“I’m going to join in a rock ‘n’ roll band
I’m going to camp out on the land
I’m going to try an’ get my soul free...”
Monumental lyrics from the iconic 1970 song, Woodstock, by Joni Mitchell, written soon after the cultural phenomenon that was the 1969 Woodstock music festival. A festival that has since become a template for most music festivals that have followed, and I use the word template loosely here.
Cut to: over 45 years later. Through hundreds of music festivals across the globe, the corporate machines have successfully made billions out of the emotion of being bound by music. And while it’s good to have that as a constant across generations, most times, it’s a misplaced emotion that stems from conformity and the need to ‘be a part of the scene (and be seen)’. And that need has never been more prevalent than in today’s social media-led generation.
Now, back in late 20th century Mumbai, the only ‘music festival’ of sorts (they didn’t know it at the time), was Independence Rock that was hosted at the now defunct Rang Bhavan, Fort. The two-day extravaganza featured the best of Indian rock artists with added experiences of food and beverages. Those who may remember attending the shows would attest to them being about the artists and the music (no circus frills, no sideshow distractions, no selfies). It was the poor man’s Woodstock in yearly instalments, but wholly satisfying, nonetheless. Artists developed followings (some even made albums that people actually bought and listened to). That was then.
Now, I would like to think that I’m a ‘fortunate son’ of the generation that crossed over from analog to digital, long play records to BitTorrents, and rock ‘n’ roll to, err, electronic dance music (EDM).
The internet today has brought exposure, expedition and emulation. Whatever the west had, we wanted... and we wanted it fast. Not surprising then that today when I walk into an Indian music festival (which has international programming and pretensions), I see everyone trying to fit in so terribly. It’s as if they’re trying to catch up with the coolness of their parents’ generation, coupled with YouTube searches of after-movies (where you see a lot of people being idiots in slow-motion, desaturated sepia tone) of international festivals. Now, I understand the honest intention of making an Indian music festival on a par with the ones abroad (and I’m all for that), but the international music festivals are still about the music first. And the audiences that attend them ‘know’ the music and are present for that.
So, while our passionate programmers and curators painstakingly chalk up an impressive roster of Indian artists and bands, I find that majority of the audience is clueless about them. They seem like they’ve landed up at the venue just to be seen, and post selfies that demand to be ‘liked’ for some kind of validation. When asked which Indian bands they watched, the replies are along the lines of, ‘Oh, we came to see the international headliner act’ (which, most of the times is a cost-effective, past decade’s memory).
Whenever I attend a music festival, I make it a point to go through every artist on its list, explore their music and attend as many performances as possible. And while I’m sure there are quite a few out there who do so too, the larger mass tends to be ignorant and follow the herd.
If every single person who attended an Indian music festival made use of social media to talk about a specific Indian artist they experienced musically, the festival programming would not be in vain. They would have “joined a rock n roll band... camped out on the land... and set their souls free...”.
Luke Kenny is a musician, composer and actor. He is a regular at various music festivals across the globe.