Whisper it quietly, but we all know indie is sometimes a little generic, right? Four young lads with guitars, bass and drums – the last gang desperate to escape a boring town – wearing reassuringly uniform high street fashions and timeless haircuts, dreaming one day of getting a nod from a passing Arctic Monkey or Grandfather Weller. Yeah. That’s not Sundara Karma.
Let’s be honest here; even referring to Reading’s favourite sons within defined, generic boxes seems somewhat like chaining them to a particularly magnolia radiator at this point. Though their first album, ‘Youth Is Only Ever Fun in Retrospect’, played the indie hero game perfectly, by the time they brought it to a close at scene-Mecca Brixton Academy, they already felt like a band with far more to say. Once last year’s ‘Ulfilas’ Alphabet’ came round, they were a different prospect entirely – space glamsters fallen from the stars, infinitely more interesting than the bulk of their peers. Less an evolution, more a revolution in platform heels, it suggested that – while already brilliant – there was so, so much more to come.
That starts right now, it turns out, with a brand new EP of shiny, shifting future pop. The first taster of what promises to be a whole raft of new material to follow, it would be wrong to suggest this was Sundara Karma in their final form, but rather a fully realised, brilliant visage along the way.
Leader Oscar Pollock seems ready. “The timing just felt right for us,” he muses, when asked if there was a temptation to wait for these ‘uncertain times’ to regain a sense of normality before dropping something so startlingly new. “We want to get a lot of new music out over the upcoming months. No time like the present, regardless of all the horror.”
It’s that sense of brave endeavour which marks out a band unconcerned with the pressure of change – but that doesn’t mean each sonic shift is so deliberate. “It’s definitely not a conscious priority,” Oscar explains. “I think it maybe stems from a sense of not being good enough or not knowing enough because this then leads you onto learning and absorbing. I really want to push myself and improve as a songwriter so I think change is just a natural part of that.”
With an approach to music that’s developing in time (“the process is becoming more refined. I think I’m getting closer to ‘the source'”), it’s clear Sundara Karma don’t back away from the new. As the industry big wigs talk of acts needing to drop new music regularly in a streaming age, they’re the latest act to deliver new music in a more digestible chunk before getting into the business of a new album. “Truthfully I find it quite exciting,” Oscar confides. “We are definitely moving into the ‘vibe’ age, where a vibe or playlist is more likely to get the hits over an album.
“Maybe songs will be a thing of the past and people will just want a continual stream of lo-fi coding beats generated by AI,” he ponders. “This is already happening, though. I guess people just want to know exactly what they are gonna get when they click onto a link. If you’re writing great songs, you will be fine. Maybe not so much if your songs are mediocre. The robots will replace you.
“If you’re writing great songs, you will be fine. Maybe not so much if your songs are mediocre”Oscar Pollock
On the strength of the EP’s opening track, there’s little chance of that here. Described by Oscar as “a light-hearted way of communicating despair” that he looks forward to “playing live at our next show in about 10 years”, ‘Kill Me’ is massive. It leads off a collection of songs that channel the band’s creative spark through new, exciting prisms – co-produced alongside Charli XCX and Rina Sawayama collaborator Clarence Clarity.
“I love what all those artists are doing right now,” Oscar enthuses, “Clarence included. It seems that pop is pushing a lot of people forwards, and as a genre, it is encouraging artists to experiment and step out of pre-established ideas. This is so exciting for me.”
Even in that moment, though, there’s an awareness that the creative zeitgeist constantly shifts onwards. “Unfortunately I can already feel parts of this ‘future pop’ surge becoming overly saturated,” he continues. “This is only natural when something is great. I just hope we can harness some of the better qualities of this world and then project it back out in our own way.”
That’s not the only impressive team up Sundara Karma are offering. They’ve also joined forces with PC Music icon and creative mastermind Hannah Diamond, who is contributing in a sort of ‘creative director’ role. “Hannah and I are a powerful combo,” Oscar states, still managing to undersell their combined talents. “We draw our influences and references from the same pool of ideas. I have a tendency to not put a frame around my projects aesthetically, and Hannah has helped me rein it in with a ‘le chef’s kiss’ flourish.”
The aesthetic is something that Sundara understand brilliantly. Always overflowing with ideas, Oscar is firm in his belief that music and image are closely linked. “It’s amazing to be able to have the support from Hannah to help me figure out what Sundara Karma needs and deserves aesthetically,” he claims. “The idea is to create our own world not just for a release but for us, for us to feel like we have a strong identity within online and offline communities.”
Of course, five great tracks will only ever pose the question of what comes next. Though these are a collection of “both old songs I had been writing throughout last year and new material and a re-established focus that 2020 forced upon me”, the well is far from dry yet. There’s “soooo much new music on its way,” apparently – including, but not limited to, a third album. Whenever that arrives, we can be sure on one thing – it’ll be definitively Sundara Karma, no matter who that turns out to be in the moment. Generic? You’re having a laugh, mate.
Taken from the November issue of Dork. Sundara Karma’s ‘Kill Me’ EP is out 24th November.