Post-Rock In The Present
A look at the growing post-rock and instrumental rock scene and how Bengaluru became synonymous with the genre
What happens when five post-rock artists walk into a bar? The song never ends. Jokes aside, post-rock bands are on the firing line for a lot of things including seemingly never-ending instrumental passages, five-word band names, even more tedious song titles . But like any sub-genre, post-rock, which started out as early as the Nineties with bands taking root in all parts of the world including the U.S [Don Caballero], Canada [Godspeed You! Black Emperor], Scotland [Mogwai] and Iceland [Sigur Ros], has its own army of followers.
There’s a story about Sigur Ros that immediately gets our underdog vote. The Icelandic band featured in an episode of The Simpsons [“The Saga of Carl”] in 2013. It is rumored that the episode received the lowest rating that the cult animated show has ever recorded. Of course, post-rock loyalists take great pride in the episode that received little love from even the most diehard Simpsons fans. Closer home, Delhi guitarist, vocalist and producer Ritwik De’s post-rock project, Zokova, would not exist but for Sigur Ros.
While Zokova began performing only in 2014, it began to take shape in 2005 when De’s father received a CD of Sigur Ros’ 1999 album Ágætis Byrjun from a Swedish friend. Recalls De, “I didn’t get what was happening when I first heard it, because I was into Led Zeppelin and stuff at the time. I played it a year later and from then on, I still connect to it emotionally.”
De dug deeper into the genre to find artists such as Slint [who are, for their 1991 album Spiderland, called one of the first post-rock bands], Mogwai and lesser known bands such as LA instrumental rockers Signal Hill. De, who set up Zokova in 2008, is recording his second album with drummer Suyash Gabriel and bassist Amar Pandey at his home studio, with plans to release a single in June. De admits, however, that he didn’t come across any post-rock bands in India before Until We Last from Bengaluru began releasing demos in 2011.
The Indian post-rock saga began a decade ago in Bengaluru. The city has been an incubator for several post-rock groups starting with a band that had only a two-word name and too short a life span: Lounge Piranha. In 2005, Lounge Piranha’s guitarists Kamal Singh and Abhijeet Tambe recall browsing MySpace – the social network for musicians before Facebook and SoundCloud took over the internet – to find a genre that could best describe their music. Singh, now part of lo-fi rock band Hoirong says, “The description of post-rock seemed to fit for us – using rock instruments to create non-rock music. I think Wikipedia said that.”
Singh discovered post-rock as he tuned into bands such as Sigur Ros and American post-rock band Explosions In The Sky via Internet radio. While Singh says Lounge Piranha’s bassist Rohan Ramesh was also being drawn to the genre, drummer George Mathen says he had never heard of it. Says Mathen, “I thought it [genre tag] was a marketing thing.” Although Lounge Piranha weren’t the kind of post-rock that was already making waves internationally with bands such as Mogwai, Ireland’s God Is An Astronaut, Sigur Ros and Explosions In The Sky, they did set the precedent for creating trippy music that combined both acoustic and electronic music. The band released their debut album Going Nowhere in 2008 before calling it quits in 2011, but had inspired several other bands in the city to pick up where they’d left off.
Post-Rock in Bengaluru
Until We Last, Farfetch’d, Space Behind the Yellow Room [SBTYR] and Stuck In November are all post-rock bands from Bengaluru that have been gaining a following. Ask Ketan Bahirat, who started Until We Last as a solo studio project in 2011, about the first Indian post-rock band he’d heard of, he’ll point towards The Eternal Twilight, an ambient rock project comprising Mumbai-based Noor Kadiwala, Rawalpindi, Pakistan-based Abbas Haider, New Mexico’s Quinn Montoya and Germany’s Christian Erfurt. He adds, “I watched Lounge Piranha for the first time with my dad when I was 16. They were doing stuff other bands weren’t. The one band that pushed me into recording music was [American ambient/post-rock band] Hammock.” Until We Last only started putting together a stable lineup in 2013 and released their debut EP Earthgazing in 2014.
Bengaluru-based musician Akash Murthy, who started Farfetch’d in 2011, was inspired by The Eternal Twilight as well. Farfetch’d, who released their debut album The Alchemist in 2013, have just begun performing, and like Until We Last, began as a bedroom studio project. Influenced by the likes of Polish band Tides From Nebula, Murthy says what really drew them to their sound was that these bands “got their music to sound so heavy and full, just by using layers and layers of clean tones and with very minimal or non-existent distortion.”
Ahmedabad post-rock band Aswekeepsearching’s frontman Uddipan Sarmah says he first took to post-rock only after he’d heard the likes of Lounge Piranha and later, Until We Last, when he moved to Bengaluru in 2006. Says Sarmah, “It was about the energy and live vibe [of post-rock] more than the instrumentation.” He feels there’s an audience ready for post-rock not just in Bengaluru, but all over India. Sarmah recalls one of his shows at Mudra Institute of Communications in Ahmedabad, after which people recognized Aswekeepsearching as post-rock. Their USP for gaining a bit of worldwide press – at least from post-rock blogs and websites – was due to their Hindi vocal harmonies, which are sparse but present. Sarmah admits they would’ve been just another post-rock band if it wasn’t for the Hindi vocals to give them a unique identity, but adds, “No one has called us a Hindi rock band yet, we take pride in that.”
In the last three years, there have been many more instrumental and post-rock bands taking root in other parts of the country including Mushroom Lake from Thrissur, Kerala, A Mutual Question from Pune/Mumbai, Ioish and Mellowghost from New Delhi and Aswekeepsearching from Ahmedabad. Murthy rattles off a few more names to watch out for in post-rock from Bengaluru – upcoming acts such as Space Is All We Have and Coma Rossi. The guitarist echoes a sentiment that De, Bahirat and even Singh agree with. Says Murthy, “Perhaps, musicians are trying to move away from the mainstream sound and try something new and exciting, to stick out from the crowd. And in the process, they get hooked on to the genre.”
Bahirat adds that in India, bands are doing things differently compared to international post-rock bands, adding unorthodox vocals like Shoumik Biswas’s rage-filled refrains on Space Behind the Yellow Room’s 2014 debut Conversations That Determine A Life, or singing in Hindi, like Aswekeepsearching did on their 2014 EP Growing Suspicions. SBTYR have also become one of the first post-rock bands to play an international show, performing at Music Matters in Singapore last month, while Aswekeepsearching are prepping for a five-city tour with Chennai rockers Skrat this month.
Vocalist Biswas says SBTYR received praise and made a few fans in Singapore who called their music “unexpected,” but likens his band to being not just post-rock because it has long instrumental sections. Says Biswas, “In my head, post-rock is the same as post-modernism. It’s just breaking down the structures of whatever has been composed the way they used to be.”
Like his own band, Sarmah’s advice is for bands to “come out, knock on doors and get gigs outside their own circuit.” He adds, “Unless a community builds [for the genre], you’re going to have trouble getting people to attend a show. But I’m sure it will come up. Bangalore had it, so it’s time for an extension.”
2Stroke Tour ft Aswekeepsearching & Skrat:
June 17th – Blue Frog, Pune
June 18th – Blue Frog, Mumbai
June 19th – antiSOCIAL, New Delhi
June 20th – Hard Rock Café, Hyderabad
June 21st – Indigo Live Music Bar, Bengaluru
Event details here.