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The Crisis In Indian rock

Why is there such a poverty of talent in the Indian rock scene? The last two years have failed to produce promising talent who could turn into headlining artists and there are no new headlining artists on the horizon either

Lalitha Suhasini Aug 23, 2015
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Award-winning film composer A R Rahman is a headliner at Bacardi NH7 Weekender this year. Photo: Courtesy of Bharatbala Productions

Award-winning film composer A R Rahman is a headliner at Bacardi NH7 Weekender this year. Photo: Courtesy of Bharatbala Productions

In 2014, one of the biggest crowd pullers of Bacardi NH7 Weekender music festival, which has been showcasing alternative music artists across India since 2010, was Hindi film composer Amit Trivedi. This year, the festival will pull out all stops for the country’s biggest film composer, Grammy and Oscar award-winning AR Rahman. While there’s no denying that programming film composers are a sure shot boost to ticket sales, music programming at both festivals and clubs in India has hit a definite low. Says Vijay Nair, co founder of Only Much Louder, the agency that organizes NH7 Weekender says, “There are no new headliners.”

Consider this: Mumbai electro rock band Pentagram announced an indefinite hiatus in 2014, Kolkata rock band The Supersonics, who were shaping up to be potential headliners also called it quits this year, and pop rock band Zero, who gained a cult following, are no longer together. So what does that leave us with? Delhi rock band Indian Ocean, who are still going strong, despite having lost two key members, Bengaluru alt rock Thermal And A Quarter, Indus Creed from Mumbai, and blues band Soulmate from Shillong, among the headlining bands in the country. All these bands kicked off their careers in the Nineties.

The Raghu Dixit Project returns to perform at the Kasauli Rhythm and Blues Festival 2013

The Raghu Dixit Project returns to perform at the Kasauli Rhythm and Blues Festival 2013

Barring Bengaluru folk rock band, The Raghu Dixit Project, which was launched in 2007, Swarathma also from Bengaluru, who were formed in 2002, but broke through in 2006, and Mumbai electro rock band Shaa’ir + Func, also launched in 2007, there have been no new headlining groups in India. Incidentally, the music festival scene began taking shape around the same time, after witnessing a surge of talent in 2007. But the tide has ebbed. Indus Creed frontman Uday Benegal agrees, “Your guess is as good as mine. I haven’t heard a new band in the last two years. I think it’s a phase though. But had The Supersonics stuck around, they would have gone places, but they squandered that opportunity.”

Event organizers agree that the lack of new artists and headlining artists has been a major concern. Says Naveen Deshpande, founder of the Mumbai-based event management agency Mixtape, “This is probably a wave [the lack of talent.] I feel everything is moving towards electronica and metal has also kept the flag waving high.” The genres of electronica and metal have indeed seen a spurt of new artists and potential headliners including Donn Bhat & The Passenger Revelator (launched around 2013), who are managed by Mixtape, and progressive metal bands such as Skyharbor (launched in 2010) and Pangea (played their debut show at Rolling Stone Metal Awards 2012). Adds music journalist Amit Gurbaxani, founder of Mumbai-based news and culture website, thedailypao.com, “We publish listings for events happening every weekend in Bombay and Delhi, and find that week after week, 80 to 90 percent of the gigs are by electronic music acts.”

(from left) Nitin Mani, Ananda Sen, Rohan Ganguli and Avinash Chordia of The Supersonics. Photo: Shiv Ahuja

(from left) Nitin Mani, Ananda Sen, Rohan Ganguli and Avinash Chordia of The Supersonics, from Kolkata, who called it quits earlier this year. Photo: Shiv Ahuja

Rock as a genre has been stagnant. Says Subir Malik, founder member of rock band Parikrama and one of the most influential artist promoters in Delhi, “I agree that there is a lack of new names but I think the scene is more localized now. Bands that may be popular in say, Kolkata, may not be popular across the country.” Which brings us back to the question of a band that has a pan-India appeal making a breakthrough over the last two years. Himanshu Vaswani, whose company Bajaao organizes the Big69 festival, dedicated to metal, also agrees, “There is a dearth of new talent. Electronica is the new alternative and alt rock is dying. But I also think that the scene is more promoter-driven now than band-driven.” What Vaswani means is that the bigger the company or event that is promoting a band, the more exposure and following the band gets. For example, an event such as Ribbit, promoted by Pepsi MTV Indies that organizes it, has a better chance of drawing a crowd than just another gig at a venue. Artists such as Indus Creed’s Benegal agrees, “People are going to events and not to watch bands. It’s brands over bands.”

Kolkata pop rock band The Ganesh Talkies photo: Siddharth Dugha

Kolkata pop rock band The Ganesh Talkies photo: Siddharth Dugha

It isn’t easy for a band to sustain themselves. Ask a younger band such as The Ganesh Talkies from Kolkata, who broke through after winning the Converse Original Band Hunt in 2012 and they tell us how they’ve “martyred ourselves because it is impossible to be financially secure when you’re on tour for six months and essentially jobless for the next six.” Says Suyasha Sengupta in an email interview with Rolling Stone India, “We’ve learnt not to depend on the band for money because you either get to play the kind of music you want without compromise or you earn. You can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Adds Indian Ocean’s Rahul Ram, “It’s also the age of instant gratification. Bands want everything so quickly. Paise nahin bante hain. [There is no money.] This could be a reason.”

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Another reason why bands lose out is the lack of mainstream exposure. Radio, one of the biggest influencers in music, provides little support to bands. Says Benegal, “When we started out, there was just one music channel, which would play a video over and over again. TV gave us a lot of exposure. There’s very little opportunity for new bands.” Pepsi MTV Indies, which launched in 2014, organizes the gig series Ribbit in Mumbai every month, which is a bonus, but the channel isn’t generating a buzz, as say, a show on MTV India or VH1 India would. Says Sengupta, “Bands such as Skrat and PCRC have the power to influence an entire generation. We want to watch them on TV instead of the usual mediocre film music and mindless reality shows.”

The Daily Pao’s Gurbaxani also blames the lack of music venues to support the scene. He says, “Places and events such as B69 and Live From The Console where the focus was on the music and nothing else seemed like the incubators that would help new bands grow, but they’re practically not around today. Instead, we have more and more bars and restaurants where music is an ”˜add-on’, where bands are usually programmed on traditionally slow Thursday nights.” At venues such as Blue Frog and to an extent, Hard Rock Café, upcoming and mid-level bands are programmed during week nights with the weekends reserved for DJs, adds Gurbaxani.

Nischay Parekh (left) with drummer Jivraj Singh. Photo: Naman Saraiya

Nischay Parekh (left) with drummer Jivraj Singh. Photo: Naman Saraiya

But the fact remains that there are no new promising artists or rock bands. Singer songwriter Nischay Parekh from Kolkata, who was featured in our Artists To Watch Out For segment in 2013, and Prateek Kuhad from Delhi are the two artists who come to mind. Both of them are capable of holding their own at club gigs and festival stages, but no new band has emerged in the last two years that has compelled us to believe that this is the future of rock in India. Says Sengupta, “If no new talent has emerged in the last two years, then I think as musicians, as potential role models, we have failed to inspire. I think we should really sit down and rethink why we’re all here in the first place.”

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The article is an excerpt from our cover story, which will appear in our September issue.

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