Each weekend, the moneyed classes of Bangalore assemble to play out a ritual tragedy. This rite, otherwise ‘a night at the pub’, is of some significance: within the walls of the few establishments which cater to it, it allows the shiny and the delicate of the city to dress up and to act in ways which would spell murder outside. For an evening, and for a price, you can nurture the delusion that you don’t live in an ugly, cluttered, dysfunctional town, whose habitants will be happy to denounce you for your loose ways, your short skirt, your smoking habit, and the fact that you think it’s okay to sleep with people you aren’t married to. Until, that is, the licensing laws force you to tramp back out, onto the tarmac even before it’s midnight, knowing there isn’t a single place you can buy yourself a drink, nor a park bench for miles on which you can settle safely for a bit to take the air.
Shaa’ir & Func fit perfectly into all of this: they look the part and they’ve learnt the moves; they’re star entertainment for the upmarket nightlife crowd, and they embody all the shallow, desperate celebration that implies. They dress like most people believe stars ought to; they do the usual line in “Hello, Bangalore, how are you tonight?” showmanship, and they peddle a brand of music that nobody actually seems to like but everyone agrees is the right sort of thing to play in clubs. Chest-hair and leather are so outmoded: say hello to the cliché of tomorrow.
S&F are, by the lowered standards of our time and place, a successful group: this means they get to show up at the big F&B events, walk away with prizes at awards ceremonies, and, occasionally, score a show outside of the country. Between all of these things, there’s a lot for the indie press to crow about. Their flamboyant stage act and their nominal cross-genre sound are easy to buy into. On the most superficial level, at least, they check the right boxes: the average lunkhead who writes for the alt. culture rags wouldn’t dream of arguing against something that features a cute girl on the microphone, a wilfully eccentric-looking guitarist, and the “electronic” genre tag. The entire scene’s collective ego is held up by the pretence that this kind of stuff is new, clever, and defiant: S&F aren’t about to go away.
In terms of their ethics, S&F are thoroughly mainstream, and their whole act endorses the grubby crassness of the urban Indian entertainment industry. The industry, in turn, has rewarded them thoroughly. In terms of their music, there is absolutely nothing wrong with them – their stage show is tight and energetic, the effects on the drum set are pretty cool, and they aren’t hobbled by self-consciousness the way so many small groups are. And that is the trouble in a nutshell: having absolutely nothing wrong seems far too little to settle for, especially when it comes along with enough hype to sink a ship.
The Indian popscene will, by the circumstances of its birth and existence, always be disconnected from the greater realities of the country. Its values and its aesthetics are imported: the type of people to whom something like a ‘pop culture’ would make any sense are too few and too scattered to ever be representative. To everyone else, such pretensions are alien at best, and actively threatening at worst, best stamped out quickly. This is a fundamental handicap because, in order to survive, the scene is forced to tie up with industries who are the natural enemy of creativity and subversiveness. The best groups fight this, however ineffectually. Others – like S&F – play along.
The result is predictable: mediocrity piled upon mediocrity, the artist and their audience complicit in never challenging one another or the state of things, together conspiring to prop up the hollow illusion of an artistically thriving music scene which doesn’t exist, and, at this rate, never will.