I’m NOT the man with a plan. When I started writing this blog four years back, it was just a vehicle for my love of music and word. Nothing more to it. And it continues to be just that. But what it has done for me is that it has taken me on interesting paths. I had not planned for that. One of the things that it recently led to from a passive ‘promotion’ of music that I like through my writing, is active involvement in the form of an Indie music Tour that my young friend, Uddipan Sarmah and I put together. The 2Stroke Tour picked up some attention and a bit of excitement in this part of the world. Things have been said and written about it. About time for an inside view.
Where Do I Begin?
Some time last year I started talking to a couple of friends about getting a few multi-band gigs off the ground. No corporate sponsors, just a DIY (Do It Yourself) effort. But I had to back off a bit because something came up on the personal front that threw my financial calculations into the dustbin. And so I kept myself to volunteering at festivals – the totally insane New Wave Asia Punk & Indie fest in 2014 and this year’s delightful Ode To The Blues were two that I loved the most. Uddipan and I got talking somewhere down that line and over time we got along very well. Now this is a fella chucked his job early on and started a studio and a terrific post-rock band and organized gigs. Driven. No, not to madness although I can’t guarantee that if he sticks to present company. Ambitious, charged up is what I meant. He sounded me out on his idea of kickstarting a tour series but he was was stymied by a lack of funds. He came up with a plan from his insider’s understanding of the Indie ‘scene’ in India, I punched some holes through it, we worked out the details and after some initial sputters, got this engine running. Why? We are a nation whose music space is dominated by film music. I like a lot of film music and I think this whole Indie versus Bollywood yakkity-yak is silly at best and pernicious and harmful at worst. But more and more people need to discover the treasure trove of music that is not film-based. The Indie music scene here is getting better but it’s far from being great. It’s not easy to get paying gigs, sponsorships are sporadic. But instead of moaning about it, there is an increasing though still very small number of bands and gig organisers who are taking a DIY approach to it. We are just two of them. What we want to do with the 2Stroke Tour is to widen the reach of some of these bands, to break down geographical barriers and move out of a quite local loop to a national circuit. And do it at one go. And repeatedly. There is this to be said for scale and a bit of madness – they get noticed And so. Two of my favourite bands – and not just in this country – Skrat and Uddipan’s own aswekeepsearching hopped on to this little 2Stroke Tour vehicle to ride through 5 cities playing back to back over 5 nights. We spent more time at the airport, in planes and taxis than in the hotel rooms. But it’s a testament to the belief that these boys had in this that no amount of exhaustion could keep their energy down. It’s what got one band that’s been playing for a while to give pointers to the other quite newly formed band on improving stage performance. From a restrained presence in Pune to the monsters on stage that they morphed into in Bangalore, aswekeepsearching came a long way, their live performances really doing justice to their music. I have seen Skrat play a number of shows and as tight as they are, they got even better at the end of these 5 nights. The idea of that tour sparked something in these fine young men, the kind of stuff that kept a man recovering from a torn rotator cuff muscle to continue playing like the maniac that he is on stage without anyone realising the existence of his injury. I was on the verge of calling off the tour a few days before it started when I told him that life’s more important, we’ll do this tour some other time. I will never forget his response – “For 5 days, this tour is life. We’re doing this”. Degeneration may lay siege to the brain and wipe away most of memory but I will NOT forget that.
There’s a belief that my role in this Tour is that of an investor. Sure I am, but so is Uddipan. When people say that, they think only in financial terms. Important, no gainsaying that. But so are the time and effort that go into it. Three of Uddipan’s greatest strengths to my knowledge are his undiluted energy and drive, his refusal to be swayed much by emotion and a humility that underscores his willingness to learn. No, now is not the time to pour forth tales of his fervid debauchery – some other time. All of that positive force, Uddipan invests heavily in what he does. And me, I’ve aroused quite a few people’s interest and not always in a good way. I’ve had monologues thrown at me on the lines of “I’m making an album. It’s going to be awesome. Give me your money. Well, why won’t you?”. Uddipan worries a lot about my being exposed to that kind of stuff. So all you folk who think I’m Mr. Moneybags, the reality is that I have very limited resources. My situation is not dire but I do not have money for nothing. But what I do have, I use well. I take risks that are out of proportion to those, always have. And I make it work. Because I believe in the things I do and the people I work with. There – that’s the trick I’m helped tremendously by the fact that my wife trusts me to do the right thing. Sure, she has a vested interest – a happy and busy me keeps my otherwise grumpy self off her hair. What is also real is that on this venture I’m not just a financial investor. I’m not one of those who put in money and watch other people take care of things. Being involved actively is the only way I know to make sure things happen. We’ve learned, Uddipan and I, over the last few months to understand and trust each other’s strengths and judgement and so we find it easy to divvy up the work. It’s worked well so far. Oh! we’ve also figured out that we need to budget for two tours because by the time money comes in delayed tranches from the venues (there were two delightful exceptions thankfully) for one tour, we’ve already incurred major expenses for the next one. Made things very, very uncomfortable but we learned from that and worked better deals with the venues on this next one.
The Love Of Uncommon People
You see a lot of logos on our posters and think that these are sponsors who have pumped in money into this tour. No they have not. We can take care of that – at least at this current scale. What they have done is something perhaps more important. Folk like Pepsi MTV Indies, Up Your Arts, Sound Awake and What’s The Scene? and OYO Rooms and Uber have shown immense faith in us in these early days and gone out on a limb to try and make sure that this venture succeeds. Of course, some of them have commercial interests – they have businesses to run – but at this stage they cannot possibly be certain of what good it could do them. When word of the first edition of the Tour went out, there was a mix of disbelief, amusement and excitement. All of the work and that nebulous thing called belief that got this machine running would’ve meant nothing if folk hadn’t known about it and not come for the shows. People pitched in by writing about it in national dailies and online magazines and blogs. We sent out individual notes to our friends to spread the word. And they responded magnificently, to the point where I started worrying about a negative whiplash. At the end of it, it worked – we had jam-packed shows everywhere. All these people made it work.
Brother, Where You Bound?
The second edition of the Tour rolls out this week with Kolkata’s The Ganesh Talkies and Mumbai’s Last Remaining Light. This time to 8 cities. We are of course very, very excited about it.
We get pinged by bands about getting on board the Tour. Most of them are very sweet about it and then there are a few jerks. It has helped in our discovery of bands and music and a few of them are on our growing list of acts that we would like to have on the Tour. There, it’s as simple as that. We need to like you. And by that, we don’t mean just the music. Nobody wants to deal with crappy attitude. If you’re not willing to invest in yourself, you really don’t have a leg to stand on demanding someone else does that for you. We are not doing anyone favours here nor are we under any obligation to run this. We are not doing this as a result of some dreamy notion of making the world a better place. Heck, we’re not even doing this for a living. Sure, we go into details and plan to try and make sure that we recover our costs but this is by no means our livelihood. We love doing this and it’s a huge source of fun and gratification for us to see some of our Indian Indie music that we ourselves enjoy get a wider audience. Having said that, as much of a range of music as we may listen to, we are limited. And even with that, the 2Stroke Tour is restricted to 2 bands on each edition and to maybe about 5 editions in an year. It is what it is. The good thing is that we’re seeing more and more gigs and tours happening in this country and we are hoping more venues, bands and organisers will join in.
Is it sustainable for us? We do not know. The only way we will know is to keep at it. As I’m fond of saying, without any originality – You ain’t going nowhere till you step out on that journey. Things could change of course. The driving force for the 2Stroke Tour is a combination of Uddipan’s ambition and my getting bored – I don’t have much time left and I’m not going to waste it on the same old, same old. I will constantly look to throw in something that excites me at least. And so this same combo could completely derail it too. Ambition can push boundaries but it’s no good if all you get is much louder and no better. And me, I might just give it all up and grow carrots instead…for a while. But till then, it keeps us runnin’.