This is a photograph from last Friday night. The occasion is a “pre-party” event for the NH7 Weekender, which happens in Bangalore this coming weekend. The four people you see on stage are Adam & the Fish-Eyed Poets, who are responsible for one of the best albums I’ve heard this year. The three others are the crowd.
This isn’t about the Poets, and neither is it – beyond a point – about the Weekender. Rather, this picture is a metaphor for the systemic failure of the live music business as it stands, and the stubborn refusal of the indie media to either recognise or acknowledge it.
The two biggest mistakes you can make about a gig like this are to write it off as a one-off bum night, or to ascribe some kind of cult cool to the idea of just a handful of people turning up to watch a great band in their early days. It doesn’t always show itself up as starkly as this, but the country is full of talented musicians who suffer from the total lack of a committed and engaged audience. And cult cool presumes that these bands will be big one day, which is far from self-evident: not every rock ‘n’ roll story ends happily.
But dealing in blame is too easy too. The fact of it is, this show bombed in spite of everyone involved pulling their weight as best as they knew: the sound was great, the venue is well-known, both the Poets, and Grey Shack who played before them, have something of a name in these circles, and the event was tied to a brand which everyone always holds up as some sort of local success story; in short, the whole thing was done by the rulebook: which means the rulebook must be wrong.
The Weekender is the most hyped music festival in the country. It will kick off silly season for the indie media: the internet will be flooded with glowing reviews, high-definition photographs, and reports of thrilled crowds; the entire scene will conspire to dress it up as a thumping victory for Indian pop. What will be lost in the single-minded craziness is that the scene continues to be mired in a set of problems that are both complex and unique to it, and that these will be the death of everything unless someone owns up to them honestly: because admitting you have a problem is the only way to start sorting it out.
Photographed from up close that Friday night, the Fish-Eyed Poets would have looked exactly like a young and ambitious group on their way up in a healthy, rewarding scene. Sometimes you need to step back to see things for how they really are.