Arts

Rock on, Chennai

The highlights of the early 1990s belonged to Nemesis Avenue, Burn, Juravi and inerasable concerts such as the Remo Fernandes/Burn/13AD in 1994 or the super packed 1996 Jethro Tull. This read is a backstage view of the last decade.

A few bands and artistes may be omitted, but no apologies as detail like that would take volumes. The point is good, lousy, famous and even the break-up bands have all contributed to Chennai's growth in this genre of music.

We have to start our story from 1995 with Moksha. After headlining Mood I (Mumbai) they were the first Asian band to be on International Iron Maiden and Metallica albums; the latter had their original ‘Dine with the devil'. Chennai's true rock ambassadors reigned till 2006.

1999: Significant year as it birthed JRO (June Rock Out). Suddenly Chennai had its own annual rock festival.

There were other momentum inducing gigs at Unwind such as the Konarak Reddy and Roberto Narain concert, an R&B night with Sunita Sarathy and a brilliant classic rock evening with Just Friends (now Roxygen). Gospel bands Apocrypha and A2J also pulled weight with concerts and songwriter/performer Andy Park (U.S. ) brought the Music Academy down with a stellar concert.

2000: ‘No More Bhopals' with The Banned and Bleeding Madras performed originals on the gas tragedy and Narmada issues.

Sandeep Chowtha played mean blues on a strat to inaugurate JRO featuring 12 bands including Zero (Mumbai). Also beach gigs with tripsters Grasshopper Green were ever so popular.

2001: Funky Bodhi hosted numerous events including a school tour for ‘No More Bhopals' apart from various other concerts by indigenous artistes. For the amateur rocker, a redemption year. Unwind opened an every Friday gig ‘Live 101'. Bands such as Joose played own compositions with a fan following and three-piece Wood and Buddhas Babes created their own niches. Others such as Ignition, Anorexia (IIT) and No Idea (unique with a front-woman) evolved in style and substance. The Underground competition for college bands was birthed adding fight to talent.

2002: Bands such as Blitz brought in rap-core into funk rock at the Friday gigs. Metal bands Bonesaw performed more while Blasphemy shocked. Classic rock also reigned with Bacchus at Jeffrey's pub. JRO was produced big at St. George's school grounds, but the rains played kill-joy.

Yet Mumbai, Cochin, Delhi came to Chennai and Louis Banks inaugurated it.Indoors, a phenomenon took place; a tribute to TOTO by Just Friends revolutionized performed rock! “We never thought TOTO was a known band , but the place was packed. It was a show we will never, ever forget,”says Timmy Madhukar .

At the ‘52 weeks of Live 101', David Pascall and Keith Peters weaved magic with a voice and bass duo with an immortal version of ‘Come Together'. Molotov Cocktail headlined the Underground competition.

2003: Powder in the Ashtray, Orion's Dream, Deja vodoo, Shadow Symphony (now Panatella) and the Unwind Band raised the bar of the Friday gigs. The all-girl band One Eighteen turned heads too.

The JRO finale featured Mumbai's Pentagram and Zero at the IIT, OAT. Many consider this the best outdoor rock show of the decade crossing the 4,000 mark. A Beatles tribute uncomfortably packed the Unwind basement, cementing that Chennai is alive and singing. Gospel bands got a big boost too at the Genx Festival and a subsequent compilation album.

2004: Powder in the Ashtray won the first Chennai leg Campus Rock Idols. Hard-core band Medisis from Pondy impacted heavily and Garage Monsters revolutionised with original music.

LBG brought out the Wallet album and their single ‘Money' was a hit at JRO. Piano Men, a tribute to Billy Joel/Elton John reinstated that vintage never dies. Stagefright brought out Grease: The Musical with a live rock band and JCS the rock opera was successfully staged too.

A big year for JRO too with Junoon (Pakistan) and Moksha performing and even singing their respective National Anthems (YMCA, Royapettah).

2005: Prasanna , Jeff Coffin , D.Waton , Kai Eckhardt spelt perfection at IIT, Saarang.

Garage Monsters, the Tribe and No Idea went to Great Indian Rock (Delhi). No Idea became the first southie band to win GIR and earned a tour in Norway the following year — again a first. School band Null Friction proved age is no bar with their originals.

2006: Prasannainaugurated the new Adyar Unwind.Original music reigned with Easy Street, Skrat, Stereo Trip and Substance bringing in an era of melody and retro guitar sound. Moksha and Junkyard Groove held a big stage concert at Royapettah and Junkyard Groove won Shamal (Dubai) bringing back Chennai into international rock news.

The year end was terribly tragic — Moksha vocalist Leon Ireland passed away (December 18) shocking fans and friends nationwide. Bruce Dickenson dedicated ‘Wrathchild' at Iron Maiden's first Indian concert (Bangalore) to Leon.

2007: Global Rhythms World Music Ensemble (U.S.) Saarang, IIT brought in another level of music. Progressive Metal band Nervrek won CRI and opened for Scorpions in Bangalore.

JRO took on a two-day format with Split (Mumbai) and Afterburn (Chennai) playing original music sets, stating clearly that bands have established their own sound and identity. Mantra proved its girl power through various concerts.

2008: Nervrek catapulted Chennai's pride by opening for Iron Maiden in Mumbai.Blood n Iron won the Kingfisher Pub rock fest. JRO in its 10th year featured 16 bands playing only original music.

David Pascall, on receiving an award mesmerised a wild, JRO crowd singing Frank Sinatra's Mona Lisa' unaccompanied!

LBG released their second album. International music day at Alliance Française revealed more rock per day. Unsponsored concerts in memory of the Bhopal tragedy rocked Elliot's beach.

2009: This year has been highlighted by a series of tribute concerts to icons such as Stevie Wonder , Steely Dan ,

Eagles and a whopping three dedicated evenings to Michael Jackson! The MJ tribute by film stars and singers is considered one of the biggest productions for an English live music event in Chennai till date. Metal super gods Opeth (Sweden) mowed thousands at Saarang.

A pinnacle of the decade. Metal fests happen regularly, the Unwind gigs continue, acoustic vocal group Subject to Change is breaking barriers,

Chipstead and other hotel gigs have decent regular music, bands such as Skrat, No Safe Word, Blacklisted and many others continue to make new music, building fan bases. “Even though we recorded songs we were caught in a time when indi-pop started to rule. Film music was like cricket in India: rock music was like kabaddi!

Now the bands can record easily and the Internet also helps to get noticed internationally. Bands stand a better chance today by being independent,” says Madhukar.

To say the least, a lot has happened in the last 10 years. Enough to silence critics and state that Chennai has nothing short of an active, tangible, rock scene.


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Printable version | Jun 17, 2021 3:49:33 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/arts/Rock-on-Chennai/article16851813.ece

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