Musejam | Connecting India's Live muisc Space

From Tea Shops to Bass Drops – The Evolution of India’s Live Music Scene

       We all just have to love it, don’t we?  The cheering crowds, the on-stage antics of  musicians, the sounds, the lights, the energy, the passion and the anaesthetic attributes of live performances. There’s a certain sense of satisfaction felt in seeing an artist perform in front of one’s eyes, to be present with them in their moment of creation and expression; to become a direct part of the performance  – free from edits, cuts, takes and retakes, free from any devices that may be used to warp raw talent.  It is, simply put, the bliss of existence.

    The post-independence era had seen some live music being performed, especially Jazz bands such as Chic and the Music Makers, who performed regularly at the Green’s Hotel. However, live music during the 50s lacked one thing – the ability to provide a living for the musicians. Slowly, softly, more and more of these musicians and bands were recruited by Bollywood to perform in studio recordings, ultimately killing their desire to play live.  

    However, India’s live music scene took to its feet around half a century ago, during the 60s. Western Rock and Roll had just reached the ears and hearts of musical visionaries in India. And, tired of the same old Bollywood songs, people wanted to explore what they could and couldn’t do with their new found styles. Bands were formed that started to cover famous and trending western songs and some even started composing their own music. Unfortunately, with hardly any funding and not a lot of options for mass media, these bands would find it hard to get their music to reach the people. They needed to desperately integrate into the society.

        The Indian Live music revolution started in a small restaurant nested in the Park Street of Kolkata  – the one and only Trinca’s. What used to be a tea room opened by a Swiss, Mr. Trinca during the 20s, was soon transformed into a hub for aspiring Indian bands searching for an audience. With a stage set up in one corner, Trinca’s hosted live bands at the venue each and every day. The bands mainly performed Jazz. However, all that changed in 1966, when local band Chequered Tricycle made its debut at the venue. A six-member band, Chequered Tricycle were known to introduce the works of Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix and then later Led Zeppelin. Trinca’s was also host to a number of other live acts including Usha Iyer  and The Flintstones (now Usha Uthup), Eve, Molly, Jenny, Vivian Hanson, Benny Rozario and Flora.

                         Nowdays, Trinca’s still caters to a huge number of people. The taste of music may have changed and the a larger number of people prefer Hindi and Bengali music. However, even then, the in – house band Sweet Agitation, featuring veteran bassist Noel Martin (who has been playing in Trinca’s since the early 60s and is recognized as the senior most musician on Park Street) still continue to have their session of western pop in their slot from 9pm to 11:30pm. Trinca’s was an inspiration for a number of other restaurants such as Mocambo, Moulin Rouge, etc that later came up around Park Street, creating India’s first ever Live Music Scene.

    As the 80s rolled in, India saw a new genre overshadow rock and roll, jazz and the  beat sensations of the 60’s and 70s – it saw the birth of the Disco craze. The disco scene in India was almost single-handedly started by a musician from Bangalore – Biddu. Biddu, who was a part of the first Indian English band – The Trojans, moved to England in 1967. When he moved back to India in 1979, he brought with him ‘Disco’ .  Goa, too, was a rising hub of electronic music. The tourism in Goa had increased, and as more and more musicians, producers, writers and composers came to Goa, more and more Indians became a part of Goa’s live electronic music, that later came to be known as Goa Trance. The music played was a variety of computer music, such as techno, acid house and electro. Brought on tape cassettes by DJs and traveller collectors, the material was copied tape-to-tape and distributed among the Goa DJs in an underground music scene hat was independent of the record labels. The producers who had created the music had no idea that their muic was beung played on the beaches of Goa. Kraftwerk was responsible for bringing the first ever techno music to Goa, and the scene sprung up exponentially after that. The acid rock that used to be played at parties was soon replaced by Technodelia. The DJ revolution of Goa took hold.

    Although the introduction of music channels during the 90s did bring another boost of new zeal to the music scene, the greatest and probably the most influential change came in the late 2000s.  2010 brought with it India’s first ever NH7 Weekender at Pune. With the Weekender now taking place in five cities around India, it is now the single biggest music event in India. The festival has helped a number of bands break into the independent music scene. Bands such as Faridkot, The Raghu Dixit Project, Parikrama, Shaa’ir and Func., Pentagram, Indian Ocean, Ankur and the Ghalat Family, Demonic Resurrection, Infernal Wrath, Advaita, Sky Rabbit, Motherjane, Ox7gen, Papon and The East India Company, Swarathma, Peter Cat Recording Co., Agam, Nucleya, Dualist Inquiry and Spud In The Box have performed at NH7 Weekender throughout the years and the list goes on and on. Each year the number of performances keeps increasing, as does the audience. NH7 Weekender initiated an era of music festivals in India with numerous other festivals such as Ziro, Ragasthan, Magic Fields, VH1 Sunburn soon following to spice up the live music scene in a variety of genres.

    Presently the live and independent music scene is booming in India. The trend of live bands playing in restaurants and pubs (that was started by Trinca’s in the 60s) has continued, the milestone lying in the establishment of India’s very first Hard Rock Cafe in Mumbai in 2006. A number of Hard Rock Cafe’s followed in Bangalore, Delhi, Hyderabad, etc. Another establishment that attempted to revolutionize the live music scene in India was the Blue Frog establishment in Delhi (now closed), Pune, Mumbai and Bangalore – committed to providing a top notch live music experience to all its customers as well as a steady source of income for all its musicians. It runs by the ideology that if people can pay to go and watch movies, or have a drink at a bar, then why not for pay regularly for live Music?

    But, where exactly is the live music scene of India heading? 2016 itself was a huge year for India when it came to live music – the highlight definitely being The Global Citizen Festival that took place in November in Mumbai (the first time outside the USA) and hosted performances by Coldplay, A.R Rahman, Demi Lovato, Jay Z and The Vamps, among others. Live Music has definitely spread to college culture too, in recent years. Yearly college music fests are no longer the only opportunity for young and upcoming bands of the future to display their talent, even though some of these, such as IIT Bombay’s Mood Indigo have been known to bring together some of the most talented musicians from around the country. Small acoustic shows are a frequent activity in many colleges as well. Busking too has started to earn its place in certain cities in India, especially in Delhi, Bangalore and Kolkata. The live music scene in India is therefore at the beginning of a major transformation – a transformation that may even place India on the map, globally for its music within hopefully the next 10 years. So buckle up, hit some gigs and enjoy the revolution!



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