When rebels with a cause meet

Published: Jun 12, 2019, 07:12 IST | Shunashir Sen

Mumbai has only a handful of punk rock bands, and an EP launch gig this weekend promises to bring the best on one stage

When rebels with a cause meet
The Riot Peddlers members Arun S Ravi, Animesh Das and Ashwin Dutt

NMIMS College held a rock competition in 2011. A leading music channel had sponsored it and set strict guidelines for the participating acts — no cuss words, and no singing in Hindi. Now, this was a year after The Riot Peddlers, Mumbai’s first outfit to play hardcore punk — a genre that wears rebellion on its sleeves — had come into existence. They, too, were taking part. But they couldn’t give two hoots about the strictures. And when the three members went up on stage, not only did they shower the audience with expletives as if they were throwing confetti at a wedding, but their lyrics also had a smattering of Hindi. Nonetheless, the performance was so tight that they eventually ended up winning.

What, however, happened after they left the stage is what’s significant in understanding how this musical style has evolved in Mumbai. The thing is, before The Riot Peddlers, the city had a whole army of metal bands, including thrash metal ones, a genre considered as a cousin of hardcore punk. People were thus familiar with the musical form. They knew, for instance, that trying to grasp the growled lyrics at a thrash metal concert is as futile as trying to head bang with a sprained neck. But with The Riot Peddlers — even though the technicalities of the music mirrored metal — the lyrics were crystal clear, with every word being easily discernible. So the youngsters at NMIMS were left confused. “What is this genre that you guys play?” some of them asked Arun S Ravi, the band’s vocalist. And that’s when he had to explain that what the kids had just heard was hardcore punk music.

Pacifist performs at a live gig
Pacifist performs at a live gig

This kicked off a period when a few related acts gradually emerged in Mumbai. Death by Fungi was formed in 2013, for example. Then came Punk on Toast in 2015. The members of Pacifist also got their act together in 2018, and will now play a launch gig for their EP, Greyscale Dreams, at a Khar venue where three other punk acts — Runt, The Lightyears Explode and The Riot Peddlers — will also share the stage. The concert will thus essentially showcase a genre that, somehow, has never quite managed to take off in a big way in this city.

We ask Ravi why that is and he narrates an incident. His band was once booked for a gig at a central Mumbai pub. But the aggressive nature of hardcore punk is such that the audience went mental after a point, moshing in the centre and generally behaving as if a riot had broken out. The management thus got cold feet. They feared that the place would suffer physical damage. And that’s why they eventually started curating gigs that were less hazardous to their balance sheets.
This issue exists across venues. But Pacifist’s vocalist Sidharth Raveendran adds another, dire reason. “People don’t want to pick up instruments and form bands anymore, investing time and energy. That’s because there is frankly little incentive in it. But eventually, [your craft] is about what you represent as an artiste, and I guess that’s why some people are still doing it,” he says.

He adds that it’s also relatively more difficult to expand the hardcore punk fan base since the rebellious anger inherent to the genre isn’t palatable for everybody. But Raveendran also says that only if we build a lineage of punk acts in Mumbai will the genre widen. He reveals that Pacifist, for example, were inspired by bands like Slit and The Riot Peddlers. That shows how it’s now up to them to keep the momentum gained from their debut EP going so that, say 10 years later, it’s him that bemused college kids will thank for introducing them to a no-holds-barred style of music that takes no prisoners, sonically speaking.

On: June 16, 8 pm
At: The Habitat, Hotel Unicontinental, Khar West.
Log on to: instamojo.com
Entry: Rs 500

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