Counterculture in India — Music

“Fuck you, I wont do what you tell me” – Killing in the name of by Rage Against The Machine

Rock music as counterculture

Jazz, swing, rock and roll, grunge, Hip Hop and now Indie music – all have emerged as countercultures. The popular phrase “Rock and Roll is dead” came into prominence when the labels picked it up, packaged and pushed it – it became a part of mainstream culture, and thus signaling its own demise with overkill. Hell, that’s happened even with Bhangra music – the moment every second song became Bhangra, its popularity waned, barring the occasional hit.

In India, Rock music never really became mainstream, and still survives without much label support…given the blinkers that mainstream labels don, it’s likely that rock wont have mass appeal since it is primarily in English. Sure, Pakistani bands are popular here, and a at least one band has experimented with death metal in Hindi, but the labels haven’t yet created an Indian rock band. It’s likely that rock music, and its appeal of not being what your chaiwallah or panwallah blares on radio all the time, will last. As a friend once said to me: India’s the only country in the world where Guns N Roses is still popular. There are radio stations that have experimented with rock music in the past – I remember that Times FM, when it launched in Delhi in the early/mid nineties, mostly aired rock music. Current radio stations, bogged down by dictats from advertisers, and now a ratings system, have almost all gone the mass way.

In a way, that works for Rock. Kids want that kind of unfamiliarity – for their moms to go “what’s that noise?”…or their dads to barge into the room, like in the video for Michael Jacksons Black or White — that’s where the fascination begins. I think hip-hop is also gaining in popularity – and there are Indian “wiggers” (biggers?) who some of us find amusing. Each generation will have its own counterculture, and I guess there must be music today that I’m not familiar with (I don’t like hip-hop) that’s counter-to-my-culture.


Counterculture often has political significance, and I’m focusing more on media countercultures. Of course, this is an aggregation of random thoughts that have ocurred to me over the past few months, so feel free to dispute any or all of this. Preferably, tear it to shreds with counter arguments.

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  1. Do you consider Keane rock or not? What is your definition or rock music? What sounds are rock these days? When you say Rock is not mainstream in India, do you not contradict your title? If it is counter-culture why would you expect it to be mainstream? It has done very well without any promotion, don’t you think?

    Would (c)rap not be the counter-culture soundtrack to young people your age? Like Fifty Cent, D-12, Kanye West etc?

    Do you believe counter-culture can endure? So what about California rock sounds? Some 4-5 years ago, a classmate of mine at Cambridge, barely 22, was visibly delighted to see that I not only knew Red Hot Chili Peppers but I also knew the lyrics and the odd beats etc. I had to tell him they were around before he started primary school (so to speak). Will Nickelback have the same appeal as the Stones/ Rod Stewart and other renuiting bands such as Genesis and the Police have managed to revive? Which of these do you consider ‘rock’ or counter-culture?

    What about Pet Shop Boys? They were distinctly pop, but still counter-culture in their theme I think.

  2. I believe rock music is a symbol of youth angst and fury…..
    Its got everything…Loudness,Uptempo,Lyrics that provocate you to somewhat rebel or to stand agaisnt the Man.
    Its is the perfect recepies for adult who are not grown ups…and those who have grown out of this great music ….They cherish it for the joy it gave them when they were young!

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