Baithaks have always been a major source of producing classical music in the subcontinent. However, with the changing times baithaks have been replaced with venues like cafes where young pop and rock musicians are showing off their talent.
As one scans the underground music scene, small venues have increased for aspiring artists and musicians to promote their music. The use of cafe’s and the development of the university scenes have begun to nurture a platform for a variety of artists.
Across MM Alam, Lahore’s ‘rodeo drive’, several cafes such as the World Fashion Cafe or Cafe Rock and even Gloria Jeans have become regular stops where young artists try to showcase their music. Student and music societies ranging from University College Lahore (UCL) to LUMS have also provided venues for artists.
“There are shows happening in cafes such as Peeru’s, and almost every university has some sort of music society,” said Curtain Call Society’s general secretary Nausherwan Billa, who was also the president of the famous UCL music society. “There are around eight to nine gigs in Lahore in any given month.”
He said that his society organises monthly concerts, free of cost, for artists at Al Hamra and the Ali Institute. Guitar School, Origami and Curtain Call’s own initiative Octave, have also been working in a small way to provide musicians with venues and opportunities to perform in front of an audience.
In terms of the electronic music scene which has also seen a rise with artists such as Talal and Zoi, an avenue has been found in terms private parties at farmhouses on the peripheries of Lahore, such as Bedian and Thokhar.
“It’s a struggle for underground artists, because to get attention you have to play everywhere,” said Elysium Entertainments Director Mukarram Jamil, who has been managing underground bands for the past five years in both Islamabad and Lahore. “It’s not necessarily a positive trend because shows are not happening — whatever is happening is usually at the cafes and school level.”
Jamil, who also manages the underground band Moen Jo Daro that started off 2008, explained that cafe’s currently seem like the best place for underground musicians to start. “If I was starting out or I had band, I would not limit myself just to schools because the point is getting access to an overall market. An audience of seventy to hundred people with a varied crowd can spread news like social wildfire.”
Jamil explained the band Moen Jo Daro started under the same circumstances: First at cafes on MM Alam, then toured every major university in the city free of cost, till they finally forayed into the Islamabad scene by opening at a major concert there. Once the band pursued being paid for their performances, they had found that schools had an advantage in terms of facilitating and providing a venue for music shows. Schools are also more eager to accommodate as, due to their limited budget, they could not afford more mainstream artists.
In the past, the underground music scene, which was dominated by rock, had certain hidden venues which had become the hotspots out of which bands such as EP were built. For instance, there was a basement at Model Town Society and the Al Hamra room number one, as well as the open-air theatre at Gaddafi stadium.
EP’s bassist and manager Hasaan Khalid, who also is the Editor of the Student’s Blog, said that schools such as LUMS, UCL and Beaconhouse, Defence, had taken a step by providing venues for young artists to perform through school events, but also mentioned events such as the rock festival which was cancelled due to security.
“It usually used to be a group of people who got together through word-of-mouth and held concerts wherever space was available,” Khalid said. “Not much is happening now. When we were in college there were a lot of shows happening. Plus, the majority of the music now is commercial.”
Published in The Express Tribune, May 30th, 2011.