The Most Despacito Year Ever
All pubs and clubs in Delhi, Mumbai and Bangalore now look identical, with kitschy décor and those unique, never-done-before exposed-brick walls. They serve the same food: sambhar-pizza-fusion-something-something. Post ‘Despacito,’ which released worldwide in January but reached our shores only around July, thanks to culture lag, they began playing the same song too. We could never really tell where the hell we were on any given evening. This was, as they say, a Lynchian conundrum.
÷ and conquer
The greatest ever pop star (2016/17 version), Edward Sheeran, graced us with his ginger mug, playing a much-hyped concert in Mumbai in November. Even those of us who weren’t there can quote chapter-and-verse of his afterparty chronicles, since he was kidnapped by a bunch of Bollywood celebrities, who made him pose for pictures at gunpoint. In those extremely uncomfortable photos, if you look closely into his eyes, you’ll get the sense that they’re empty inside. Can it be that Ed Sheeran, like his music, has no soul?
A Rolling Stone Gathers Some Mous(tache)
Ranveer Singh -- the one with the facial hair -- is on the cover of the latest issue of the Indian edition of Rolling Stone magazine. I have two questions: 1) Is Ranveer Hairdo the new “India’s First Rockstar”, knocking Farhan Akhtar off his perch? 2) Given the year the Hindi movie industry has had, shall we say Rolling Stone has pivoted from music to pop culture to flop culture?
Dying Institutions (Redux)
The once-hot Channel V, which did some sizzling work back in the day, breathed its last this year. A lot of once-upon-a-time fans felt terrible, reminiscing about a version of a channel that ceased to exist some seven years ago. That campaign wasn’t kidding about it being the shallowest place on TV.
In July, AR Rahman played a concert at Wembley, which sounds amazing, right? Yeah, right. That goddamn Southie had the bloody audacity to sing songs in Madrasi. How dare Rahman, at his concert, celebrating 25 years of his career in Indian cinema, at a gig titled ‘Netru, Indru, Nalai’ (yesterday, today, tomorrow), perform Tamil songs?!
Some listeners staged a symbolic walkout in protest. Silly as it may have been, that is their right, and that’s where the matter should have ended. But the attendees insisted on moaning about it afterwards and, before we knew it, it became an issue for Super/Hyper PrimeTime.
The reasons for this fracas are far-ranging. A condensed list: 1) Hindi cinema made him who he is, so he should know his place. 2) Music has no language -- except Hindi. 3) Humko nahi samajh aaya, bhai. 4) Soldiers are dying on the border. 5) Republic TV! 6) How can she slap?
Spotify The Liar
This is the year Indians took to streaming in a big way. This writer even found cult (and fairly obscure) Canadian experimental/post-rock band Godspeed You! Black Emperor on, um, Saavn. Apple Music and Google Play replaced YouTube at house parties everywhere. Most significantly though, everyone at these parties was discussing Spotify playlists.
How, we ask? Spotify hasn’t even launched in India yet (their tagline is: “Music for everyone” — except Indians). That makes you all liars. Unless. Wait. Does this mean—wow, so everyone’s using it illegally here? For shame.
The Music Business Panchayat Raj
There were, like, dozens of really (self) important music conferences in India this year. These were attended by the who’s whos of the music business participating in ungraded GDs (which, in the adult world, are called “panels”).
Industry insiders trading trade secrets in air-conditioned meeting halls, drinking rustic Indian cutting chai and eating pakoras, pontificated endlessly about the way we live now, and “how we can go forward. What’s the next step? What are some of the challenges facing this fledgling industry?”
It’s a good thing because all great music in the history of time, from Beethoven to Zayn Malik, has been conceived by a group of women and men in suits sitting around a teak coffee table in an auditorium, talking into cameras live-streaming their panel on Facebook.
Now look, obviously these conferences serve a purpose. But here’s the problem: their very design means that they ignore the voices of fans, as well as artists. The latter are now at par with the peripheral tagalongs of every creative industry: spreadsheet businessmen; well-intentioned promoters torn between doing the right thing and doing the money thing; bitter journalists (naming no names); maverick band managers; “influencers”.
Season 1, EP 1
Because of logistics, it makes a lot more sense for a young artist or band to release an EP than a full-length album: and many did just that this year. Writing an album is time-consuming; recording/producing it takes just as long. Plus musicians are by default broke; so if you go to a pro for production, the expenses pile up. Then there’s the tenuous argument that listener attention spans are dwindling, so it’s smart to feed them smaller portions (making a chuk-chuk sound).
Whatever you believe — we still prefer LPs if we had to pick — more music can only lead to more people getting inspired to make more music.
Plus ça Change
When festive season rolls around, so do the headlines in our (tiny) music press, proclaiming that because our music festivals are of such a high quality, by extension the “indie music scene is booming”.
For what it’s worth, they’re completely right about the quality of the festivals. But these events — like their religious counterparts — are an escape, a pleasant detour, an annual celebration of sponsor money. For 10 months a year, the indie scene lives in a state of despair and drudgery; great festivals, for all their benefits, do little for it. Nothing about this changed this year. However, there was…
The Great Indie Revival of 2017
Control ALT Delete (CAD) has been a crowdfunded, DIY series of gigs for donkey’s years; this year, they “scaled up”. Instead of their usual annual pub gig, they decided to host a two-day crowdsourced festival with three stages and lots of food stalls (also known as a “flea market” for some reason), in Mumbai in February.
Events expanding in size like this often risk alienating their old-timers who hate being jostled for space by fickle new fans and the money pouring in. But CAD had no such issues. If anything, it amped up the vaunted indie “spirit”: 1,500 people showed up not just for a fun time but also as a form of support.
It’s not a model that can be adopted en masse — people shell out a couple of grand for the occasional DIY gig, secure in the knowledge that the next gig they go to will have an entry fee of Rs. 300. Nevertheless, it was a genuine highlight; and the fact that they only lost Rs 22,883 after an outlay of over Rs 16 lakhs makes it all the sweeter.
There’s trouble brewing in Bangalore. A bunch of musicians with an apparent aversion to cool are writing some very interesting music, not to be hep or get gigs and monies and chicks and drugs. Simply because. It’s being spearheaded by a label called Consolidate, run by a man named Rahul Giri, aka _RHL.
(Bonus trend: with the withering away of conventional indie record labels, a label can only exist today—especially in India—if it’s also a “collective”. Consolidate, besides being a label, is also a collective.)
For this writer, Consolidate is responsible for some of the finest sounds coming out of Indian laptops in 2017. Personal highlights: Lovesongs by Aniruddh Menon and Princess This by Disco Puppet. While individualistic in aesthetic, all their artists have a unifying exploratory strain in their works, settling neatly in the “alternative electronica” scene that tears s**t up at the end of the year at Magnetic Fields.
And here we were thinking all of Bangalore was too busy arguing over dynasty vs. fascism, boasting about their temperature, starting startups, and drinking craft beer.
Listening Room (LR) is where all the power-nerds of the music world get together and stare at each other awkwardly. Sometimes they mumble hello. It’s a benevolent commune for weirdos. It’s also a series of excessively experimental gigs that takes place in oddballs spaces: abandoned buildings, defunct bakeries, art galleries, vegan cafes that serve vegetarian meatball sandwiches (which don’t suck, from personal experience), low-key bars.
LR gigs began in Delhi—the founder is a tall and soft-spoken man named Rana Ghose—but have travelled far and wide, including the regular spots such as, uh, Ladakh and Baroda. Let’s just say it’s a super-duper niche sub-sub-sub-culture, comprised of musicians, friends, fans, and curious cats. The kind of music? Generally forward-thinking experimental electronica, avant-garde, ambient, harsh and not harsh noise (so tread lightly).
It’s a commitment to art for art’s sake and the DIY ethic. They’re often BYOB, and entry is Rs 300, though if you try to sneak in for free, an LR volunteer will engage in a little light intimidation until you pay up. Gear is often shared by the artists, and profits are equally split. There’s an overall spirit of camaraderie: a lot of the music is so out there that it probably deserves to be binned, but people will still give it a shot. Also, no one ever claps, just like Vienna before the war. Coincidence?
Akhil Sood is an arts and culture writer based in New Delhi.
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