Here’s how Ahmedabad musician Uddipan Sarmah has changed the way indie bands tour
“In any business, you don’t have to follow the book.”
We’re talking to Chennai garage rock band Skrat’s frontman Sriram TT, who has had his share of self-organised tours – from consecutive shows to month-long bike rides across the country. But Sriram is particularly talking about the 2Stroke Tour, which was started in 2015 by Ahmedabad-based musician, producer and gig organiser Uddipan Sarmah.
Skrat and Sarmah’s ambient rock band Aswekeepsearching set out on a five-city tour of the major metros in June 2015. A year on, their fourth edition is bringing back Mumbai-based alternative rock/metal band Goddess Gagged together for a seven-city tour that has found stops in the North East — Guwahati and Shillong — as well. More than that, it has made a lot more independent artists believe that touring no longer means playing one or two shows every weekend — it can be back-to-back shows. Best of all, the venues are convinced because fans are willing to show up.
Originally an idea floated by Bengaluru-based investor and blogger Ramakrishan Krishnan, the 2Stroke Tour aimed to mirror the touring culture of the West, where bands got on the road, played every night, made some money and came back exhausted but enriched. Krishnan told me, “For Indie music to grow, many different things have to be tried and done to push the boundaries wider open. Touring is one of those. I had some ideas much before I met Uddipan. When he came to me with the idea of a tour for his band, I was immediately on it. But I quietly nudged him to expand it to a wider scope.”
While Krishnan is not involved as an investor in the upcoming edition, the 2Stroke Tour grew with its subsequent editions because of a sound business model that brought out decent profits for the bands and the organisers. They took bands such as Kolkata pop rock band The Ganesh Talkies (best known for their inimitable Bollywood disco-influenced rock laced with a few ragers) and Delhi experimental rock band The Circus to territories they had only played once or twice before. The Circus guitarist Arsh Sharma, who has also had his fair share of once-a-week shows that become branded as tours, says 2Stroke should be the norm. He says, “I just find it surprising that other people don’t do it. I mean, this is the way bands do it abroad. In India, most of us just wait for clubs to book us and give us a flight ticket and a hotel and put us up. Maybe give us a pedicure while we’re at it? We’re a very spoiled bunch of people in India.”
Sarmah adds, “It (independent bands touring) will survive only if the bands are willing to do it.” Of course, there’s also the venues. Where once only certain venue chains such as Hard Rock Café or Blue Frog could be the best bet for several shows in a month, the 2Stroke Tour liaised with several venues. Everyone from the Humming Tree in Bengaluru to Hard Rock Cafes in Mumbai, Social Offline’s Antisocial venue space in Delhi and High Spirits in Pune were more than willing to give the 2Stroke bands a stage every time, working out a profitable deal for all parties. Sarmah says, “It was difficult for me to make them understand my plan. They were willing to know about it and support it.”
Although artist and event management companies like Mixtape, Only Much Louder, KRUNK and The Wild City have been working with a lot of different venues across the country to set up tours with their artists, The 2Stroke Tour has proved that you didn’t need necessarily need the backing of a company to have you sorted. Emerging artists such as Pune’s Celestial Teapot, Bengaluru’s White Mug, Chennai electro-fusion duo Sapta and Bengaluru rock band D’s Kitchen have all been hitting the road for anywhere between five to 10 shows across the country.
As Sharma from The Circus mentions, the bands have to be willing to slum it out. Goddess Gagged’s vocalist Siddharth Basrur has already had his share of the 2Stroke Tour, when his other rock band Last Remaining Light played in eight cities last year, as part of the second edition. He says, “I’ve never done anything this intense before. I’m not sure about the rest of my bandmates (in Last Remaining Light). They’ve probably gigged continuously but probably not played the same set over and over again, watching it improve one set after another.”
It’s a different experience with Goddess Gagged — bassist Krishna Jhaveri and guitarist Devesh Dayal play in multinational progressive metal band Skyharbor, which has a vocalist based in the U.S. On their first ever North America tour last November, they spent about a month getting in and out of cities, cooped up in a van together.
As Jhaveri points out, things are different in India. The geographical vastness between metro cities means that Goddess Gagged (along with Sarmah) will board a flight nearly every day. “I’m getting ready for a few nights of no sleep. It’s definitely going to be more tiring than the Skyharbor tours.”
At a time when nearly all independent artists in India wouldn’t think twice about putting up their albums for free download and unlimited listening, gigs will be that credible source of income as well as a method of connecting with fans. And that’s been well-established by the existing touring model all across the world. If Bollywood singers continue to rake in fat performance fees on international and Indian tours, indie artists are now kickstarting down the path of their own survival, even if the scale of payment, production, performance and even audience sizes varies greatly.
As someone who’s given the 2Stroke Tour an early push, Krishnan says the future is in each band’s reach. As much as 2Stroke has now become a brand of sorts, with bands regularly contacting Sarmah and Krishnan (even though he’s stopped investing in the tour now), the way forward shouldn’t be just one touring series organised by one company. Krishnan notes, “Bands have to get off the fence and invest in themselves. They cannot expect someone else to take up cudgels for them every time. Touring is a vital part of a band's life. It is a means to acquire a wider reach for their music. So even if you take a hit on money on a tour, it's well worth it because it'll likely pay off in the longer run.”
The 2Stroke Tour with Goddess Gagged kicked off on 26 August in Kolkata’s Princeton Club. Full tour schedule here.