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‘Saturn Return’ by Dee En is the sound of growing up and defining identity

Anyone who has been in a band knows how difficult it is to keep one together. As bandmates, you share not just your music, but the trial and tribulations that lend personality to your creative expression. As a band grows over time, so do the people and their ideas of life. In this deep enmeshment, one hopes that the band ends up finding a unique way of being together. Most of the time though, as we have seen from Pink Floyd to One Direction, the band breaks up, often in messy and public ways. In the face of these challenges, it is inspiring that Dee En has – in some shape or form – managed to stay together for over 6 years.

There is a certain innocence that comes with being a band of young boys who are producing experimental music. In the early days, when Arpan from Green Park was a part of the band, they featured as one of the bands on a show Bands on the Road, which never saw the light of the day – until a bootleg version released by the cameraperson a few months ago. In the musings of the young musicians, you can already see a glimmer of revolutionary thinking about sound.

Dee En began their journey when indie music was best associated with acoustic guitars and electronic music was thought to be limited to EDM. With deadpan and deep vocals, creative songwriting and a focus on experimental sound design, they have been pushing the boundaries of what it means to be an indie band. In their earlier releases, debut album ‘Whoopsie Daisy’ and follow-up EP ‘Poppin’’, their innocence with a bit of a tongue-in-cheek behaviour shines through. With the keen awareness of heartbreak in the lyrics and the psy-pop vibe of the sound, both releases firmly cemented their potential in the minds of fans who gathered to listen to them live at Magnetic Fields in 2018 and following live performances.

And then, like the rest of us, COVID reared its head and the boys had to grow up.

Describing the gap between their previous release, and their upcoming album, ‘Saturn Return’, vocalist Saurav Debnath says, “The last time we put out music was in 2020, which was ‘Live at Magnetic Fields’. Around that time, we began working on some drum machine-driven music, quite different from the psyche-pop stuff we had put out till then and had been busy performing. These sketches were what began to grow into the record, ‘Saturn Return’.

When COVID hit, we (Saurav, Aditya, and Ashrey) decided to spend some time apart, go on our own respective journeys, and figure out “life.” In that period, we sporadically worked, sometimes meeting in different cities. In fact, we worked on a huge part of the album online. In 2023, Aditya and I finished the record in Goa.

I’d say the experience has been filled with ups and downs, lots of re-configuring, adapting to newer approaches, and dealing with limitations introduced by the pandemic, and our newfound physical distance. Aditya moved cities to Goa in this period, and Ashrey was in between Varkala and Meerut. There were also the relentless and irrational thoughts of becoming irrelevant and questions about the future of the band.

At this point, it’s nice to look at the past and think to ourselves, “Thank god we didn’t give up” and realize how much there still remains to mature as musicians and human beings. Working with multiple creative minds can often lead to turmoil and differences, but having managed to finish the record together and the form it stands today makes it all seem worth it.”

Their upcoming album, Saturn Return, has evolved as the band has evolved. In astrology, Saturn Returns are 3-4 year periods, where the person goes through the first major crises that lead to ‘growing up’ towards their life’s purpose. They are typically marked by a change in personality, friends and often the essence of what it means to have an identity. With Covid and the challenges of aging, Dee En seems to have gone through the same challenges to produce this album. In his own words, describing the 4 years of the album’s creation, “We had a “cheaper” version of the same songs (now considered demos) back in 2022, and since then, it has been a process to, to put it bluntly, modernize and refine them.”

Recognising the unusual potential of their band members and perhaps identifying a growing appreciation in the audience for bold vocal-led electronic productions, in ‘Saturn Return’ Dee En changed their sound from its previous psychedelic vibe. Harkening to the 80s that ushered in clean layered synth tracks laid on top of punchy beats, the six tracks represent the transformational journey of the band.

The first single of the album, ‘Darling’, is a dance-pop number featuring a collaboration with Rohit Gupta/fursat fm from PCRC on the trumpet. Dance is such a core emotion of the track that it is accompanied by a dance music video shot and directed by Niharika Chauhan, Prabhakar Duwarah, and Ali Monis Naqvi featuring collaborations with Johanna Rodriguez (B-girl JO) and Shane Mendes, prominent figures in India’s breaking scene. Echoing through the video and in the song is the theme of facing one’s true self in the face of isolation, an experience that was omnipresent through the pandemic.

Before launching their second single ‘Troglodyte’ in mid-Feb, Dee En went of an album pre-launch tour. Playing at Orange Festival Arunachal Pradesh, Urban Mantra Guwahati, TPM Delhi, NMACC Mumbai and Gilly’s Fandom Bangalore, Dee En stole the show with their tight performances, highlighting the camaraderie in the band. On playing live after the pandemic, Saurav says, “We were quite excited to play live again, after a hiatus of 3 years. But without managers, figuring out logistics was extremely taxing, so now we’re more selective about the kind of shows we play, which helps us retain sanity.

Something that stood out for us was playing at NMACC. The crowd was extremely new. There were kids and adults who (we thought) probably wouldn’t show up at an average late-night gig.

Aditya, synth and keys on the band, chips in, “That being said, variety is still a concern. There are some amazing new acts, but the range of experiences around music is very limited, to the stuff that makes bar sales or the sanitized corporate-friendly stuff. There’s been a certain stagnation in live music events around us, but we hope that will be shifting with a younger generation coming in with a whole new set of tastes and a desire to form stronger identities around music.”

In their last pre-launch show in Delhi, they invited their collaborator Sijya who lent vocals for ‘Troglodyte’. Sijya’s dreamy vocals contrasted with Saurav’s deadpan tone, set against the backdrop of absolutely clean, melodic production, make ‘Troglodyte’ the star track of the album, atleast for us.

Slated to release on May 26, the 4 remaining tracks of ‘Saturn Return’ are marked by similar themes of what the band calls ‘adulting’. ‘Dad’s Achaar’, and ‘Margot’ will remind you of the earlier Dee En days with their slight edge towards psy-pop made bigger by the laid-back vibe and esoteric lyrics (and barking dogs?).

‘Prettier Beings’ and the final track in the album ‘What’s the Real Truth?’, nicely wrap up the end of the album which began with the disco-era ‘Darling’ by retaining the dance-pop synth lines but asking deeper questions which they will perhaps answer in their next album.

Apart from the obvious growth that the band has seen in its four years as people, the band members have changed their music. Saurav reflects, ”To be able to put out records that don’t sound alike has always been important to us because we have a collective instinct not to repeat ourselves. We get bored quickly and are always trying to change things up and push the envelope further with every release. To be always working with people who share these artistic values and who are patient and wired into the process has definitely been one of the highlights of our journey.

With the travails that come with it, traveling with the live band has been tons of fun, bringing us closer and allowing us to get to know ourselves and reach a high level of comfort with each other, giving a sense of community to the madness, the strong idea that we are in this together.

Lastly, especially with Saturn Return, we ended up working with people we hadn’t before. That has opened new doors to future collaborations. We’re learning to be more open towards it and not be inhibited by personal egos, which on some level was the case before.”

In the post-COVID independent music scene, there seems to be a renewed appreciation for bands. The OG Indie band, PCRC, has gone on its many country international tour and promising bands like Dee En and Green Park are beginning to make their mark felt across the fans in India. Perhaps, in response to the isolation and loneliness of creating individually that became such a feature of COVID has also motivated musicians to rekindle the magic of playing, growing and creating with a band. Dee En, with its strong artistic language and fearless creation, are a promising inspiration for musicians to look towards.

To any young musicians out there who are beginning to find their footing with music, Aditya says, “Don’t get so overwhelmed by the amount of options out there. Try weird shit, don’t be afraid of what people are gonna think, and always try and be true to yourself.

Don’t wait for anyone to do things for you. Do it yourself and make your own context. Build your own institutions.”

Saurav neatly wraps up their journey as a band with, “Clarity is good. Know what you’re diving into both artistically and professionally. I came across this Rick Rubin thought, “Your job and purpose don’t have to be the same thing” which on a deeper level offered clarity in separating creative expression from the pragmatic demands of life.”

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