Indian rock is a genre of popular music that incorporates elements of Indian classical music and mainstream rock and is often topically India-centric.
Normally, we associate Indian music with either Indian classical, folk, or Bollywood music. But, of course, in a country as richly diverse and as insanely talented as ours, there is good home-grown content to be found in all kinds of entertainment niches – rock music is no exception.
It is also important to note the major influence India has had in the development of Western Rock.
The influence of Indian classical music on 1960s rock began in earnest with George Harrison’s Ravi Shankar inspired raga rock song Norwegian Wood (This Bird Has Flown) in 1965, and The Beatles’ collaboration with the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi at his ashram in Rishikesh in 1968, following the release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band in 1967. Raga rock led to the development of psychedelic rock, which in turn laid the foundations for heavy metal music.
And let’s not forget Queen’s lead singer Freddie Mercury – born Farrokh Bulsara – who began his music career as a teenager in Bombay with the rock band, The Hectics. One of his formative musical influences was Lata Mangeshkar.
India has produced many rock bands, some of whom have made it into mainstream Indian music. Listed below, in no particular order, are six of the many brilliant Indian rock bands.
Avial, a Malayali alternative rock band founded in Kerala in 2003, is one of the most famous Indian rock bands today. It is named after the popular dish, Avial from Kerala. They had their first breakthrough with their 2003 single, “Nada Nada”. They are known for pioneering a style of combining Malayalam lyrics and rock music.
Man, I don’t understand a single word of Malayalam, but I enjoy their songs nonetheless. Trust me, if you are a fan of rock music, the language of lyrics won’t hinder your experience – their music is that good.
Bhayanak Maut, based in Mumbai, is perhaps the most sought-after Indian heavy metal band, and rightly so. The band is named after a B-grade Hindi movie. But, the name rings true with the dark and morbid lyrical themes that characterise heavy metal and hard rock music.
While the name itself is reason enough for any metalhead to check out their music (because who doesn’t like the depressing sound of horrifying death?), I promise that once you listen to one of their songs, you’ll want more.
Thermal and a Quarter
This Bangalore-based trio has to their credit the first Indian concept album and also the first triple album from Asia. Moreover, they were the opening act when Guns n’ Roses appeared onstage in India for the first time. One of the most successful Indie Rock bands from India, they say their genre of music is ‘Bangalore rock’, rooted in classic rock.
Not only are their songs sweet as a sunny day – although cloudy days are, in fact, much sweeter in our country – even their music videos are a pleasurable sight (or in simpler terms, trippy).
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They call themselves cactus, but no, they are not from Rajasthan. Cactus is a Bengali rock band founded in 1998, Kolkatta. They flavour their music with a blend of blues, alternative rock, and psychedelic.
As a Hindi speaker, I find their Bengali lyrics comprehensible enough to get the gist of their meaning. But, even if you don’t, the emotion in their music is very powerful. It speaks directly to your soul, if you believe in that sort of thing.
Indian Ocean is a band formed in New Delhi in 1990. They are widely recognised as the pioneers of the fusion rock genre in India. It is an experimental genre, fusing raga with rock music, guitars and drums, sometimes using Indian folk songs. In 2015, critics and audiences alike praised the band for their music in the film Masaan.
Theirs is the kind feel-good rock-jazz fusion music which will lift your spirits and leave you smiling. Of all the bands mentioned here, Indian Ocean’s music composition is perhaps the most Indianized form of rock.
The list of amazing Indian rock bands could go on forever; these are just a few to get you started and help you dip your toes into different sub-genres to decide what you enjoy the most.
Feel free to explore more and add to this list!
Image Source: The Verge