“It’s getting tougher! It’s getting tougher to resist the mainstream”
In Conversation with Chintan Kalra
Bass dynamo, and occasional vocalist, Chintan Kalra talks about the Indie music scene, struggles faced by new bands, and crazy fan stories!
How have you seen the music scene change for the non-Bollywood musicians?
It’s getting tougher! It’s getting tougher to resist the mainstream, is what I would say. The mainstream is absorbing the underground and then eventually bastardising it or actually sodomising it for their own good. Jokes apart, the scene is good, the opportunities are there. I think Bollywood is not an alien industry anymore; it is a part of who we are and what we stand for. So it’s beautiful. This energy is kind of getting into place. I’m happy about it.
Do you think it’s possible to have music events without alcohol brands backing it up?
Oh yes! It’s been done more so recently in the past thanks to this situation in Delhi, where there were excise laws, and then this surrogate advertising thing. In fact, we just played a festival in Gurgaon the other night, called “The Picnic Basket Festival”, which I actually put together with a friend. The whole premises was non-alcohol, and because of that kids came in, and old people came in. It’s not about entertaining a drunk audience, it’s not about how many bottles of booze you move. In my career of more than twenty years of performing music I have seen probably a five year period where alcohol became first an ally of music and then eventually started enslaving the music, or trying to enslave the music. But thankfully, that time is gone. It was just a phase in the middle and there is absolutely no need of alcohol to enjoy music, to listen to music, to fund music or to make music happen. Music finds its patrons regardless.Thanks to all the alcohol companies for promoting the music in the guise of promoting their own brand. It was a two way street, the musicians made the most of it, they made the most of it and now it’s time to look at other avenues.
How is the struggle for young bands nowadays different from what you had to experience in your early days?
It’s less of a struggle, I guess. It’s very easy for a young musician to do his thing in this day and age. It’s not difficult to get gigs, it’s not difficult to get access to gear, it’s not difficult to find an audience that suits your music or who would respond to your music. Things are evolving, because of the way our society is, because of the way our economy is and because of the way our eco-system is. We are on a growth path – the banking system, the education, the music, and the opportunities in music as a career are growing. We often see a lot of career musicians in the scene; sometimes the purists kind of box it and say that “there was a time when musicians used to play music for the music and not for the money”. That’s a beautiful thought. Anybody who can still pull that off and do it truthfully, hats off to them. If it’s possible to lead a respectable life while still doing music, I think it should be supported.
Now as opposed to that, what do you think are the major problems that plague the music industry in terms of say the organisation and production?
There is no music industry as such. Even for the government, by the legal definition, there is no music industry in India. That music industry needs to be established. It’s in the process and we have come a long way. A lot of people are doing their bit on various levels. Hopefully like the film industry got its own recognition, right now we are an ancillary industry at best. For most people music is made for films or for instant consumption purposes – eat it the same day like a “mithai”. We are moving ahead from that system where music is becoming a product and it can be stored in your shelf, your refrigerator, your brains. I would say that in another ten years we will have laws around the music industry.
We face a lot of issues in terms of getting payments out of people, in terms of vetting whether an organiser or a person who’s promising such and such business is actually worth it or is ratified, or is capable of doing it. A lot of times musicians get taken for a ride, they don’t get paid, they don’t get paid well. It’s really pathetic some musicians are played. Some session musicians, especially our Indian musicians are paid five hundred rupees a day or five hundred rupees a performance even by very well paid bands who hire them. So stuff like that needs to change, and it will change once there is an industry, once there is an association. We’ve been mulling over having a sound producer’s association, have a musician’s association, or have a bass player’s association. At some point I’m sure all of this will fall in place.
One onstage moment, or off stage for that matter..or backstage, that you remember fondly or otherwise?
There are so many, I’m getting an express train of flashbacks. There are so many, all kinds. Okay..so, this was in the Ninties in a concert at a place called Ravindra Rangshala in Delhi. We were playing to this very informed audience of college kids. We were a very wild act, very exuberant, very young and were trying to emulate our heroes, of course. And then Subir decides to crowd surf, so he leaps into the audience. There were some four thousand people, maybe more. The front was packed and it should have worked beautifully except that the Indian audience did not understand crowd surfing for one, secondly- he had smelly arm pits, thirdly they all thought he was doing a stunt so they just politely moved away. And so he landed kind of on his face!
There was another incident related to this, in Bombay this time. This time however I jumped into the audience. Went and hugged a few people, got my pants pulled, got my hair pulled. Strangely the Indian audience want you to play your instrument, it’s not that they are happy to have you amidst them, they want you to start playing your instrument. This means you have to get back to your instrument. So I decided to get back quickly, but this time I decided to climb up. But when I wanted to climb up the stage, the bouncer wouldn’t let me because he thought I was a guy from the audience!! Of course, he wasn’t looking back, can’t blame him. So it took a while, three or four attempts, before I abused him in few languages. Then somebody had to come from backstage and say “nahi nahi yeh band mein hai, musician musician!”. Then he looked at him blankly, by that time I reached my bass amp and continued playing.
So which Indian band would you pick to play a tribute to you?
Oh I don’t know man! Why would anyone want to do that? Maybe, long way to go, there isn’t enough material to fill gig (laughs!) so far.
Which upcoming Indian bands do you like?
Lots man! Lots of them! Straight of the hat, Peter Cat Recording Company -beautiful , Indigo Children-amazing, Junkyard Groove-crazy performers , Big Bang Blues- fresh young act, the guy who’s sitting behind me-Vinay, watch out for him. Some of the guys I really dig and have had an experience with. I really enjoy their music. There is October. There are a lot of young bands man, beautiful music going out there.
Are there any crazy fan stories that you’d like to share?
Ya ya a few of them. Fans stories are amazing. Most of the time if it’s an obnoxious fan who ends up making you look like an idiot. So I’ll refrain from such stories. We have had some crazy fan stories- people writing letters to us in blood!
There is this one very insane story. I was in Calcutta for a concert. I left my hotel for a film festival because a friend’s film was playing there. I walked out of the main road and this guys approached me and said “Are you Chintan?”. (And this out of a concert situation, regular clothes, not looking like my stage self at all, so you don’t get recognized on the streets at all). So he said “I’ve grown up listening to your music, what are you doing here? Where are you going? I’ll come with you. He took me to the festival. I was new in the town. He hung around with me, he never crossed any boundary of talking too much, asking too many questions. All the time I kept thinking – is there something wrong with this guy? There must be something wrong with this guy. Nobody gives you time in this world, nobody gives you “their” time without really wanting something in return. This guy was amazing! Ever since then we have been in touch, he calls me every now and then. If I don’t pick up his calls he never minds it. If I do take his calls he’s polite and we talk. Sometimes I return his calls. Mostly he’s just calling to check on how the music is going, like “how are things man?’ .So it’s beautiful, you find friends like these and I know for a fact that he’s a friend probably can reach out to, or I’m a friend that he can reach out to at any point.[social]