Published on January 27th, 2014 | by Oliver Pelling
India’s music scene is bigger than you think
Read time: a bit over 4 minutes
If there’s one woman who knows a thing or two about India’s booming music scene, it’s Lalitha Suhasini. As the editor of Rolling Stone India, Lalitha is kind of like the Grand Poobah, keeping an eye on and nurturing the Indian artists she thinks have what it takes to go the proverbial distance (as it turns out, a population of 1.237 billion means there are loads).
A veteran music journalist, Lalitha and her team have been lifting the lid on and gaining exposure for Indian acts since launching the mag back in 2007. Traditionally famous for the likes of Bhangra and Bollywood, India’s modern culture boasts far more, um, modern genres. Metal, electronica, folk rock and more are all thriving in the country’s cities, and international acts have been stopping by more regularly year-on-year.
For a traveller, getting a backstage pass to India’s music scene can be a tricky job, especially if you’ve only got limited time in the country. So we caught up with Lalitha for the full rundown on where to go, what to listen to and what festivals are set to go off in 2014.
Lalitha, do you think the music scene in India would surprise a traveller? Are there any areas in particular that are flourishing?
The scene in India exploded around 2007, and we launched the magazine in 2008. New bands emboldened by the scope of the internet began uploading their music online. The year was also significant because India took to electronica and folk fusion as it never had before. Bands such as Shaa’ir+Func (electro rock from Mumbai) and The Raghu Dixit Project (folk rock from Bengaluru) had just begun making waves and inspired other artists across the country to experiment.
Are tours from international acts becoming commonplace? What’s been the most notable tour or gig, for you, in recent times?
Tours and concerts have been commonplace since 2007 but music festivals have found a huge audience. In 2012, there were over 25 music festivals held in various parts of India. Rolling Stone India organizes the Kasauli Rhythm and Blues Festival in North India, which is in its third year now and has found an appreciative audience every year.
There were two memorable concerts for me in 2013 for various reasons: the first one was at the Rolling Stone Metal Awards (Rolling Stone India instituted the awards in 2010 to recognize Indian metal artists) where Mumbai band Scribe debuted brand new material from their upcoming album. I’m not into metal and I’ve watched Scribe before but this show proved why Scribe was not just another metal band but one of the biggest entertainers of the Indian metal scene, completely validating the Rolling Stone India cover (they made it to our cover in 2013). The next show was world music super star Manu Chao’s India debut. For one, I didn’t ever think that I’d watch to Manu Chao in Mumbai and I’d never seen such a spirited, visceral performance by any artist so that made my day. Plus, the show was on my birthday.
Are there any contemporary genres in India that are seeing a surge in talented new acts?
Metal has been big in India since the Nineties. Electro took off in 2007 and both genres have found a following that’s only growing. Drum n bass seems to have caught on with both electro artists and audiences and if not a surge, there definitely seems to be a upswing.
What’s your favourite thing about the music scene in India?
The fact that it’s evolving constantly and is only going to get bigger. The US and the UK may have seen this wave in the Seventies of fresh, promising independent music, but Indian music history is being written, as we speak, as far as alternative music is concerned and it’s exciting for me to be in the thick of it.
Which Indian city represents the hub of art, culture and music in India? Why do you think that is?
This is a tough one, but I think I’d be partial to Mumbai simply because of the diversity and accessibility really. I’ve attended three different kinds of gigs in one day and I don’t think any other city offers this kind of a scene. If I were in the mood for an art walk in the middle of my gig hopping, I can do that as well. There’s so much happening here every day of the week. I think Mumbai also wins over Delhi because of accessibility, by which I mean public transport and Mumbai definitely has the best in the country.
It is the people who make the city what it is and the people of Mumbai love to pack in – work, movies, music, art. It is a city that’s constantly buzzing and I think the very nature of the city makes its artists so prolific.
If someone was visiting India with a view to get stuck in to music scene, where would you advise they go? Any venues or festivals that you like in particular?
Blue Frog in Mumbai is a must-do for any traveller interested in music. The NH7 Weekender festival that kicks off in October in Pune and has editions in Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata is a must-attend to get a sense of the Indian music scene. Since Weekender is a multi-genre festival, there’s something for all kinds of music fans here.
If you’re heading to India anytime soon, check out Rolling Stone’s gig guide to ensure you get your fix of the local noise.