Adding to the noise

24 Jun

For a long time, I have only listened to international music. My first real connection with Indian independent music was listening to Zero. My second connection was in 2008 when I was making a CD of songs by Indian bands for my friend who was leaving for US so that she could take some good memories of the Indian rock scene with her.

cover art for the Stupid Ditties 2 compilation

It was sometime in 2010 that I started listening to more Indian bands. Until that point the only band I really liked was Motherjane which I had heard the year before at a MySpace concert.  I attended a few gigs sporadically with friends but never on regular basis. International music still dominated my iPod between Indian bands like Zero, Blackstratblues and Scribe. It was not until I attended three gigs in a week sometime in May, that I really got hooked onto the independent music scene.

Following that I joined Twitter and started following people related to the independent music scene in Bombay. Plus attended a couple more gigs. What I have discovered is that the music scene is like some huge underground movement really waiting to explode. The one show by Blackstratlbues at Valhalla had a total secret show vibe to it. When I saw the performance area and the crowd swaying to the music, it was like being in some cult society which was a big secret that nobody knew about. This is not really true. But it is not too far from that.

Everyone in the music scene seems to know everyone else. And all of them seem to be working in harmony as well. Bands always ready to plug for other bands, inform their fans about gigs, publicising how this new punk band is so cool and so on. Plus getting on Twitter helped me discover new bands and read a lot of music related articles. So where exactly is this leading to? An outsider’s opinion on the music scene in India.

Warren Mendonsa - Face of Blackstratblues and one of the finest guitarists in India

Right now, the music scene in Bombay is such that it is on the cusp of something monumental. Probably I feel that because I know what has really been going on recently regarding music. But the masses don’t know about that. Forget most of the people who like listening to Bollywood music. But even people who are die-hard fans of bands like Slayer or Porcupine Tree or Metallica haven’t heard of Blackstratblues (true story) leave alone something as low key like ‘Pip of the Fourth Mother’.  For that to change independent music really needs to be sold. Shamelessly, forcefully and without any second thoughts.  Most bands are already doing this but they need a support group outside of their little circle of friends. You like a band and want to see it work? Tell people about them. Put up links on Facebook and Twitter Yes the bands do it anyway. But when you are putting up a video of the ‘baby slapping a dog’, try and let people know about the Indian bands too.

Spam your friends’ inboxes with links to their music. Support them by attending their gigs. And not just the free ones. The pen is your weapon? Write about the band on your blog. Want to sound cool in your little group of college friends? Tell them about this supercool band you discovered and drag them to a gig.  The bands need support from the music industry too. Vh1 India has some section called as ‘India Rules’ that comes from time to time but it has no permanent slot so the audience don’t get a chance to see Indian bands regularly. Indian bands frequently. Plus I think at some point there was a video of ‘Paper Planes’ by M.I.A (FYI she’s from Sri Lanka). So it beats the whole point of ‘India Ruling’.

Metal band 'Scribe'. Swept the Rolling Stone Metal Awards(Critics) in 2010

So how are the bands coping with this? Bands have a DIY attitude that seems to be working. Plus they have the support of many like-minded people, some who gave up their six figure paychecks to work with a record label in Bombay. Some of the more famous musicians have a street team that goes all out in promoting the band and its music. We can crib about the lack of support from the mainstream media and the government’s apathy towards western music. It will always be there. But since a long time, I think the indie scene has accepted that and has resolved to make them heard through their own initiatives and ideas. Remember NH7 Weekender at Pune?

At times the bands are at fault too. You don’t find many Indian bands on Vh1 because on most occasions there isn’t a video of their songs. Also one of my friends was complaining as to how hard it is to buy Indian rock music. Bands don’t really make it easy for the listeners. In this day and age, where an iPod is so frequently used, the least the bands could do is make their songs/albums available for download on their website. Parikrama, which was formed in 1991, have yet to release a full length album though they did release a multimedia CD of their singles and videos. You can on most occasions get a physical copy of the album at a gig to launch the album. But hardly ever afterwards.  Slow internet connection in India is the bane of downloading entire albums. So if the bands, took an effort to make their album CD easily available, I am sure many of the indie scene supporters would pay the Rs 200 it would take to get their hands on the album.

So what’s my opinion on the indie music scene in India? We started slow off the blocks. But the scene is changing for the better. Many independent musicians are working in mainstream cinema. Entire soundtracks for films are composed by ‘alternate’ musicians who employ independent singers too. Let’s face it, Independent music is never going to be more popular than Bollywood and become the main form of entertainment for Indian audiences. It will always be considered as left-of-the-centre. And that may well be the biggest advantage. Because without this ‘indie/alternative’ tag, film-makers who are looking for a different type of sound, would have never hired these musicians. There are many examples of people juggling both Bollywood and independent music successfully. Ankur Tewari, Vishal Dadlani(of Vishal-Shekhar), Anushka Manchanda and so on. So yes, we need Bollywood to make ourselves heard by the larger audience. But Bollywood would have never come calling if there was no indie scene to be heard in the first place.

Promo poster for NH7 Weekender held at Pune in 2010

To make sure that happens on a more regular basis, we need a good system in place that makes it easier for musicians to earn their living from entertaining people. We need more festivals like NH7 Weekender, individual song downloads using debit cards (almost everyone has a debit card) and so on. But more than anything the mindset of the people has to change. We need to stop treating independent music like a baby learning to take its first steps and more like an adult who knows what he wants and how to go about it. As Brandon Boyd himself would say “If Not Now, When?”

– ♫  Tomorrow’s Decided (Pentagram)

Some interesting articles:

1. Ankur Tewari – Life of a Hindie musician

2.   The gatekeepers of Indian indie music

3. Rock On!! was a poor representation of the rock scene in India

P.S. Indian Rain is a song by the Colonial Cousins


Kunal Pawar considers himself  as a jack of all trades – A jackass. There is nothing he is bad at but then again he is not good at anything too. Apart from being mediocre, he enjoys junk food, plays for BKC Spartans and has an unhealthy obsession for David Beckham. In his spare time you can find him at CCD and of late, at Powai. And no he doesn’t support either Federer or Nadal. To find out more you can mail him at or follow him on Twitter


6 Responses to “Adding to the noise”

  1. poojitha June 24, 2011 at 10:20 am #

    They’re appreciated but do not get the much needed support 😦
    It would be nice if the bands give out CDs or like JunkYard Groove they could let fans download the albums from their website.That’s the best thing that could happen!

  2. anushreejazzz June 24, 2011 at 2:14 pm #

    There’s a good lad! Well written.. Is scribe playing in august?

  3. ghansh June 25, 2011 at 4:51 am #

    Nice work. whats your take on the quality of music being produced?

    • Kunal June 25, 2011 at 5:46 am #

      Thanks! If by quality you mean standard of music produced, then it’s right up there!! Bands like ‘The Raghu Dixit Project’, Pentagram etc are playing for international audiences (Raghu Dixit is currently playing at Glastonbury and Demonic Resurrection are going to play in England in July)

      Again, if by quality you mean the sound quality on the CDs then a lot of the bands are spending money recording their albums in a professional studio with people who have experience producing albums So that the listeners who pay money are not disappointed. There is no shoddy work, at least from bands who are serious about their music

      p.s Nothing can beat a live gig though!!

  4. Likesh Bhambhwani June 25, 2011 at 5:56 am #

    Good job on this.. hope to see regular posts here.. Cheerzz.. 🙂

  5. Kunal June 25, 2011 at 4:18 pm #

    @ Anushree – As of now, there are no shows of Scribe planned for August! But there will be a lot of other awesome bands to check out!

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