Experiments with rock
With the success of the Calcutta Rock Festival, will the tide turn for the city's rock bands?
PHOTO: SAYAN DATTA
Extravaganza: A platform for original music.
IF you had been among those who trod the road less travelled on February 24 in Kolkata, you might have landed up at the Calcutta Rock Festival, an event that turned out to be a celebration not just of a particular genre of music but also of the artists' urge to create. That last claim might be dismissed as a burst of hyped, adolescent rhetoric, but not the fact that the city played host to an original rock event after a gap of almost four years.
So the Kolkata rock scene, which according to its followers had been wallowing in a "pool of classic rock covers"(for the uninitiated, that's renditions of numbers popularised by international artists), woke up to the extravaganza of the rebirth of original rock in the form of The Supersonics, Cassini's Division and the Hoof Hooey.
"The main idea of the CRF was to give English rock bands that play only original music a platform," said Emmanuel Dedecker, one of the organisers. "There are a lot of musicians who write and compose their own music but there was no big event in the city where they could perform."
"The rock scene in Kolkata is unique, as it remains completely cover-centric," said Rahul Guha Roy, lead singer and lyricist of Cassini's Division. The band the other members are bassist John Bose, guitarist Sukanti Roy, and drummer Ritoban Das began in 2001 turned professional in 2005 with the members deciding to devote themselves to their music. "Moving away from classic, psychedelic or heavy metal, our band is the first prototype of experimentation with alternative rock in the city."
The CRF, incidentally, was the brainchild of the rock bands themselves. "While the band members knew that I wanted to organise such events in Kolkata, it became even more interesting as the artists' themselves were working to organise the event," Dedecker said. The enthusiasm was unique, and as Ananda Sen, the lead singer of The Supersonics said, they were urged on by the fact that no serious attempt had been made for a long time. "Everyone wants to be a part of the tried and tested," said Ananda, 24, who played in several bands like Soundcheck and Wired till The Supersonics was formed in 2004. The other members of The Supersonics are Rohan Ganguli on the guitar, Nitin Mani on the bass and Avinash Chordia on the drums.
While the musicians are gearing up to turn the tide for the better, it seems that the old habits die hard for the audience. "The general perception is that an Indian band would never be able to perform original songs like their Western counterparts," said Rahul. Often, the bands have to compromise, belting out numbers from modern rock bands like Creed, The Cure, The Calling, REM, Green Day or Lifehouse.
"It is always tough to get non-stop gigs," said Ananda. "We have been fortunate so far but then we have not been around for long," he added.
The bane of the original rock scene the difficulty in getting finance and sponsorship surfaced during the CRF as well. "People don't know about it yet, sponsors don't know if the public will come, the musicians are not very famous and the public has to be convinced to listen to some new music," Dedecker pointed out. She remains optimistic, saying that though it might be difficult to find sponsors to promote original music, it is not impossible.
With most of the hotels and pubs also unwilling to experiment with original rock artists, the bands are confined to playing at a limited number of venues such as Someplace Else, the discotheque at The Park or the Princeton Club. The bands have developed their own band of following among the youth, who turned out in large numbers at CRF to cheer them on. As one of the regulars said, "There was a healthy turn-out despite the venue being at the other end of the town."
One reason for the bands' appeal is their attention to lyrics, which speak of the emotional turbulence of youth as well as society today. For example, "Caeser", one of the numbers sung by Cassini's Division, talks of the corrupting nature of political power, a song resonant with contemporary parallels.
That also explains the band's rather esoteric name, which is meant to signify mystery and enigma. Cassini's Division is "the space between the first two rings of Saturn where rhythm rules, as does resonance." Similarly, "Yeah whatever" by The Supersonics also carved a space for itself as a youth anthem. As of now, both The Supersonics and Cassini's Division are trying to release their own albums. It is a long and arduous trek ahead, but then creative art has never been known to be a bed of roses.
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