Is the guitar riff dead?
The most probable answer is yes. The crowd has moved on to Dubstep and EDM (electronic dance music) where the sound is more electronic and does not depend on multiple musicians who jam together.
When Pepsi MTV Indies, a Viacom 18 music channel, decided to have its first birthday bash, they organised a gig in Mumbai that was spread over four days and an equal number of venues. However, the first night was the only night when they had guitar-heavy bands. Over the four-day period, it was evident that the guitar had moved from being the instrument of choice to becoming a background sound. The big evening on the fourth day was dedicated entirely to EDM.
As the sound of live music changes, it will become less genre specific and instrument reliant, and will try to capture funk, techno or even metal with the use of computers. Agreed, that there won’t be many venues for music lovers who liked their grunge music undiluted, but then they are simply getting old and will have to live with that. Grunge is out of fashion.
But while the guitar riff may be dead, the guitar is not.
The guitar is still one of the most important instruments for a gig. But its use has gone through a metamorphic shift due to changing technology, a Twitter crowd and the economics of staging a live act. It is just easier (and cheaper) to get a guy who uses his Mac Pro and his own voice to create the sound of all the instruments in the world without having a set of musicians to create a concert atmosphere.
MTV Indies got the guitars back on stage on the first night. The four-day event began at BlueFrog, Lower Parel, on April 1 with three bands that have not been active on the live music scene for a long time—all of them relying heavily on the guitar.
The evening opened with Blek, an alternative rock band, which has a very modern sound to its guitars. However, the instrument was only accompanying the band; the guitar was relevant but more to create a background sound. Blek is one of the bands that Hindi film director Dibakar Banerjee has used to create the background score for his latest movie Detective Byomkesh Bakshy!.
In India, the 1990s were dominated by bands like Parikrama, and later with Pentagram—cover bands that went on to create independent music. The emphasis on the guitar went up with the advent of bands like Indian Ocean and even Advaita, where they managed to create a unique sound by merging eastern sounds with western strings. They took the traditional folk rock and Indian classical approach to rock concerts.
One of the bands in India that has been evolving constantly is Bombay Black, headed by brothers Paresh and Naresh Kamath with Randolph Correia. They started using computers way back in the late ’90s and defied all kinds of genres to create a unique sound. Initially there was some criticism about using electronics or computers during their live acts, but most people did not realise that playing live to a background music that is generated through computers can be very challenging because there is very little room for making mistakes. Bombay Black got it right. They kept on looking for a new sound.
In India, there are other bands like Shaa’ir+Func, Donn Bhat and Dualist Inquiry which play electronica layered with guitar sounds very effectively.
But it was Split that had the classic guitar sound and a feel of yesteryear grunge. The crowd’s response to its act was apt, and there were moments when you felt that the ’90s still had their takers. But then, the crowd that was responding to its music was in their late 30s.
Much of today’s crowd prefers EDM and that was clear when The Glitch Mob performed at the Mehboob Studio in Bandra on the fourth day. The set-up was lazer-driven, with three guys on their computers. The crowd wanted to dance through the music, but there was no distinction between the tracks; everything sounded the same.
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(This story appears in the 01 May, 2015 issue of Forbes India. To visit our Archives, click here.)