can you walk us through the themes and musical directions explored in the project?
At the core of this album lies a recognition of two fundamental aspects of life: people and places. These themes serve as the foundation for the exploration of experiences, personal victories, and the profound connections we form with others. It celebrates the idea that life is indeed about familiarity. It captures the essence of our shared human experiences and celebrates the power of connections and the memories we create together.

How do you perceive the evolving definition of music in this era of streaming platforms, and social media?
The democratisation of music consumption has led to a breaking down of barriers and a blurring of genre distinctions, as listeners embrace a diverse range of sounds and artistes. The boundaries between local and international markets have become more porous, as artistes can now crossover and find audiences beyond their home regions. One notable aspect is the rise of non-film music. With streaming platforms and social media, artistes have found a platform to showcase their work outside the traditional realms of the film industry. This has allowed for a flourishing of independent music scenes, where artistes from various genres can express their voices and connect directly with their audiences. Non-film music has carved its own space, enabling artists to explore their creativity and offer something distinct and special. It is an exciting time when artistes and listeners alike can navigate a vast musicality, and embrace the multitude of genres, cultures, and experiences that contribute to the richness of contemporary music.

How do you see the role of music in addressing societal issues and bringing about change?
Music has always been about change. While it may not directly cause societal change, it plays a crucial role in reflecting the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of a community or society at large. Now, activism is a derivative of music. The primary function of music is to reflect what society is feeling. It’s like a mirror. It holds up a reflection of our joys, struggles, and everything in between. It’s like an outlet, a way for us to express ourselves and connect with others and speak to them. We are not alone in our struggles and music can be a driving force for a hopeful transformation.

As an artiste with a global reach, how do you infuse your Indian roots and cultural influences into  music?
I have come to realise that adopting and celebrating my Indianness in my music not only connects me to my heritage but also offers a lens through which international audiences can experience and appreciate Indian culture. I believe that my music resonates with global audiences because it reflects my authentic self and showcases the diversity and richness of my country. The fact that an Indian artiste creates this type of music is significant and adds another layer of appreciation and understanding for listeners worldwide. While my music has a modern and urban sound, it still carries the essence of my journey and the cultural influences that have shaped me. This fusion of contemporary elements with traditional Indian sounds creates a progressive expression.

How do you sense the changing metrics of success in the music industry?
I think now musicians have greater freedom to explore their artistic vision and create music that truly resounds with them. One powerful impact of these changes is the increased accessibility and avenues for artistes to make a living through their music. Independent artistes like myself build sustainable careers based on our love for music. But again, it is important to acknowledge that there are still challenges and inequalities within the industry. Financial equality remains an area where growth is needed. While there have been strides towards implementing fairer royalty models, there is still progress to be made. It takes time to address and rectify these systemic issues. I think we are moving towards a more equitable landscape, and the music industry is gradually aligning itself with Western models of royalties and fair compensation for artistes. It is a positive step that recognises and values the creative contributions of musicians.

Industry 2 is streaming on all platforms. — @PaulChokita

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