Monday, February 02, 2015

MTV goes back

 At the cavernous venue of the launch party of Pepsi MTV Indies, a 24-hour Indian independent music channel, the air was palpably different from what you'd expect. No power suits, no wine sipping, no paparazzi - as is the norm at such launches. The warehouse-style party at Mehboob Studio, located in Bandra, the upscale suburb of Mumbai, featured instead an imperiously built stage with six different boxes - three mounted on three - which sent out a message: the Indian indie scene need not be "boxed" into one genre.

With many in the 18-35 age group increasingly listening to markedly different music instead of the usual Bollywood mishmash, a separate channel was always on the anvil - but no one knew when. Until Ankur Tewari, the lead singer of the consistently sparkling Ankur & The Ghalat Family, took on the mantle of programming and content of this sister channel of MTV India. For MTV India, this is something like coming full circle. Ask urban Indians in their late 20s or early 30s about their growing-up years and many would get wistful about MTV Asia, which burst onto the Indian cable TV screens in the 1990s. But, eventually, it was replaced with MTV India - which soon began to play the same old Bollywood music, and finally endless reality shows and contests.

And that evening at Mehboob Studio, the fabulous party was sending out a loud stereophonic sound: this channel is here to stay. It's intriguing that a profit-centric multinational like Pepsi feels it's in its interest to pour anywhere between Rs 40 crore and Rs 50 crore into a channel whose format is indie in every sense of the word. Here are a few salient points:

* It isn't just about independent music with lyrics in English. There will be music from all over the country, in Hindi, Bangla, Oriya, Malayalam.
* Unlike other music channels, there will be no video jockeys hosting shows.
* The channel will play songs, not bunched up together from a single genre, but according to moods.

When I read the release, I wondered how hard it must have been to get such a "radical" manifesto past studio heads who traditionally don't show an excess of interest in out-of-the-box ideas. The resounding success of Coke Studio India might have been one reason, and the packed gigs of indie bands at every watering hole in every metro city must have been another. The NH7 Weekender music festival, the garden-variety electronic dance music concerts that are happening throughout the year, must have contributed to the executives' confidence.

That launch night, bands jammed together without a trace of ego. Karsh Kale happily played drums for Raghu Dixit's band. Vishal Dadlani joined Raghu Dixit and took the band's catchiest tune, Ambar Se, to another level. Ankur & The Ghalat Family's hilarious lyrics sounded great when delivered by Sidd Coutto. The companionship among the musicians that night was hinting that they were really happy for the larger good of the indie scene. Spacious Mehboob Studio, which keeps hosting Live from the Console, Mahindra Blues Festival and once even had an Anish Kapoor show, was packed to the brim.

According to Raghu Dixit, this channel is a great chance for those "who missed out on the train and for those who want to board it now". What will keep the music channel chugging along initially are the 500 music videos that are in its library currently.

Obviously, those 500 videos wouldn't be enough, but it's a good enough start. And with everyone from Dualist Inquiry to Shaa'ir + Func and Swarathma to Sky Rabbit belting out propulsive music (the channel's theme video is a case in point), the channel should grow in days to come. The content will include more than music - it is expected that there will be segments on indie films and the visual arts, as well as on the creation of videos and album art. For starters, there's Open Files on album artwork and design and Indiepedia, a 101 course on popular indie terms. The icing on the cake is Busking, which will place artists on the streets to play five songs; a few of these artists include Raghu Dixit, Indus Creed, Shaa'ir and Func.

And the content will be monetised, too. There will be a Pepsi MTV Indies stage at music festivals and a smartphone app on the lines of Shazam for indie music discovery. The initial agreement on the Pepsi and MTV partnership on this channel is for three years; given the resurgent demand for indie music, this channel, hopefully, won't fade away in a hurry - as MTV Asia did.


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