In Carnatic city, a bunch of young rock musicians are making themselves heard loud and clear with their unique mix of sound and genres

For a city that is often stereotyped as ‘traditional’ and ‘closed’, with an intense love for Carnatic music, Chennai has embraced music of all kinds. Bands are not just rock bands here, with head-banging guitarists and long-haired, moustache-sporting rockstars but have kurta-clad msucians who romance many genres or just jam on a balmy evening with a guitar in tow. Here are a few city bands that specialise in different genres and created a sound of their own.

What says Chennai better than Tamil? Sathgurunathan, Arun Prasanna, Vinayak Oletti, Cletus Amalan and Rahul Sridhar decided that they wouldn’t go down the regular path. And so, Muttu Sandhu, the city’s own Tamil rock band was born. “We’re not really a rock band,” says Sathgurunathan, the lead vocalist and lyricist, “We experiment with a lot of genres. Our repertoire has punk, rock, fusion and heavy metal but we broadly call ourselves Tamil rock.”

Muttu Sandhu began with a cover of Bharathiyar’s ‘Manathil Uruthi Vendum’, which became popular. After this, they began to work on their own compositions. “Around this time the ‘Kolaveri’ fever was high. So we created two songs, ‘Pengal’ and ‘Mattram’ to put our music out there. The response has been very good so far. At every performance we have had people coming and telling us how much they like our music,” he says.

Another city band that doesn’t believe in the theatrics of rock music is Duality comprising Mihir Ranganathan and Manoj Sreekumar. They specialise in acoustic rock, and play for audiences “who like to listen to good music performed live”.

The band began when the two of them got together to jam. “But since then, we’ve managed 43 gigs including the TEDxYouth@Chennai 2011, Comic Con Bangalore 2012, The Hard Rock Café and have got our music video aired on MTV several times. We have also released an album last year,” says Manoj.

Acoustic Rock, as a genre, attracts people of all ages and some of them are not even fans of rock. “Our music is definitely evolving. We premiere songs at our shows and gauge the crowd’s response to know if it sounds right. If you need to make a mark, you have to have original music. Chennai’s audience is very receptive to hearing original songs,” he elaborates.

The duo, who are currently working on their second album, feel that rock bands here have always pushed the envelope. “They are always doing stuff musically that bands in other cities haven’t done yet. And that’s the beauty of rock — to break stereotypes,” he adds.

Skrat has been around for so long that it has been part of the city’s vibrant music scene. Started as a five-piece rock band, it has evolved over the years and is now a three-piece outfit. There’s something about the city and its bands, says Skrat. “It could be the people, the culture, the beaches or just the heat, I can’t quite put my finger on it,” says T.T. Sriram, guitarist and frontman. “A majority of our shows are outside Chennai, so being a ‘band from Chennai’ adds an element of intrigue. The city has consistently produced some great bands, so there’s also that pedigree that goes with it.”

And with the number of bands coming up in the city, the audience for original music has also increased. “All the new bands know and understand the necessity for original music and the audience demands it. You don’t hear as many people screaming for covers anymore. I mean, there’s always going to be that one person screaming for Metallica or Britney Spears. But, that’s sort of become tradition now,” laughs Sriram.

The band is currently working on Skrat merchandise such as handmade beer mugs, badges, T-shirts and more and looks forward to working on their third album soon. “We have been playing the new songs live for a while and are also in the planning stages of a special tour for this album,” he says.

Subject to Change, which has been in the city for seven years, has carved out an audience for itself with its acoustic rock performances. “For the longest time, being an acoustic band meant we didn’t have company. A lot of the city bands play a variety of music and that’s why Subject to Change found a relatively exclusive niche. It’s great to see that’s been changing with new bands and artist collaborations,” says Anjana Raghavan, the vocalist.

The group initially started playing during college culturals. “Some of us got together later for an acoustic festival in the city and almost immediately came together as a band. As our music and audiences grew, we went through some changes in set-up and musicians; but our style retained its simple, clean acoustic sound, with a strong emphasis on vocals and instrumentation,” says Anjana.

While they do a lot of covers, the songs are reinterpreted acoustic versions and the band also does medleys in English, Tamil and Hindi. “The last couple of years have seen quite a stir in the live music scene, providing platforms to several original bands. Chennai has always had a quiet, small army of counterculture, doing what it loves; even when it was Madras,” adds Anjana.