I’m going to step off my Fish-Eyed cloud for a moment to survey the calamity that was the rest of the Great Indian Oktoberfest. There is something cardinally wrong with a community which can support an overpriced display of clueless bad taste over no less than three full days; the task at hand is to now spot it, isolate it, and put it to a speedy end. Every time I watch someone like the Ska Vengers I think of putting out the victory flags and announcing amnesty and free pardon to all of India’s various musical offenders; every time something like this obscenity rolls around, my little bubble bursts – pooft – and I know the plebs are alive and well and breeding as we speak.
Rock in India started to ossify as soon as it was born. Take this Indus Creed. I can imagine that in 1985, the idea of a local band of any sort was novel enough for the public to have spared them a well-deserved cold-shoulder for their unwavering commitment to stereotype. But, horribly, it turns out there’s still a market for these guys, now that they’ve risen again and are taking up stage time for a whole other generation in a whole other century. And what’s more, though it’s hard to tell cause from effect, the whole idea of “rock” in India has taken on this turgid, Creedinous form, and, in over nearly three decades with some metallising in between, guitar music has come to be permanently lumped in with leather jackets, black t-shirts, medallions, motorcycles and the inevitable beef-brained frontman. And then, the Oktoberfest: Bangalore joyously celebrating all this for two thousand rupees a punt.
Here’s the rub: we do not have enough of an audience to make more than a few huge events a year worthwhile. Genre-specific festivals are out of the question: to make up the huge costs of putting something up on this scale, an organiser has to attract a more widespread, less discerning class of customer, which, in turn, calls for a less discerning class of act. The poor few who do know and care enough to notice that they’re being sold a dud will turn up anyway: there isn’t anywhere else to go.
This bean-counting approach to event management has led to this bloat. The trend needs reversing. What we need is much smaller festivals, and more of them, with more specialised crowds. Five or six bands to a gig and an audience numbering in the few hundreds, with risk to organisers and cost to attendees kept at manageable levels. It doesn’t go towards making as much of a splash in the papers, but it is good business for small venues and a regular, safer return on sponsors’ money. What’s more, it allows meiosis within the scene, fosters healthy, self-sufficient niches, allows bands to play to crowds they really want to play to and gig-goers to pick the shows they like. This is the only way to develop a genuinely brisk scene, and it benefits everybody: audiences, businesses, musicians, and the quality of their music.
It’ll take a snapping out of the conceit of the mega-event though. That might be too much to ask. The inbreds who organise these things never learn.