A lazy press, however, may be forgiven for mishcharacterising a movement that can’t even agree on whether it’s even a movement at all. Any old band fitted with electric guitars, like Indian Ocean, is regarded as a rock band because reporters – and many musicians – don’t know any better. Indeed, despite the efforts of magazines like Rock Street Journal, MOB and a handful of other publications, serious music journalism in India is sorely lacking. Thus, overeager concert reviewers are more likely to write something along the lines of “[the] band took the crowd to a euphoric crescendo” — as one rather easily excited HT correspondent did of Them Clones — than say anything substantial about the music itself. The vocabulary and context for rock criticism simply does not exist in India, and coverage inevitably drifts from the banal – like an Indian Express interview with a young Naga rocker, “I love the aggressive sound of rock,” – to the bizarre – a Tribune review reads, ”Later in the evening the stage was set on fire by a Rock concert”.
In many ways, shoddy coverage is a symptom of shoddy music: what can you say about a band that doesn’t say anything? Many undeservedly glowing reviews of concerts and bands are valiant efforts to sustain and feed the impression that rock culture is alive and kicking in India. Samar Grewal, former Assistant Editor of our domestic Rolling Stone, agrees, saying, “Music journalism lacks balls in our country. You only have 10 bands that are popular when you launch a mag — and if you were really honest about them, you’d be trashing eight of them. There’d be nothing left to talk about. You have to work in euphemisms.”
Siddharth Srinivasan, lead guitarist for Chennai’s Junkyard Groove, is rather more direct: “The media has to package the ‘scene’ — it’s part of marketing. You can’t sell shit, can you!” Well, they’re trying.
Others take a more generous view. in Delhi-based Menwhopause — who were voted Best Band in a 2008 Internet poll by Jack Daniel’s in India — Anup Kutty, on the other hand, disagrees. “Until five or six years ago, no matter what you did, the press would give you a patronising pat on the back — ‘at least you’re doing something!’ Bands are being taken more seriously now. The listenership has evolved.”
But even if audiences have matured, that hasn’t been reflected in any tangible benefits for rock bands. Tony John, frontman for Kerala’s Malayali fusion ensemble Avial, sighs that no one in India takes rock seriously. For many rock musicians, it’s simply a way to pass the time before the more immediate reality of jobs, family and career : “How many people turn up for a rock show when you compare it to the population here? Very few — 4,000-5,000 people, maximum. It’s just a small group of people. Channels like MTV are total bullshit. There’s no interest in local musicians.”