Tuning into indie
Even as a reality show on western music enters its third season, the upward graph seems to be ebbing for India's indie music scene
Rohan Ganguli, the guitarist of the now-defunct band The Supersonics, started playing western music independently in India in 1998, and - by his own admission - has been 'poor ever since'. "All of us loved music, so we didn't think twice about starting a band. But at that time, there were very few things happening. You'd have these odd shows, once or three times a year maybe. That was the scene, basically," he says.
The 'scene', as it's called, has grown since then, to the extent that a reality show called The Stage enters its third season today. In it, says Vishal Dadlani, one of the judges, people from places like Lucknow and Jalandhar will compete against each other playing English pop and rock music by the likes of Radiohead and Queen. Over 8,000 people from four cities turned up for the auditions.
But does that indicate that the scene is moving from a left-of-centre to a more mainstream space? Has it grown enough for aspiring bands to forge a viable career out of it? Yes and no, is what people vested in the business of indie, a term by which we mean non-Bollywood western music made independently by an artiste, told us.
Yes, because there are a lot more shows now that a band can hope to play in than Ganguli did back when he started. Roycin D'Souza, 26, who helps programme gigs at antiSocial, says, "If you include electronic acts, we have an average of 15 to 20 gigs a month." Kolkata-based Ganguli adds, "A city like Delhi now hosts 10 shows every night." Dadlani, too, agrees. "If you're asking me whether the scene is growing and whether more and more people are getting involved, I'd say, definitely."
No, because despite the growth, the numbers remain nowhere close to what can qualify as mainstream music. "The 50,000 or 1,00,000 people who listen to indie music in India are not enough to support the industry," says Dadlani, adding, "The truth of it is that the musicians here are disconnected from the realities of India. They are all living in their own little bubbles, writing about their own lives, with almost no influence of the circumstances they live in and the politics of our times. So, that sort of cocooning has to end. The innate snobbery or the hipsterness of being indie needs to drop out. You need to connect at a larger level."
D'Souza says, "There was a lot of growth from when I entered the scene in 2009 to 2014. But over the last two years or so, a lot of it has stagnated because avenues have dropped and there isn't enough motivation for people to continue doing what they like. The number of platforms for discovery have reduced as well. Everyone's fighting for the same space. There isn't enough curation and the industry runs pretty much on hype."
That, then, makes it seem as if the scene is heading back to square one in terms of its relevance, where - having gone through an upward graph in the noughties - it is being reduced to what it was when Ganguli formed his first band in the '90s. "For a guy like me to get rich, you have to sell out," the 37-year-old concedes, ending with the harsh words, "Bands now seem to be hung up more on looking cool. So, if you're going for a gig and no one's listening to the music, the scene is dead already."
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