In the end, then, there is little consensus on what precisely Indian rock is, and how to approach it. The rock fraternity can also discount the membership of Indian Ocean — protesting media accounts referring to his group as a ‘rock band’, Sen says, “The Beatles used a sitar: does that make them ‘Indian Classical’? If I club myself to any genre, I kill Indian Ocean.”
Along the same — though slightly less dramatic — lines, lumping West Bengal villagers in with hep Mumbai urbanites, and half-empty Chennai pubs with a 10,000-strong Delhi festival crowd seems disingenuous. Original rock in India is in its nascence, still grappling with its west-obsessed roots and locating itself — wandering around with an umbilical cord, trying to find some place to plug it in. John says, “There just isn’t a framework for Indian rock music in this country. There’re no record labels supporting bands in India. Everybody’s working on their own.” Nayak — whose band’s records are channeled through big-league label EMI — agrees, “Labels help get your record out, but they take your publishing rights. The band hardly gets anything. The only rights you have are performing rights, so you use the CD as a marketing tool for yourself.”
Facebook, MySpace, and other social networking sites have helped democratise the field, allowing bands to deal directly with fans and measure their fame (or notoriety) in site-hits and downloads. While many are satisfied with simply gaining exposure through the Internet, others are looking to monetise their digital presence, putting songs up on Apple’s iTunes online music store for purchase. “The only way we’re marketing our music,” says Srinivasan, “is playing our music live and online PR. We’ve had 50,000 downloads in about year. We’ve completely abandoned selling CDs because pressing costs were way too high.”
Where Indian rock is headed, if it’s even going anywhere, is another point of contention. On the one hand, Kutty says, “Rock has created its space. There are people who follow Indian bands passionately and live by it. We have to make space for ourselves in the mainstream.” On the other, D’Mello offers, “I don’t think rock will make it big in India, considering less than one percent of the population listens to it. The fact that it’s better than it was five years back is good enough.” Luckily, we’ll have the media to decide what’s going on for us. Failing that, maybe we can just bring the Backstreet Boys back.