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A bend in the Indus
The buzz at Mumbai's Hard Rock Cafê that Thursday evening on October 7 was special. It could have been the hulking pieces of machinery men so love to cuddle, but there was more to the electric crackle than bike love, even if the bikes in question were a row of gleaming Harley Davidsons.
Split, a rock band that prides itself on being original and loud, was belting out song after song and the crowd, biding its time, clapped and made the right noises. But singer Garreth D'Mello had hardly finished when the barely restrained crowd let loose. The few hundred people who had managed to pack themselves into the cavernous interiors of what used to be an old Bombay Dyeing mill could belt out only two words. "Indus Creed! Indus Creed!" And the chants grew louder. "Indus Creed!"
After a hiatus of 12 years, India's first and most successful rock band was back where it belonged. On stage and giving fans what they craved - class rock.
An hour later, it was as if Indus Creed had turned back the clock, capturing their old sound but better than ever before.
Frontman Uday Benegal was greeted with thunderous applause, bassist Rushad Mistry with a brassiere. "The love that night was unbelievable, " Benegal told TOI-Crest on the phone from Mumbai.
The seeds of that love were sown 26 years ago when the band, which began by calling itself Rock Machine, strutted onto India's nascent rock scene. At a time when rock 'n ' roll meant covers of The Who, Led Zeppelin and Pink Floyd, Benegal (vocals), Mahesh Tinaikar (guitar), Mark Selwyn (bass), Jayesh Gandhi (guitar), Zubin Balaporia (keyboards) and Mark Menezes (drums) came together with one common aim - a desire to play the music they loved. With their long hair and the sound of the '80s, Rock Machine soon became a staple at every college fest with its brand of glam rock.
"We started off as a cover band because that's all you could do, " says Benegal, who has a way with words, whether he's singing or not. "We were influenced by Floyd and Zep, Porcupine Tree. We had the long hair, but we weren't really into the glam look. Thankfully, we never wore lip gloss. "
There might have been no lip gloss, but Rock Machine soon realised that flogging classic rock tunes was not going to get them anywhere. Creative expression had to go beyond well-executed covers.
"We were besieged with this desire to make our own music, " says Benegal, who joined the band in 1984 as a 17-year-old when the then lead singer left for Canada. "It was hard because the mindset was prejudiced against Western rock. Original songs weren't accepted. It was something we had to overcome. "
A little white lie went a long way to pave the way for Rock Machine originals. "Initially, we would lie, " says Benegal. "We would pass off our song as a new release by some obscure band. No one knew any better. Before we knew it, people had started asking for those songs. It was a great feeling. "
After three years of travelling the length and breadth of the country in rickety buses and sleeper class on trains, Rock 'n' Roll renegade and Chains and black leather had become campus anthems. Rock Machine was the first band to cut an album. Rock 'n' Roll renegade was one that any self-respecting rock band would have treasured.
For bands who had long felt shackled by - or content with - performing covers, Rock Machine was an inspiration to write their own songs. Two well-received albums later, the urge to conquer foreign shores grew stronger, but the name Rock Machine, the band found, left international promoters cold. It was during a marathon brainstorming session that the new name was born. "We were encouraged to embrace our Indianness, " says Benegal. "Much alcohol was consumed. Om Tattoo was one option. Mushroom Matter was the inspiration behind Ashram Mother. We dodged a few bullets, but when the name Indus Creed came up, it just felt right. "
The MTV revolution took India by storm in the '90s and Indus Creed, by virtue of their top-dog status in Indian rock, were rightfully pushed as the next big thing. Revelling in their Indianness without abandoning their hard-rock roots, their eponymous album Indus Creed was a huge success. Pretty child, a song from their second album, Second Coming, but also released as a bonus track on their third, represented the quintessential Indus Creed sound. Till today, it draws the loudest cheers and claps, just like it did that evening at Hard Rock. The beautiful black-and-white video shot by Subir Chatterjee and Namita Roy Ghose spent six weeks on the MTV Top 20 Countdown and won MTV's Asian Viewers' Choice Award across all of Asia in 1993.
But a few more videos and tours later, Indus Creed found that they hit a stone wall. "Our plight was self-inflicted, " says Benegal. "Record labels had the chance to nurture our music. But we just got so tired of hearing 'must appeal to the rickshaw driver'. Everybody can't tap into the pile of mass population. I was getting sick of the music in Bombay and life here was looking less and less attractive. I needed cultural stimulation and decided to move to New York. "
In New York, Benegal and Jayesh Gandhi started Alms For Shanti. Nine years later, Benegal made the return journey back to Mumbai. This time to indulge his new passion, film-making. This time without Gandhi, who stayed on in New York to work in his wife's family business. Their critically acclaimed Alms for Shanti band is for the moment "defunct".
The film never got made - "I'm still looking for a producer" - but Benegal, now 43, and former band mate Tinaikar, 46, joined hands to make some wonderful acoustic music, Whirling Kalapas. Zubin Balaporia, who had sustained a parallel studio career, joined for a few sessions and it wasn't long before the trio felt the old musical chemistry stir. They decided to relaunch Indus Creed but with new blood.
Bass wunderkind Rushad Mistry and powerhouse drummer Jai Row Kavi, who incidentally was born in 1995 when Indus Creed was at its peak, were the new selections. The quintet was complete. The band had its old name in place. Everything was going well, but they were dogged by fears of rejection.
"I was very reluctant to use the old name with a new lineup, " says Mahesh Tinaikar, whose guitar solos were legendary. "We were going ahead with a new sound and I thought that might not sit well with some fans. But Uday was insistent that we must stick with Indus Creed, so we decided to go ahead. It would've been pretty uncool if we'd misused the goodwill of our fans. The two live gigs we've done till now have been very well received but the real test will be when we record an album. "
If that Thursday evening was any indication, their new songs - The money, Goodbye, Make it son and Take it harder - were as well received as their older stuff.
The new Indus Creed sound or, as they like to refer to it, IC 2. 0, is unlike what they've ever done. The focus is on experimentation and more embellishment. The days of fusion are in the past.
The influences on the band are too many and too diverse to enumerate and Benegal is reluctant, and rightly so, to elaborate. "It's very difficult to say. There aren't any deliberate influences, but inevitably some creep in. It's less of one band and more of a conglomeration of ideas that are modified over a period of time. My musical mood nowadays is dictated by what I'm listening to currently. Anekdoten, a Swedish prog-rock band and MUTEMATH are some bands that I'm listening to more. I was never a big fan of the Dave Matthews Band but their last album, Big Whiskey and the GrooGrux King was amazing. "
"It's a tough maze, " says Balaporia. "We aren't a new band but music has to evolve. When we stopped playing in the late '90s, we had a certain sound that had a limited sphere. Now a decade later, your music has to be contemporary but at the same time you run the risk of alienating fans. Each one of us brings in our influences. And luckily for us it has worked so far. "
Mistry and Kavi bring to the band a new sound and style that only sharpens what Benegal and Tinaikar have honed over the years. The second coming of Indus Creed could just be the second coming of the Indian rock industry as well. Just ask those who were at HRC that evening in October.
Start the drumroll
What do the other bands have to say about the return of Indus Creed?
RAHUL RAM, INDIAN OCEAN
I am so happy. Good musicians, good music, mazaa aayega. I have known them from their Rock Machine days. I think they were kind of pushed by other people into changing their name and adding the tabla to their music. They didn't want to do it. But they won the MTV Award and made it big. I think market forces dictated their break up more than anything. Now I think everyone is older and wiser. If you ask me, they are likely to go back to the purer sound of rock.
SUBIR MALIK, PARIKRAMA
They are the original rockers. They are what you can call the first family of Indian rock 'n' roll. No other band can even compare with what they've done. We looked up to them for everything. The last show they ever did was with Parikrama at Rang Bhavan in Bombay. It's great that they have decided to come back. Yes, they have a new lineup, but a band is bigger than its individual members. What better example than Indian Ocean? (The late) Asheem (Chakravarty) was a brilliant musician but Indian Ocean is still a great band. Jayesh Gandhi and Mark Selwyn aren't there with the new Indus Creed, but a good band is still a good band.
SUROJIT DEV, THEM CLONES
The grand-daddies of rock are back. They were one of the most successful bands and I think they've the same equity today. Pretty child is one of the best songs to ever come out of India. As far as their sound is concerned, I don't expect them to be drastically different. If they were to come out with a different genre of music then they wouldn't be Indus Creed, would they? Uday Benegal will still sound like Uday Benegal. There will obviously be some contemporary influences. Fusion is now a very strong music trend, but it all depends on execution. The biggest legacy of a band like Rock Machine or Indus Creed is that practically all new bands play their own compositions. Indus Creed set the standard and there's no reason why they can't be at the top again.
RANDOLPH CORREIA, PENTAGRAM AND SHAA'IR + FUNC
As a young musician, I was a huge Mahesh Tinaikar fan. And whenever I thought of them I remembered Pretty child. They'd established an image for themselves. When they quit, over a decade ago, most journalists would ask the question: Is rock dead? They realised that music was their career. It's a bold step that Indus Creed have taken but one that the rock community needs. They didn't quit. They just took a break. It's great if they are experimenting with new sounds. Rock 'n' roll is all about honesty, speaking the truth. I hope that they push the limits.
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