Okay, you nasty, evil-smelling dickheads, I bet you all thought old Uncle Moop were a-dead-and-goner, didn’t you? Bet you all partied out on your Thermal-in-a-Quandary EPs all over
Smoochie-Woochie-Let’s-all-Send-Silly-Messages-to-One-Another-on-Facebook-so-we-can-Pretend-we-Have-a-Life-Day this St. Valentine’s Day; well here’s bringing back good taste and an urgently needed sense of proportion to your lives. As it happens, nobody’s dud-and-gum, I still inhabit the Land of the Living, and I still worry myself to death over the awful, close-minded, backslapping bunch of inbreds who move ‘n’ shake the Indian popscene; worst of all, I worry about the poor souls who have to make a living selling their music here, in the third-world, which is plagued by so many troubles that, by the time you’re done figuring out where you stand on the BT brinjal and infant mortality, you’ve no space left in your head to work out if a pop record is any good or not.
Let’s spell out the problem: this is India. And slice it whichever way you like, it is still fundamentally opposed to the kind of good-humoured free-spiritedness that spawns pop culture on any noticeable scale. Rock ‘n’ roll, as we know it, is born of sex and getting smashed; the country largely still can’t get its head around either: if you’re a band who make and sell that sort of music, therefore, your customers are limited at the outset to the very few Indians who either don’t really subscribe to the larger country outside, or those who can convincingly pretend on a Friday evening that they don’t.
But you knew this already: you knew this the minute you saw that the five pubs in your city which put on weekend gigs are sad little islands of mood-lighting and designer furniture, which look nothing like the broken, littered, smoke-ridden street outside, where you’d struggle to find an auto to drive you home for the legal fare after closing time: the drinking spots that truly represent your town are the packed street-side bars which smell of piss and male-sweat, stale booze, and glycerine, and you wouldn’t be seen dead in one of those, least of all if you’re a girl.
The “pub” model as it stands is the social equivalent of the gated community; it is a case of a moneyed class walling itself in: pleasant as this may be, it has neither the pulling power, nor the social traction to drive anything larger than a touring circuit which consists of under twenty stops in a few thousand kilometres. If you believe that urban India has it in itself to support intelligent, creative life, you’ll agree that it the opportunities it offers are far too few.
Here’s the deal, and it’s true because I say so: there are only two ways out of this. The first is a deeper level of engagement with the country, and it’s something I’ve carried on about forever: a robust, self-perpetuating scene cannot survive in what amounts to a thinly spread, artificially propped-up context. Bands need to play to the rest of the country, to bring, as it were, the burgers-and-fries of an alien indie vocabulary to the rice-eaters: and I happen to believe this is easier than anyone is willing to admit.
The second, and I’ll expand upon this as I go along, is to get Indian indie to sell outside of India. And this, by my reckoning, will be a bit of a bitch.
The divide between popscene India and actual India, in terms of aesthetics, ideologies, and vocabulary, is terrifying – there’s the Peter Cat Recording Company, and then there’s the outbreak of ridiculousness that follows every Feb 14th – but it needs to be bridged. Hiding from it won’t help, it will only perpetuate the illusion of pop culture, whilst blinding everyone with their own myths. You can’t work a balls-out, systemic change in how India perceives pop music from the top down: and a balls-out, systemic change in culture is exactly what we need most.