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This blog has moved

October 13, 2010

Most of this blog has moved to http://www.bijoyvenugopal.com.

I’m going to retain these pages until I get tired of maintaining both blogs.

Thanks!

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New cartoons on the Right To Education

September 16, 2010

The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act, 2009 received presidential assent on August 26, 2009. While this is clearly a step toward positive change, there remain glaring lacunae in the understanding of the Act and its provisions, as well as some ambiguity over who owns what.

A friend at Maya Prajayatna has prepared a new leaflet for internal use (and therefore not shared here) that critiques the Act while seeking to examine and clarify its position on existing issues.

I have illustrated the booklet with my cartoons.

Here’s a sample.

Kickbackistan – kicking out corruption the TAAQ way

September 14, 2010

Kickbackistan is Thermal And A Quarter’s response to the corruption surrounding the Commonwealth Games 2010. Sing along. And keep your palms greased for the funny money.

This is the spoof currency note that I created for the Kickbackistan campaign.

Kickbackistan Funny Money

In its September 12 edition, The Sunday Guardian (veteran journalist M J Akbar’s current media venture) wrote about TAAQ’s campaign and gave the funny money some currency.

Bangalore’s own Roots Rock

July 3, 2010
TAAQ in 2000 with their first album, Thermalandaquarter.com

TAAQ in 2000 with their first album, Thermalandaquarter.com

Even our most articulate culture commentators tolerate Indian rock music with exasperated indulgence, treating it as the fetish of cultural misfits who overstay in the waiting room between adolescence and oblivion. Having documented an independent rock band for nearly 15 years, I try to set the record straight on that immaculate misconception (thanks to a new friend for that phrase!).

Just as in Mumbai/Bombay (which languishes in its own cultural Truman Show) and Delhi (which appropriates culture as if its only representatives are those that camp in the capital), in Bangalore the underground pop/rock/jazz music movement began in nightclubs (like Boscos and Three Aces) where musicians were paid to perform covers of contemporary hits. When an overactive excise department (in collusion with the moral police) forced these joints to close shop, musicians were left with no stage.

The Music Strip (a brainchild of the late Sunbeam Motha) revived the movement somewhat in the early 1980s, launching bands like Human Bondage. Motha followed it up in the late 1990s with the Night Of the Long Guitar (where I watched the Sarjapur Blues Band for the first time) someplace in the backwoods of Bannerghatta. I was there — quite stoned as was customary then — so I don’t remember the coordinates.

That music movement preserved the exuberance of the Sixties and Seventies and distilled it into an expression of its own making. Refining that expression and beveling its edges into something rich and strange took time. Along the way, initiatives like Freedom Jam gave city bands a soapbox for their voice. But the money still wasn’t there. Organizers of college cultural festivals, which offered the best opportunity to draw crowds, favoured cover bands — mostly from Mumbai and Delhi. Local bands had it rough. The meagre prize money at semi-pro band competitions hosted by collegiate festivals such as Autumn Muse (St John’s Medical College) and Vibrations (Indian Institute of Science) offered incentive for new bands to strut their stuff. Even here, original music wasn’t the highlight. Crowds wanted Bon Jovi or Iron Maiden or Metallica, depending on how high they were, or how low they cared to stoop.

TAAQ and crew watch Ian Paice (Deep Purple's drummer) at soundcheck, April 2001

On April 1, 2001, Deep Purple performed in Bangalore. It was the first big appearance of a major Western rock band in Bangalore (Aside: When Roger Waters stopped by on his 2002 “In The Flesh” tour, one of the TAAQ boys got a chance to shake hands with guitarist Snowy White who asked him: “Deep Purple? Were they any good?”). For the first time, a local band — Thermal And A Quarter — was given a chance to open for the British legends. They played a complete set of originals that night, despite shortchanged sound, dimmed lights and no fee.

Two years earlier (in July 1999), TAAQ — then three years old — organized the Potatoe Junkie Concert at the amphitheatre behind Ravindra Kalakshetra. The gate collection went to a charity for soldiers martyred at Kargil. In November that year, the band organized Floodaid, a fundraiser for flood-affected villagers in Orissa. These events marked the first times that an independent band made money playing its own music at a completely self-organized gig.

A very wet Bruce Lee Mani narrowly escapes electrocution at FloodAid, November 1999. A spirited crowd cheered through the torrential rain and held up a sheet of tarpaulin over the band when things got too gusty.

Thermal And A Quarter’s music, to those who came in late, is a commentary on the angst of being Bangalorean in a city racked by change. And change — we know — is never completely desirable despite its inevitability.

My piece on the band’s music, published in today’s Mint Lounge, traces TAAQ’s relevance and rootedness to Bangalore’s cultural milieu, and argues that independent rock music can actually represent the sound of a city, if only one cares to listen.

Excerpt:

A thousand or so 30-something Bangaloreans might remember the date 24 July 1999. That day, Taaq performed at the Potatoe Junkie concert and hauled the city’s underground rock music movement to the surface. The theme song—its title inspired by former US vice-president Dan Quayle’s infamous spelling howler—sneered at the city’s growing obsession with cable television. The band played a 2-hour set consisting mostly of original songs and, after breaking even, donated Rs 15,000 to a relief fund for the families of soldiers martyred during the Kargil war.

MORE

Separately, I am also quoted by the Times of India‘s Sandhya Soman in her article “Do Indian musicians make a mark abroad?” published today in the paper’s Crest edition.

Tehelka hears us out

April 25, 2010

In its May 1 issue, Tehelka has published my counter-point on the Indian rock scene – you can read it here.

Excerpt:

As an insider I vouch for this: Indian bands are making prolific music (of variable quality) but they aren’t making money. But even the best music, by indie bands across the world, is produced under considerable financial strain and doesn’t fetch returns from online sales. So it’s important for bands to tour to break even.

There’s the rub. Brand managers and flaky promoters are tucking in while bands go penniless. Great Indian Rock and IRock, India’s oldest rock festivals, launch amateur bands every year. Enterprises like Mumbai’s Only Much Louder, the artist management concern behind Counter Culture Records, have been living off bands for eight years — nothing indie about their revenue model. They sign desperate bands to draw crowds for restaurateurs and event organisers. The hosts profit on food and beverage sales. In 15 years the paltry concert fee has hardly improved. Serious artists prefer to remain independent and unsigned. Sadly, bands, by undercutting each other, have only fattened the sharks.

Don’t believe everything Tehelka says about Indian rock!

April 13, 2010

TAAQ - Delhi - Nov 09

My friends at Thermal And A Quarter and I read Inder Sidhu’s outcry against “the media’s hysterical coverage of Indian rock bands” (and before that, in 2008, Deepanjana Pal’s diatribe against Indian rock) in Tehelka with familiar feelings of resigned amusement and piquant regret. While Sidhu makes some pleasant noises and points available fingers at the usual suspects, he disappoints us by stating the obvious and therefore fails to offer us any fresh insight into what actually ails the rock scene. What ails the media we already know.

First off, Tehelka could have attempted to address the question: What is uniquely “Indian” about the Indian rock scene? You get really excited about Indian writers in English, so why can’t an electric guitar and English lyrics employed to express Indian themes excite you as much? Is the Indian rock “movement” — as some like to call it — merely about the explosion of rock band competitions and sponsored collegiate rock festivals? Is it only about the so-called mushrooming of venues for Indian rock? Is it about the legitimacy accorded to it by weak-willed Bollywood flicks such as Rock On? Is it more than a West-aping deluge of residual post-adolescent hormones? Or is it merely a vehicle for selling phallic fantasies associated with jeans, bikes, movies, or alcohol?

Why can’t the music scene you obsess about be the product of entrepreneurial activity or the struggle of independent artists to secure a platform for expression in a milieu notorious for the absence of infrastructure or patronage? Is it not also about artistic independence — and what is indie in an Indian context anyway? Is it not about the paucity of industry support for independent music (and just what is this “industry”?)? And why are we in such a hurry to pack it all up in one store shelf labelled ‘rock’ – what about Carnatic blues, or Indian jazz-rock, or Indian prog-rock, or Indian death metal, or Devotional jazz-rock, or Malayalam thrash metal, or Hindi country blues, or Kannada funk?

Which part bothers you the most: that the Indian media is writing about Indian rock music at all, or that it is covering rock without balls or brains? After all, we read your magazine because it tells us what we believe is closest to the truth. But never has it once offered lip service to this movement, apart from getting musicians to applaud their favourite bands at the back of the book. When it comes to the coverage of underground music acts in India Tehelka, too, is part of the “lazy press” you love to deride. Your dispirited coverage reinforces the fact that in this country we have no national newspapers or news-magazines — only parochial ones. When it comes to covering the independent music scene, even Tehelka cannot look beyond Delhi or Mumbai before your vision gets all blurry and your perspective degenerates to homogenising what you attempt to analyse. Isn’t it time you became free, fair and fearless in writing about this too?

Sidhu writes that the “vocabulary and context for rock criticism does not exist in India.” When was the last time you met an editor who condescended to carry a major story about any Westernised urban counterculture in India? When was the last time any self-respecting commentator (such as you, we hope) turned away from the clippings morgue and did some legwork to find out what’s really happening in India’s underground music scene?

For instance, how do Indian bands approach songwriting, where do they learn to play their instruments, where do they rehearse? How do they finance gear, studio time and production efforts? What level of initiative does it take for a band to bag concert dates at Hard Rock Cafe or Blue Frog, or plan a five-city tour? Or to cut an album and market it independently?

These realities offer story ideas for any journalist with a serious interest in writing about Indian rock. Perhaps Sidhu might want to consider exploring these areas instead of expending two thousand words on a subject he believes is not worth writing about. That’s laughable. Of course, we are aware these stories can’t be written within a week’s deadline but has any journalist cared to investigate the possibilities, or any editor dared to commission them?

We’d be happier if the media did not write about the “scene”, because clouding these half-cooked reports and analyses with poor reportage, bias and myopia is far worse. As some wise guy once said, “It’s better to shut up and be thought a fool than to open your mouth and remove all doubt.”

Every “music journalist” wants to be the next big commentator on the Indian rock music scene. In 14 years of being associated with the independent rock music scene in India, we’ve seen these megalomaniacs crash and burn and we have outlived them all.

Frank Zappa said, “Rock journalism is people who can’t write interviewing people who can’t talk for people who can’t read.” Thermal And A Quarter wrote a song about journalists like that – it’s called Paper Puli. And we have an annual award for music journalists who satisfy Zappa’s criteria. It’s called the Paper-Pulitzer. We might consider nominating Mr Sidhu.

(A version of this note was sent as a letter to the editors of Tehelka, and subsequently posted on Thermal And A Quarter’s Facebook page)

One Small Love – drawing the line

February 11, 2010

If you live in Bangalore, you probably know of One Small Love already.

Last year Thermal And A Quarter, the band I work with, responded to the turmoil, hate and suspicion in the world with the music video One Small Love, a brainchild of the Bangalore creative shop Happy. Its message, “One small breath, one small word, one small love can be everything in a tired world,” made it popular on YouTube, where it continues to be much-favorited. It is also a much-requested crowd favorite at concerts.

This year, One Small Love has gone public, reverberating with the collective voice of many concerned Bangaloreans — among them artists, musicians, theatre persons, actors, filmmakers, management thinkers, etc.

The ‘One Small Love – Bangalore for Mangalore’ concert on February 14, a red-letter day made infamous by Hallmark cards and various killjoy extremist groups, will bring together musicians Konarak Reddy, Ravi Kulur, Alwyn Fernandes, Gerard Machado, Karan Joseph, Gaurav Vaz and Swarathma along with Thermal And A Quarter.

The One Small Love page on Facebook has been receiving plenty of currency, adding over 550 fans from all over the world in its first 48 hours. Among the highlights of the page are videos of Bangaloreans lending voice to the cause.

Here are a few. Watch this space for updates.