Despite the rise of independent labels over the last 5 years, the landscape is pretty barren. Independent labels struggle to last as long as we have conglomerates dictating the monopoly. A shining beacon of hope amongst them is Qilla Records, a record label and collective based out of India since 2011. Over the last 10 years, they have managed to consistently onboard and promote talented techno artists from their roster. In fact, they are one of the few independent labels that have a clear vision of their sound and how to approach the audience with it.
In the last 5 years or so, the label has focused on releasing music by somewhat accomplished artists. The label head, Madhav aka Kohra, has been the torchbearer for techno in the country for a long time. Some of the artists that they often work with – Audio Units, SHFT, FILM, Vridian – have been at the forefront of steering the proliferation of electronic music in the country. With Forte and Artmosphere, the compilation series that they release, they have featured up-and-coming artists who weren’t on the roster and were beginning to make a mark in the scene. It is not an overstatement to say that Qilla has been a good example of how to make a mark in the Indian industry.
Now that Qilla has established a footing in the scene, they have a chance to guide how it grows. In a bid to evolve the scene, they have begun releasing debut albums by relatively newer artists. In December, Vishal Unni, who also represents their A&R and Communications, released his debut EP Rarefact and in January 2023, ARTIVCT released his debut album Beneath the Surface. It is interesting to note that both albums veer towards a more meditative form of techno than the label’s previous releases.
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Vishal is a Bangalore-based producer & DJ, with a sound that can be described as a symbiosis of the deeper realms of techno, with futuristic soundscapes and psychedelic characteristics. He’s also an electronic music production tutor, and an admin for the Swedish psychedelic deep techno label, Hypnus Records. The release starts with ‘Speck’, a straight-up techno track that establishes the melodic abyss that is the EP. This is followed by ‘Asthayi’, his take on a broken beat odyssey that combines hypnotic leads and classic 303 synth sounds. With the energy building up, next up is the title track, ‘Rarefact’ which has emotive textures and bubbling tension ideal for the dancefloors. The final track, ‘Pseudocerastes’, begins with a simple psychedelic beat set against melodies that weave in and out of the track to culminate into middle-eastern throwbacks.
Close on the heels of Rarefact, Delhi-based producer, Siddharth Sharma, aka ‘ARTIFVCT’ released his debut album with Qilla Records on January 9th. ARTIFVCT formulates a 10-track voyage across the spheres of the deep & hypnotic cosmos. In the making for more than a year, ‘Beneath the Surface’ takes a minimalistic approach, with effortless grooves and simple motifs that continue to evolve over time.
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From the ominous meditative title track, ‘Beneath the Surface’, the album covers a range of bouncy broken beats, haunting pads, and organic percussions that can be heard in ‘Stigma’ and ‘Dystopia’, to more dance-oor driven grooves fused with modern synthesizers that are present in ‘The Curse’ and ‘Metanoia’. Spiritual emanations can be felt from ‘Bhram’, which then lead into the mystic undertones of ‘Hysteria’ & ‘Eclipse’. He then shows us his aggressive side with ‘Out of Order’, a strong chest thumper with tribalistic senses before ending with, ‘Nubra’, an atmospheric & melancholic closer with tranquil vocal atmospherics.
To better understand Qilla’s plans for 2023, we reached out to Vishal. The following answers have been edited for readability
1. What can we expect from Qilla in 2023?
2023 looks like an important and exciting year for us. Since our inception in 2011, Qilla Records has now evolved into a multi-faceted collective. We function primarily as a record label and booking agency but we’ve also been venturing into the world of hosting our own tours and curating events.
On the releases front for this year, we look forward to diving further deep into our already vast musical landscape. Our rst release for the year is ARTIFVCT’s 10-track debut LP after which, we have another debut album by I7HVN scheduled to release soon. We also celebrate our 100th release later this year and while we can’t say too much just yet, we’re excited to memorialize this milestone with some of our favorite artists from around the globe.
Hosting our own nights is something that we’ve constantly been working on as well. We just hosted a very successful 10th & 11th edition of our modular club night, ‘Sacred Alchemy’, in Hyderabad & Delhi, and are super excited to be taking this IP to various unexplored cities across the country in 2023 and introducing the sounds we’re digging to new audiences. We have a special 12th edition planned in Goa very soon.
Since we often need inspiration from the music scene around the globe, we like to bring that back to our community by hosting various international artist tours and executing events. We just finished a 4 city tour with Berlin-based Amotik, and have a lot more lined up for the rest of the year.
On the booking agency front, we currently have the biggest and most versatile artist roster we’ve ever had in the last 11 years of our existence. A lot of our artists closed out 2022 strong with releases on notable labels and many international dates under their belt. Our aim is to keep this momentum growing in 2023 and work towards introducing sounds from the subcontinent to international landscapes.
We also started the year with our biggest yet merchandise drop yet consisting of a series of handmade t-shirts, joggers & shirts created in collaboration with the Goa-based Dacoit Studio. The designs for our limited edition t-shirts have been conceived by Studio Bigfat run by Bombay-based Aniruddh Mehta aka The Big Fat
Minimalist. You can hope to see many more limited editions drops throughout the year as we will be collaborating with a variety of visual artists in 2023.
Another initiative pretty close to our heart is ‘The Fort’ – our digital safe space on Discord. After the pandemic, we felt there was a need for a more intimate dialogue amongst the music community apart from social media – not only to share music, releases, etc but also as a way to provide support for each other and openly discuss any challenges that might come up when pursuing a life in this industry. So far we’ve hosted DJ & production challenges and various skill-sharing activities, and look forward to building on these kinds of initiatives in the coming year so as to grow and cultivate a continuous conversation with our community. The server has grown significantly with over 350+ music enthusiasts across the country.
2. Is releasing debuts a conscious step from Qilla to evolve and grow the scene?
Although a significant amount of our releases have been debuts, our primary focus has always been on the music and what gravitates toward us.
In the case of ARTIFVCT, we honestly hadn’t heard of him before, but the music he sent us immediately stood out as it was perfectly aligned with our vision. It was originally supposed to be a 4-track EP, but his quality output and work ethic made us feel there was scope for a long-format release. The album took its final shape after many rounds of continuous and constructive feedback between Siddharth, Madhav & Vipul for over a year.
We’ve always aimed at being something a little more than a conventional record label. Instead of only signing tracks that are good to go right o the bat, we also provide detailed feedback and suggestions for improvement on the demos that we feel have potential and look for ways that we can try to help and develop the artists we work with.
3. How should artists who are interested in being featured on compilations or releasing on Qilla approach it? What should they consider (genre, style, experience etc.)?
We encourage artists to nd themselves through their music and art without restrictions – therefore genre style and experience don’t matter. In fact, we often nd ourselves tuned into styles of music that we haven’t released previously.
The principal ingredient for us is to t with our ethos. It’s hard to really be specific about the criteria, as sometimes we don’t even know that we want to release something until we’ve heard it.
Apart from the music itself, it’s always nice to know more about where the music is coming from. So share a little bit about yourself. We’d love to know your story.
All that being said, it’s still important that the music we hear is exclusive and sent to the right e-mail address. Having a good understanding of the label that you are sending your music to and assessing their vibe via their previous releases is a good tip for having your music released.
You can send in your music via a private SoundCloud link or Dropbox/Google Drive link to [email protected], and we’ll give it a listen.
We, like Qilla, can’t wait to see what 2023 brings for the label and hope to see many more debuts and artists from them!