Heard that song before? Meet some of India’s coolest tribute bands

They tend to be looked down upon by makers of ‘original music’. But it takes a certain kind of dedication to forever play a playlist that’s not your own.

mumbai Updated: Jun 20, 2017 13:38 IST
Roshni Nair
Roshni Nair
Hindustan Times
Tribute bands,Cover bands,ONEmpire
As a rap rock, nu-metal outfit, Anthracite stands out from the bands that typically occupy the blues and pop space.

You hear them in bars, at weddings, corporate parties and, of course, on YouTube. They sound like the band you like. And yet India’s cover bands and tribute acts are showered with as much condescension as praise. They’re usually looked down upon by original acts, self-proclaimed purists, and those in the music industry. But they play on, often performing someone else’s music at the cost of their own original sound. See what it takes for some of them to forever play a playlist that’s not their own.


Who: Zarir Warden (vocals), Loy Henriques (bass), Gavin Cason (guitar), Atish Thomas (drums and percussion) Garth D’Mello (keyboard)

Influences: Queen, Deep Purple, Elvis Presley, The Beatles, The Doors, Bon Jovi

Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline is our opening song for many shows, say ONEmpire.

Mumbai’s newest band is also one of its oldest cover bands. In its previous avatar as The Other People (formed in 2004 and rechristened last month) it was Mumbai’s most recognised covers ensemble. It still is, never mind that they’ve been making original music in the pop and soft rock genres.

“Neil Diamond’s Sweet Caroline is our opening song for many shows. And our cover of Frank Sinatra’s My Way is always well-received,” says Zarir Warden. “We’ve covered everyone from Earth, Wind & Fire, Abba, Bruce Springsteen, and Tina Turner to Ed Sheeran, Maroon 5 and Coldplay.”

Doing covers or tributes is not about copying artistes, says Warden. “Nothing irritates me as much as someone trying to be Freddie Mercury from Queen,” he says. “You don’t want to give people something they can listen to at home. Add your own stamp to a cover.”

They have original music too. “Doing a cover well is harder than performing your own song,” warden says. “If you play an original and make a mistake, most people wouldn’t know. But if you do a shabby cover, you’ll have a bottle or ten thrown your way.”

On June 16, ONEmpire will perform its first gig under the new name at Luna Nudo, St. Regis. The band is also working on a new EP, its first after 2015’s #Dreamers #Believers #Lovers.

Give a shoutout to ONEmpire and hear their sound here:

Fake Plastic Friends

Who: Hamza Kazi (drums), Daniel Rego (guitar), Veljon Noronha (vocals, guitar), Aditya Kadam (bass), Rohan Rajadhyaksha (vocals, keyboard)

Influences: Porcupine Tree, Radiohead, Tool, Opeth, Pink Floyd, Dream Theater

Fake Plastic Friends comprises members from Spud in the Box, Coshish, Demonic Resurrection, Workshop and Winit Tikoo. It only performs music by the English progressive rock outfit, Porcupine Tree (PT). But they’re planning a Radiohead tribute soon.

Fake Plastic Friends only performs covers of songs by English progressive rock outfit, Porcupine Tree.

“I’d love to do tributes for A Perfect Circle, Opeth, Katatonia or Pain of Salvation, but only if the other members are into them,” says Kazi. “Until we come to a consensus, PT and Radiohead will have to do,” he says laughing.

It’s not uncommon to get a cover band confused with a tribute band. “A cover band perfroms songs of various artists and may or may not do featured gigs of a single artist or band,” he says. “The covers may or may not be identical to the originals.” A tribute band, on the other hand, does featured gigs of a single artist or band that has inspired its members. “That doesn’t mean the vocalist would try and mimic the original singer, but rather emulate the vibe without losing his own personality.”

Watch them play a PT tribute here:


Who: Dev Ramkumar (manager, drummer), Abhishek Nair (vocalist), Mehar Chumble (keys, synth, sampler), Deep Ramkumar (bass guitarist), Shubham Annamwar (guitarist), Priyam Gadhvi (guitarist)

Influences: Limp Bizkit, System of a Down, Korn, Linkin Park, Static X

As a rap rock, nu-metal outfit, Anthracite, formed in 2012, stands out from bands that typically occupy the blues and pop space. Although not a cover act anymore – they released the original album Groove Sandwich in 2013 – they would perform covers earlier.

“We stuck to Linkin Park because we were confident we could pull it off,” says drummer Dev Ramkumar. “That said, there have been bands we wanted to pay tribute to but couldn’t, either due to circumstance or lack of demand. Like System Of A Down and Limp Bizkit.”

In the five years since Anthracite has evolved into an original act, Ramkumar feels Mumbai’s cover bands have gone beyond the safety net of classic rock. “Back then, there were only few metal bands people would pay tribute to, like Metallica. But when things started opening up, bands performed two-hour sets covering new-age artists. There’s more variety now, and it’s fun to see,” he says.

Anthracite is currently working on a studio album while planning Linkin Park tribute shows across the country.

Here’s a look at Anthracite performing a cover of One Step Closer (Linkin Park Cover):

One Night Stand

Who: Arvind (lead vocals, bass), Sarosh (vocals, lead guitars), Paddy (backing vocals, rhythm guitars), Ramesh (drums)

Influences: Dire Straits, Rolling Stones, The Who, Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, Ozzy Osbourne, Iron Maiden, Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix

This covers-only band, formed in 2003, grabbed attention after winning the first-ever Battle of Bands by Hard Rock Café. They’re hailed as one of the best Dire Straits tribute bands in the country and are synonymous with classic rock covers – a huge genre in itself.

“Deep Purple is hard rock, Iron Maiden is ‘80s glam rock, Guns ‘n’ Roses is arena rock, Dire Straits is more blues rock/folk rock, and so on,” Paddy explains.

One Night Stand’s members were part of other cover acts in the ‘90s – when there was no YouTube, no chord charts and not many professional tutors. “Learning a classic rock song itself was a challenge. We’ve seen the growth of original bands over the years, which is very good. But we stuck to playing covers because we have a good time trying to get as close to the original as possible,” Paddy says.

One Night Stand will be performing a tribute to British rock legends at Hard Rock Café, Andheri, on June 8.

Watch One Night Stand’s cover of Closer - the Chainsmokers here:

The Pickled Octopii

Who: Vedant Joshi (vocals, keyboard), Siddhanth Natarajan (guitar, backing vocals), Karthik Ramaswamy (guitar), Kunal Kambli (bass), Sahil Shah (drums)

Influences: Red Hot Chili Peppers, Coldplay, John Mayer

They formed in 2014 and played a set at Andheri’s Irish House, that included Ed Sheeran, Coldplay, and Maroon 5 covers. “Our sets may have songs we don’t personally like, but are chosen since they’re popular or have high recall value,” says Joshi. “There are tracks and artists most bands can’t cover because they’re not widely liked, or are commercially unviable.”

The Pickled Octopii will be ready with an eight-track EP that will balance covers and originals, by December.

Pune and Bangalore are more inclined towards original acts, Joshi finds. At their biggest gig in Hyderabad, 3,000 people showed up to hear their original music. “That said, we bring a lot of originality to covers by changing song durations, playing a jazz version of a rock song or a rock ‘n roll version of a jazz song,” Joshi says.

By December, the band will be ready with an eight-track EP that will balance covers and originals.

Here’s a look at The Pickled Octopii doing a cover of You Are Mine (Mutemath):

First Published: Jun 02, 2017 17:36 IST