Scraping through greyscale hues and omnipresent melancholy, Bangalore has really lost its musical edge that it once proudly projected. The concept of having a plethora of gigs from different backgrounds, sonically and culturally have since dwindled. Morally and socially deprived, the music today barely reflects this angst; rather it is used as a lame excuse to get wasted on weekends. The so called “Music Scene” as such is a passé. Electronic music is a new inductee into this grim premise.
The sense of composing music being the priority has also taken a backseat. Bollywood themes and glorified presence of ‘hot’ models seems to be the draw rather than the music itself. Most DJs/ ‘electronic musicians’ around don’t really make their own music, choosing to play ‘commercial’ tunes reminiscent of jukeboxes of yesteryear. Ripping samples off the World Wide Web and fiddling with knobs pretty much sums up their whole act.
Sifting through this electronic rubble, a rendezvous with three homegrown electronic heads at CounterCulture post a music workshop conducted by UK underground heavyweight State of Bengal revealed a small glimpse of a possible uprising in the scene. Anand Vijayasimha, amidst his chat on Fender amplifiers and Royal Enfield bullets speaks to this trio on Bangalore, electronic music and the future that possibly lies in this city.
Arjun Chandran is a versatile guitarist with his roots steeped in the heartland of the blues. As one third of Bangalore based acousto-electric project ‘Schizophonic’, he is intent on creating music that is truly unique and experimental. “Bangalore, like any other Indian city, cannot afford a scene. Instead what we have is a loose association of artists who co-exist in a somewhat hostile environment, trying to make ends meet. Since Bangalore lays claim to something of a ‘nightlife’ culture, opportunities are in abundance for musicians, DJ's and music producers who wish to toe the commercial line. This has led to a reduced demand for new sounds in music and has diminished the number of musicians who feel that taking new directions with their music is still worth the effort.”
His band member Prashant Pallemoni is the talented producer from an off the wall project called ‘PandA System’. He also operates under the alias of UNNAYANAA. “This city has great ears and an eager heart. Sadly its eyes are being diverted with eye candy and minds lured into emptying pockets at venues where the centre of attraction is watching an equivalent of a deodorant advertisement become reality."
He continues, “As a result, gaining in immeasurable number, are commercially inclined DJ's/producers/musicians living the illusion of providing high standards of work. This leaves little room for experimentation and not only is that discouraging but to add insult to injury, there’s criticism from mass media for any offbeat creative efforts. Apart from this, there is an attack on the facilitators by the monetarily degradable ‘Cultural Army’ for attempts to promote musicians (who don’t even fall into a tax bracket) with honest earnings. The facts that fail to show the clear divide and disconnection between the ‘drunk driving scene’ and ‘musical experimentation scene’ are condemned.”
Nikhil Narendra is the latest entrant and is gaining popularity for his interesting forays into this little Bangalore music scene. Formerly active with psy/alt rockers The Bicycle Days, Nikhil remains positive on the music scene in the city. “The scene here is evolving. Apart from the hurdles of the nightlife clamp down, and people cribbing about venues being so far away, we musicians are going strong and the near future looks good for all of us.”
The venues too play a crucial role. Speaking to Meghana Vakada, one of the city’s EDM forerunners and the founder of Bacchus, she highlighted some of the difficulties faced when putting out good electronic gigs. She explained; “there's always a 'Catch 22'. The idea of programming experimental artists is harder because everyone is attuned to going out just to have a good time. The scene in the city used to be much more open to the idea of having new sounds as regular routine. As far as live electronic acts are concerned there is still a dearth of artists who really push the sound into newer avenues.”
Prashant commemorated a few places for their continual efforts for promoting good music, “we would like to give it up to the few venues like BFlat, CounterCulture and Rooftop Grill Bar that are going against the grain and are trying to explore the horizons of music and facilitate for experimentation, even in a situation such as this.”
Arjun however pointed out another malignant problem, “venues in Bangalore all seem to show some inclination towards promoting live music performances. The meagre handful that actually follow-through with it are plagued by corrupt authorities (armed with mind-numbingly archaic legislature), monolithic dinosaur bands (that have 3-page tech riders and a gazillion zeroes in their invoices) and a largely disinterested audience that show up for gigs at 10pm in a town that shuts by 11pm.”
Thoroughly examining the current state, the need to revert back to being more open to new music is only the start. Being proactive is what matters. Artists, venues, audience and the general social scene should strive together in creating an environment where the true creative forms of music can grow and be enjoyed more than its trivial, commercial, shoddy counterparts. Arjun concluded by saying, “all in all, there aren't enough performers, venues and fans to support separate scenes. There is no ‘electronic music scene’, ‘rock scene’ or ‘jazz and blues scene’ in Bangalore. Everything is happening out of the same workshops and everyone knows everyone else. Blues singers are jamming with dubstep DJs, jazz soloists are designing performances with filmmakers and movement artists and turntablists are trading tihai’s with the taka dhimi guys. It’s all a big mess.” Prashant's then went on to suggest that the laws in this country need to change, and for that to happen, we the victims need to unite and demand a clear and distinct law for performing arts. Not a vague one that can be used (as required) for us to be treated as ‘gutter beings’ on our way back home. "We need to take a stand as expressive artists and not as ‘nightlife feeders’."
Nikhil Narendra put in a few final words about the scene; “the music scene in the country is picking up. Artists and audiences are growing and there is an increasing affinity between performers and listeners. Bangalore has a great underground music scene with some very talented people.”
This is the first of a regular column by CounterCulture, Bangalore for Wild City.
As its own independent initiative CounterCulture is starting '0101 Electronic Nights'. (Listen to CounterCulture SoundCloud here/listen below)
The idea is to take forward the concept of live electronic acts and make it a regular phenomenon in the city. Catch the first edition this Sunday 17 June with Masta Justy and Nikhil Narendra. Also catch Schizophonic live at CounterCulture this Saturday 16 June.
Words: Anand Vijayasimha
14 June 2012