Did Islamabad's underground sell its soul?
There have been countless debates over the real definition of 'underground music' and both sides are have strong arguments. Is it music that hasn't really gotten the commercial stamp or music that doesn’t cater to a big audience (like Annie 'the pop princess')? Definitions aside, the fact that some music that comes out from the underground scene per se is top quality.
A homeless underground
I’ve been part of the Islamabad music scene for quite some time and the difference between what it was and what it is now, saddens me. Islamabad is a small city and there are definitely not enough venues to play concerts at compared to Lahore and Karachi. Even with the severe dearth of places to play and fans to play for, there have been a number of musicians who have made a mark.
One such group of musicians was a band called Corduroy. The band sang in English and the lead singer Mubashir Noor was deemed an Eddie Vedder clone and lead guitar player Sarmad Faraz a Van Halen rip-off, but what Corduroy managed to achieve in the few years they were active (they disbanded 3-4 years ago) was tremendous because not only did they produce and record an album (The Morning After) on their own, they also got the albums pressed and it sold almost 2,000 copies in the small city of Islamabad.
I recently caught up with Sarmad Faraz and asked him about thenegligible and defunct underground scene in Islamabad and this is what he had to say:
I think the perfect analogy to describe Islamabad's underground scene is Pakistan's socio-economic evolution. There is the elite class, folks who are below the poverty line and the diminishing middle class.
The middle class is a talented segment of musicians who want recognition for their talent without compromising its principles and values. While some have has moved to the commercial category others who did not succeed after trying have lost motivation. Their passion has been reduced to a mere hobby or campfire entertainment. The elite class is now part of the showbiz industry where glamour precedes talent.
Jamming at Civil Junction
Civil junction (a café in F7) was once the Madison Square Garden of bands in Islamabad. If you managed to play there, chances were that most of Islamabad would either hear you directly or heard about you from someone else, but now due to the ever active complaints by people living in that area concerts and shows cannot be held there.
Zeejah Fazli, a guitar player based in Islamabad and the brainchild behind the much coveted sweet leaf city jams, has started a project called 'The Rock Musicarium'. It is to be an all-in-one music venue with a studio to record in and stages to play on. It’s still under construction but a few concerts have been held there. However,as Sarmad Faraz points out, this is a playing field for the elite.
Concerts versus commercialism
Although bands like Irtaash, Silversmoke, Nafs (my personal favorites who have now disbanded) and Saturn have made a significant mark on the overall scene. Unfortunately, the direction the scene has taken isn’t one that does justice to the musical talent. While it is good if musicians gain exposure on a wider scale and people get to hear their music but the idea of not having an energetic performance for the sake of money and not music is frightening, indeed.
Concerts have become a game of who has better contacts or who can score a show using his friend’s father. It's was never an ideal situation but times have definitely changed and makeup has killed the rock star
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