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Get Up, Sit Down

Indian authorities have always been confused about the strange beast that is the rock concert. The general tendency is to approach it in the same way one would a Spic Macay recital. The first step is to make people sit down. The second step is to keep them seated for the entire duration of the show. We are without doubt the international pioneers of a new genre: sit-down rock & roll.

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Indian authorities have always been confused about the strange beast that is the rock concert. The general tendency is to approach it in the same way one would a Spic Macay recital. The first step is to make people sit down. The second step is to keep them seated for the entire duration of the show. We are without doubt the international pioneers of a new genre: sit-down rock & roll.

I remember a watching a gig in Allahabad as a schoolboy in the late Eighties. It was promoted as a “Night of Burning Guitars.” There were two bands: Alloy from Banaras Hindu University, and Impact which featured local boys, Amit Saigal, founder-editor of Rock Street Journal and Sam Lal, currently the editor of Blender India. The bands kept their promise and set fire to their guitars. Maybe not actually but to the audience they seemed genuinely ablaze. Every time we stood up to sway to the music, a panic-struck policeman would come rushing in from the sidelines and force us back into our chairs. By the end of the show we reached a compromise: We could stand as long as we didn’t move. I remember watching the last few songs standing at attention. I could have been singing the national anthem.

I remember a watching a gig in Allahabad as a schoolboy in the late eighties. It was promoted as “Night of Burning Guitars.” There were two bands: Alloy from Banaras Hindu University and Impact, which featured local boys Amit Saigal, founder-editor of Rock Street Journal, and Sam Lal, currently the editor of Blender India. The bands kept their promise and set fire to their guitars. Maybe not actually but to the audience they seemed genuinely ablaze. Every time we stood up to sway to the music, a panic-struck policeman would come rushing in from the sidelines and force us back into our chairs. By the end of the show we reached a compromise: We could stand as long as we didn’t move. I remember watching the last few songs standing at attention. I could have been singing the national anthem.

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I moved to Delhi for college. The IIT festival was annually the time when North Campus kids made the trek to South Delhi to listen to some homegrown rock from across the country. They had a lovely amphitheatre. The band would often be drowned out for a few seconds by planes flying overhead. It was, again, a sit-down event. One itched to stand up and growl ”˜I am alive,’ but wasn’t allowed to. There were monitors in the aisles who made sure.

Last year, I saw Indigo Children (formerly Superfuzz) play at Doon School. Doon spends a good amount of money to get bands down. It’s a great idea – getting top-of-the line national acts to perform in school. The bands get a captive, receptive audience, the kids an opportunity to listen to some original music.

The only flaw in the idea? Yes, it’s a sit-down concert. It’s quite a sight: Sanchal Malhar singing the lyrics to ”˜School’ on a public school stage, the same stage on which the school choir sits, and the headmaster takes assembly every morning. So there we have it: Malhar singing, “Let’s forget we’re a happy-hearted bunch of people today” to an audience of uniformed schoolboys all seated in neat rows, their backs ramrod straight.

And just last month we had the American indie act, The Black Lips, play a sit-down event in Chennai. Known for their in-your-face stage acts – puking and peeing is par for the course – The Lips, I suppose, got a little freaked out at the sight of a few thousand Tam Brams sitting stock still. The vocalist first flashed his willy, then dived into the audience. The audience erupted. Chennai, by all accounts, let loose that night. Good for them. Not so for the poor Lips who had to flee the state that very night to avoid obscenity and public disorder charges. Now who told them to turn a traditional Indian sit-down event into a festival of anarchy?

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