Enough has been written about the Indian rock scene. Maybe you even registered the first few lines you read from impassioned rants before losing interest. Are Indian rock acts brimming with originality or did they use it all up in their names?
Didn’t we see you at that gig last week? The one you checked out because the front man is your roommate’s college bud. You heard the opening number, bobbed your head and then proceeded to drink till you found the bottom of the barrel during happy hours, while managing to annoy fans with your indifference. Remember the name of that song or even a verse? If you don’t, you are not alone. If instead you are filled with indignation since you were the one enduring the moaning about how not enough respect is paid to bands on stage, we feel your pain. This is the dichotomy of the “Indian rock scene.” A term as scattered as the phenomenon it’s meant to characterize.
The past few years have seen a steady increase in venues, a slow influx of sponsorship, a rise in independent record labels and sporadic foreign attention, but there are still miles to go before we sing. Granted the scene has stepped out of the shadow of a rebellion and is trotting the path to becoming a way of life but the tattooed sleeves and drumming fingers still hide behind collared beamngs and the sound of hammered keyboard as Indian artists’ continue trudging between the musician’s life and the salaried world. Holding down day jobs while spending evenings at rehearsals, recordings and gigs. Can you fault them? With college festivals still being the biggest revenue generators, gigs bringing in more money than album sales and even the best of venues acting as F&B spaces that use music for entertainment value; the Indian model is running on a trajectory opposite to the international one. Festivals that attempt venturing into uncharted territory are hailed in their first year and abandoned the next, because they don’t pay bands their worth since the organizers don’t manage to get adequate support and enough takers. Here festivals are sponsorship based unlike internationally where tickets sell like hot cakes. They are held in metropolises already reeling under rigid licenses, unrealistic deadlines and overbearing policing. So initiatives never get a chance to grow into a full-fledged movement.
More than anything, it’s a numbers game, literally and figuratively. However much we hate admitting it, Indian rock largely appeals to a minuscule demographic. Unlike the westward shores where it’s layman’s music, here it’s a luxury or the rich man’s guilty pleasure if you will. A comma in this sentence is imposed by regional language bands especially those churning fusion rock and Bangla rock but they still don’t account for a big enough slice of the pie. If you can tell us the last time you went to a store to buy an album of an artist you claim you love, we’ll rest our case. It would be easy to blame the ones who run things – Entrepreneurs, label managers, artist managers and their lot. Fact is the best and longest lasting bands are backed by a sturdy manager juggling many hats and the lone activist encouraging fresh talent (you know who you are, pat your back please). While their counterparts have an entourage of managers, producers, publicists, designers, tour managers, booking agents and the record label working for them. Our homegrown rockstars rely on a Man Friday who is mentor, mom and best friend and sometimes a roller. Who has time to pay attention to finer details, what with live performances being the only format that works, bands consider time on stage as the be all and end all. Behind the spotlight is the real action – building the PR, cutting records, interacting with fans, understanding the technical aspects. That is a loose end waiting to be tied up. Or you can just stick a pretty bow on it and not point out how competitive it can get, made obvious by the truth that many bands won’t go for another show. Camaraderie is reserved for non-headlining days. On this platform, one must also bitch out the media. While this piece was commissioned by an exception, not many radio stations, print mediums or TV channels would give dedicated pages to the cause of the indie scene. Some do their bit with an hour long music show every weekend or the obligatory band on their cover every other month yet you can’t pitch the most deserving names from this industry to an editor. What we want, nay need is a ballsy venue that holds 800 plus people, a proper setup not based on middlemen and sale ability with an infrastructure that lends itself to the scene and not the other way around. A wish list if there ever was one. And as artists learn to grow at par with the listener, to our resilient rockers we say, “Thank you for the music!”
write by Esperanza