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  • Writer's pictureAbhishek Anicca

The great algorithmic trap

Mr. Kuhad, that's enough. I found myself mumbling to nobody as the ninth song of Mr. Kuhad echoed in my room. Which song was it? I don't remember. They were all similar. The vibe, as they say, was the same. And yet, Mr. Kuhad, an artist whom I had once adored, was suddenly irritating. I don't think he was at fault. He was just making his type of music. Neither was I, for repetition can make life cumbersome. I think I can safely blame the algorithm for this predicament.

As I grow older, I find myself choosing the path of least resistance. When I was younger, things were different. If I had to listen to music, I would find their mp3 files and download it from some shady website, with a side offering of viruses. Save it in a folder. Make playlists out of them. Every mood had a different folder. Happy. Sad. Party. Long Drive. Every genre had a different folder. My playlists traveled to the laptops of friends and acquaintances, and some remember me even today by my music 'taste'. But then we all grew up. Mp3s were suddenly out of fashion. Curation of playlists was too cumbersome. A Spotify membership seemed like a fair deal. What used to be an elaborate process to discover and listen to music gave way to a more passive process to do the same.

In my mid-thirties, I have become lazier and handed over the entire process to the YouTube algorithm. Every morning, I get up and play one of the playlists on the 'for you' page and although the playlists look different, at least that's the impression given by the thumbnail. It is only midway through the playlist that Mr. Kuhad quietly sneaks into the playlist. Even when

Mr. Kuhad isn't there, there are others in the playlist, eerily similar to his 'vibe'.

I know. What's his fault in all of this? And for all we know, the fault lies squarely on me. There was a phase when I was listening to him, day and night. Probably when other people were not listening to him, I was listening to Raat Raazi on repeat. I loved his music so much that I even wanted to go to one of his concerts. An honor I last bestowed on one my favorite bands, Indian ocean. Eventually, I didn't go to any of his concerts. I couldn't tolerate a crowd full of mushy people when my life was so bereft of romance. I did like the idea of going to his concert. I liked the idea of being one of the mushy audience members. I liked the vibe.

With the boom of YouTube though, Mr. Kuhad's music was everywhere. There were indie musicians from different parts of the country making music based on simple instrumentation and a melody uncomplicated enough to be an 'easy' listen. In that sense, the impact of Mr. Kuhad's music on the indie music scene in India has been immense. It has produced a genre of music that is defined by a simple, uncomplicated word - Mellow.

Mellow music is a genre defined less style and more by the vibe. There are four or five Jains, and a number of gentle ladies who are shining in the Hindi indie music scene these days. Underlined by minimal arrangements and soft, tender voices, it has almost taken over my world. If you ask me, I won't remember the songs or the artists but I can hum the melodies for sure. In fact, if I bought a ukulele, I am sure I can play some of them. If only I was younger, I could have even become part of this vibe. But sadly, my time is over. Mellowness doesn't come naturally to me.

In everyday life though, mellowness fills my room from morning to evening. One after the other, my YouTube playlists are full of soft tender voices saying lovely things and the music is subtle enough for me to not disturb me from whatever else I am doing. It is only when I really want to listen to music, that an existential crisis enters my life. What have I done to myself? How can I allow the algorithm to dictate my life? In this moment of crisis, I often turn to old gods. There was a time when you could listen to full albums of Hindi films without any sort of crisis. Singers had so much range that you could make a playlist for every mood out of their body of work. So basically, whenever there is a crisis, I turn into an old person and SD, Rahman, Amit Trivedi or Santhosh Narayanan give me some instant comfort.

Once this existential crisis is over though, I allow the algorithm to take over again. Because mellow is mellow and it isn't poking at me or making me uncomfortable, unlike world politics or the state of economy. Or my work. In the wake of this laziness, Mr. Kuhad and his friends, old and new, make way into my life again and say simple uncomplicated things about love. And for most of it, I am absolutely fine. Maybe because we all long for simple, uncomplicated love stories. Maybe because our lives are so devoid of love. Maybe because we are just exhausted and capitalism gives us no space to actually listen to music. Whatever the reason, I graciously accept defeat and give in to the algorithm. I just wish the algorithm took some mercy on me and played something different. At least once in a while.

ID: Man holding a guitar. Source: Google image search (licensed under creative commons)

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