Originally published in the Hindu Sunday Magazine on April 14th, 2013
Some weeks back, we took a look into Indian bands pushing and trying to push themselves into success through various means, and this time, we look at the other side – the ones who are being convinced to promote Indian independent artists. The big players (although ‘big’ is not so big in the independent scene) with event sponsors on speed dial are Only Much Louder (and their web publication, NH7.in), Rolling Stone India, The Score Magazine and a few others. They write only about indie artists and organise festivals and live events on a regular basis, varying from monthly to yearly gigs featuring Indian and international crowd-pullers.
It’s universally acknowledged that live performances and tours bring in more revenue than CD and mp3 sales, but touring still remains a privilege earned by the biggest bands in India. For Delhi-based website and electronic music promoters The Wild City (Thewildcity.com), it’s all about putting a stage up for artists who they believe in. “It’s pretty simple, and fun, when you get the hang of it. Music is the centre of everything we do and if we have faith in the artist performing, that’s all that matters. Everything else is secondary. It’s the music the really does all the talking, we’re just the messengers,” says Munbir Chawla, who founded The Wild City in 2011.
The London-return Chawla seems to have correctly predicted the boom in the Delhi live performance culture. Within two years, the capital now has a host of gig venues, especially in Hauz Khas Village. Chawla has gone from East London club programming to promoting and organising gigs for top electronica artists in India such as Teddy Boy Kill, Sulk Station and Lifafa. Chawla himself performs hip hop/electro/funk tunes under the interesting title of DJ Moniker.
“I was actually born in the UK and lived there till I was 13. It was at that age that my parents decided it’d be good for me to experience India, meet my extended family and pick up Hindi. We only moved over for 5 years. That was all I needed to fall in love with Delhi and I knew that one day I’d be back. How and when still remained the question,” explains Chawla, adding: “After spending a year researching the market, moving back here seemed like a no-brainer.”
Research is something Chennai-based business-to-business firm IndiEarth (Indiearth.com), which gained popularity last year for its music, film and media conference IndiEarth Xchange. Its parent company EarthSync, founded by Sastry Karra, Sonya Mazumdar, Yotam Agam and Kris Karra in 2004, has switched roles from record label to filmmaker studio to event organizers, now looking online for the independent music industry with IndiEarth.
“Given the challenges of artists to reach new and far away audiences, the platform specifically provides an exposure platform for India’s creative content worldwide through the Media, and for world Media to explore and discover non-mainstream music and film from India,” says CEO Sonya Mazumdar.
Mazumdar feels India is “rich in artists” and finding the right ones to feature on their platform is never a task. Artists, mediapersons and filmmakers can register themselves on the site, and keep up to date with blogs, recommendations, events and of course, tons of music to listen to.
To Wild City, the Indian scene “consistently feels fresh,” and it documents (through features, profiles and news stories) producers, artists, designers and filmmakers dotted all over the country. The site curates artist podcasts and partners with Border Movement, (a Berlin-based blog following electronic music in South Asia and Germany) which they run in partnership with a German nonprofit cultural association called the Goethe Institut.
Tie-ups and partnering area sure shot way of pushing Indian artists globally, and having a parent company with a wealth of experience is valuable, but what if you have neither? Metal webzine and promoters Metalbase (Metalbase.in) started out in 2010 – launching formally as a webzine only in August 2011 – run by four then-college students who wanted to promote the scene. Metalbase takes a country-wide approach, with events in Kolkata, the North East and Bangalore.
Co-founder Abhishek Banerjee is clearly a staunch metalhead at heart. “We just thought that more people need to promote the scene in all possible ways. I guess sitting around and doing nothing for the music we love was not an option for us.” Metalbase covers news from the international and Indian metal scene. They recently released the second edition of Metallers Mayhem, a free compilation featuring 25 upcoming Indian metal bands.
On the events front, last year’s Thunderstruck gig featuring British metal band Cypher16 performing in Kolkata. Bannerjee, however, believes the best events worth promoting are college band competitions at the several IITs and institutes across the country. “It is through these college competitions newly-formed bands find their mettle,” he says, adding that plans for a second edition of Thunderstruck are already under way. The webzine’s founders – Bannerjee with Sayantan Sural, Sandipto Ganguly and Arijit Das – all have day jobs, which does leave little time for Metalbase at times. But they have a street team of interns and writers and organizers numbering up to 30 people.
Although the fairly bigger EarthSync has found its way around after years of struggle, as Mazumdar claims, it’s the smaller, newer firms like Metalbase, trying to push a niche genre in a venue-sparse Kolkata, and Wild City, still trying to traverse through the paperwork jungle of organizing events, have their obstacles to overcome. Metalbase’s Bannerjee says “people are always skeptical about the whole scheme of things” when it comes to gigs, while Chawla of Wild City has had his share of running around offices with papers in his hand. “Passport photos, stamp paper, this form, that form, it was hard. Setting up our bank account was equally difficult. Working with our accountant and bank manager can still be difficult. This is probably our primary problem. But we’ve learnt to not let it bother us,” says Chawla.
They’re still small players, but they do need what comes easy to the bigger organizers and promoter of the scene: sponsors. On this front, both Metalbase and Wild City agree on how they are vital to the scene at the moment. “It’s just a case of one or two brands going with their gut and investing time and funding into interesting projects. It’s slowly happening all over the country. The rest will follow,” assures Chawla. Bannerjee, on the other hand, pins it on the fans, the consumers as well: “(Fans) should stop downloading music. In a country where the gigs are not that frequent, funds from merchandise and album sales help.”