Page last updated at 07:34 GMT, Wednesday, 20 May 2009 08:34 UK

High hopes for India's rock scene

By Ian Youngs
Music reporter, BBC News

Bangalore-based Swarathma were one of four bands picked by John Leckie

Radiohead and Stone Roses producer John Leckie is championing India's emerging alternative music scene after a quest to find the country's best new bands.

Leckie has recorded an album with four groups he discovered there, and says the music scene could soon take off.

"It only takes one artist to cross over, to get big and get international recognition, for the whole thing to explode in India," the producer says.

"There's an awful lot happening. India has great potential for young bands."

Leckie, one of the UK's leading producers, was at the controls for The Stone Roses' seminal debut album and Radiohead's second release The Bends, as well as Muse's first two albums.

The Indian music scene, meanwhile, has been an offshoot of the Bollywood film industry, with actors being the most famous singers and film soundtracks accounting for 72% of music sales.

Alternative music is still underground and reliant on US and British acts for inspiration. But some groups are starting to find their own voices and could find appeal across the world, Leckie believes.

The producer went to Delhi, Bangalore and Mumbai with the British Council, where he auditioned 36 bands for the India SoundPad album.

John Leckie
Leckie has worked with the likes of John Lennon and Pink Floyd

"A lot of bands were copying western influences, like always singing in English, electric guitars, a lot of Guns 'N Roses copyists," he says.

"So the four bands I chose were unique.

"I was looking for an Indian flavour to everything and unfortunately a lot of the bands had deliberately lost their Indian-ness because the only way they could get acceptance in Mumbai or Delhi was to be totally western, with guitars and their appearance and always singing in English."

Of the selected acts, Swarathma, who sing in Hindi, and eight-piece Advaita, fuse traditional instruments, influences and outlooks with guitars, keyboards and drums.

The other two are Indigo Children, who Leckie likens to a young Supergrass, and Medusa, who have a contemporary electronic direction.

The quartet appeared at the Great Escape music festival in Brighton at the weekend, and are just finishing a mini UK tour.

Leckie, who started his career working at London's famous Abbey Road studios with the likes of John Lennon, Pink Floyd and Sir Paul McCartney, predicted that alternative music would not remain in the margins in India.

Now the Indian music industry has evolved to a space where it's trying to break out of Bollywood
Jishnu Dasgupta

"Because of the size and the number of people, you can only imagine that all these young bands are going to come forward and have their own distinct style," he says. "It can never stay a niche thing.

"What is stimulating to a lot of young Indian people is to make music without having that Bollywood influence."

Indian bands are also slowly moving out of the shadows of American and British legends, according to Jishnu Dasgupta, bassist with Swarathma.

"When I was growing up, all Indian bands would ever do was cover western rock bands. You were actually measured by how accurately you could play Highway Star [by Deep Purple], or an AC/DC.

"But those days are over now. Now, if you're not doing your own music, you're no-one. And that's the way it should be. That's happened over the last five to 10 years.

Medusa, pictured, have been on a UK tour with the other three bands

"Now the Indian music industry has evolved to a space where it's trying to break out of Bollywood and the stranglehold that Indian movies have over music consumption, and we're ready to look at different kinds of music."

But many Indian rock fans still look to the west because no Indian groups have captured the same spirit of rebellion, he says.

"There is an undercurrent of rebelliousness that hasn't really manifested itself in its natural form in India. There aren't any rebellious musicians in India.

"So it's easy to identify with Rage Against the Machine because there isn't really an equivalent in India. Not because there's any lack of angst. But there are some bands who have started doing it now. That's only started now."

Advaita's guitarist Abhishek Mathur describes his group's sound as "the Indian classical spiritual meditative approach combining with psychedelic rock".

"All the commercial avenues - radio, TV, print media - only cater to the mainstream, which is Bollywood," he says.

"There is some space for bands and it's slowly opening up. All the college kids want to have bands coming to their college to play. It's a young market that people want to tap into. But it's still very far away from the mainstream.

"It's getting better and better. But there's never been anything like the SoundPad project to give it a boost."

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