The Rock Scene in India

polymer_jump.jpg“Us, and them and after all we’re only ordinary men.Me, and you.God only knows it’s not what we would choose to do.”
Lyrics from Pink Floyd’s classic Us and Them, on the Dark Side of the Moon. It is strange how these words from Messrs Roger Waters and Richard Wright symbolize what the English underground music scene in India is. The talent is bursting at seams, and seemingly, there are no takers. Cops routinely break up gigs, sponsors are hard to find, and cutting an album takes an eon, even for a proven band.
A glaring example of this prejudice against Indian rock music is my experience at a recent set of gigs. I was at the SAARC Bands Festival – a three day musical extravaganza bringing together all the folk-based bands from across the subcontinent. Indian Ocean were the main performers on the last day, and a band of that reputation had to cut short their sets because of intervention by the Delhi police. The following week, a cultural fest under the same umbrage, playing what is apparently ‘true’ Indian folk music with the ‘manjiras’ and ‘dhols’, and sexually frustrated sounding vocalists, was allowed to continue way beyond the deadline. I know this, not because Tyler knows this. I was there!At another recent gig, one of the biggest college fests in India was halted at 10:15pm, by the Mumbai police. A friend of mine was at this concert, which was headlined by two of India’s biggest bands, Thermal and a Quarter, and both our personal favourites, Zero. Now, for the layperson, I would like to tell you, that a band when headlining, plays for about two hours, including whatever time needed for change ups. Zero played for a meager 50 minutes. All in all, a disappointment for fans who were standing in lines for upwards of three hours.And they say, the scene is improving.The discouraging signs to Indian rock music aren’t a recent development. It has been the same way since the 80s when Farhad Wadia started the Independence Rock movement at Rangbhavan, Mumbai. “To yeh thé ab tak ke samachar, ab prastut hai pashchatya sangeet ka karyakram…” was the closest one ever got to ‘western music’ growing up in a small town in India in the late 70s and early 80s.Then MTV happened. The Gulf War forced open India’s gates to foreign invasion. And we are eternally grateful to them, for introducing Justin Timberlake, and Shakira to our already shorter than a nano-second attention span holding audience. The scope for original rock music in India should’ve grown, but it waned during those dark years in the early 90s.Not everything bad happened then though. We got blessed with Rock Machine/Indus Creed, and Parikrama. Indus Creed did have a few videos aired on MTV, but the audience’s reception wasn’t to the pleasure of most corporate honchos. Even Parikrama, the few legends that the scene here in India has, built a fan base playing covers throughout the 90s. Pentagram, Bollywood music mogul Vishaal Dadlani’s electronica quartet, is India’s fastest selling English band, and have the international sound needed to create an impact abroad which will make the industry honchos sit up and take notice. But I guess our romeos on the street need Vishaalji to keep Himesh bhaiyya company on the sets of some inane talent competiton show farce. The lack of personal and social expression in Indian film music can be the topic of another day’s discussion, so the less said about it, the better.The Indian rock scene seems to have become a melting pot of influences, and comes across as more open to experimentation than bands outside of the country. Add to it the plethora of options to experiment with, the rich and diverse Indian classical and folk music. This is where Indian rock bands have an edge, and a chance of creating sounds quite distinct from mainstream rock elsewhere. But no one in the country seems to have the time to give the good (or bad) ol’ boys of rock and roll a chance.Even a band of the caliber of Them Clones, finalists and performers at the original Channel V launchpad, one of the few promoters of original Indian English music, have been caught up with cutting an album for about three years now. As has been the case with many a talented Indian band, making English music has been the death knell on a career in music itself, atleast one of any financial remuneration. Once you start an English rock/alternative band, it is as good as rendering yourself untouchable to the record labels.Not that record labels are to blame. The popcorn eating, west aping, commercially glossed over youth of our now culturally bankrupt nation likes to listen to what the cool kids in the You-Es passed over as old stuff in the 90s. Nirvana, Metallica, Iron Maiden (or Maidan, for those who know what I mean), Linkin Park (and other alternate spellings) and a host of other sold out bands find safe hermitage in the minds of the senseless listener in India. Of course, listening to the stuff keeps them in touch with what the West is doing.And yet, there are the takers for Hindi bands.Bands like Euphoria have infused their music with local flavors from north India. And they sang in Hindi. Indian Ocean’s Kandisa is another brilliant example of how rock fuses well with Indian folk sounds. A new breed of underground rock music needs to be mentioned here as well. The Sutta song, and its ilk – India’s answer to indie music abroad – go a step further. Their nonchalant use of Hindi expletives ensured instant stardom among campus youths, and those long out of it but not yet the geriatric generation.Many bands still produce music in English – purely as an interest, and as a passion. The lack of takers for their sound results in bands doing their own promotions, and running from pillar to post to get gigs, while dealing with legal and police issues. It is a commendable achievement for the crusaders of modern music today, and the internet has been their ally. Free downloads, and gig promotion has been made easier with the virtuality of it all, and the Indian music industry has been shown the proverbial finger.The underground scene will not die here. Not as long as we have Junkyard Groove, and the Superfuzz, or Bhayanak Maut and recent Livewire winners, Amidst the Chaos, nor will Prestorika and Cyanide let the haters take centre stage. Doubters be damned. Us guitar starved music lovers will keep them soulless musicians at bay.As the cliché that gives everyone the passage to cool-ness these days goes – rock on.Vineet Kanabar