The great Indian rock

Indian rock bands are still evolving. Here we feature four of the best.

Bibek Bhattacharya        Print Edition: May 4, 2008

Indian rock music isn’t necessarily as anachronistic as it might seem. After all, good music in any genre knows no borders. There seems to be a sort of disconnect in most Indian minds because rock musicians in this country are seen as derivative of the “real” thing, and a judgment is passed even before a scrap of music is heard.

Down the years, we’ve had many great bands, from Great Society in Shillong and High in Kolkata, to ’80s heavies like Indus Creed and that perennial classic-rock fixture Parikrama, and highly original bands like Indian Ocean. Sadly, Indian bands—whether producing strong albums or being feted as fantastic live acts—have always suffered at the hands of big labels who were interested in promoting Indipop.

Indeed, if you were to count the number of gigs being held all around the country on any given Sunday, you would get a real idea of Indian underground music. Here’s a pick of the best of the new bands.

Thermal and a quarter (Bangalore)

(L-R) Rajeev, Rzhude and Bruce
Thermal and a quarter
Thermal And A Quarter was formed in 1996 by college friends Bruce Lee Mani (guitars, vocals), Rzhude David (bass, vocals) and Rajeev Rajagopal (percussion) with the firm idea of playing only original music, something that wasn’t much in vogue then.

As more and more organisers came around to the view that Indian rock music needn’t be only about playing covers of standard hits, its popularity started growing. The band released its eponymous first album in 2000 and followed it up with a concept album about the members’ hometown in Jupiter Café (2002). TAAQ stands out for songs with beautiful melodies and carefully worked out arrangements. You could even just go through the lyrics of songs like Without You and be impressed. Powered by Bruce Lee Mani’s continuously shifting guitar lines, Rzhude David’s rock solid bass and Rajeev Rajagopal’s thoughtful percussion, TAAQ has carved out a quality space for itself in rock/funk genre.

Hear them on myspace:profile.myspace. com/index.cfm?fuseaction=user.v iewprofile&friendid=3349428

Soulmate (Shillong)

Tipriti Kharbangar
Tipriti Kharbangar
To many, Blues music is passé, and not surprisingly, it’s those people who’ve heard nothing more than Eric Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan who hold this view. But Soulmate is anything but bland. This Shillong band has carved out a sizeable niche for itself playing highly charged Blues with passion and great musicianship. It’s not often that you find a balance like this in any band. Soulmate was formed in 2001 by Rudy Wallang and Tipriti Kharbangar. Sharing a common love for the Blues, they have stuck to that vision with great aplomb, earning a reputation as a crackling live band singing wonderful songs of alienation and redemption.

It’s a unique combination, with Tipriti being as good a singer as Rudy is a guitar player, and songs like Love You and I Am are wonderful testament to their chemistry. Soulmate released a critically acclaimed album, Shillong, in 2005. It is currently working on a follow-up album. It is also the first Indian band to play at the International Blues Challenge at Memphis, Tennessee.


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Skinny Alley (Kolkata)

Skinny Alley
Skinny Alley
What happens when you put together veteran musicians who are also among other things a hotelier, a homemaker, and a guitar teacher? You get Skinny Alley, of course. Formed in Kolkata in 2001 with Amyt Dutta (guitar), Jeffrey Rikhs (drums, vocals), Jeffrey Menezes (keyboards), Jayshree Singh (vocals) and Gyan Singh (bass), this band gives a new meaning to the word family.

The soul of the band is definitely Jayshree, who lists sources as diverse as Joni Mitchell and Nelly Furtado. And, indeed, you can hear them both in her singing, which is idiosyncratic and almost percussive in the way it meshes in and out of the music. Pair that with Gyaan’s solid grooves and Jeffrey Rikhs always-entertaining playing and you get a volatile combo which sings songs like Shizoid, a strange aural painting with loads of funk grooves. Skinny Alley’s latest album, Songs From The Moony Boom, was released last year.


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Menwhopause (New Delhi)

This is one of the few bands that attract the curious with its moniker and then proceed to impress with the music. Formed in 2003, the band includes Sarabjit Chadha (vocals, guitar), Anup Kutty (guitar, vocals), I.P. Singh (acoustic guitar), Randeep Singh (bass, vocals) and Rahul Chatterjee (drums).

Drawing on various influences from Jam rock to psychedelic sounds, Menwhopause’s music is an expert mash of Classic rock and Grunge. Its first album, Home, was released last year with songs like the extended jam of Time, and the Beatlesque Floating. The band added a feather in its cap this year by playing at the Alternative Music Festival SxSW in Austin, Texas.

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