Thursday, September 30, 2010

What Is Wrong With The Kolkata Rock Music Circuit? Chapter:2 - The Way We Were

Lets go back some years... no not 1 or 2 years. Not even 5.
How about when I was still a school student? Like way back in the 1980s. When rock music was something only the "elite" few ever listened to. When only a handful of students from English medium schools and colleges would get initiated to. When English music was all about the melody and less about the genre. Unlike today.

Rock music. No not metal. Not punk. Not blues. Just "rock" - music that encompassed any type of popular English music form. Pink Floyd, Bob Dyan, The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Joan Baez, Dire Straits... classic rock to the core. But back in those days THIS just wasn't classic rock. It was the ONLY form of rock music available.
Back then you couldn't just do a search for a particular torrent and download the latest album of some obscure artist. Things were different back then. Hell, there wasn't even anything called a torrent back in those days. Downloading? In the 80s that would have almost sounded like something being done in a sci-fi flick.
So ok, maybe you could just walk into the nearest Planet M or Music World shop and get wowed by the collection of CDs on display... wait wait wait. Walk into "PLANET M"??? Walk into "MUSIC WORLD"??? Latest ALBUM??? CDs??? What the hell am I talking about!!!
Back then we didn't have CDs!!! We only had dinky cassettes and we listened to music on dinky cassette players. No CD players, no MP3 players and most certainly no I-PODS!!! Yes kid, you probably wouldn't have survived back then in the good 'ol 80s without these goodies that you obviously take for granted in the 21st century.
And nope we didn't have mp3s or the INTERNET. The latest albums were not available @ music stores because there WERE NO MUSIC STORES! Liberalization was still a distant dream. An album that was, say for example, released in 1981 in the USA would only reach our shores 2-3 years later. And these would be available only through HMV. On cassettes.
Back then there weren't any other recording companies around that were willing to deal with English popular music so this was as good as it got.
Yes, you might not like him, but you me and everyone around town have a lot of thanking to do to Dr. Manmohan Singh. He brought in liberalization to this country when he was the finance minister in the cabinet of then Congress Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao. Yes, the guy involved in the Bofors scandal. And the Babri Masjid scandal. A scandalous dude no doubt - but at least he got Manmohan Singh to change the direction this country was taking.
So anyway, whatever we see now - the good stuff, that is, is post liberalization INDIA. I was born and brought up in the era just before that. In the 1970 and the 1980s. When rock music and pop music were things that you listened to if you were a part of the "in" crowd. Almost like a mini caste system - whether you were a fan of this music or not allowed you to be classified as "English-cultured" or mainstream desi. Funny no? Nowadays everyone is exposed to English music in some form or the other. Hell, yesterday I saw an auto rickshaw driver wearing a "BULLET FOR MY VALENTINE" tee :D metalcore fan is he? Sorry I didn't ask I was too busy laughing.
Anyway as I mentioned above, the latest music was hardly available back then - not at shops, not on the TV, not on the radio, not anywhere. We didn't have cable TV or TATA SKY or whatever. No Channel [V] or VH1 - MTV had just been given birth to in the USA anyway, so it was a long long way away from our shores.
If you had an aunt living in England or a brother working somewhere in the USA, maybe, just maybe she or he might bring you the latest blah blah blah played by blah blah blah. A big maybe. And not all of us were so lucky. You did get pirated cassettes galore here and there. And they'd probably play for a week before falling into ashes 
No FM Radio in India back then. MW radio was just All India Radio in a nutshell - and they would have the odd English popular music program with the same old songs played again and again and again, week after week after week. The same old songs listened to by us music lovers from all walks of life and from varying age groups. There was nothing else available anyway so what could you do?

Which brings me to the topic of bands. In order to have a live music scene you need bands to perform "live". No?
And there were bands certainly. College bands. Established bands (Shiva was one of the noteworthy ones). Trincas was no more a viable music venue - The days of the swinging sixties (and prior maybe) where Usha Uthup and Carlton Kitto and Lou Majaw and all those stalwarts would be gigging @ Trincas were long long gone. Someplace Else? Hahahaha! Non-existent for at least another 10-15 more years.
Basically there were 2 categories of bands - the English music playing bands which would only play classic rock because the musicians here were ONLY familiar with such artistes. And nothing strange with that - that was the only kind of music they had been listening to. Also, the people who came in to listen to them play ONLY listened to that stuff as well. Classic rock and pop. That was the music you played if you were in an English band.
Category 2 was if you were in a Bangla band - something new and trendy in the college circuit. A different story altogether. The concept of Bangla bands was a growing one, and it later blew up into a totally new sub-culture in Kolkata (and other parts of West Bengal). But we shall leave this topic for later. But suffice to say, if you were a musician and interested in rock music then you (a) followed the majority and played in a band that performed classic rock covers and popular contemporary English mainstream songs. OR (b) you rebelled and joined a bangla band which would play folk, folk rock or classic rock - whatever took your fancy.

Such bands would play the odd gig @ college fests or @ college band competitions but that was about it - you would most likely see them playing @ your college canteen in all honesty. A few bands at the top did go on to record albums... but all this later later later :D

So yes, back to the classic rock bands. Bands like Shiva - they would play the odd gig @ The Open Air Theatre (now called Nazrul Manch), sometimes be the headliners @ college fests like Xavotsav... but more than likely you would see them playing @ the clubs. The hang-out for the "elite" - the "English-cultured" of our society. Shiva, Fifth Dimension, Rila 'O Brien (nee Banerjee, and yet to marry Sumeeth Ramachandran - you know the story. If not ask an old-timer.). They'd wow the crowd with a "Hey You" or a "Comfortably Numb" or a "Jumping Jack Flash" or a "Sultans Of The Swing". And they crowd would go wild. A few would dance. Most would sing along to the chorus. And the band would be in 7th heaven.
So the next time they were up on stage the same old routine - play the tried and tested covers. And watch the crowd go wild.
As easy as pie. And you got instant fame as well. Plus the girl too. (Yes sexist I know, but the scene was and still is kind of male-centric even today).
Bands turned into live jukeboxes. Yes, they probably did play some of the covers really well, but at the end of the day, they were just that, covers. And so bands were just that, live jukeboxes.
New bands that came into the scene didn't have any role-models BUT these jukebox heroes. And so all new bands wanting to play in English did nothing BUT covers. And thus did get born the culture of the Calcutta cover band. This culture had it's hey days in the 1990s and was still going strong even as recent as 2000 - 2005.Young bands thought aping was the next big thing. Never did they even try to break the trend - and hey, why would they? Because playing covers WAS the trend.
And this, while the rest of the major music hubs in India were already well into the concept of playing their "OWN" music. Original music. Such a culture shock even within the same country.

Kolkata was well and truly in a 70s and 80s time-warp post-2000. And no one even thought this was a strange thing.
No wonder we are lagging behind the other cities. Someone once wrote, "What India thinks tomorrow, Bengal thinks today"... or something like that.
Well this certainly wasn't applicable for rock music.

Luckily things have started to change. A kid fresh out of school and into the music scene TODAY would be really surprised how much the scene has changed in just a couple of years.

Thursday, September 09, 2010

What Is Wrong With The Kolkata Rock Music Circuit? Chapter:1 - The Intro

That is the question...
I've thought about it long and hard. I've had long discussions with musicians about it. I've spoken to music lovers in the city.

Everyone seems to know what the answer is. Or conversely, no one seems to know what the problem is. Most kids don't even realise that there is a problem. Which is such an irony - because it is these very issues and problems that result in their bands breaking up a year or 2 after getting formed. Sometimes they don't even last 2 months. And things remain the same, until a new set of kids come along and follow in the foot-steps of their predecessors. Sort of like the blind leading the blind.

I have a theory. Or theories actually. And I'd like to share them here. Yes, probably no one is going to read what I have to vomit out anyway, which is a good thing actually, because my intention here is to be direct and caustic. I am probably gonna step on a few toes here and there, and diss a few bands and musicians in the process - something which I am not very excited about, but I want to be as brutally honest as possible. I don't really hate anyone in the scene, contrary to popular belief. I mean, in order to hate someone you need to know that person... and I hardly know anyone from the circuit in the truest sense.

Another thing which I hope people understand is that my point of view is totally an unbiased one... yes baby, you better believe it! I am not a musician after all. I'm a listener. A music fan. I am a part of the audience who is standing in front of the stage while the performers do their thing. I am the person who is there attending YOUR show. I am the guy who is at the music store buying YOUR album. And as much as I need YOUR music to keep me sane and happy, YOU need me to come to YOUR gigs to cheer after every song YOU perform just to boost YOUR ego. YOU need ME to go to the store to buy YOUR album, YOUR band tee-shirt, YOUR band poster, etc etc etc. We have a 100% symbiotic relationship going on here - so please remember that. I scratch your back, you scratch mine. It's the way the world is.

So this is me the listener, standing in the audience, listening to some band... its just me and the music. Nothing else. It's not about the drummer who I hang out with once a week at the local pub. It's not about the sexy hot babe standing in front of me who's phone number I managed to get in exchange for promising to introduce her to the vocalist. It's not about the guitarist who nicked my chemistry notes before exam time during our college days.
It's not about that at all.
It's just about the music. Only the music.

Sometimes musicians are so deep into their ego-trip that they lose a sense of reality. I find this very funny. Silly actually. I hate this pseudo ego attitude thing that musicians seem to go through. And I haven't met a single musician that wasn't affected in some way and to some degree. Sickening really. Take pride in your body of work, but don't make it turn you into a bloated carcass.

Similarly, there is this section of society who need to pass a comment on everything that moves, sings, dances and farts. They can't get a good night's sleep if they do otherwise. You can't miss these parasites, gigs seem to attract them like light-bulbs do to a moth - the guy/gal who knows everything about music inside out. The moron who will analyze to death each chord/beat he/she hears. That member of the audience who feels he/she needs to be heard even more than the vocalist singing on stage.
A poison in the circuit. Every city has a few. So does Kolkata.

I never understood how their brains work - if you don't like a particular band then you don't - it's cool. Who said you have to like every damn musician in this city? But why do you have to be at their show then? Does your being present provide the performer divine strength? Does the band's ratings improve with you in attendance? I mean, what is it???


Before I begin the serious stuff, I'd like to reiterate a few things here.

As the title of this blog states, I'm here to toss around a few theories - some good, some bad, some ugly. I am not here to sing the praises of certain venues like Someplace Else or to list down the achievements (in chronological order) of Cassini's Division. This here blog is not an attempt to convert everyone into becoming a metalhead like me either.
Also, I am not going to rant and rave about the negatives of classic rock and why singing covers are so uncool.

No. None of the above.

I have been attending gigs and checking out bands of different genres in Kolkata for more than 10 years now. Times have changed certainly, bands have come and gone. Some have done pretty well for themselves while others have just vanished like your shit being flushed down the toilet. Musical styles have changed. Times have changed.
And yet, despite all the changes that have taken place it is very apparent that me, the listener and you, the musician have remained stuck in some kind of weird limbo. And like I mentioned at the start, sometimes it's like we don't even realise that we are in a motionless maze. You've seen the Matrix Trilogy? You've seen Inception? Yes? Well that is exactly what we all are in - in this dream-world where apparently things look perfect. And yet we are just one second away from waking up and seeing that everything around us is just a dream and that life is total crap. And yes we haven't even moved a single inch from where we had started.

I'm sure that if you were as jobless as I was, you'd come to the same logical conclusions that I am about to propagate. You'd have to. It's all about fitting together all the pieces of this jigsaw puzzle... the pieces are all there right in front of us. You just need the patience and the time. Ya, being jobless like me does help as well, to be honest.

Some of the pieces for us to look at:
** The live music scene in Kolkata pre 2000 AD

** Classic rock and it's popularity
** The emergence of a parallel Bangla rock scene
** The young generation and the Indian education system
** Indian society vs. the "School Of Rock"
** Why do we fear Heavy Metal?
** Torrents, downloads, Planet M and Music World
** The internet
** Bollywood is not the enemy

... there are probably a few more pieces I will be listing but right now this is what shall get me started. If anyone is reading all this, well I hope you stick around. Feel free to agree/disagree with me as you please.

Tuesday, September 07, 2010

Why Do We Blog Anyway?

Been a long time since I blogged. More than a year.

And a lot has happened since my last piece on Aila and Sector-V.

Apart from the proverbial "I'm a year older" (which is a given), quite a few things have occurred this past year and they have been rather interesting "things". Well most of them at least... and most of these "most of them" have been positive "things". Of course there have been the few negatives as well. And there are the few unsettled-still-not-done-and-dusted issues that have merrily rolled over from the previous year to the current one.

No, I'm not here to compile a list of my achievements and failures since my last blog-time. I'm not that kind of a person actually. What's mine is mine and not for everyone to know. My list would probably bore the death out of the casual reader anyway.

But it is funny how some people I know have converted their blogs into a daily diary of sorts. And they have no qualms about vomiting out in detail stuff regarding their love life and even their sex life. It makes for interesting reading to be honest, and hey, it's not my duty to say what's right and what's wrong to them. It's their choice - freedom of expression using whatever medium they so desire.

There is this one blog which has left me totally totally fixated, almost to the point of obsession. A young woman who's name is Radha - she's an air-hostess flying with Singapore Airlines. And yes, she's Manipuri, just like me.
I don't know her personally. She most likely graduated from Bangalore - and we had exchanged scraps a few times on Orkut during her stay there. She had this really interesting profile, this apparently excellent taste in music (rock obviously), and she was hot and very attractive. So being the weirdo male that I am, I scrapped her. And she scrapped back... we exchanged the odd scrap for 2-3 weeks. Then she probably got bored of me.
And that was that :)

Well, I thought so at least...

For some reason (call it the Curious George syndrome), I happened to re-visit her profile. I guess to check out her photos again (ya ya I know!), but my luck, she'd deleted all of them from her Orkut album.
But she did have this link to her blog. And I decided to check it out, since, as you all are well aware of, I am a blogger too (otherwise you wouldn't be reading this shit).

And what I read from her blog was nothing short of edgy, gripping and gut-wrenching. Not to sound over-dramatic, but it has left me a changed person.

For most of you who aren't aware, Manipur is a small teeny weeny state situated in the North-East of India. It's kind've locked between Myanmar and other hilly states like Meghalaya, Nagaland and Mizoram. The capital city of Imphal is predominantly a Hindu belt. And when I say Hindu belt, I mean hard-core Hinduistic! Liberal, open-minded house-holds (to my knowledge) are few and far between. Especially so since most families are of the Hindu Undivided Joint Family type - so that would mean 2-3 families (maybe more) living together with a typical patriarchical figure-head acting as moral/local guardian for everyone residing under the same roof. The young generation doing their "thing" is looked down upon by the elders of society. And the young generation, in my opinion, reach a point where, when they do manage to leave Imphal and break the shackles of society, automatically get afflicted by this "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" syndrome - and this leaves them undergoing a sudden transformation in lifestyle and beliefs. Principles and values and other moral lessons that had been shoved into their brains seem to get lost or they undergo a complete re-working after their so-called-freedom is attained.

Am I rambling?

No I am not. But let me elucidate some more...

For me, having been born in the USA and then having spent most of  my "educated" life in this big bad city Kolkata, the rules and regulations of life in Manipur were never an issue for me. I've lived my life colorfully, the way any city-bred guy would live. I've done things which I would never blog about, I have gone to extremes on many an occasion, and there are certain incidents in my past that I certainly do not look back upon with pride. I obviously cannot run away from my past or my present. So hiding is no solution. But learning from my past is. And this I try to do, sometimes with success, sometimes not so successfully - but yes, I try. Of course each day brings about a new challenge. And we do new things, meet new people, have new experiences - so all I've seen, all I've done, all I've experienced, all I've learnt has hopefully made me a more mature and wiser person. And liberal too. Modern, open-minded and liberal.
You see a kid doping on the side-walk. You see a woman puking out her lungs after a drink too many. You see a young teenage girl smoking like there's no tomorrow. You see an old man making out with a college kid... you know, stuff which society frowns down upon. My folks would have a fit if they saw some of the things that I'd seen. Most of my relatives in Manipur would have passed out from shock for sure. Hell, getting a tattoo is like a big deal to them.

And that is normal, ain't it? Because these people haven't come across such scenes in their lives. And they do not know how to handle incidents like these - the normal reaction would probably be to look the other way and ignore, pretend you hadn't seen anything. And of course you also start to dig deep inside your mind, looking for past references to lessons that would give you direction and help allow you to handle such scenes. Chances are though (if you are in their shoes) you won't find any such references. So you start to invent labels. Labels for each person involved in each act that you find is a violation of your principles and values.
Values are important. If you don't have any, you couldn't classify yourself as a human being. We all have them, as do rapists, murderers, dictators, anarchists, everyone (even though their value system pretty much has no resemblance to ours, you can bet on that). Values are what guide you through your daily life till the day you die.

So yes, I've seen stuff, done stuff, blah blah blah. I've had the opportunity to edit and modify my "value" system on a few occasions. So when I see a kid doping or a young woman smoking or whatever, I don't freak out. I do have the sensibility and intelligence to understand what is going on around me. And I don't need labels to make things easier for me. What is happening around me doesn't always need to be black or white, because there is enough gray in this society of ours to provide me with suitable explanations to all the things that we get to see and experience in our society.
Does that make me an open-minded, mature, liberal person?
You betcha it does.

But sometimes you come across people, or in this case, a person (and a virtual person at that!) who's life experiences and life-style totally baffle you. Blows your mind away. Hits you like a sledgehammer. And then you start to understand why the older generation freaks out when they see things that they don't relate too. Yes you suddenly find yourself in their shoes as well. You start frantically searching for references inside your brain and you find nothing. Suddenly simple equations which you thought you knew blind-folded don't seem to make sense anymore. And you then start to question the liberal open-mindedness that you seemed to be so proud of.

I do not know Radha. Scrapping a person a few times does not amount to "knowing" a person. I have never met Radha. And I probably never will. She is a complete zero in my life. And yet everytime I read her blog I can't help but feel for her. It's like I want to look her straight in the eye and tell her to get a grip on her life! To push her off this self-destructive road that she seems to be treading. To just shout, "WAKE UP WOMAN!!!"

I spoke of young adults breathing a fresh air of life once they leave their home Imphal behind - and how they change into something that they were so not what they were - well, this young woman takes the proverbial piece of cake. Probably nothing in her wildest dreams would have allowed her to know how her life path would take the course that it is currently on.

I think myself to be open-minded, liberal... and yet what this Manipuri "leishabi" has experienced and done, I'd probably need a ladder to reach her level. And the worst part? Reading her blogs you can feel her pain, her awareness that what she is doing is wrong and totally "NOT" what she would have been doing if she was back home in Imphal. And it's like she's trapped in this vicious cycle - not knowing how to break free from it... and sadly, it doesn't seem like she wants to break free from it either.

My whole point in writing all this probably got drowned somewhere after the 1st few paragraphs. But let me go back a bit before I end my long "come-back"
Like I was saying, many things have happened in this period since my last blog. And as I said, I am not the kind of person to list them all down here in my blog site. But there are people who consider a blogspot to be just that... a place where they can vent their feelings and emotions, for lack of any other mechanism to do so... a place where things can be safely said, since such things cannot be expressed publicly or explicitly for fear of repercussions... or just a place where the blogger sends out a silent cry for help - silent, since he or she knows that no one is going to respond to their cry.

But whatever, I am back. I like to blog and hopefully I shall continue to do so at regular intervals.

And I shall also continue to follow Radha's blog and feel her pain from a distance. A pain that is sure to increase with each passing day in her life.
I hope she proves me wrong and I wish her the best

Her blogspot, if you are interested:
Wreck Of The Day