Theater of Cruelty

India wants Norwegian rock

Last weekend, the multicultural Musikk-Norge showed muscles at the Mela festival, but it was unattractive to Indian festival manager Amit Saigal. He prefers rock bands like Satyricon and Madrugada.


It was the fourth Mela festival at Rådhusplassen in Oslo. Norwegian artists such as Samsaya, Equicez and Mira Craig shared the stage with Pakistani and Indian pop stars such as Atif Aslam, Apache Indian and Najam Sheraz. The festival, which started as a Norwegian-Pakistani event in 2001, has developed into a joint parade for the multicultural Norway, and on the music front it goes in traditional music, jazz, hip hop, r & b and reggae. Not a rock band is to be seen.

A few days earlier, the Indian festival and concert organizer Amit Saigal (40) walks around the streets of Oslo. He is looking for Norwegian bands for the annual The Great Indian Rock Festival, one of India's biggest rock festivals. He is not interested in Norwegian variants of hip hop, reggae and Indian raga music, but wants rock. Distinctive and hard-hitting Norwegian rock. Therefore, he was not interested in the Mela festival, but instead walked around the Medieval Park in Oslo – to see the best of the Norwegian rock scene during the Øya festival. - Does the Norwegian rock scene have a distinctive character that you will not find anywhere else?

- Norwegian rock is at least very different from American rock, with a distinct identity that is both aggressive and rich in emotions. Playing heavy seems to fall naturally for Norwegian bands, and during the Øya Festival I fell especially for Madrugada and Satyricon. In India, the Norwegian black metal scene is best known, and a band like Dimmu Borgir is big. But I want to show that Norwegian rock also contains more melodic bands like WE and Madrugada, says Saigal, who emphasizes that he has not booked any Norwegian band for the 2006 festival in February yet.

- How did you start in the Indian rock industry?

- It started with the fanzine Rock Street Journal (RSJ), which I released in January 1993. At that time, the Indian rock scene revolved around bands that only played cover songs. Since the biggest international rock bands never came to India, local bands had to meet demand by playing cover versions. I wanted to create a magazine for and about Indian rockers who wrote their own music. Initially, I only sold eight to nine subscriptions to the college festivals in New Delhi and surrounding areas, but when I sent the residue free to friends who played in bands all over India, it loosened up. RSJ got an audience in music circles, and became the center of a rock environment that wanted to make their own music.

- What is the climate like for original rock music in India today?

- Then RSJ In the beginning there were thousands of cover bands, but maybe only three bands playing their own songs. We started a column we called "Demo Demons", where we started reporting demo recordings of original songs. It became very popular and in 1995 we released the collection cassette The Great Indian Rock Vol – with 14 bands selected from among 120 interested. It became a regular release, and also developed into the festival of the same name.

-What kind of role does rock play in the Indian record industry?

- If we disregard the major international record releases, the Indian record industry has always been dominated by the film industry in Mumbai, "Bollywood". About 90 percent of Indian record releases are film music. The rock scene has developed strongly since the 1990s, but in the larger context, rock is still a subculture. We are still talking about 300 annual college festivals with 1500 to 10 spectators. Great Indian Rock has around 000 spectators daily, and with bands such as Bombay Black and Orange Street, India has experienced its first international rock successes. Bombay Black warmed up for Aerosmith and The Offspring in Los Angeles, while Orange Street last year became the first Indian rock band to tour in Europe ever – and played in Oslo and at the Slottsfjell Festival in Tønsberg.

- What kind of role has the technological development played in the Indian rock scene?

- It has become easier to compete with Bollywood, since it is cheaper to record music and burn your own CDs. The Internet also has a lot to say for the spread of Indian rock, and the RSJ site, for example, has a million hits a month.

- In February this year, WE played at Great Indian Rock, as the first Norwegian rock band in India ever. Did it taste better?

- Yes. I think the audience loved it, and now I want more Norwegian bands at the festival. It is mostly only giants like The Rolling Stones and Elton John who play in India, and then the tickets are very expensive. I think the audience appreciates something completely new, and therefore I also collaborate with Rikskonsertene to get three or four Indian rock bands to Norway. I think the interest in collaboration between Norwegian and Indian rockers is present, and plan to create a separate section for Norwegian rock on RSJ's website – so that Norwegian and Indian musicians can contact each other directly. And in addition, I want to dedicate a number of RSJ in the year to Norwegian rock, and also want to release a compilation of Norwegian rock in India.

- Do you do the same with music from other countries?

- No, only with Norwegian rock. It's really a bit random, but we came in contact with Alexander Nordgaren from the black metal band Mayhem when he started coming to our concerts in New Delhi. Eventually he put me in touch with Norwegian booking agents, which further led to a collaboration with Rikskonsertene.

- When the West wants Indian music, do the festivals go for classical music and traditional music? What do you think about that?

- It's annoying. The classical musicians in India struggle to fill concert halls in their home country, and survive primarily due to demand from the international concert market. People need to realize how big India is and how many different cultures the country holds. It is no coincidence that the expression "the global Indian" has taken hold. We follow what is happening in the world, and the Indian rock culture is a consequence of this. I could react in the same way to Norwegian rock, and questioned whether rock at all is part of Norwegian culture. Rock is as important a part of Indian as Norwegian culture, this is what I grew up with and am passionate about. Rock is not about states and nationality, it is about youth and energy.

fact Box

Rock Street Journal

  • Monthly Indian Rock Magazine.
  • Is based in New Delhi, with correspondents in Bangalore, Mumbai, Dimapur, Chennai and Jamshedpur.
  • The website is an important hub for the Indian rock scene.
  • Also hosting the annual The Great Indian Rock Festival in New Delhi in February.
  • In February 2005, the Norwegian rock band WE played at the Great Indian Rock festival. The collaboration provided added flavor, and now the festival is looking for more Norwegian rock bands.

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