Teesri Duniya & The Audacity of Artistic Originality

Teesri Duniya & The Audacity of Artistic Originality

From challenging the musical status quo, shifting industry formats, and representing different cultures in their work, Teesri Duniya is a world of its own- a world many are starting to call home.

In a rapidly growing independent music scene, there have emerged lanes that artists often stick to for better or worse. These lanes are often segregated from each other based on factors such as the lyrics, the sonics, and the visuals. All too often, once artists find their lane or ‘sound,’ they stick to it for the sake of consistency, familiarity, or branding for their listeners. Amongst all this chaos of compulsion, category and constraint come a crew fresh in its approach towards music. This is an exploration into the world of Karun, Udbhav, and Raghav and the shared quest that is Teesri Duniya.

Teesri Duniya, the artist trio based in New Delhi originally came together in the year 2018, before which it was only a YouTube channel with a different name ‘Kalpa.’ Initiated by Udbhav and his close friend, Bhakti, it was later renamed to ‘Third World Inc,’ and the consequent transliteration to ‘Teesri Duniya’ happened once Raghav came onboard and it was decided that they want to make Hindi music as it had never been made before. The two had been friends and collaborators since school, so making something together seemed like the obvious choice. With Karun joining the jam sessions post his meeting with Udbhav in BITS Pilani, the trio was complete and ready to go.

Udbhav knew that Karun had written poetry ever since his days in school and once they figured out how the writing could be fit and delivered over the instrumentals, there was no stopping the trio that now boasts an impressive catalog of over four albums, two EPs, and countless singles over the course of three short years. However, their impact in the independent scene can be felt beyond the mere volume of work. In more ways than one, the collective has managed to challenge industry standards and formats by not adhering to any ‘rules’ of music.

Udbhav as he reminisces about his latest album’s inception says,

“The entire point of the album Yati is to stick it up to everyone who thinks that things are supposed to be in a certain manner. You can do whatever the hell you want.”

Udhbav

“All the music I had heard started sounding similar to me...like it was just conceived to work in the world and so, I wanted to make something different,” he says, commenting on the saturated sounds of the industry. This claim isn’t too far from the truth at all, for a lot of factors in fact force musicians to adhere to formats set by streaming and distribution services.

The YouTube channel Sound Field also discusses this at great length where they break down how music itself has changed due to technology, accessibility, and its curation. For example, currently, there is very little motivation for artists to make lengthier songs when it only takes a duration of 30 seconds for Spotify to register one stream/ play in their back-end for payouts. Since Spotify pays (very little) per stream, the focus for creators then becomes the replay value of a short song to maximize profit or to place catchy hooks and choruses as intros to compete for playlisting spots and curation for the sake of a bigger listening base. In the past, the ‘three-minute song’ format also came about as the compulsive force of the phonograph due to the limitation of old vinyl discs.

Limitations and obligations such as these result in the overcrowding of music that sounds similar in both sound and structure, leaving originality to those who would choose it out of their own volition as is the case with Udbhav and his peers. No song on Yati is under three minutes, with the longest one easily passing the ten-minute mark. As Rijul Seth of Prodigy Music remarks correctly, “People wrap up entire EPs in ten minutes,” stressing how almost every single track has the density of a four-five track EP packed into one.

Teesri Duniya has therefore already succeeded in causing an industry shift by refusing to play the game by its rules. Their rapidly growing listener base is also proof that listeners, too, crave experimentation and that the set formats are more for corporate ease than for the people that actually consume and make that music. Music must be seen more as a spectrum than a commodity, something that Raghav helps us understand further with his music.

Talking about his sound and the kind of music he makes he says, “I don't like polished elements in my sound. I like the roughness, that ruggedness, that rawness if you know what I mean.” Sure enough, elements of Raghav’s music sometimes sound rough as far as traditional musicality is concerned, distorted with off-kilter mixing and notes that don’t necessarily fit together in terms of music theory but are artistic choices born out of one of his influences- a genre known as ‘noise music.’

Noise music as a genre has always taken the artistic liberty to fight the distinction between what makes a sound musical or non-musical to challenge what is good or bad music. There is very little care for music theory, for time signatures, or for set meters and it often caters to a small percentage of the population. By mixing elements of noise music with his other influences of disco, pop, and dance music, Raghav bridges the gap between the polarised ends of the spectrum effortlessly.

Elaborating more on his influences, Raghav (earlier known as Kuns) reveals that he has been influenced heavily by legends such as Bappi Lahiri, RD Burman, SD Burman, J Dilla, Madlib, Kanye West, Tyler The Creator, etc when it comes to sampling and drum patterns. However, he also grew up grooving to EDM music legends such as Tiesto, Hardwell, Skrillex which pushed him to create more of House Music, Big Room, Progressive House, etc. It is only when he discovered hip-hop that he started vocalizing over his beats and leveled up as an artist. “In EDM, a beat is a track. In hip-hop, a beat is a beat,” he recalls his realization as he explores the perspective shift that was responsible for his vocalizations and the subsequent experiments.

Delving further into his quest for experimentation, Raghav remarks,

“Creativity is essentially recycling stuff...but you have to make it your own. I mean, human beings are multidimensional by nature so I can’t sit and decide that I’m on the trap wave and keep making the same thing over and over again. People do that, and more power to them, but I guess I just get bored. Experimentation for me has been the only constant and I can’t flip that switch inside of me.”

Raghav

All too often, you will find experimental elements full of authenticity in Raghav’s production. For instance, sometimes in the middle of the track, you’ll hear a door creaking open by accident and it will still make the final cut. “Sometimes it just happens, sometimes I deliberately add non-musical elements like that to make the listener feel like they’re in a particular space,” he states, explaining what differentiates a regular track from an ‘experience.’

Perhaps that is the right way (if there is one) to categorize Teesri Duniya-that they are an experience beyond just music because of what they bring to the table. Self-described as “existential pop culture” on their YouTube page, all members of Teesri Duniya present ideas that are oftentimes inaccessible to the general public in a manner that is understandable, enjoyable, yet free of compromise.

For instance, Udbhav’s album Nanku Sharma is an introspective deep dive into the nature of time and its perception, nostalgia and longing, duality and non-duality, self-confrontation and reconciliation, love, and much more. The language used is simple yet poignant, littered with light-hearted and witty observations to go along with the larger existentialist attitude. There is no separation between things traditionally deemed worthy of writing about in the popular culture of music and things that aren't.

For example, on the track Aajkal, you can hear Udbhav talking about waking up and being in a daze, confused, and cherishing the feeling of waking up to existence as implied by 'accha lagta ho kar,' one of the many lyrics that are open to interpretation and push the listener to dig deeper into a journey of philosophical and musical exploration. With the track titled 5 min you can see him talk about concepts such as the theory of relativity, but in a manner that’s digestible and fun. It is incredibly rare to find seemingly incongruent themes such as the two listed above on the same album but for Udbhav, all of it comes out as a philosophical and spiritual exercise. Both things are fundamental to human existence and experience, and so they must be expressed. In fact, the track Kehna focuses on his desire to express all there is and has been into words.

Another example of Teesri Duniya’s versatility is seen through Karun’s writing and delivery style. With a vocal cadence that is oftentimes bass-heavy owing to his baritone style of rapping, Karun makes his lyricism and its honesty distinctive and therefore more effective for the listener. “Udbhav had once suggested to me that I should use this texture more and try to rap deeper. I did, and my style has evolved from 2018 to 2021,” he says while also talking about how a lot of theatre practice may have also contributed to his grasp on modulation. “I wouldn’t say it's the most effective style of getting my feelings across, rather, it is one of the ways in which I do.”

Sure enough, apart from the baritone drawl, Karun has a lot more to offer including singing and using softer tones to get softer emotions. While a lot of his work is rap-oriented, he firmly believes that it is not to be boxed into hip-hop, for rap as a craft is just one of the many tools at his disposal to translate emotions. “You can get to know whatever is happening in my life by my discography,” he says, pondering over the prophetic quality of his writing from Lekh to Granth and beyond. The music encapsulates his fears, his love, his ambition, and more. However strictly in terms of artistic choice and craft, what stands out the most is the way Karun has structured the album Granth.

Karun does not occupy too much space on every single track on the album. In fact, he has a collaboration on every song on the project- something that is almost unheard of, especially in the hip-hop scene people tend to associate him with. This is a really interesting artistic choice and experiment because it shows that Karun hasn’t made decisions based on his ownership or authorship of the project. Instead, he has made choices that would be better for the music itself, even if it means him occupying less space, for sometimes it is the appropriate involvement on the track.

He also went a step further to not limit the album to a language by getting Achayan to do a verse in Malayalam on the track Seetiyan. Karun maintained that he isn’t confined to languages and loves to explore different cultural sounds and how they blend to form something new. Throughout the project, one can also hear verses in Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, and English, making it one of the most versatile and accessible albums to have come out of the independent scene.

All three artists have in their own way had the audacity to challenge the musical status quo on multiple levels. From shifting industry formats to being genre-fluid and having different cultures represented in their work, Teesri Duniya is without a doubt a world of their own- a world many are starting to call home.

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