Early this month, as many as 500 people converged on the 17th century fort of Alsisar in Rajasthan, to listen to bands as diverse as SkyRabbit, Kutle Khan and Robert Koch. “That’s not bad if you consider that we wanted to keep it a niche and intimate festival,” says Munbir Chawla of the first Magnetic Fields Festival that saw participation from around 30 local bands playing everything from jazz to electronica, folk and indie. Music festivals, of course, have seen a veritable explosion, with as many as 30 big and small organised round the year, some in remote corners of the country. The most interesting of these is the one being held in sleepy Ziro in Arunachal Pradesh for two years now, where the attraction is as much the homegrown artistes as it is apang, the local millet beer.
“One of the best things to happen to independent music this year has been the cropping up of more festivals,” says Vijay Nair of OML. Nair’s NH7 Weekender festival, in its fourth year, attracted 10,000 people in its maiden outing at Kolkata. “This is the best turn-out we’ve had at a metro where the festival has travelled for the first time,” he says. “With the sudden zeal new festivals have pushed in, there are more bands and artistes. And, there’s always someone who will listen,” says Anup Kutty, journalist and guitarist with Menwhopause, the brain behind Ziro Festival of Music.
Apart from festivals, the music community has also been active online this year. “What is positive about the alternative music space is that young musicians today find an audience online, opening them to the idea of exploring new genres. Self-publishing and distribution through the Internet has had immensely satisfying results. It needs no time and effort, and you retain copyright,” says singer Shubha Mudgal, whose decade-long Underscore Records has been facilitating a non-profit exchange between contemporary Indian classical artistes and their audience.
Then there are outlets like OkayListen.com, a homegrown site that for a nominal price offers independent music by 250 bands. “Most of our artistes are independent musicians; they make up about 95% of our sales,” says founder Vijay Basrur.
While popular bands like The Raghu Dixit Project and Agam had great sales this year, newbies Tajdar Junaid and Nischay Parekh, too, had an upswing on sales. “There is now a greater awareness and willingness amongst people to pay for independent music. We are creating a foundation for this exchange. The response has been incremental. In the next five years, growing artistes like Parekh and Junaid will find a loyal fanbase,” says Basrur.
Rudy Wallang, frontman of Shillong-based blues band Soulmate, reminisces, “When I was with The Great Society [a rock band in the 1980s which also had Lou Majaw], we had two albums for which there was barely an audience. Today, fans of Soulmate scream out requests for ‘Set Me Free’ and ‘Your Sweet Loving’, instead of requesting for covers,” says Wallang.
Clearly, originality has found an audience.