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Indian Rock: Evolution

By Avijit Michael | October 30, 2006

Indian Rock: EvolutionDoes art define a generation or does a generation define art?

In the last fifty years we have had very iconic music that represents each decade so clearly, from rock ‘n’ roll in the ’50s to rock and psychedelia in the ’60s. However as time has progressed the lines have been blurred, music has fragmented into so many genres and sub-genres. What do we consider the definitive music of our generation? Is rock music mainstream anymore? Does anyone really care?

In India, exponents of rock stoically stick onto the classic rock and metal of twenty to thirty years ago. Go to a college fest (the cornerstone of Indian Rock) and you will find Deep Purple, Metallica, Black Sabbath and Dream Theatre being dished out by every band if not an original that sounds like one of the aforementioned bands (I will start listening to Jessica Simpson if someone can show me a college fest where no Deep Purple covers were played badly). Then there’s the progressive brigade, all those instrumentalists who want to be able to tap out 47 ½ notes per second, but there’s hardly any representation of modern-day, mainstream rock anywhere. We seem to be stuck ten years behind while there’s a whole new discovery of rock elsewhere.

Why aren’t we creating music that doesn’t sound like it should have been composed in 1979 or 1987? At the least why aren’t we covering new international acts like the Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party, Panic! At the Disco, The Scissor Sisters and suchlike?

I will start listening to Jessica Simpson if someone can show me a college fest where no Deep Purple covers were played badly.

Is it because the already small and finicky population of rock-listeners would shun the exploration of new avenues? Is it a lack of open-mindedness among rock music aficionados?

What causes the phenomena of young bands being formed in college and covering rock classics that should be left to retro-bars and hippies-past-their-prime? I’m not saying don’t listen to classic stuff (hell I can trip on my Beatles and Zep tapes any day), I’m saying don’t make music of a bygone era. There’s such a variety of music out there that one can draw influences from – post-punk and alternative and indie-rock and electro-rock, even emo for all I care.

The biggest reason for this stagnancy is the fear of lack of acceptance if one tries new music, but only when bands start putting alternative stuff out there will the audience start listening to it. It’s an inherent Indian flaw, to stick to the tried and tested – you see it in our movies, in our job choices, in our politics and in our music. We’re too afraid to try something different. It’s only when bands start experimenting with new music that there can be evolution and we’ll stop living in the stone-ages.

The other reason is the close-mindedness of a number of our musicians: the attitude that anything that’s on popular TV is sell-out stuff. Good music is good music, irrespective of who listens to it or how many chords are in the song. The average Indian rock band shies away from anything electronic in their music; mention processed drum beats and get spat on. But that is how evolution works, if not we’d still be listening to violin concertos. Music evolves hand in hand with technology, film, fashion, and human culture moves forward from milestone to milestone. Imagine where we’d be if musicians in the ’60s decided that using an electric guitar was being a sell out.

However, the future doesn’t look all bleak with some Indian bands making a little headway into genres of rock that are off the beaten path. A few of these bands, of the top of my head — Pentagram, Lounge Piranha, Them Clones, The Superfuzz. We’re a new generation with new definitions and a lot of new ground to cover.


18 Comments. Post Yours Here.
  1. October 30, 2006, 10:32 pm MIKE

    RIGHT SAID DUDE!!!!!indians do fear experementing…that’s because the people r totally dominated to the traditional filmi music….but now that bollwood has started infusing rock sonds ….looks like the future does have something gr8 in store!!!:)-rock on bros!!!

  2. November 2, 2006, 6:28 pm harris

    thats a thought provoking article. some of your views are correct. but what if i want 2 play deep purple covers because i genuinely love their music? that cud also b one reason. so lets not generalize all bands. n its not just bands. audiences too need 2 appreciate good stuff. even now, in almost every centre u have requests for cocaine, hotel california etc. y? one reason is that they r fabulous songs and can go thru another million repetitions, bu apart from that y do people ask for that? so when audiences do that can one blame bands?

  3. November 3, 2006, 10:54 am Hawkeye

    Good point, but have you stopped to think about why some of those oldies are still in our hearts and minds? Because there’s something honest about them. Something real. Something that’s stayed relevant, even decades after the song was written. So much of the music that’s been made in the Internet generation has an extremely small shelf life; it’s made like soap. Shiny package, pleasant if somewhat shallow experience, and gone way too soon. This is especially true, of course, for the Simpsons and Spears of this world, but those standards have crept into rock as well. How many mainstream modern bands dare to really speak out about all the crap that’s going on in the world today? How many dare to tackle emotions more complex than simple anger, love, sex, and so on? It took ‘aging hippie’ Neil Young to stand up and do an intense, vociferous protest against the Bush regime; there wasn’t a single mainstream 20-something rocker willing.
    Indian acts needn’t have to cover new bands or add electronic sounds to their music to sound fresh and exciting. They need to be honest. They need to do what they do like that’s the only thing they can do. They need to play like SRV did – like every gig was the last one. They need to spend time (a lot!) with their instruments. LOVE their art. And they need to KEEP doing it.

  4. November 8, 2006, 12:40 am Bhatta

    The article certainly has a lot of significance. Inspite of the fact that the music you hear at college fests might be classic rock of a ‘bygone era’, I think the writer is underestimating and overlooking the very meaning and purpose of music- that it transcends all boundaries, whether they be of ethnicity, beliefs, or even age. Pointing out anachronisms in today’s rock scene is nothing but an attempt to grab attention by appearing to go against the flow. If you think that indians are merely copycats who are too afraid to venture into new things, I’d just like to say that the world still listens(and in awe that too!) to the music of maestros like Mozart, Beethoven, Tchaikovsky etc. Don’t categorize Indians into a born-lazy category just because its fun to point out flaws in India just like its fun to blame the govt. Tell that to Tagore, to the Tatas, the Ambanis, Birlas et al. Tell that to Kiran Desai who incidentally just won the Booker. Indians are one of the most talented people in the world and they are making a mark worldwide. If you think that the youth of India are stagnating because they shun drum machines and prosessed sounds, think again. Evolution does not take place in 10 or 20 years. The music of fresh Indian bands is not just influenced by the Eagles and Deep Purple and all, its influenced by everything they see and hear around them- even Simpsons and Spears. Who knows where they get the idea of a particular song from? And ultimately these influences will grow to be more prevalent in Indian rock until you get used to it(I don’t mean Simpson and Spears but the newer International rock bands). And that is called evolution.

  5. November 8, 2006, 11:48 am Avalonian

    While part of me wants to agree with Mr. Michael, more of me wants to disagree with Mr. Bhatta (which probably means EVEN MORE of me wants to agree with Mr. Michael…anyway, same diff) First of all Mr. Bhutta, dont take it so fucking personally man. Avijit was NOT insulting India, or the governments, or Booker prize winners or other such bastions of Indian Pride. You need to take a shit, cos at the moment, you sound anal.

    Secondly, he is not pointing out ‘anachronisms’ to ‘go against the flow’, but simply to express his opinions about a TREND. He never said ALL bands play ‘Smoke on the Water’…some do, and more do than not. It’s a general trend of playing tried classic rock covers that he’s talking about. And if you have ever watched a ‘rock competition’, a lot of the material is pretty predictable, but not unfirom, if you get the distinction. No blanket statements have been made. So take it easy.

    Thirdly. Mr. Michael is NOT dissing classic rock musicians (I quote: “I’m not saying don’t listen to classic stuff (hell I can trip on my Beatles and Zep tapes any day”), or Vivaldi.

    Fourthly, let me quote you, since you;re such an eloquent spokesperson for all things Indian and Classic and Tolerant : (“I think the writer is underestimating and overlooking the very meaning and purpose of music- that it transcends all boundaries, whether they be of ethnicity, beliefs, or even age.”) The point Avijit is trying to make is that GENERAL TRENDS (*refer point No. 2) in indian rock suggest that the setlists of Indian rock bands fail to embrace this wonderful transcendental aspect of music that you so eagerly point out: they look ONLY to classic rock or wank-prog, and don’t looker closer to home, chronologically speaking. Indian bands, according to Avijit, DON”T play enough new music. Not because they are “copcyats” (you know, dirty rats, sunday-monday-eat-a-rat types), but becos the context they play in isn’t conducive to stepping out of that framework.

    IF you’re going to critique the article, read Mr. Hawkeye’s comment. That makes some real sense. Don’t start waving your flag of quasi-patriotism before reading the article man.

  6. November 17, 2006, 11:10 pm Jared

    sure,music evolves..But there also is a reason why music made back then has stood the test of time.
    I kinda agree and disagree with the article..Its surely well written..In the end i think musicians should try and capture whats playing in their head..Do u think and “feel” 2 chords/a soulful blues lick /a tom morello style riff/a complex jazz progression..its all good if u play with honesty and conviction.

  7. December 8, 2006, 6:14 am Varun Sinha

    I think the point the writer was trying to make was that, while classic rock is just that (classic), it behooves Indian rock bands to try and progress. While I really don’t want to hear a Good Charlotte cover, I am sure that there is plenty of good, modern rock (White Stripes come to mind) that Indian bands could cover.
    Or even better, put their own spin on it. The Great Rock Song Ever (Watchtower by Hendrix) was his version of Dylan’s song.
    And in that, I will wholeheartedly agree with the author. While I love Smoke on the Water as much as the next guy, I would like to think at least some bands are talented enough to have their own interpretation of music – from every decade. Especially since we have such a rich musical heritage. Tune the guitar up like a sitar and play Hendrix’s Fire. (My knowledge of musical instruments is limited, so I will stop at that).
    All the great rock bands in the history of music started with them “….putting alternative stuff out there [and] the audience start[ed] listening to it”. There is no reason they shouldn’t try in India.

  8. February 2, 2007, 10:34 am Sughosh

    While I agree with most part of this article, I will just voice one minor quibble here. If you insist that stuff by Indian bands tends to sound like it was written in 1979 or 1987, and point to covering (or being influenced by) the latest bands from the West, then let me just point out that the revival of 70′s and 80′s trends is at its peak in the West at this point of time. Every second band from Britain these days is mostly trying to sound like The Cure , Joy Division or their contemporaries from about 25 years ago. One reason I can’t stand the new “punk” movement (Arctic Monkeys, Bloc Party etc etc) is that there’s nothing remotely original about them. Its just 80s music done worse than it was in the 80s.

    Having said that, now I’d love for an Indian band to venture into covering, say, The Smiths. Even covers help a band in evolving if the range of bands/music covered is wide.

  9. March 5, 2007, 3:20 pm abomination

    So if I understand correctly, are guys like Jared and Bhatta and Hawkeye and Harris trying to say that nobody makes good music anymore? sigh… might as well put down my guitar now and quit while the going’s good. :) Very nicely written article Mr Michael – well thought out and well worded. Don’t mind the old timers – they’re stuck in their loops while you’re busy with the fruity ones…

  10. March 27, 2007, 7:28 pm Boogie

    I wanna listent to newer stuff now. Like I did 10 years back.

    Meanwhile r u selling that AMP in the picture!

  11. April 20, 2007, 7:31 pm Jassim

    I guess we are sort of more linked to the ‘serious soul searching lyrical’ qualms of old school rock as opposed to the more newer suburbia pangs explored by the arctic monkeys and the modest mouse genres …………….

    so i guess the day someone does a ‘Dil Chahta Hai’ on indian rock which a substanial number of indians could relate to then we know that the coin has dropped ……..

  12. July 5, 2007, 6:17 pm ravichandran

    hi guys,

    i’m a nobody in this field. I’m doing a research on the current music scenario in India.
    One of my questions as to why Rock was popular in colleges was answered here, but how come Hip Hop is still the most heard genre in India these days.

    It’ll be of great help if someone could answer or give views.



  13. August 25, 2007, 9:36 pm Rupinder

    I think India is predominantly a Bollywood nation (songs are mostly dance oriented). It was an easy jump for many to go into hip hop because of its dancy nature.


    hi guys,

    i’m a nobody in this field. I’m doing a research on the current music scenario in India.
    One of my questions as to why Rock was popular in colleges was answered here, but how come Hip Hop is still the most heard genre in India these days.

    It’ll be of great help if someone could answer or give views.



  14. March 16, 2008, 3:07 pm kriti

    well…i think the whole presumption that indians should cover western musicians in the first place is flawed. all you’re saying is…that instead of emulating music from the 80s they should emaulate music from the 21st century.

    my argument would be…why emulate at all? i believe that 60s – 80s rock is definitive because it is the beginning of rock as a genre. so any true rock music fan will always explore the roots to understand the music. but where you take it from there is totally your own interpretation. it should not be a copy of deep purple OR the artic monkeys (who i dont hv a high opinion of btw)

    it is how we take our indian interpretation of a sound and what we do with it. i would say that that is seriously lacking today and a bigger threat to music. the only indian band who’s done that is indian ocean. the other i’d say would be mekaal hassan (tho they’re not indian)

  15. March 20, 2008, 9:30 pm Ankit Soni

    well said kriti!

  16. April 7, 2008, 11:12 am Arjun

    I agree with Kriti, why do you want indian bands to sound like the arctic monkeys etc anyway? If you take bands like Zero or Helga’s Fun Castle; they may be influenced by band x or y or z, but the bottomline is that their shows are generally packed and the indian listeners have a good time listening to them. And all bands are influenced by something they have grown up listening to. The good bands add an original sound to wat they have been influenced by to create an original sound. they don’t need an electronic sound to be ‘in’ or modern or progressive. and btw, there is nothing wrong with listening to violin concertos. By labelling a lot of things as “the past” you are displaying your narrow perception of music. Maybe the bands out there DONT want to sound like linkin park or pentagram.
    umm tried & tested in job choices, politics, movies….. are you blind? or do you just never read a newspaper? Today, India has a thriving entrepreneurial culture. if it weren’t for people like Vijay Nair, Bobby Talwar, Farhad Wadia, Vishal Dadlani and Arun Kale you wouldnt have a job! Our entrepreneurs are amongst the richest men in the world. Have you read about the venture Capital inflows into india for entrepreneurial ventures? have you read about indian VC firms?? And these are just the tip of the iceberg.
    Do you see coalition politics anywhere else? Go to the USofA. Their style of politics means that Bush can take a unilateral decision to do whatever the hell he wants. Our political system doesnt allow that.
    What world do you live in? You are so misinformed and narrow-minded. And yet, our “tried-and-tested” and “not willing to change” India gives you a platform(and a salary) to write your rubbish.

  17. December 27, 2008, 4:44 am Just Me

    Seems u or ur writing ain’t getting much attention, eh?!!!

    I believe u r talking about creative independence here and of course influencing it, but, hey isn’t that the very reason why we take on to rock music!

    Musicians making an attempt to play somethingh they like and to experiment on doesn’t quite need an opinion.

    Thanks for your time, anyways, though!

  18. April 16, 2009, 8:02 pm KARTIK

    Dude bloc party, artic monkeys ,panic at the disco SUCK!!!!! THATS WHY WE DONT WANNA COVER EM!!!!

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