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Collateral Damage and the Indie Scene: In Conversation with The Supersonics and Miti Adhikari

 

It is a truth universally acknowledged that the life of an independent musician is rife with countless trials and tribulations. The stereotype of a group of like-minded, starry-eyed and rebellious individuals, seeking to do what they love best, armed with nothing more than “fresh” talent, backyard resources, a passion for “alternative sounds”, and a dismissive attitude towards The Big Bad Kingdom of brainwashing mainstream culture is usually identified with the concept of “indie music”. It is also an undeniable fact that a sad majority of such independent acts, casualties in the battle against said mainstream culture, are destined to gather dust in the greater scheme of things, but those who “Make It,” stand out, become legendary and/or leave behind enduring legacies in the wake of their mortal dissolution. Sounds like a more-or-less happy ending for the successful ones, doesn’t it? But wait, let’s rewind a bit. Let us consider the genuinely Big Bad Kingdom, and most of what goes on here isn’t exactly good for health. Who’s responsible for this, then? What’s with the tragically abundant collateral damage in the so-called war? Who’s really sitting atop that Big Bad “Golden Throne”? The answers aren’t that far from home, it seems.

Here, in conversation with Eye, are The Supersonics – one of the greatest musical acts in the nation to have emerged from the indie music scene in the city of Kolkata – and the inimitable and internationally renowned music engineer Miti Adhikari (who has worked with the likes of Nirvana and Coldplay. Cue: Applause). Get ready for some details on their forthcoming independent studio album and more than a few spilt beans about the mysterious, fabled “inside” of indie music in India.

1. So, The Supersonics. Formed in 2006, released debut album in 2009, broke up in 2010, reunited in 2012, and now back in the studio. What’s different between now and then, between Maby Baking and your second studio album?

Ananda Sen (Guitar, vocals):
 The main difference is that now we are much older, and we’ve played together longer.This album is a better reflection of who we are today than Maby Baking was (in terms of reflection of our past selves) at the time when we recorded it because most of the songs on that album were three, four years old.
Rohan Ganguli: (Guitar, backing vocals): Songs on this album are what we are playing right now.
Ananda: Some of the songs were finished in the studio itself. It’s a live recording, all of us are playing together on it.

2. How many tracks did you enter the studio with?
Ananda: Forty, probably more, but we brought it down to ten.

3. This is your second album with Miti Adhikari. What position does he occupy, with regards to your general processes?
Ananda: Miti is like the fifth member of this band. He’s got creative input, he even played some stuff on the album…We basically run everything by him.He has as much power in saying what goes into the album and what stays out, as the rest of us.

4. Maby Baking was an HMV SaReGaMa production, but this album is independent, being recorded here at BlooperHouse Studios, Kolkata. Why this shift?
Ananda: Because we got fucked over man. They took our album, so we didn’t have any rights, they didn’t distribute the album at all. The deal was that they would take a part of our money from gigs and in turn sell our album. They had an exclusivity contract for a year so we couldn’t just upload it. On the other hand, they didn’t sell our album anywhere; they took money from us, it was part of the deal. They would take some of the money from gigs, for one year. They haven’t paid us a rupee in terms of royalty. They wouldn’t let anyone use the music for anything. It was just a waste of work. I don’t know if all labels are like this, but this one… Well, stay away from it.

5. Mr. Adhikari, you have worked internationally. So, what would you say is the difference between the economic model here and there?
Miti: There is actually no model here. It’s just an activity. Some people are making money, but the majority is not. The people who are making money are festival organisers. Well, some of them are making money, and some are making huge losses. Bollywood is making money, but independent music is not making any money. They’ve maybe getting a few thousand here and there, but that isn’t money.
Ananda: Everyone is making money, the guy setting up the stage, the guy who’s cleaning the junk, everyone makes more money than the band. The guy who is organising the festival is sitting on a fucking golden throne.

6.So, can’t the bands do anything about this?
Rohan: Form a union! (Laughs)
Avinash Chordia a.k.a Chotu (drums): We will not play!
Ananda: The model is going to change by itself. There is going to be a time when bands are going to say that they won’t play unless they are given a certain amount of money, but as of now bands don’t have that sort of say…
Rohan: Frankly, it takes a lot of courage, ‘cause you can’t just say you won’t play. Even if you don’t want to play, there are going to be a thousand bands who will gladly play in your place.

7. What do you think is the solution to this?
Miti: When a band has enough power, which means a big enough fan following, to say to the middleman, “We can put 5000 people in a hall or a venue of any kind, we can do it for you. Then, you make the money, but we want some of the money too,” then a solution can be worked towards. We can’t completely cross out the middleman because you can’t handle everything yourself. He (Rohan) said the musicians don’t have the balls to say no to a gig…
Rohan: Because of the sheer number of people who want to play but can’t.
Chotu: If you know that you can fill a hall with a thousand people, then you can bargain for a higher price.
Miti: You know, when you’re in a hall for 200 people and there are 800 people waiting outside to get in, the promoter or whoever will know that, “Oh! This is something I can provide but the musicians can’t provide this.” So they become the ones doing all the providing and you’re just going along with it! They are providing the venue and all of that but you’re not filling in the venue-they have power over you. Once you start filling the venue, you have some power.

Coming directly from the giants of the Indian Independent music scene, the tale of the actual state of affairs in our nation is far removed from the old triumph-over-all-hardships-is-the-surest-way-to-success belief. It is quite the horror story, one that must not be taken lightly and observed and discussed from a distance, if we are to hope for progress. As far as the flag bearers of the Indian Independent music scene are concerned (read: festival makers and so on), there is clearly more than meets the eye. Unfortunately, those at the receiving end of all evil are those who dared to dream, those whose failures were turned into classic stereotypes by the very society which claims to appreciate art and culture. Fascinating. But let’s not lose hope just yet, karma still has much magic left. In the meantime, keep calm and listen to The Supersonics, if you’re ever in need of inspiration.

The Supersonics is a Calcutta-based indie rock ‘n roll band founded in 2006. Their first studio album Maby Baking was released in 2009 to widespread national and international critical acclaim.

Miti Adhikari is a world renowned music engineer, mostly associated with BBC Radio One (London). Since his retirement, he has shifted base to Kolkata and has turned music producer. This is his second studio album with The Supersonics.

Update: Their new album just got released. To listen, go to http://oklisten.com/album/heads_up

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Murals painted by Aranya Gupta, Abhijay Gupta, Deeptaroop Basu, and Lovisa Kiisa.
This interview was recorded at BlooperHouse Studios, Kolkata.

Interview by Hiya Mukherjee and Troubleshooter.

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