Friday, February 23, 2007

remembering rsj

This blog is all about the nonsensical. We have talked about troupes of dancers seducing mongooses, tricks you can do with a kielbasa, and spitting cobras turning up on power-point slides. We have sung ditties from 80's indian television commercials (with translations to boot!), and we have described strange nightmares full of howling dogs and hummingbirds. We have even prescribed optimal bender strategies. The point is .. er... not there. So, where was I going with this? Ah, yes. Music. Wow, talk about logical prose.

You know what it is like when you suddenly rediscover something you used to love but had forgotten about? In a recent conversation on music from the nineties, the name Agni came up in the context of indian college rock. Since I used to be a fan, I ended up digging out a copy of Agni's first album "Wind dance with fire" (1994?). As I relaxed in my chair, slightly doped out from cough medicine (I've come down with a minor bout of the 'flu), the music brought back memories of smoke-haze filled rock concerts, of hours spent jamming with extremely drunk mates - of cool college rock band names like Urja (which stood for the names of the four founders) and "An ode to Urja"- and of a quaint little periodical called the "Rock Street Journal" that was published out of (of all the places in the world), Allahabad.

I have always liked Indian rock. Listen to some of the good indian bands - the aforementioned Agni, Orange Street, Krosswindz, Indus Creed (formerly Rock Machine), Pentagram, and of course, Parikrama - There are some really great original compositions there - far far better than some of famous names on the Indie rock scene in the US - and yet, they never have had *any* success outside of India. (For some strange reason, Pakistani rock bands seem to have done better.) I have often wondered how an Aussie band like The Mark of Cain, or for that matter, Jet, make it big in America, while Indian rock is almost never talked about. There are a couple of possible explanations - i don't know whether any or all of them are true.

The first is the curse of the familiar. There are thousands of rock-acts here in the U.S. - most of them never get noticed even if they produce great music - so why should an Indian band be respected. That of course, does not explain the success of Aussie rock. In addition, the concept of "indian" music is so strongly associated with either a sitar-playing ravi shankar, or kitschy bollywood crap in the west, that most of my american friends have a hard time believing that India actually has a thriving college rock scene.

The second is the range of topics covered. While a lot of music here is full of pimply angst, there is a considerable body which cover more pressing political and social issues (not implying pimply angst is trivial, but still.) This is possibly made worse by indian bands, though not always, when they heavily resort to culturally non-transplantable Indian themes - song titles that reference mythological figures and all that. Don't get me wrong - it is highly appreciable artistically speaking, but it does not make for good cross-over material.

But I think there is a third- and more fundamental reason. It has something to with conditioning. Growing up in india, it is hard not to be influenced by Indian Classical music and its bastard child - Hindi Movie music. Indian music tends to be exclusively melody based - attempts at harmony being limited to a tanpura playing a constant drone. The vocalist (and even Indian instrumental music is fundamentally *vocal* music - all indian classical instruments are evaluated on the basis of their ability to emulate the human voice) sets the pace and the rhythm, and the percussionist merely follows on. This influences all of us - musicians and listeners alike. Consequently, a lot of indian rock - even the heaviest stuff - has an emphasis on melody - a certain discipline while ascending and descending the scale, that is not entirely appreciated by a western audience - but appeals to an ear that is conditioned to it. Many of my American buddies, while appreciating Indian fusion music, don't quite get the point of it. Perhaps, something like this is at work in case of Indian rock too.

There should be some kind of cultural award for coming up with insights like these. We could call it the Heh-heh award for gyaan-dispensing, and its first winner would be Heh-heh. Or maybe not. There are loads of desi-bloggers who seem to have taken it up as a full-time profession.

18 comments:

Revealed said...

I absolutely agree. In fact when I mention Indian rock, people are more inclined to think I'm a crazed geologist than a music junkie *sigh*

Big Wave said...

or that the angst in indian rock has been simply transposed instead of being understood and reinvented? or that it's only lately that bands are effectively using the web? i have theories too, so there.
p.s. now i'll hum indus creed's trapped all day.

Red said...

yes well its true that indian rock is not appreciated abroad.. but then would we really care for westerners playing indian classical music? i guess the conditioning does make a difference..

Heh Heh said...

revealed: Heh. It gets even worse to find Indians who are completely ignorant about it.

big wave: Nice song. Good video too, no?

red: I agree with the conditioning bit, but there have been instances of westerners learning indian classical and being highly appreciated. For example, this guy

Revealed said...

I wonder if you've seen this? Y'know the thing that happens when you keep cropping up against the same thing over and over again. It happened with me and Indus Creed this week.

Heh Heh said...

revealed: Nice! I already had most of them except their first album. i was a huge fan even back in their rock machine days. Uday Benegal has an awesome voice, won't you agree? :)

Revealed said...

Are you kidding me! Uday Benegal was my first love (and the most enduring, sad to say :P).

Heh Heh said...

revealed:
wait a minute, are you talking literally or figuratively? I mean do you mean you know him personally??

Revealed said...

Hehehehe :). I wish (and oh, how I wish!). But I was running around in diapers when he was out rocking like a renegade so our paths didn't really cross literally. Did I sound like I knew him? I apparently often sound like I know more about something than I actually do. It's my gift, and my curse ;)

Heh Heh said...

aah. the confusion was justified though. i didn't think you belonged to the previous generation or some thing like that.. *he* could still have been your first love. I wasn't suggesting that you were *his* first love.

Yeah. Does nitpicking make a sound? I think i hear something.

another brick in the wall said...

i think it has lot to do wid the limited money spent and well.. the not-so-enthusiastic promotional measures adopted by Indian rock bands!

ok.. how many indian rock bands go on to tour the entire india and make thmselves popular here itself? hardly any.. i understnd lack of audience.. but thy can certainly start.. rock is considered taboo by virtually every person whoz not into rock.. (i speak for indians.. rest of the world.. i dunno n dont really care :S).. so yeah.. i think there shud be tireless touring.. start from colleges may be.. every freakin college in every state needs 2 hav a rock show.. now not all colleges allow tht.. well.. arrange 4 it.. hard work is the key here.. make urself popular then u'll grow.. only independence rock has been the huge festival so far.. thn Mood-I probably.. but how limited is tht.. all bands hav 2 come together n thmselves organise showz thruout india.. evetually they'll sell records.. its plain hard work n thts missing.. not all bands can afford videos i understnd.. thn the best money comes from touring.. i think this is possible.. once u get national backin.. u can definitely step on foreign waters.. but its imp tht ur own ppl appreciate u first!

very true tht indian music is mostly associated wid sitar than guitar.. but tht shudnt be a reason tht the bands shud stop thmselves from promoting themselves!

indian bands fail 2 experiment.. am sorry to say but thats the truth.. indian ocean.. if ppl rate them a rock band.. is more fusion.. pentagram.. wat the hell is wrong wid thm.. thy are trapped between techno n metal.. zero did fine.. parikrama, alms 4 shanti, indus creed are known c thy're here for ages now! thts all.. but thy are by no means HUGE.. not even near to it! indian bands either go pop, or take up fusion, or end up being "euphoria".. i.e thy bcome sell-outs / whores or if thy stick 2 metal.. thy arent much of a success.. thy start guitar coaching classes! thts not even funny! there never have been proper hard rock groups or say nice metal bands outta india.. psychedelic rock band was never even around... y is there so much dearth? hopeflly some band will change the scenario.. guess everyones waiting for some hero!

Red said...

i think indian bands should just do their own thing and stop worrying about trying to meet some kind of international rock standard.. most bands' oc's sound too contrived somehow, like they're trying too hard.. after indus creed i think 'thermal and a quarter' is the only band worth listening to today..

oh and yes, uday benegal has an awesome voice :).. i'm off to listen to pretty child..

Revealed said...

I actually think Pretty Child was somewhat overrated. I preferred Trapped or Die for your Country (if I'm remembering the names right!). But I digress. Nitpicking does make a sound, actually. Instantly recognizable especially by practitioners of the art ;). We're an undervalued breed.

And do tell what you meant by i didn't think you belonged to the previous generation or some thing like that. Much suspicion comes! Is that a guilty conscience I hear now?

Heh Heh said...

Nice. quite a discussion we are having here.
brick: i agree with most of what you say. But there rock bands in india have serious constraints, so it is hard to be motivated to keep them working. Part of the fault also lies with the listeners. Because rock is seen as music of the 'others', it does not get appreciated to the extent it should. as a result, people who are fans of western bands tend to look down upon indian bands (too desi) and people who are not, look upon them as foreign. Either ways, Indian rock is stuck. I would give it some time.

Red: I know what you mean by contrived. And in many cases, it *is* because they try too hard. I wouldn't restrict my list to OC's by only those two names, of course.

Revealed: Check out the link on the widget on the side-bar :)
Also, its not a guilty conscience you hear. it was a totally innocuous remark. :)

Revealed said...

Omg!!! Awwwwesome :).

(Suspicion has been put aside for the nonce since you've knackily distracted me with all that shiny music :P)

another brick in the wall said...

you are very right.. i strongly agree.. my own pals here dont listen 2 indian rock cz thy rate thm plain wanna-bes with fake accent.. umm.. true 2 an extent.. but again i say.. ths is also cz the bands here fail 2 promote themselves.. see.. now even the most popular bands.. say metallica.. their last album.. st. anger was ntn less than piece of crap.. but it still did sell jst cz it was made my metallica after some million yrs.. n it jst sold outta curiosity.. it sold cz of the name metallica.. it sold jst cz of the "brand name".. my point here is.. its imp tht u becme popular first.. u become recognized.. only thn ppl will hear u.. promotion is so bloody important.. put in novel ideas.. believe that u r good n u'll be heard.. if the bands cant convince their own selves into believing ths.. how the hell are thy gonna convince the world.. simple.. if thy really wanna make it big.. thy really need 2 get known! release albums.. hammer thm into ppl's head.. advertise.. start showz.. college ppl are crazy.. thy'll cme for ur shows.. make simple home videos... no need for fancy shit.. make concert videos.. thy are the most viewed by fans! yes.. develop a fan base.. its not easy i understnd.. but i still stick to it.. its POSSIBLE! jst feel no ones trying hard enuff!

u say bands like jal, junoon hav bcme big.. y.. cz thy dint experiment wid the language.. i like their albums.. thy may be a bit "pop"ish but are still inclined towards rock.. thy hav their solos, intros, outros.. quite cool.. thy sing in hindi... so big deal.. rammestein dint hav 2 scream in english to get so popular! its music finally.. i say forget the lyrics.. its cool 2 sing in hindi too.. in fact tht way everyone will at least listen 2 u in india.. jst pick up that guitar n tune those drums... start rocking! music finally needs no language 2 promote itself! :S.. ok.. that was crap :P

raghu said...

well..ive hardly heard any indian rock.. but if id make a band..i noe hw itll sound.. dont think the audience wud accept it wid glee.
but den.. i hvta search 4 my audience.. n dats the key.

satchit said...

gr8 to see this discussion on Indian Rock music. Ironically I started listening to indian rock music after listening to western rock/metal music. Ironically because I was born and brought up in mumbai. but then i was introduced to the music of agni/indus creed/millennium. and i wondered how come i'd never heard this music before. but i'm thankful to my buddy who introduced me to their music. independent music from india is coming of age. bands like TAAQ, Motherjane and others have already started touring. TAAQ infact played a concert circuit in the UK and they were well received. And they are soon coming out with their fourth album. Others will soon follow. I've been following indian independent music closely for the last 4 years and I can say things are changing and changing quickly. So don't be surprised when an Indian band suddenly appears in a band-list in a place near you. We're all trying to make that happen. And all of us can only help.

Well. So much for a comment! Btw, just would like to add, both the albums from Agni - Wind Dance with Fire (WDWF) & Mritunjaya - are available for free download (with permission from the band) at here