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7 Toughest Moments in Indian Music in 2019

We recall those we lost, the gigs that were unceremoniously disrupted and the venues which had to down its shutters this past year

Rolling Stone India Jan 06, 2020

Music promoter Rishu Singh passed away in 2019.

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Rishu Singh has Left the Building

 One of the most recognized faces in the Indian independent music scene, Rishu Singh was a promoter for all things music like no other. Singh – who passed away in April at 41 due to a severe bout of jaundice – worked with everyone from Rolling Stone India and Sony Music India giving a voice for young artists to be heard. Based in Mumbai, he co-founded his own company ennui.BOMB in 2004 and hosted gigs at venues across the country mainly giving newer artists and bands a stage slot, alongside his yearly compilation album called Stupiditties (started in 2006). He was also a co-founder for crowdfunded gig series Control ALT Delete. In addition to managing artists, Singh also kicked off the traveling music festival New Wave Asia Musicfest, which set up in Goa, New Delhi and Bengaluru with varying success. What Singh gave to the indie scene was a lot of passion, guts and a DIY ethic that is second to none.

Bengaluru’s Venue Woes 

Bengaluru folk/groove metallers The Down Troddence at the Rolling Stone Metal Awards pre-show Insurrection 6.0 at the Humming Tree in 2016. Photo: Sairaj Kamath

In one year alone, an old legislation around licenses for live music and recorded music was enforced with a heavy hand across Bengaluru. BFlat, active for 10 years, had to shut its doors. Not too far down the road were their neighbors in Indiranagar, The Humming Tree, were also shutting shop after a shaky couple of years in their five-year run. Blue Frog too, the last in the country, has now transformed into Rasta Cafe. While smaller rooms have become more favored and venues such as Fandom at Gilly’s Redefined, SkyDeck at VR Bengaluru and Hard Rock Cafe survive, the city’s local authorities need to take a serious look at nightlife regulations. It would be one that puts the worries of resident associations at rest as well as ensures club venues keep the music going.  

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Still Battling Complaints  

Kerala hip-hop group Street Academics. Photo: Down Trodden

As if Bengaluru’s venue troubles weren’t already mounting, in July last year Malayalam hip-hop crew Street Academics had their set cut short and asked to leave the stage by host venue Foxtrot Gastropub due to demands for them to sing in Kannada. While that venue claimed they were only trying to “de-escalate” the issue, a few weeks later a cover band named Musication was assaulted after their mall gig at Phoenix MarketCity in Bengaluru. The mall remarked after the incident, “We have advised to every event organizer that artists should not get into direct argument with audience.” With more gigs across Mumbai too facing noise complaints which nearly shut their shows down, including crowdfunded festival Control Alt Delete, perhaps more event organizers need to be fully clued in by law enforcement authorities.

A Sudden Lineup Change

Shillong death metallers Plague Throat. Photo: Embor Sayo

No year in music is without its fair share of lineup changes and abrupt dissolutions, often leaving fans bewildered and heartbroken. Across that spectrum in India, we saw New Delhi’s Undying Inc replace vocalist Shashank Bhatnagar and drummer Nishant Hagjer suddenly with Sunneith Revankar and Jerry Nelson Ranee respectively. Then, Shillong death metal duo Plague Throat’s frontman Nangsan Lyngwa announced he was leaving to start another project, after disagreements about the future direction of the band with drummer Malice. Currently, the band’s previous Facebook page stands deleted, although previous updates about Lyngwa leaving are also missing.

There’s internal factors but there’s external ones too, like in May when Kolkata dream pop duo Parekh and Singh announced they would call off the tour promoting their dazzling new record Science City due to vocalist-guitarist and producer Nischay Parekh’s mental health battles and the anxieties created around touring and performing. 

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Last Minute Cancelations 

For the many big names that did make it down to India and the festivals that delivered the promised headliner, there were exceptions made this year as well. Producer-DJ Black Madonna pulled out of Magnetic Fields Festival a few days prior, citing personal reasons. Around the same weekend, American rock/metal band P.O.D. couldn’t make it to Orange Festival of Adventure and Music in Arunachal due to the tensions surrounding the anti-Citizenship Amendment Act in the North East. These unexpected situations have proven bad for organizers as well as attendees. 

The So-Called #MeToo Effect

OML Founder and former CEO Vijay Nair. Photo: Courtesy of Only Much Louder

Where everyone from former event/artist managers like Vijay Nair and Vibhu Sharma to Papon and Kailash Kher may have got called out and condemned, they clearly find collaborators and support today – whether it’s their employers taking them back, Bollywood or even a political group like the Aam Aadmi Party. Elsewhere, bands still return to High Spirits in Pune whose owner Khodu Irani was widely accused of sexual misconduct. Where the effect did hold ground was forcing culture platform Homegrown to cancel their Mumbai Music Week event in the light of nonconsensual behavior from co-founder Varun Patra.

Badshah, YouTube and Ad Words

When Mumbai hip-hop artist Badshah dropped his track “Pagal” on July 10th, the song had managed to set a new YouTube record with 75 million streams in one day, breaking K-Pop group BTS’ 74 million views in 24 hours for their video “Boy With Luv.” However, Badshah did not get any acknowledgment from YouTube and his feat was ignored by the video streaming platform. While many suspected that this was due to the alleged use of bots to get “fake views” it was later uncovered that the Sony Music artist and his team had bought advertisements by using Google AdWords that led fans to the video. Major labels are known for buying ads on YouTube to gain millions of views where even if users see the ad for just a few seconds, YouTube counts it as a view. In Badshah’s case, however, he may have just taken things a bit too far.  

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