India’s burgeoning music scene has traversed the decades. In a country largely defined by Bollywood film and music, it may come as a surprise to some that an indie – short for independent – music scene has long existed as a parallel with mainstream music. Rock, funk, blues, folk and metal have ruled the roost in the past and continue to exhilarate music lovers across the country. This subculture has thrived well enough to spout a whole new breed of young musicians, who like the trendsetters of yesteryear, continue to play for the sheer love of music, thriving in one of the few mediums of free expression in today’s draconian society.
The new wave of musicians prides themselves on nonconformity, through a passion-fuelled emphasis on creativity and self-expression. More importantly, they are a young bunch of artists in their own right, playing outspoken music straight from the soul, a factor that sets them apart from the innumerable bands that are fast emerging. Young, pulsating and vibrant are just some of the words that epitomise the current music scene. The country is experiencing the birth of an urban subculture, unearthing explosive young talent in the process. Rather than simply doing covers of well-known bands, indie bands are now composing original music embodying a do-it-yourself spirit, much like a grassroots rebellion against mainstream music.
In the Beginning
The present-day music scene has its roots in the thriving live music culture that dates back to the late ‘60s, when a number of Indian musicians took the path less trodden, expressing The rise of the The independent music scene is at a vibrant peak in india. At the crux lie young and radical people who have discovered an outlet in this subculture. beverly pereira finds out more themselves through music. The music-hungry community turned up in droves for gigs by The Savages, The Jets, The Trojans and Crimson Fire, known for their brilliant renditions of the Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Who and Pink Floyd. In fact, so raw was the scene that a few musicians used locally manufactured instruments, fabricated amps and speaker modules that didn’t sound quite right! But word has it that the vibe was great.
The culture that emerged would later shape India’s independent music scene as seen and experienced today.
Soon, the raging nineties followed. Bands at the time had to book their own venues and promote events through word of mouth. Bands were limited to playing at college festivals and venues such as Rang Bhavan, Razzberry Rhinoceros and Shanmukhananda Auditorium. They also had no support system to officially launch themselves or cut albums. Regardless of these factors, the music continued and the scene experienced an augmentation of sorts.
Now and Then
The Indian live music culture has seen much change over time. Through the years, the passion and love for music has remained the same; the only difference is that one finds a wider variety of platforms today. While musicians found it difficult to source quality instruments due to the country’s strict non-import policy, and faced the absence of a support system in terms of live venues and promoters, today, bands no longer experience these issues. Musical instruments by brands as huge as Gibson and Yamaha are readily available across the country. The fact that more albums have been cut over the last five years than in the preceding two decades is proof enough that this is an exceptionally good time for India’s indie bands!
The Indian Indie Revolution
So what is it that has brought about this deluge of indie music in a country that was once exclusively known for its Bollywood music? The Internet, without a doubt, lies at the heart of this urban music revolution. For music lovers, the web has long opened up an infinite universe of contemporary music otherwise unavailable in Indian stores. Listeners have become more aware of what’s going on across the world and in India. For musicians, an online presence gives them a defined space through which they can reach out to their fan base, and a wider platform to spread the word about latest track releases and gigs. Music has gone beyond the confines of performing at local venues, with platforms like Soundcloud that are perfect to bounce ideas off of likeminded musicians. Facebook, Twitter, blogs and music forums have become unifying hubs for bands and listeners alike. Sites like NH7 and Chordvine promote local indie bands with gig listings, album downloads and related news. Further, aspiring musicians also have access to workshops. As part of their Empower 2012 event, AIESEC Mumbai organised a workshop hosted by bands Blakc and Last Ride Home, who spoke about the highs and lows of making it as a band.
Neysa Mendes, who runs a music publicity company called Little Big Noise, and who has been a part of the independent music industry for a few good years now, says “There are a large number of interconnected factors that have driven the indie music scene. The Internet has had a big impact on our music revolution. The fact that ours has happened in the digital age – because there’s everything from democratisation of distribution to publicity – it’s possible for anyone to sell music and to reach their fans. You don’t need the distribution channels of a large label. You can just put your music up for sale on the Internet, publicise it and reach out to your fans in the same way.”
Bridge Across Musical Waters
As India’s music scene experiences a crescendo, it’s only natural that the demand for bands and venues has increased manifold to fill the void experienced by music lovers.
That’s where Krunk, an alternative music-booking agency, comes in. Conceptualised in 2009 by musician Sohail Arora, Krunk specialises in booking leading and breakthrough bands and musicians. Sohail felt that there was a lack of agencies that focussed on building and streamlining the tour structure for local and international artists or bands. “The idea was to promote niche and independent forms of music in the club circuit and to eventually make them a regular feature in every club. Krunk was the first booking agency in India to specialise in artist and venue bookings when it was established back in 2009. Today, there are four or five more. It’s great for the overall scene,” he explains.
Like every new venture, Sohail’s faced challenges. “Many Indian venues don’t have the vision to promote new artists and prefer to stick to formulas, booking only those artists that will bring in a crowd. The challenge was to convince such venues to let us build this long-term vision where we would promote good artists irrespective of their popularity and to eventually fill up venues no matter who played by building a brand that people knew about and respected for the music it pushed,” says Sohail.
Soumini Paul, AVP, ArtistAloud.com, feels that there are many platforms that offer a vast sea of opportunities to artists. “After all, there is value in associating with independent musicians that fall into this so-called niche category. ArtistAloud takes the responsibility of taking on artists and creating a full circle for them through various platforms, and not by differentiating between them,” she says.
Then there’s Little Big Noise, a music PR agency that focuses on press and publicity for bands, independent artists and music events. Neysa of Little Big Noise says, “The economics of a situation have such a big role to play, and over the last two to three years, brands have started to believe that music is a great way to reach younger audiences. There’s been an increase in brands willing to sponsor everything from music festivals to gig nights. India works on the sponsorship model because our audiences are still developing and can be fairly unpredictable. It’s quite hard and close to impossible to run a festival or tour purely on ticket sales. So the increase in sponsorship and brands investing in the music scene has helped quite a bit.”
Getting Your Indie Fix
In recent years, the imposed curfew has hurt the thriving music scene that once was. However, new live venues and music festivals that cater to all kinds of musical tastes, are becoming synonymous with our indie culture. When one talks of this raging scene, one cannot fail to mention the mother of all Indian festivals NH7, an annual 3-day music extravaganza in Pune that offers music lovers the works– international and local acts, a flea market in a complete festival atmosphere. Initiatives like Live from the Console showcase local bands and international acts at Mumbai’s iconic Mehboob Studio, offering a platform for upcoming and established bands alike.
India’s alternative music culture is clearly more than just a ‘scene’. It’s a movement; a shifting musical landscape that is fast gaining the recognition that it rightfully deserves. These are exciting times for the indie scene. Check out a local band in your city and be a part of the revolution!
Volume 1 Issue 11