During the last months of 2015 and the start of 2016 – which is often when most music festivals take place in India — we started seeing an interesting choice of somewhat unlikely bands coming down to the country for debut shows. That included the soaring, cinematic instrumental rock and post-rock by bands such as Mogwai (NH7 Weekender), Explosions in the Sky (Johnnie Walker — The Journey) and 65daysofstatic (Indie March).
By the time we got to this year’s ‘festival season’, India’s independent music supporters and fans hungry for international bands to visit got to watch the likes of Steven Wilson, Jeff Loomis and the Aristocrats. They’ve all (more or less) have been recognised widely for making progressive rock and metal music. Come January, there’s already Swedish prog rock/metal band Katatonia headlining the annual rock show of IIT Madras’s festival Saarang, on January 7, while another college festival, IISc Bengaluru’s Pravega, is bringing down American prog metal band Intronaut. Both bands, interestingly, are playing their second time in India.
But this isn’t just about college kids passing down their prog music to juniors to keep a sort of unofficial festival choice in check because even the topline music festivals and now, club venues are beginning to trust prog as the most dependable subgenre of rock and metal.
Probably part of its biggest allure is the listenership it has. As you can guess by online communities called Prog Snob, fans of progressive rock and metal usually like to think highly of themselves, justifying it by the fact that progressive music revels in complex structures, odd time signatures, morphing vocals for emotional intensity. But in interviews with tour promoters and booking agents, it’s evident that one of the main reasons anyone would book a prog band is for this — it attracts a (perhaps self-perceived) intelligent crowd that cares very much about music. And, if the taste is more refined, it’s likely that the inclination to save up or just instantly spend on albums or tickets to a show with conviction is higher.
Even knowing the Indian norm of announcing artists just a month or few weeks in advance of the show — when most European and American tours and festival lineups are announced many more months in advance — fans made sure shows for the Aristocrats’ India tour in September were sold out in three days. There was a packed house awaiting Jeff Loomis (famed for his work with Nevermore, and now a part of melodic-death metal band Arch Enemy) at Bengaluru’s Blue Frog, among the highest tickets sold on his four-city tour.
And it’s not just the international names in prog that gets everyone excited. One of the country’s biggest metal exports right now are prog metal band Skyharbor, who played to a huge crowd, not just at NH7 Weekender in Pune, but also at indoor venues across Kolkata, Kochi, Bengaluru, New Delhi and Mumbai. Their co-headliners, instrumental/prog band Pangea from Mumbai, have an equally formidable following, for their spellbinding live performances and for that, they too play to full houses wherever they go. With full-length releases planned by both bands in 2017, it’s certain that there will be many more fans accrued.
Bands such as Mumbai’s Coshish and Bengaluru’s Rainburn teamed up for an entirely different edition of their now annual showcase of progressive rock and metal, called Progworks, which enters its third edition this year, and there certainly won’t be any dearth of talent to pick from. Some of the most promising indie artists coming up are in the prog space — from Pune acts like Celestial Teapot and Cat Kamikazee, instrumental band Circle of Fifths from Mumbai and Bengaluru’s Traces and Orchid.
In addition to Progworks, Mumbai promoter and gig organiser Aftab Khan, who has picked Cat Kamikazee to represent the prog side of things at his just-launched gig series Generation Why, says he’ll actively look at including at least one prog band at each edition.
With the first month scheduled to include stops by Katatonia and Intronaut, there’s already more in store. The Aristocrats’ guitarist Guthrie Govan will bring his jazzy/neo-prog solo material on an India tour in February, and from what we’ve gathered, American prog godfather Devin Townsend had to turn down an offer to play at Weekender, so he’s still in high demand. More recently, prog giants Dream Theater put up news that their upcoming tour was extending to Asia, to somewhat strengthen rumours of an India show in June. One thing’s for sure, the future looks proggy.