Tag Archives: Freedom Jam

Freedom Jam

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Music for the sake of music. If this seemed to be the motto of the annually held Freedom Jam, its intention was lost to the growing needs of a city which desired to please everything else but to favour music.

“The Freedom Jam, is a non-stop pulsating musical explosion reverberating by over 40 bands of various hues vying to play over multiple stages to commemorate the freedom of music, now a Mecca for the rock and contemporary music scene in India. The annual Freedom Jam, free music festival is Bangalore’s own Woodstock. With thousands of music lovers and over a hundred musicians from all over gathering to perform at the annual jam celebrating freedom at midnight with music on the eve of the Indian Independence day the festival has now become one of Bangalore’s most awaited events.” (mybangalore.com – 2010)

If those were the words highlighting what Freedom Jam was about, it is unfortunate to say that our ‘Woodstock’ isn’t being held with as much pomp and show and vigour as it used to.

Freedom jam originated in the mid-90s, when a lot of foreign bands started touring India and the TV music channels started hogging the limelight. Indian bands found it difficult to find venues to perform. As an act of survival, performing musicians got together to create situations where they could play. The 50th anniversary celebrations of the nation spurred an initiative by a few musicians and Freedom jam was born in August ’96.

I set to trace down what led to the dimming down of the event, or why there isn’t as much talk about it, like there used to be in the past.

I spoke to Siddhartha Patnaik, member of the band BAJA, arguably the first band of desi rockers, who played mostly their own songs and rock versions of Indian standards like ‘Vande Mataram‘, ‘Surangani’, Bhojpuri folk ditties etc. They started Gigs Live Action, which officially initiated Freedom Jam and the monthly Sunday Jams.

“People these days don’t want to visit a rock show that has bands playing original compositions. They’d much rather watch a band that plays covers and then walk away to overpriced beers in expensive pubs than listen to bands that have something to offer,” he says.

Owing to diminished response and crowd to Freedom Jam, which was once touted as India’s Woodstock, he said it was due to the failing sponsorship of the event among other factors.

“The brand that used to sponsor our show finds it more lucrative to sponsor a Bollywood related event than a rock show which draws a lesser crowd. Even the bands that once used to perform on our stage find that playing for corporate gigs is more favourable to them. For that matter, it’s hard to produce an album or stage a show without having to appease a particular company or venue,” he says.

Having gained perspective from one of the organizers, I managed to speak to his co-organizer Gopal Navale, of Guruskool, regarding Freedom Jam. Here’s a peek into the conversation that ensued.

Sharath: You’ve come a long way from performing with Esperanto in 1996 to having your instruments seized by the cops in your farm during the Freedom Jam of 2004. What does Freedom Jam mean to you?

Gopal: To create and perform original music without any overt commercial bias.

Sharath: What could you attribute Freedom Jam’s dying popularity with Musicians in Bangalore?

Gopal: I do not really know as after having a rather long stint at nurturing the movement from 1996 to 2008, I have taken a sabbatical to pursue my own music and career and have not been part of the team organising the recent Jams. The torch is being carried by co- conspirator Siddartha Patnaik. I can hazard a few guesses. Ever since the 2008 recession, sponsorship has been hard to come by, and the wannabe rockers do miss the great sound and great venues we could provide earlier. When Guruskool was organising the Jams, there was a concentrated attempt to enlarge the audience . We had monthly newsletters, posters, extensive press coverage, net publicity through online communities and our own websites all of which snowballed into making the Freedom Jam and its monthly avatar, the Sunday Jam, the most awaited dates in a music junkie’s calendar. Now with no sponsorship, rather than selling its soul, the Jam is now back to basics and reinventing itself, but the flame is still burning.

Sharath: What do you think needs to be done to bring back the spirit of Free music?

Gopal: Catalyze an audience. What is the point of cooking up some great music if there’s no one clamouring to lap it up? Where would John Paul & Co. be without those screaming teenage girls who discovered the magical effect their music had?

Sharath: What does the future hold for Freedom Jam?

Gopal: The contours of the mindscape of man are in a flux, the digital world has taken up a lot of the free time available to non indispensable pursuits. So perhaps the Freedom Jams of the future may need to take place somewhere in cyberspace.

It’s depressing to think that the free concert which saw musicians eager to fund costs by their own hard work, won’t happen with as much intensity as it did before. When the men behind the scenes in organizing the event have lost faith in the new breed of musicians who prefer being enslaved by the greedy needs of a capitalistic society.

Summing up, I’d place the times of Freedom Jam belonging to the era where free music, like free speech still held its place amongst a democracy. In the days of Anna Hazare stopping still to move the Government to paying heed to the cry of disgruntled people, the new generation needs to realize that there was a movement, and still can be one, to recognize musicians with passion and not bowing down to the demands of commercial bodies.

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Freedom Jam (No Bread)

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Freedom Jam is an annual gig held every year on August 15th to commemorate Independence Day. The first edition was way back in 1997 at Ravindra Kalakshetra but the location was shifted to The Club soon after. The legendary all-night concerts at The Club popularized this free gig but sadly its popularity diminished after the live music ban. The 2009 edition recorded one of its lowest ever turnouts thanks to it being held in some far flung location in Hebbal(No Bread). After last year’s damp squib, the organizers decided to change the format around by having genre-specific gigs at various locations. A reasonably good move, I thought, because no self respecting metalhead will want to endure 30 mins of Bhavageethe.

Day 1: I am kicked to see that there is a venue ear-marked for ‘experimental, avant-garde and electronica’ music. I trudge in to the venue – Jaaga and find that there are more musicians on stage than in the crowd. (Crowd – 3, Musicians – 6!) At one point, someone from the neighboring building asks the firaang-in-charge to turn the volume down. They oblige! Aargh. The amps don’t go to 11 here. The music itself was uninteresting – six random musicians jamming with absolutely no direction or purpose. I exit, stage left, not before I helped myself to some free salad.

It was Day 2 and I chose to go to Kyra. I walked in and heard Bourbon Street covering Steely Dan’s ‘Do It Again’. I wouldn’t cover that song again if i were them (Disclaimer: Steely Dan is my favorite band.) They proceeded to cover Phish’s ‘Free‘ and the venerable ‘Tic Tic Tic.’ Blasphemeous. Only Dr Rajkumar can do justice to that song.

Verses were up next and they brought some much needed energy to the proceedings. They have my nomination for ‘Worst Goateed Band’ in Bangalore. It’s nice to see that they had brought a Tam-Bram entourage of 50-somethings along. As the band doled out some heavy melodic metal originals, the entourage nodded in approval. A stray fist pump is seen. They know that the local music scene is in good hands. The keyboardist Sagar impressed with his lightning fast keyboard playing and his vocal skills. The band departed amidst much fanfare and the entourage followed. The average age of the crowd was thus reduced by half.

Prism were up next and I took a power-nap during their sound setup. Prism’s set was equally snooze-worthy. They conveniently omitted a solo on their cover of Mr Big’s ‘Take Cover’. Taking Cover, indeed! The organizers were kind enough to have a stopwatch program running on the screen behind the stage to indicate the time remaining for each band. An ugly pop-up appears, with a surly reminder to buy the full version of the software. I piteh da foo’ who dun pay for da full version.

Prog rockers Distortion Culture were on stage next. They informed the crowd that theirs was a wholly original set and then promptly announced a song called ‘Eleventh Hour’. The metalheads immediately sprung to their feet in protest!  Oh but no need to furrow the brow, it’s just a coincidence that their own comp shares the name with a LoG song. They played another o.c titled ‘Unforseen Truth’ which was superb. The guitarist Vivek put on a good show although he smiles way too much. Jeez son, where’s ya metal face?

Heavy metal heavyweights Inner Sanctum were on stage next while Distortion Culture were finishing their set. They loaded up two massive Krank(with a K, mind you) amps onto the already impressive sound setup. Precious time was spent on unloading and connecting equipment. Sigh. If only all the bands spent less time practicing arpeggios and more time practicing gear setup! The wait was well worth it though. Sanctum tore the roof down with a heavy-as-hell set. Vocalist Gaurav was all fury on stage as he kicked a JBL monitor down (For those of you keeping score- Gaurav 1 JBL 0). The organizers yielded to the audience’s chants for one more song. One ‘Agent of Chaos‘ later I was deaf in one ear. IS had pwned everyone. I decided to leave for the day and exit, stage right.

Compared to the travesty that was Day 1, Day 2 was satisfying. Freedom Jam still remains an important day in the Bangalore gig calendar and continues to be an excellent platform for lesser known bands to showcase their skills. With some sharper publicity and organization skills, FJ could be bigger and better next year. One small gripe though- the quality of food at Kyra affected vocalist Gaurav Basu to such an extent that he was spotted chewing on the mic wire on numerous occasions. Hopefully next year we’ll have some bread.

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