The singer of the Mumbai group Indus Creed talks about the band's career trajectory.
Indus Creed rocks India and beyond
It is becoming almost impossible to achieve any pioneering status in rock'n'roll anymore. It has now become a game of variations instead of innovation.
But the Mumbai band Indus Creed are that rare exception. The five-piece group, who will play in Dubai's Music Room on Friday, have chalked up an impressive list of reported firsts. They are the first Indian band to release an original rock album, the first Indian band to feature on MTV, the first Indian band to have their own rockumentary, and the first Indian group to play at Womad.
This was all before the group disbanded in 1997. And only last year did they decide to hit the road again.
The singer Uday Benegal takes the band's achievements with a grain of salt, stating it would be "crazy" for anyone to start a band with such intentions.
"Rock music in India was then and will be a limited enterprise," he says. "It is still a small microcosm of the music scene here. So it just doesn't make any sense to start a band to be noticed as the first band to release a rock album. It's because we love rock music - that's why we decided to play."
Formed in Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in 1984 under the moniker Rock Machine, the group began plying their limited trade as a cover band playing the likes of The Who, Deep Purple and Van Halen.
Landing gigs was becoming increasingly difficult, however, as night spots preferred harmless Bollywood tunes to hosting long-haired lads on stage.
The dilemma caused the group to rethink their strategy.
"We began playing in technical colleges all around the country and some of them even had their own festivals," Benegal says. "Now, these were all high-pressure colleges and some of these students really didn't have a chance to go completely nuts, so we became the go-to band because we play this loud, fun, rock music."
Rock Machine's gig at the time would run up to three hours; in some cases, demands for encores were so persistent that the group would replay their set.
Despite the success, they were itching to play their own songs crafted in their frequent rehearsal sessions.
With venues categorically refusing to allow them to play originals, the group sneaked them in among the cover hits.
"We would say it was a song by a band they never heard of and we'd just play it," Benegal laughs. "But after a while, the crowd were also in on the joke as well."
One song that immediately struck a chord with audiences was Top of the Rocks.
Listening to the track, one could easily have been fooled if it was introduced as a hidden album track by Europe. Its catchy keyboards and anthemic chorus became the band's signature hit and the group capitalised on the momentum by recording two albums.
Feeling constrained by the Indian college circuit, the band followed their manager's blunt advice and ditched the Rock Machine moniker.
"He said a name like Rock Machine wouldn't take us very far," Benegal says. "But we were listening to what he was saying. We wanted to be viewed as more than just a college band and explore more tonalities and textures... We wanted to be taken more seriously."
The risk paid off, both musically and commercially.
In 1993, Indus Creed's music video for the song Pretty Child won an MTV Video Music Award.
The new group's eclectic songs, which saw them incorporate Indian instruments such as the tabla and sarangi, found their way to Peter Gabriel, who invited them to play in his world music festival Womad nearly two decades ago.
Benegal says despite the achievements, the band are not too fond of looking backwards.
Fresh from a 14-year hiatus, he says the group are working on a new album and are looking forward to testing the new songs live.
"We are not some nostalgia act," he says. "It is a modified line-up with three of the original members left, but we are also about the new music as well as the old songs."
Indus Creed are playing at The Music Room in Dubai's Majestic Hotel on Friday. Tickets are available at www.itp.net/tickets