Down to its bare bones and stripped of aesthetic value, DIY is the outcome of a needs must situation. You know how Frank Zappa’s appropriately kooky backing band was called The Mothers of Invention; necessity can be a great motivator. The absence of any discernible independent rock music scene in Ahmedabad, where post-rock band Aswekeepsearching is based, led Uddipan Sarmah — vocalist and guitar-player — to venture out to other cities (Pune, Mumbai). They spoke to promoters and venues, setting up gigs on their own to spread their music to newer, more open-minded audiences. “The whole band was moved by the idea of playing live, travelling to different places and doing more shows. For us to travel 1,000 km to play one gig doesn’t make financial sense. We wanted to do tours, play at new places for new people,” says Sarmah, 27.
This was a couple of years ago. Cut to present, the second edition of the 2Stroke tour — a new DIY pub gig tour arranged entirely on an independent scale — concluded only last week, this time featuring Kolkata’s Ganesh Talkies and Last Remaining Light from Mumbai playing in eight different cities over a jam-packed and exhausting two-week tour. The first edition took place earlier this year, in June, where Sarmah’s band played five gigs in five different cities over a period of five days along with punk band Skrat, the punk three-piece from Chennai.
The 2Stroke tour isn’t all Sarmah, actually. It’s a collaboration between him and Ramakrishnan Krishnan (an independent entrepreneur from Bangalore and an indie music patron better known as Bantering Ram), 45. The two got talking about strong local scenes and how exposure across state lines remains restricted at best, even for the more popular indie bands.
The first hurdle they faced was that there isn’t an established touring culture in the country — it’s trendy these days (“Hashtag tour life,” laughs Sarmah) but the ground reality is quite different. For instance, playing four weekend shows across cities over a period of a month is legitimately called a “tour” by bands and promoters, as opposed to the traditional notion of travelling across the country in crammed vans or buses (or trains or flights too) over a concentrated period of time, playing a new city on an almost nightly basis — a concept the western world diligently follows, (often) regardless of the stature of a band. “Phat jaati hai,” says Sarmah. “Indian bands don’t have that kind of endurance. Five cities, eight cities; matlab khatam.”
The two decided to give it a shot anyway. The idea was to get one fresh, upcoming band, and another that has a reasonable chance of pulling in the crowds. The first two editions have seen bands that could largely fall in the space of indie or alternative rock music, which they intend to stick to. With a DIY plan such as this, it’s the planning, the preparation and the execution that becomes a task. There’s a budget you need to make well in advance (leaving a buffer for hidden costs or unforeseen expenses), setting up dates with venues and striking individual deals with them that’ll benefit all concerned parties, convincing temperamental bands to get on board and not throw hissy fits, hoping for decent turnouts at gigs, managing flight tickets across cities, intercity road travel, accommodation, local transport, food, drinks, drugs, sex, tech riders, hospitality riders, not to forget the emotional turmoil of 10 people touring together, sharing rooms, meals and toilet paper — it’s what industry insiders refer to as a logistical clusterf**k.
There’s a budget, setting up dates with venues, convincing temperamental bands, hoping for decent turnouts, managing flight tickets, intercity road travel, accommodation, local transport, food, drinks, drugs, sex, tech riders, hospitality riders, not to forget the emotional turmoil of 10 people touring together, sharing rooms, meals and toilet paper.
And then there’s the small matter of the Benjamins, what with the absence of any big-name sponsors with endless pockets backing them. In this case, Krishnan plays the role of true patron of the arts, acting as the sole investor. It’s not charity, of course; he’s clear that for such a thing to sustain itself, recovering your investment (and making a profit, however small) is essential. He puts in all the money up front, following budgets based around a tour plan that Sarmah works on. Each gig is a ticketed event, with an entry price determined by Krishnan and Sarmah keeping the venue’s demands in mind, and since the venue’s investment is largely negligible — the artists are paid for, as is their accommodation and travel — they’ve usually worked on a straightforward revenue model where the money collected at the gate is kept by the promoters, while the venue keeps the bar sales. Because of the size of pubs that support rock ‘n’ roll gigs, each gig can expect a turnout of not more than 150-200 people.
Krishnan’s vision for the venture is purely out of a genuine love for the music, and a desire to provide talented young bands a springboard to success, and he’s not really looking to make this a career in any way. Sarmah, who also runs a studio called Blue Tree in Ahmedabad, is considering artist management as a prospective professional choice, but both of them are clear that the 2Stroke tour is about nothing more than reaching out to newer crowds and promoting new and good music. Both editions have been successful thus far — Sarmah also managed to strike deals with Uber and OYO Rooms for the second edition to lessen the financial and logistical burden — thanks in no small part to a word-of-mouth buzz and an excitement to check out this novel and independent way of executing a tour, with the profits split among the bands performing and Sarmah and Krishnan, once the initial investment is recovered.
“It’s important, I think, to know that this is just one way of doing things,” says Krishnan. “I’ve generally seen that this whole DIY conversation is nothing new; it’s happened before. A lot of bands talk about how DIY is the way to go, but very few do it. One is not having the will to manage everything on your own, and the other is coming up with a profitable way to go about it. There’s no right or wrong, but both Uddipan and I felt that instead of sitting and whining about the opportunities not being there, people should try striking out on their own; take a risk. It won’t be worse than stagnating and not doing anything.”
Up next is a period of gestation where they figure out how to further expand, while retaining the essence of the two-member team to maintain sustainability. They’re considering cities that sort of fall under the radar — the likes of Chandigarh, Patna, Indore or Bhopal — to reach out further. “Even if 50 people show up, you never know what you’ll experience in a new city. I can’t even explain how the experience was, being on the road. How it happened, the energy involved in doing a gig one night, packing up, travelling to a new city and heading for soundcheck in the afternoon. You have to be there.”