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Of Contests, Self-Worth

In the documentary Insurgentes, about Steven Wilson’s musical thoughts and journeys – and an unofficial “50 Ways to Bleed Your iPod” (Wilson explores creative ways to annihilate his music player) – the brain and soul behind Porcupine Tree decries the American Idol-isation of the music business. Everywhere these days, music is being produced in puffed-up […]

Uday Benegal Mar 08, 2011
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In the documentary Insurgentes, about Steven Wilson’s musical thoughts and journeys – and an unofficial “50 Ways to Bleed Your iPod” (Wilson explores creative ways to annihilate his music player) – the brain and soul behind Porcupine Tree decries the American Idol-isation of the music business. Everywhere these days, music is being produced in puffed-up morsels of instant titillation. ”˜The Sound of Muzak,’ from In Absentia, bemoans that thought in beautiful tones. Everything is a popularity contest; the music merely a vehicle in that parade.

India can hardly be left behind, can it? And it’s not just those TV shows featuring bejewelled and bonded-haired filmi folks sitting in judgment of Sonu and Sunidhi clones attempting to warble Bollywood pap hits. The country’s rock scene seems to be equally obsessed with competitions. I am repeatedly invited to judge some event or the other – more often than not a rock band standoff. Sure, not every contest is a supreme waste of time, but most are. And too many of them project themselves as a “phenomenal opportunity” for upcoming bands to find their place on the international rock & roll map. Alas, playing at 9 am on the third stage located in a tent by the bank of porta-potties won’t do much for your career apart from offering you the opp to claim on your band bio: “Performed at [insert name of legendary festival]!”

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Rock competitions and award ceremonies aren’t all crap. They do offer a platform for aspiring new acts to gain some attention. But they are principally created to further the interests of the sponsor and the promoter. I hope bands haven’t lost sight of music’s first purpose: to create and express while connecting and entertaining.

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A recent judging experience turned out to a very pleasant one, however”¦ but for reasons other than the level of talent. My first instinct was to balk at the invitation. But I didn’t turn it down, mainly because of an obligation. I showed up at this New Agey South Bombay school to judge a singing competition; my expectations were low. I was surprised with how well organised it was. It moved smoothly and professionally, with little time wasted between contestants. What was most heartening, though – besides the spirit of the kids, who deserved admiration just for having the chutzpah to get up on stage and make a go of it – was the fact that their music teacher had centred the competition around the theme of Indian bands. Each contestant had to sing a song composed by a local act. The list featured tunes by Tough on Tobacco, Nikhil D’Souza, Pentagram, Neil Gomes (their music teacher, who also plays solo and as a sideman) and Indus Creed. The boy who won did a great job with Nikhil’s beautiful song ”˜Storm Without a Sky.’ When I left the school, I remember thinking how lucky those kids are. Lucky because I wish I had had a music teacher like Neil – or like my friend Kunal Basu, who teaches guitar at the American School in Bombay. They are very talented and wonderfully open-minded guides who speak straight to the interests of their students, who adore them. They’re teaching them Jimmy Page riffs and Green Day chord progressions as much as they’re rooting them in the fundamentals of music. My own school music teacher Ms Treasuryvala was a lovely lady. But I’d much rather have been belting The Who than trilling Trini Lopez. School instruction has come a long way. More power to Neil Gomes for instilling native pride via local indie music. Self-worth begins at home.

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