Amid rumours of Rolling Stone cutting back on its print run, a short history of Indian music magazines

Rumour has it that from this month onwards, the print version of the Indian edition of Rolling Stone will either be stopped completely or decrease in frequency. The magazine’s website is expected to continue, which is great news because it’s one of the main sources of information about the country’s independent music scene.

This wasn’t always the case. Although its arrival was eagerly anticipated, when the first issue hit the stands in March 2008, Indian indie music fans were somewhat disappointed by the amount of space given to the genre. The inaugural issue had five different cover stars but none of them, unless you count US-born sitar player and composer Anoushka Shankar, was a local music hero.

Bollywood made it to the cover of Rolling Stone India faster than an indigenous rock act. Within the first year of publication, the front page featured both AR Rahman and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy (whose appearance was pegged to the release of the Hindi film Rock On!!). And though Midival Punditz and Arjun Vagale graced the cover of the 10th issue, the lead story of which was about the Sunburn festival, it was a bit ironic that electronic music producers were the first independent acts to get there in a magazine whose reputation was built on its incisive rock reportage.

It took two-and-a-half years for an Indian band — Delhi-based folk-fusion group Indian Ocean on issue No.30 — to be given the honour. The next one didn’t have to wait that long. Over the last decade, Indus Creed, Thermal and a Quarter, Pentagram, Shaa’ir + Func, Raghu Dixit, Scribe and Swarathma were all on the cover of Rolling Stone.

Rolling Stone India is one of the main sources of information about the country’s independent music scene

Rolling Stone India is one of the main sources of information about the country’s independent music scene

Never mind that actor Farhan Akhtar and female DJ duo The Electrovertz have also occupied this coveted real estate. There’s no denying that Rolling Stone has contributed significantly to the scene in several ways, from writing about upcoming artists to hosting two annual award ceremonies, the JD Rock Awards and the Metal Awards both of which are now sadly defunct.

Also read on Firstpost — As New Musical Express' print run ends, a look back at the golden age of music magazines

I would buy Rolling Stone every month until the library and bookstore opposite my house in Mumbai, which would get it specially for me, shut down a couple of years ago. It wasn’t easily available at new stands in my area and obtaining a copy would involve a trip to the nearest Crossword, which would only have it by the third week of the month.

By then, all of the content was available online and I was buying it purely for sentimental value, to maintain my music magazine collection, which maybe someday I’ll donate to a museum. The rumours about Rolling Stone prompted me to rummage through the other such titles in my stash, none of which remain in circulation. This is what’s in there:

Rock Street Journal (1993)

Arguably the best known and most revered Indian music magazine, Rock Street Journal was the first of its kind and has been instrumental in incubating the country’s rock and metal scenes through both its coverage and concerts such as the annual Great Indian Rock festival, the free compilation cassettes and CDs of which are now rare collectors’ items. RSJ, which had a print run of over two decades, now functions as a website and an events company that regularly organises gigs.

The Record (1998)

The Record, which focused on pop and rock — the cover star was always an international chart-topping act — will always be special to me because it’s where I got my first proper music writing and editing jobs. Though it shut almost a decade ago, it’s among the few defunct publications that hasn’t taken down its website, on which you can access archives dating back to 2004.

Rave (2002)

The Rave strived to be everything to everyone, and contained news and features on multiple genres from current pop to classic rock to Indian pop, classical and indie. The paper was glossy and the writing was inconsistent but what I remember the most about it was the extensive review section at the back.

mags

Blender (2008)

The Indian edition of Blender, the American magazine that aimed to be a cooler version of the Rolling Stone, had a brief run until 2009 when the 15-year-old US flagship itself was shuttered. This was just as well because by the 10th issue of the Indian version, they had switched from international pop stars to Bollywood film stars for the cover.

Soundbox (2010)

Published by the folks behind trade publication Box Office India, this music magazine attempted to be the Indian equivalent of Billboard, a mandate that had already been taken up by the long-running website Radioandmusic.com, and more recently by counterparts like Loudest.in and Musicplus.in. While I loved that Soundbox printed a variety of charts including those for sales, airplay and even caller ringback tones, I was less enthused when a writer of theirs blatantly plagiarised a review of mine and their editor defended her instead of issuing an apology.

Assorted electronic music magazines

The EDM boom was marked with an Indian edition of DJ Mag (2012), best known for its annual fan-voted list of the world’s top 100 DJs. I think only a couple of issues were printed making it perhaps the shortest run of a franchised foreign publication in history. I also have a copy of Delhi-based Europhic (2012), touted as “India’s biggest clubbing and dance music magazine”, which was launched a few months earlier and lasted a little bit longer. But the title of the country’s first electronic music mag might belong to The Essence (2005), which claimed to be “empowering clubbers across the nation” seven years earlier.

Also in my collection are a few stray copies of the tabloid-style The Big M (2010) and Chennai-headquartered The Score (2007), which, if the news about Rolling Stone becoming online-only is true, will be the sole remaining print magazine of its kind. Even though you’d be hard pressed to find a hard copy of it in Mumbai, a pdf version of The Score is available to browse on the net.

This list, while fairly large, is not meant to be comprehensive and excludes magazines that regularly cover music such as any Indian “youth” magazine worth its salt, from the Junior Statesman in the 1960s and ’70s to Jetset (at least that’s what I think it was called) in the ’80s to JAM and Teens Today in the ’90s and MTV Noise Factory in the aughties.

I also haven’t included Time Out, the music section of which I edited for several years; “audio and visual” mag AV Max; or culture magazine Platform, which prints a music special every year for its July-August issue. Even the Bombay Times has a page dedicated to music, which features Indian independent acts, every Saturday.

The sad truth is that the era of the music magazine, around the globe, seems to be over. Encouragingly, there are an increasing number of Indian online publications dedicated to music, from websites such as Wild City to blogs like A Humming Heart and The Orijinal and even social media accounts such as The Indian Music Diaries. Both fans and musicians will agree — we need more of them.

Amit Gurbaxani is a Mumbai-based journalist who has been writing about music, specifically the country's independent scene, for nearly two decades. He tweets @TheGroovebox


Updated Date: Jul 15, 2018 16:25 PM

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