some Indian rock history, part 2

I’VE BEEN reading Rock Street Journal back issues all week. Eight years of it, from 1994 to 2003 (skipping parts of 1999) but, you know, THOUSANDS of pages.  RSJ was started independently by Amit Saigal in 1993 and was the only magazine devoted to Indian rock music for the 15 years before Rolling Stone India arrived in 2008.  In the early years RSJ covered international bands predominantly with some short features on Indian rock bands; in the early 2000s it focused on more Indian bands.

It’s been illuminating (and dusty) reading.  The mid-late nineties were when a lot of the people I’ve been interviewing first got into rock music, and when a bunch of big international acts like Deep Purple, Bon Jovi, Rolling Stones, and Slash came to India, and when Indus Creed sort of took things to the next level in terms of “making it” internationally (or made a valiant attempt to do so, at least.)  The articles on local and international bands are fascinating for me – they’re giving me a sense of context for the interviews I’ve done, an idea of the historical trajectory of the scene, and some clues to understanding the central place of 1970s and 1980s heavy metal bands in the inspirational repertoire of Indian rock musicians.

Advertisement for Coca-Cola and MTV sponsored song contest, 1996

Also I could go on and on about the symbolism of the advertisements (mostly interesting for my own research), the various contests to win guitars, tee-shirts, or the chance to make your own music video (the one advertised on the left requires that you send in a tape of your song along with a recording of you humming the Coca-Cola jingle, and the winner makes a music video courtesy of MTV India)…but I’ll save that – as well as an interpretation of “bhaizone” over here – for the dissertation.

I’m looking to RSJ not as the final word on the development of the rock scene but as part of a complex of discourses, sounds, images, and histories that together make up the life of rock music in the country.  To that end the editor’s letters, letters TO the editor, and the “classifieds” section of RSJ have been really great to read – occasionally diverting, or somewhat mysterious, or amusing, or just cool.  So without further ado, some quotes:

from the June 1996 issue, reporting on Banglore’s Halcyon festival: “The next night [of the festival] was to feature a rock show but with the ban on professonal bands still in effect in the state, the rock show got going minus a pro act.  In a show of camaraderie, various artists from the competing bands came forward to join together on stage for the promised concert.  However the United Nations show was a total disaster, ending in a hailstorm of chappals and abuse!”  What ban on professional bands??  Can someone enlighten me? And haha, a “hailstorm of chappals and abuse.”  That’s the way to express displeasure with a show!

Indus Creed and Slash at 1996's MTV India relaunch party in Mumbai

From the February 1996 issue, after MTV’s initial ignomious retreat from India RSJ reports on their semi-triumphal return, which draws Slash to the launch party to ‘jam’ with Indus Creed.  Mr. Peter Jamieson, then President of MTV Asia, states that that they’re not going to back down from a battle for viewers with upstart Channel V: “It’s like a soldier returning home to find that someone else has moved in to look after his wife and kids.  We want our India back.”  So THAT’S a touch bizzare. And to my ears kind of offensively patriarchal.  Plus, using Slash as a Trojan horse, seriously.  There hasn’t been a GNR video on MTV in what, 10 years? Someone, and really I’d love to do this project, could write a great study of MTV’s rise and fall and revamp in India…

From the March 1996 issue, a report of a show with the band 13 AD at Rajendra Maidan in Cochin: “The show had to be stopped by the police due to the unruly crowd who seemed to have come to create chaos rather than enjoy the music.  The police resorted to ‘lathi charge’ to subdue the crowd, all of which was caught ‘live’ by the hovering MTV crew.” …What? Just…what??

From the February 1995 issue, reporting from Mokokchung, where a “Rock Shock Show” featuring the band Abiogenisis was organized by the anti-drug society of Nagaland:  “Brief speeches on drug abuse were delivered between sets, and the concert wound up at around 9:30 pm.”  Haha! sounds like a PAR-TAY.

from article on managers in the rock scene, 2003

I came across a bunch of familiar faces, including in this picture from 2003 from an article on managers. Guru with short hair (is that a mug shot?) and a really young Vijay.  A teenager!  I don’t remember exactly what I was doing when I was 17 but it wasn’t planting the seeds of my music empire.

Also, some great classifieds (all bolds in original):

“I, Vineesh, LEAD GUITARIST from Kerala have all equipment that a rock band lead guitarist needs.  I wish to join a rock band. Please contact [address].”

“WANTED: Kris Kristofferson tapes in exhange for Doobie Brothers or Black Sabbath tapes.

“WANTED FRIENDSHIP from Guns and Roses fans. Write to : Guns and Roshen, [address]”

And looking for a pen pal:  “HI.  My name is K. Yomong, and I’m 17 years old.  I have a special interest in ROCK MUSIC and in reading the Rock Street Journal.  You can write me: [address]”

Metallica and Alice in Chains chord chart

Heartfelt! Love it.  I can imagine all the guys I know now in Bangalore as teenagers (and really there really weren’t many women in there as far as I could tell) poring over RSJ.  Maybe learning how to play from the chord charts and lyric sheets included in the mag…

Published in: on May 8, 2010 at 11:49 am  Comments (4)  

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4 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I noticed you’d checked out my piece on rock and its various histories. Your site is very interesting. I will share its address with my ethnomusicology colleagues at the university where I work. There is a tendency (misguided, of course) to think that World Music (not a term that seems to have much value, really) is just about exotic, tribal sounds of the Orient or the Latin or Pacific scene. But, of course, Western music – rock, pop and rap – also feeds into those cultures and new forms arise in the Indian sub-continent or South Korea or Mali!

    Anyway – I was glad to encounter your page.


    • Thanks Simon! I enjoyed your blog as well.
      Glad to spread the word about local rock scene in India and the long creative history it has here. Too often people think of rock’s spread around the globe as being representative of cultural homogenization, but of course the picture is much more complex…

  2. […] here to read the rest: some Indian rock history, part 2 « Rock and Roll Bangalore Tags: early, for-the, happening-with, india, like-the-more, more-, rock-music, rolling, rsj, […]

  3. Ha ha… I remember the Guns ‘n’ Roshen classified. It was the first issue of RSJ I’d ever bought, and I read it cover to cover several times over.

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