Unchanged Tune: Why IROCK’s revival is the ultimate banger from the past for the Indian indie music scene

IROCK was an integral part of Indus Creed’s journey as a band, Balaporia offers. “We have performed at about 20 editions of the festival. Over time, audiences started clamoring for our originals like “Rock ‘N Roll Renegade,” “Top of the Rock,” and “Pretty Child,” as opposed to covers by Santana and Deep Purple,” says Balaporia, the the band credits bassist Mark Selwyn for pushing them to include originals in IROCK’s cover-heavy setlist; “Then we finally got an album deal with CBS.” When IROCK moved from Rang Bhavan to Andheri’s Chitrakoot Ground, Indus Creed followed. The band’s lead singer, Uday Benegal, can’t forget IROCK XXV: “We played the last song on set and it was two minutes past the deadline. The cops had come in, brandished lathis and asked us to get off the stage. It was a new venue and the crowd was new too, but nothing seemed to have changed. While certain events may go beyond the deadline, IROCK has to close because it’s just a music festival,” says Benegal, whose band will also be performing at the festival this year.

The audience at IROCK took place at Andheri’s Chitrakoot GroundCourtesy of Farhad Wadia

A few things have changed at the festival this year – the venue is the chic Bayview Lawns on Princess Dock in Mazgaon. “Whenever I’ve used the dock to go to Alibaug, I’ve always told my wife that this could be a great venue for concerts, and I think it’s incredible that IROCK is now being held here,” says Balaporia. The lineup no longer leans toward hard rock and metal. While Indus Creed, Pentagram, Parikrama, Zero and Thiruvananthapuram alt rock band Avial are set to return this year, five bands formed over the last decade are making their IROCK debuts: Bengaluru prog rockers Parvaaz, Chennai alt rock band The F16s, Pune post-rock group aswekeepsearching, folk-classical ensemble Thaikkudam Bridge from Kochi and metal band Bloodywood from Delhi.

However, some things remain unchanged. My first memory of IROCK is a bevy of hairy men in black T-shirts – college kids scraping together all their money to buy tickets and alcohol. The concept of the security check was unknown but the alcohol was quickly drunk before they got in, certain it would be confiscated by the lone guard at the gate. Other substances were somehow smuggled in and added to the scent bouquet, including sweat, ammonia and cigarette smoke, which infused IROCK. When the festival ended for its last edition at the Chitrakoot Ground in 2014, there were walk-in metal detectors.

Hidden Numbers

For me, IROCK conveyed a feeling of being invisible, which was incredibly comforting and unusual at the same time. On my first visit I had just moved to Mumbai from Chennai to work for a publication. I wasn’t there for the mosh pits or growls, so it was easier to watch without drawing attention to myself, even though I was one of the few women in the audience. There were usually no women to be seen, let alone a female-fronted band on stage. That is, if you didn’t count the Maharashtrian ladies in Nauvari saris at the food stalls at the other end of the venue. They didn’t look as stunned as I did at my first IROCK as I calmly handed out batata vadas and vada pavs to young men covered in dust and dirt like it was just a regular day at work. I remember the rush when I saw Pune band Acquired Funk Syndrome on stage. Their sound was unlike any other – it had funk, metal, rock all fused into one glorious riot. But what I also remember is that female musicians never appeared on the festival posters and were rarely seen on stage. Artists like Shazneen Arethna and Vivienne Pocha have performed at IROCK in the past, but only as guests. The hope is that the event, which has evolved from a college festival into a benchmark for bands across the country to showcase their talent, will soon change colors. Black must make way for a rainbow and a storm of sounds that are inclusive.

IROCK will be held on November 5th & 6th at Bayview Lawns, Mazgaon. tickets herefrom Rs1,750 for a day pass.

Lalitha Suhasini is an independent music journalist and teaches journalism at Flame University, Pune.

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