Opinion: Anurag Tagat – How ‘Indie’ is the Indian indie scene?
It’s fair to generalize and say that the Indian indie scene as we know it today began to pick up pace in the last five years. Now we have bands from every major town, gigs in every major city, and festivals all around.
But it’s still considered a ‘scene’, and not an industry. When you talk about the Indian music industry, you’re referring to Bollywood film songs and music directors, not solo artists and bands who play gigs at your local club/pub. The lines are getting blurred, though, with few artists crossing over from playing in bands to singing for the movies, including Siddharth Basrur (of Goddess Gagged), Nikhil D’souza, Suman Sridhar (of Sridhar/Thayil) and IP Singh (of Faridkot).
Another strong sign that the scene has become an industry is this website itself, and IndiEarth’s services as a B2B, acknowledging that there is, in fact, a big enough space for business opportunities to freely occur. Speaking of business opportunities, Rolling Stone India itself has started several annual events and competitions which have big-name sponsors supporting bands big and small, old and new in the scene. They’ve got the Converse The Original Band Hunt, Ray-Ban Never Hide Sounds, Harley Rock Riders, Rolling Stone Metal Awards and the Jack Daniel’s Annual Rock Awards. All events attached to Never Hide Sounds and The Original Band Hunt are free, which adds to the contrast about how commercialized the scene is getting, although appealing to indie sensibilities by sponsoring free gigs.
With the JD Rock Awards, you can glance at the nominees and winners; it’s not surprising to find a mix of self-released albums such as Split’s Counting Perfume competing alongside label-released albums like Papon and the East India Company (The Story So Far, Times Music). Top nominees such as The Ska Vengers (also on Times Music), Indus Creed (Universal), Advaita (EMI) and Thermal and A Quarter (EMI) all released their respective albums through a record label, which is indicative of the direction bigger, commercially successful bands are heading toward. It’s not so much a scene-be-damned-approach, or leaving the competition behind. It’s an evolution and certainly a tick-marked goal for most of these bands.
At Rolling Stone, the term ‘indie’ is very sparingly used to describe a band, especially sound-wise. The implication of calling one band indie and another alternative is unfair, especially if they operate in a very similar manner – managing themselves, writing and performing as a secondary means of income and paying for everything themselves, except for touring costs. I think it’s high time scene writers followed this example, especially if they were really aware of the meaning of indie.
I’m of the opinion that independent bands in India are synonymous with good, listenable music by artists (still) struggling to get any attention despite putting in whatever money they have in creating videos, recording songs and promoting themselves via social media. A thousand odd fans on Facebook may prove their social media skills, but the truth remains that the only big push they’ll ever get is by winning band competitions and knowing how to win over the college crowd. Both of which are largely dependent on big name sponsors.
Photo credit: Monisha Ajgaonkar Photography