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Anyone Remember Who Won (At The JD Rock Awards)?

gig Reviews Mar 12, 04:46pm

Bhanuj Kappal paid a visit to the JD Rock Awards 2014, only to discover that the whiskey got over far too early. Naturally, he found himself questioning the value and the worth of these awards 'celebrating' indie music. 
 Photo Courtesy: Prashin Jagger

 

"I know none of you are paying attention so I can say whatever I want. Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way..." is how Devoid’s Arun Iyer ended his acceptance speech at the JD Rock Awards 2014. He was right. There might have been a few chuckles, but the vast majority of the audience was completely oblivious – most of them still reeling from the announcement that the Jack Daniels had run out. It was a slightly sad, but mostly comical moment; proof, if any was still required, that these awards celebrate indie music in much the same way that Eid celebrates goats.

Now I’m not naive, so I didn’t exactly go in with high expectations. The event organiser Rolling Stone is the institutional equivalent of an acid-fried baby boomer lost in a fantasy world where Jimmy Page plays ‘Stairway to Heaven’ on stage for ever and ever (*shudder*). In other words, a magazine that even your Dad would consider out of touch. I knew that who wins or loses doesn’t matter an iota when your jury probably thinks Death Grips is a masturbation related condition. Ron ‘Bumblefoot’ Thal, for example, might be a great guitarist but I’d trust his opinion on popular music about as far as I could throw Axl Rose. So when I walked into Mehboob Studios, I had only two expectations – free Jack Daniel's, and a little bit of respect for the artists. The aforementioned announcement put paid to one expectation (Full disclosure: I did manage to get in two drinks before they ran out), while Luke Kenny and a parade of C-grade Bollywood has-beens and never-should-have-beens put paid to the other. When the launch of Pepsi MTV Indies – held at the same venue the day before – offers more free whiskey AND more respect to artists (this is MTV we’re talking about!), you’ve got to admit you have a problem.

I have to ask the organisers, why Luke? Has he been appointed as some sort of official liaison for the scene, our representative to the world of suits? Is it unthinkable to give the mic to someone who actually knows his shit about the scene, or about indie music in general? Must we always be condescended to by this clueless outsider, just because he once had a hopelessly outdated late night show on Channel V?

And if we have to deal with Luke, can you please ask him to impersonate someone else? I’ve seen him do an impressively douchey Bob Dylan at Zenzi quite a few years ago. And we all remember his hilarious attempts to be Simon Cowell when he was a judge at Channel V Launchpad. Maybe Luke Kenny as ‘James Franco hosting the Oscars’ next time, so that when he can’t tell the difference between Baiju Dharmajan and Sanjeev Thomas while handing out awards we can all laugh and pretend he’s being clever?

As if Luke isn’t bad enough on his own, the organisers once again saw fit to provide him with a backing cast of guests who had absolutely nothing to do with indie music. I love Gul Panag, but why is she handing out awards to indie musicians? At least she was better than Sunitha Rao, who was more interested in talking about her own music than the award winners’. I don’t know if Rao realised how patronising her little speech was – starting with ‘I have indie friends’ tokenism and then holding forth on how her tunes touch people’s hearts – but it was a great illustration of the basic problem with these awards. They assume that Indian indie still needs validation from the Bollywood mainstream, that the right way to promote indie music is by piggy-backing on the fame of page 3 starlets and one hit wonders. Maybe this made sense when the awards started nine years ago, when someone like Sunitha Rao had far more visibility than any indie musician. In 2014, that sort of thinking is misguided at best. But hey, what do I know? Maybe the organisers are just charitable folk trying to give fading ‘celebs’ one last opportunity to stroll down the red carpet. Even corporate suits have hearts, right?

 

(Photo by Deepa Kamath)

 

The evening wasn’t a complete waste though. I learnt that prog music is just as mind-crushingly boring and awful if you sing in Hindi (Hi, Coshish!). And that six years after the abysmal Rock On!!!, Farhan ‘Aditya’ Akhtar is still considered an ‘ambassador’ for indie music. I also learnt way more than I needed to know about JD’s new blend ‘Sinatra Select’ (“Two great brands come together…”), thanks to a fifteen minute long corporate presentation that was particularly ill-timed (just after the whiskey ran out). Boring as it was, I think Jack Daniel's should be praised for their unprecedented honesty. The whole presentation basically said “Fuck subtlety, we’re only here to sell our product and we’ll make damn sure everyone knows it”. Mission accomplished guys, your marketing team can rest easy after a job well done.

The most entertaining moments of the evening were also indicative of how little the artists themselves think of these awards. Arun Iyer isn’t the only one who was taking the piss that night. Rohit ‘P-Man’ Pereira wandered around the place with a camera in tow, throwing in little digs at Luke Kenny’s gaffes amongst his other jokes. When I ran into Vinay Venkatesh in the smoking area, he didn’t even know his band (Reptilian Death) had won an award, and didn’t pretend to care when I told him. If not for the free whiskey and the opportunity to laugh at the cluelessness of the presenters, I’m not sure how many of them would even turn up. Not that that would bother the sponsors much. It just leaves more space for the Shruti Hassans of the world to “shatter us with [their] glittering presence”, innit?

Maybe next year, JD and Rolling Stone should do away with all the awards ceremony bit and just ply us with free booze while blasting our ears with unsubtle plugs for their products. I, for one, would appreciate the honesty. But since that isn’t likely to happen, may I suggest making sure that the whiskey doesn’t run out? That way at least none of us indie scenesters will remember enough to feel insulted in the morning.

 

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