I had someone bring up the “drab” Indian music scene on one of the recent comments, one of the sane ones, that is, without any potheaded carrying-on about wanks and farts. Let’s clear this up: I do not think the Indian scene is necessarily drab, or, at any rate, I do not think it is condemned to be forever. It is maddeningly hard to get a handle on, and it isn’t analogous to anything else in the world, but that isn’t surprising. India doesn’t do analogous anyway, the entire country from the water supply up to the railway stations is one drawn-out bout of uniquely frustrating birdbrainedness. Why expect this to be normal?
I’m one to talk though; I’m still reeling from the turd parade I watched this evening at Bangalore’s favourite house of horrors. Now, this venue has, by pure chance, had a good act on now and then, but largely is a monument to what I think of as Classic India. i.e. horrible India. Black t-shirts with Slayer logos, goatees in abundance. A man’s beard tells you everything you need to know: a natty trim-job speaks of distinction, a burst gasket of random hair tells you he’s gone to hell. Goatees, specially chin-goatees without a mousch, are best viewed with caution; scratch a goatee and you may find that a Metallica fan lurks just behind. Very grim.
The point, though, isn’t that the bores continue to thrive: it is that there are enough very good things happening in spite of them, enough good things to make up a whole entire scene unto itself, distinct and separate from the ape-rock plague. In other words, we’ll just have to write off twenty years of dullness to experience, and concentrate on what’s coming up now. The real question is, what do we do with the ones who don’t suck?
Three things, actually. Cut all ties to Classic India, and pretend it never happened. This will actually be easier than you think. Can’t imagine being wistful about Indus Creed. Work on a whole different tour circuit for a different breed of crowd: it doesn’t make sense when up-and-coming scratch-and-jerk-pop band the Arse Bandits try to play to the goatees-and-black-tees. What the Arse Bandits need, then, is to get together with their rabble-rousing pub-rock mates, the Lavender Larrys, pool in their resources and, more importantly, pool in their fans, so, when they go on tour as a double bill, their crowds don’t run dry, forcing them to cater to the boneheaded musical needs of an audience that isn’t fundamentally theirs.
Second, we need to gently wean crowds and groups off making the connection between a gig and a high-life night-out. They aren’t the same thing, so there’s no reason why going to a show should also involve air-conditioning and waiters in white shirts. It either drives prices up, which is bad for punters for obvious reasons, but worse for bands in the long run, because it keeps gigs from being affordable as regular entertainment. Or, if you force the prices down, it eats into the band’s profits. In both cases, it sets the wrong sort of tone, keeps students out and yuppies in; these are all bad things.
Finally, and this ties in closely with the last point, we need to manage ticket prices. The cover charges in this country are frightful if you think of how much people actually make in a month. Up-and-coming bands need an up-and-coming crowd; to do this it’ll take setting some kind of a benchmark value for the cover, say a hundred and fifty rupees a gig on the outside, something which will allow the usually destitute, but also the usually enthusiastic and loyal, student crowd to attend, say, five or six shows a month. A good gig needs a shed and a barman keeping the beers cold and manning the till, and a corner of the room set aside for the Arse Bandits-Lavender Larrys joint venture, with a rented drum set and amps borrowed from your friends in the town. It is an attractive idea to play large stages with lights and film backdrops; it is also a bit of a trap.
So: the Arse Bandits and the ‘Larrys, do your big festival appearances when you have to and get a good photo-op out of them if you must, but remember, to ply your wares on the free-market with any degree of success, you’ll need to do sweaty little holes full of young people who won’t expect you to break out into blues covers and will, if you can get them to love you once, stay with you forever. Since such holes aren’t yet known to exist, we’ll just have to make them up as we go along. Mohammed & the mountain.
The right audience and the right atmosphere count for more than a stage which looks right. Drunk kids making out in the loos is a good start, better than cutlery and cloth napkins. Get an audience of fifty and make a roaring fuck-off racket, and do it week upon week. There’s a world waiting for the Arse Bandits and the Lavender Larrys and all the other cool little groups sprouting up all over the country; it would be a howling mishap if we let this chance slip.