The 2Stroke Tour: One Year On
How the multi-city tour changed the way independent bands think of getting on the road
It takes a special kind of ballsy to plan a five-city tour during the monsoon season in India, when most promoters, venues and bands alike are at their least willing to venture out. The inaugural edition of the 2Stroke Tour, which started off in June last year, was exactly that. Says co-organizer Uddipan Sarmah, who also played the tour with his post-rock band Aswekeepsearching, “I wasn’t planning on weather conditions or anything else during that time. The only tense moment was in Mumbai, when it started raining like mad. But luckily, 250 people showed up.”
2Stroke was born out of Sarmah’s fervor to take his band out of their hometown of Ahmedabad and co-organizer and Bengaluru-based investor Ramakrishnan Krishnan’s incubated idea of pushing the touring culture among independent bands. Three editions down, the touring series has given a handful of bands the chance to across the country’s top venues, made a profit and thus, created a brand name for itself. What originally started off as a tour for Aswekeepsearching, 2Stroke added Chennai garage rockers Skrat as crowd-pullers. Says Krishnan, “Uddipan is someone who’s willing to push for breaking status quo. For him, finding someone who didn’t think much about taking the risk helped him to get on with having the Tour as a series rather than a one-off.”
After three editions, Krishnan decided to end his association with 2Stroke for personal and professional reasons, but the gig series has clearly made its point ”“ touring for independent bands in India no longer has to be about playing one gig every weekend, but can be exactly like it is the world over, with back-to-back rigorous shows that test a band’s performance skills. And it doesn’t have to be loss-making. Krishnan says, “It [touring] can be sustainable; which is why I make it a point at the end of each edition of the Tour to announce that it was profitable – musically, experientially, financially.”
Touring for independent bands in India no longer has to be about playing one gig every weekend, but can be exactly like it is the world over, with back-to-back rigorous shows that test a band’s performance skills.
How did they get the model to work? Sarmah and Krishnan spoke to venues and had to work out different deals with each one, sometimes sharing the money they gained from gate entry fees or taking all money accrued from entry to pay the band and other times, negotiating artist performance fees with venues. With a fixed entry that was affordable but sometimes higher than the respective venues’ fees, a lot rode on just how many people showed up, whichÂ they did in favorable numbers. The organizers also planned travel itineraries and hotel rooms well in advance so that prices were kept in check. Skrat frontman Sriram T.T. says, “We said, ”˜These are the dates, please give us your venue’.” And the crucial step before that ”“ they had to make sure they found bands willing to rough it out.
For the touring model to survive, Sarmah says bands have to be willing to hit the road on these [or similar] terms of pay, time management and environments. He adds, “After interacting with bands, I realized only a few of them are interested in being adventurous and reaching out to more crowds.” The bands who were on 2Stroke have very little to complain about. Says guitarist Arsh Sharma from Delhi rock band The Circus, who recently played the third edition in March, “I come from a working, professional mentality, not like a rock star, privileged, ”˜give me-everything’ sort of mentality. I’d rather be a working musician than someone who gets a nice car at the airport.” Mumbai rockers Last Remaining Light’s frontman Siddharth Basrur also agrees that the conditions of touring was something that brought his newly formed band closer when they went on tour in September last year. “Your life is that band, your life is that tour and your life is that other band that’s with you. That’s all that there is. If someone calls me for a recording in Mumbai, I’m going to say, ”˜No, I’m sorry, I’m on tour right now, I can’t come to Mumbai.’ So you basically put everything else on hold, which is not necessarily a bad thing, because how often do you get to do something like this?”
It’s not as if regular, consecutive shows organized as a tour didn’t exist before 2Stroke ”“ bands ranging from Bengaluru rockers Thermal and a Quarter to electronica artists such as Nucleya and Dualist Inquiry continue to have packed calendars. 2Stroke did, however, nudge more indie bands to give it a shot without worrying too much about costs ”“ whether it was Bengaluru rock band White Mug when they launched their 2015 album Clown with a seven-city self-funded tour or when Delhi post-rock band Ioish teamed with Pune instrumental rock band Celestial Teapot for their five-city We Move the Big Sky tour in February this year.
It proves that the self-funded touring model set up by 2Stroke isn’t really a stray success case, nor do you necessarily need to coax brands to come on board as sponsors to make a tour work. Basrur says, “I think they got their equation pretty right. If yourÂ heart is in the right place and you’re willing to work, I don’t see why anyone else can’t do the same thing.” Even Chennai rockers Skrat, who have previously had tours come their way, feel brands would never see it as viable to put their money behind a band’s tour. Says Sriram, “Also, as an indie band, when you approach a sponsor, it just ruins it. Your entire appeal just drops down.” But the frontman adds that the 2Stroke Tour gave Skrat a lot more confidence as a band. He says of the business model, “It’s designed in a way that you don’t spend more than what you might earn.” Sharma of The Circus adds, “Branding is not the issue at all. It’s just a matter of planning and being adept at using Excel.”
“As an indieÂ band, when youÂ approach aÂ sponsor, it justÂ ruins it. YourÂ entire appeal justÂ drops down.”Â – Sriram T.T.,Â Skrat
With more bands approaching the 2Stroke team as well as trying their own hand at organizing tours, Krishnan says that “everyone needs to change, not just the bands. Venues, promoters and I think most importantly, the audience.” A lthough the investor admits that the format of the tour has now become “boring”, he believes they’ve proved their point with 2Stroke. Other bands are now looking to either hop on to the 2Stroke wagon or even put t oge t her t hei r ow n tour. He says, “One of the most gratifying aspects of 2Stroke [is] that musicians make time and take the effort to talk to me, figure out how this works, what the pros and cons are rather than just ask me to put them on the next one and end it there.”