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Indie in India

Indie in India
Japandroids, courtesy of Coachella, 2013
It’s with a twinge of pain that I notice that indie rock has found few, very few takers in India. All over the world, indie acts of all stripes, though not compatible with mainstream tastes, have already emerged into the mainstream. Everywhere, the acceptance for the alternative has only grown and indie rock has seen unprecedented efflorescence. Everywhere, just not in India.

You can imagine my surprise when, in 2009, I happened to be reading Sanjoy Narayan’s column in the Hindustan Times and discovered that he had mentioned and praised The Hold Steady — a band I worked with in the US. I was thrilled and shocked to see this band being written about and discussed like Narayan had just seen them, and had been following their career. I was even more surprised when, one day, while sitting in my office at Random House India, where I was the head of the publicity department, I received a call from Michael Macy, the cultural attaché from the American Embassy. He loved The Hold Steady, had heard that I knew the band and wanted to bring them on a tour of India. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen as the band was in transition and could not make the trip at the time. I tried unsuccessfully to find another band to come, but came up empty. Finally, I urged a band called Hurricane Bells (it comprised members from several New York indie bands) that had a song on the Twilight soundtrack. Not a sell-out in the States, but they could bring in 200 people at any club in the US, by virtue of being known from their former bands, if not of their own talent. The tour was a huge success, with the band’s CDs and T-shirts all sold out. Most importantly, the band was appreciative of their wonderful and welcoming experience in every city they performed in.

I  was sure this would be the first of many indie bands I would bring to India to tour. I’d now been living in India for almost one year and had a few friends with similar musical tastes. The people I’d met in India who were familiar with the bands and music I would mention were scarce, but they did exist. We could discuss Wilco, The Smashing Pumpkins, Yo La Tengo, Archers of Loaf, The XX, and an array of current indie acts, but when I mentioned The Gits, Lemonheads, Scream, Buffalo Tom, the Sugarcubes, Dinosaur Jr., Wolf Parade or Thee Hypnotics, I could have been speaking another language as no one had any clue to who these bands were. Indie bands that were well established elsewhere were still relatively obscure in India. I realised this more when I found out that Nick Cave had written a new book and was looking for a publisher in India. My editor had just returned from the London Book Fair where she was told it would become the hottest book of the year. I remember shrieking with excitement. I’d seen Nick Cave many times and was a huge fan. The Death of Bunny Munro was going to be the hottest book in India…how could anyone not love Nick Cave, the musician and the writer. I soon found out that Nick Cave, and his Bunny Munro, were not going to be a hit. Very few people in India knew Nick Cave the musician. I did reach out to a few journalists I knew that were into Indie and asked them to take a quick read and if they liked the book to give it a favourable review. The title had poor sales to say the least, whereas in the US and abroad it was on all the bestsellers’ lists.
I just could not understand how Nick Cave could not be known in India. As Oprah would say, my Ah-ha moment was on the horizon.

A local ska band had posted an announcement for an upcoming gig on Facebook, and I posted a not-so-nice comment about them being unoriginal and doing nothing new. One of the members responded, and rightly so, that I was being a “hater” and I should support new music in India, because in the Indian scene, ska was a new thing. They were the only ska band. Of course. Now I got it. This is new to the Indian music scene, and can only pave the road for the acceptance of other genres of music.

While working as a publicist at Taang! Records (the music the astronauts took to the moon) in the late 80’s and early 90’s, I had the opportunity to work with one of the greatest ska bands ever, The Mighty Mighty Bosstones. They weren’t the only ska band in Boston at the time: We had Bim Ska La Bim, the Allstonians, and touring bands like the Specials, Less Than Jake, The Voodoo Glowskulls and Operation Ivy.  We had Moon Records, and ska nights, and the Bosstones, set precedence by wearing suits and fedora hats. They toured and still do, around the world and play at festivals to crowds of thousands. Every year, they host the Hometown Throwdown with other local bands, a tradition that still sells out almost immediately.

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