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Return of the Native

Return of the Native

India’s underground rock scene comes of age with a great debut album by The Supersonics.

Over the last few months, two important albums have been released here which make a case for Indian rock and pop music on its own terms. The amazing thing is that the music on these albums straddles two totally different generations, the first of which, High Again, reaches back to the ’70s and the ’80s. High was one of the most original and influential bands to come out of India at a time when English language rock-n-roll was an extreme niche taste.

Back then covers ruled the roost, not original music. In this landscape, the Kolkata-based High, led by the late Dilip Balakrishnan, attained a cult status on the strength of their original compositions and live performances. Formed in 1974, and hitting their stride in the nightclub circuit of Park Street, the Steely Dan-inspired songs like Politician, Monkey Song and Who’s in Charge? made political statements, talked about ennui, and rode on the back of some great playing.

Back then, there was hardly any institutional backing or recording opportunities for bands to flower, and High, despite their success, could only record their songs on bad instruments and with dodgy production in the ’80s. Just when they seemed to be poised on the brink of something bigger, chief creative force Balakrishnan succumbed to cancer in 1990. High Again is a retrospective anthology of most of their best known songs and every cut begs the question, “what if?”

Rohan Ganguli, the guitar player of The Supersonics, Kolkata’s favourite band of the moment, and darlings of the Indian rock scene, was only nine when Balakrishnan passed away. Yet, the success of the melodic -pop-punk nuggets that make up his band’s debut album Maby Baking (pictured above) represent just the kind of breakthrough that High never achieved. Formed in 2006, the band has built up a reputation for themselves by playing regular shows all over Kolkata, especially at Someplace Else and The Princeton Club.

In this regard, The Supersonics can boast of something very few of their contemporaries have—a dedicated fan following. Over the past year, after playing regular shows at New Delhi and Mumbai, the band honed their sound—a mix of post-punk bands like Television and Joy Division, as well as the Britpop bands they grew up with—Oasis, Kula Shaker and Ocean Colour Scene. The biggest influence though has got to be the The Strokes, whose lean and angular guitar lines and moody vocals this band is indebted to.

Undeniably, The Supersonics’ music is like a whiff of fresh air in the context of the Classic Rock fixation that has plagued the Indian music scene for decades. One listen to the delicate guitar lines of Blotter or the heavy grooves of They Lie shows that the band has the goods, and given the opportunity, can deliver. Dilip Balakriahnan would have been proud.