In spite of this, young up-and-comers like Indigo Children have been winning well-deserved praise for breaking out of the tired classic rock mold and forging an energetic new path for Indian music. While their songs are tightly arranged, the band is loose and unafraid to fiddle with their effects panel in creative ways; processed guitars flare and the rhythm section alternates between four-to-the-floor rock and bouncy syncopation. Grewal says, “I was blown away by Indigo Children. The first time I saw them, I couldn’t believe it was coming out of an Indian rock band. Everyone in the audience, people who’d been listening to Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin, was blown away.”
Broadly speaking, rock in Indian remains largely confined to the “A-grade metros” — Delhi and Mumbai specifically — and urban centres with a high number of potential concert venues. Srinivasan, who has been touring the country since October last year, says that a city’s rock scene is directly related to the quality of its bands and its ability to accommodate live shows. Delhi, for instance, offers the Hard Rock Café, Cafe Morisson, the TLR Café, Café Oz and many more besides (not all of which are cafés).
A typical Delhi rock audience – or band, for that matter – is peopled by English-speaking, middle-class, enthusiasts. The Hard Rock Café, located in a shopping mall, is one of the city’s most popular venues and, on entering, one gets the impression of an insular community quite at ease with one another. Impressive-looking lighting fixtures, a professional-grade PA system and various concert frills like smoke machines and expensive sub-standard beer give the place a certain authenticity. When the band finally comes on, 30 or so people gather at the front of the stage, nodding in approval. The rest congregate in the smoking room or chit-chat on plush couches by the stage. A bored-looking girl busily fiddles with her phone. After the show, the scene dissolves, half the audience leaves, the other half – either diehard fans or friends – hang around, all backslaps and Bacardi.
The picture is slightly bleaker elsewhere: “Chennai,” Srinivasan says, “is quite bad. You do have the odd club that accommodates bands, but how many people show up? 100? That’s not nearly enough. It’s pathetic. Hyderabad’s rock scene is probably the weakest.” And Bengaluru’s restrictions against bands performing in a venue with a dance-floor and a bar and an enforced 11:30 PM shutdown, isn’t exactly conducive to encouraging a rock scene.
Standing curiously apart from the Delhi-Mumbai axis is the northeastern rock scene. In West Bengal, for example, villages and small towns are active and involved in the music. “Rock is not happening only in big cities,” explains Vikramjit Banerjee of Krosswindz, a nine-member world-music outfit based in Kolkata. “People in villages keep tabs on the hot bands and know what’s happening. We went to Krishnanagar, a village in the middle-of-nowhere, and people were screaming out for songs in English! That’s when it hit us: ‘Oh my god! In the middle of all the CPM, Trinamool Congress business and everything — people know a rock song in English!’”