Beggar at Ghazi Chowk


A New Generation of Rock.

18 Mar 2011

Article originally published on Koolmuzone on March 18, 2011.

The rise of Bilal Khan, the Aunty Disco Project & Uth records has signaled the coming of a new generation of rock music from Pakistan’s renewed underground scene. After the rise of Noori and eP, along with Indus Music, the VJ generation and a post Junoon revelation, it seems that generation of rockers will take a new place in Pakistan’s rock industry.

The energetic rock anthems have since become somewhat hollow, and as Pakistan’s politics and society have hit new rock bottoms, rock has had to find new issues, new emotions to deal with. It seems the big guns have had to deal with social issues, and bringing audiences back together. Strings, Atif, Ali Zafar and then Noori to some degree have tried to mature their pop acts into deeper, more relevant offerings.

Some may say however, that this generation did not live up to its promise. Despite the phenonmenal rise of 2003’s musicians, many have released only a handful of songs, let alone albums. Atif has been an exception, and his work with Bollywood’s music directors has probably helped there. But many other musicians have released only two albums and some singles over this last decade.

Despite some disappointments however, we have found some heroes that will guide a new generation of musicians. Uth Records’ Gumby and Omran Shafique have taken the mantle as producers, their work with Coke Studio has been the subject of much praise anyway. And besides their individual acts, they continue to play for other musicians as well, and their work continues to reach us in many ways. Similarly Salman Ahmed, Rohail Hyatt and Shazi Hasan from the Vital Signs and Junoon era continue to experiment and find new identity.

After the boom in 2003, and Pepsi’s Battle of the Bands, some thought Lahore’s underground scene was dead. They moaned the loss of the connections bands had to make with fans, and rued the flooding of bad songs with expensive videos on television.

A new generation of underground rock has given us hope however. Just as we see ADP lead the charge of Karachi’s rock, Bilal Khan rejuvenates Lahore’s scene and other acts pop up all over. Thankfully underground rock from outside Lahore and Karachi has hit the mainstream. Islamabad’s Bumbu Sauce, Peshawar’s Yasir & Jawad, Jamshoro’s Sketches and more.

And this new rise can teach new rockers many things.

First, good production values are important. Many a listener may not be able to pinpoint what exact differences exist between a well produced song and a cheap one, but many will often define it as ‘better quality’. It seems audiences only pay attention to songs that bands feel is worth investing in as well. Take ADP for example. Despite a healthy following of a talented live set available online, it was only after a mainstream release of ‘better quality’ sounding singles that they hit mainstream. But as they have also taught, money is not all you need. As OBA’s blog posts recount, they don’t spend money on expensive studios, but continue to perfect the recording themselves. They don’t make huge budget videos, and have acknowledged the lackluster jobs TV channels are doing.

Similar appreciation for produciton values can also be seen through Coke Studio, Uth Records, and even the initial rise of Noori and eP, who were produced by acclaimed producers such as Mekaal Hasan. Similarly Junoon used Salman Ahmad’s roots in New York to use the facilities in America, Ali Zafar used studios in India and even London, and Bumbu Sauce too recorded in Quebec.

Second, it is important for bands to create a connection with audiences. An expensive video will only last so long. It is important for bands to hit common ground with everybody else. And ADP’s strong live performances are as important to me as their blog posts, which connect us with the band. OBA recounts how he wanted to be part of a Zeppelin like mysterious band, but perhaps the fact that he’s not is what makes the band so appealing.

Similarly Bilal Khan’s immediate interaction with fans tells a similar story, not unlike Yasir & Jawad (feat. Wali)’s cult following.

And as the Sketches have shown, there is more to our heritage than Junoon found. We loved Junoon for finding something unique about ourselves, but it is tiring to hear the same things again. The Sketches have dug deeper, into their own influences and into our heritage, and found the work of Allan Faqir again. Even the Sufi image is maturing, and this is all good news.

One hopes that many of these part time musicians get through their struggles with TV channels, record labels and security issues to actually make some money and get some appreciation for their work. Hopefully they won’t go unnoticed like Pakistani rock from the 70s.