| 10 Dec 2023
Kunal Choksi: Big bands did not become big by playing covers

MUMBAI: The 2005-formed online extreme metal magazine and record label Diabolical Conquest, which is now called Transcending Obscurity (TO), is a product of Kunal Choksi- a true ‘metalhead’. Amidst the chaotic world of independent music, Metal in particular, he is among the few crusaders striving hard to build the right platform and ecosystem for Indian and International acts.

The bands, signed under the sub-label, include Albatross, Devoid, Gutslit, Halahkuh, Gaia's Throne, Grossty, Djinn and Miskatonic, Dionysus, 1833 AD, Dormant Inferno, Chaos, Fragarak, Cosmic Infusion, Wintergate, Orion and Insane Prophecy, among others. Choksi plans to increase the number and hinted that there might be a "couple of signings on the sub-label this year.”

Choksi has been promoting the Indian metal scene through his label Diabolical Conquest, which operated in New York and Mumbai simultaneously. However, the label initially dealt only with international bands, before venturing into the Indian market. The rapid surge in the Indian Metal scene due to the growing interest of metal bands to take their music seriously and professionally, prompted Choksi to sign Indian bands under TO. He believed that there is a need to create a support system for the bands in India.

TO had its own share of teething problems when it first started out. Not many were aware of Choksi’s underground background and prior experience. Commenting on his journey, Choksi said, “Bands suddenly began questioning my integrity and taste. But I was clear in starting a different entity, a sub-label, so that I could distinguish my activities from what I used to do with international bands. TO started off as a sub-label in India.”

With his experience in the underground music scene, Choksi created a distribution platform for Metal bands. Now, almost a decade after the company has been formed, it has a long list of international and Indian bands. Some international acts include The Dead (Australia), Norse (Australia), Fetid Zombie (US), The Gardnerz (Sweden), 7.H Target (Russia) and Inhuman Remnants (Australia) among many others; and Indian bands includes Halahkuh, Rectified Spirit, Systemhouse 33, Wired Anxiety and Fragarak among others.Choksi also said that the label has been assisting upcoming bands that are "serious about their music", enabling them to spread their music across the globe through physical and digital channels.

Publishing, distribution and aggressive promotion of recorded music is Choksi’s primary concern. Choksi added, “We are not necessarily working with live shows, but rather working with recorded music, publishing it and promoting the best out of it as far as possible. It is about giving bands a new lease of life, a newfound hope that their music will be spread once they make the effort and investment of recording it in the first place. Music must, and should be given preference - because everything else, including live shows, depends on that. Without music, there is no show in the first place. Big bands did not become big by playing covers, but by playing originals and putting out a slew of releases."

With regards to commercial viability, Metal is a niche market, as it is not mainstream, yet there is no near term commercial viability in sight. TO, however, is striving to at least give them the attention they deserve in the relevant media, and more importantly, give them the creative freedom and hope to carry on with their passion. In the past few years, more Indian bands have started playing abroad; bands like Gutslit, Albatross and Devoid, among others, all on the Transcending Obscurity India sub-label. However, while more and more bands are vying to play overseas, the finances remain a struggle, revealed Choksi. "Even the biggest metal bands from the country do not have their travel covered, and so it is not always a feasible thing to do. But merely for the propagation of their music and growth of their fan base, bands are taking the plunge. It is the same thing internationally too, unless the bands in context are very big.”

Choksi also pointed out that there are times when bands belonging to different sub genres of metal would undermine TO’s intentions, despite TO's sole purpose of helping the Metal community. “There are people who belong to different cliques like the underground clan, old school clan, new metalcore clan, etc. who point fingers, rather than realising that I am ultimately looking at the larger picture by helping out bands, both big and small, with their music. It is sad that a few of them do not always wish well for others, while hoping to get maximum benefit from me for their bands only.”

While there are not many labels in the country that promote metal, TO aims to provide international exposure and a distribution network to Indian bands, which they would otherwise lack. Since its inception in 2005, Diabolical Conquest, which re-christened itself as Transcending Obscurity in 2013, has promoted hundreds and thousands of bands. He added that it is easy for a band to get popular in India as the metal community is a close-knit circle. But the real challenge in India is having Indian bands contest with international ones for visibility.

Choksi pointed out that one of the reasons for this is that there is a lack in the concept of originality among Indian bands. “They remain safe, and stick to a tried-and-tested sound laid down by international bands. But things are getting better each day. Bands are aiming to carve their own sound, go for an international-standard production and packaging, and most importantly, are not merely content with satisfying the local audience only,” he added.

He concluded with a simple message that things would improve only if fans value and respect the music of these bands and buy original music, rather than downloading illegally it or buying bootleg merchandise.

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