Will the Battle save the bands?
KARACHI: Much has changed since the beginning of the 21st century. Back then, bands like Entity Paradigm (EP) and Aaroh were virtually unknown. Atif Aslam was nowhere to be seen. We needed new superstars and didn’t have internet to look for them on.
But there were other platforms. Pepsi Battle of the Bands (BoB) became the original talent hunt, even preceding American Idol. The aforementioned bands and the now superstar Fawad Khan only came into the spotlight through BoB.
Now, about 15 years later, we haven’t had many new stars, after Atif and Ali Zafar. The band culture is dying, not because there are no bands but because there are no opportunities. This was exactly why Aaroh front-man Farooq Ahmed quit music and moved to the US to run a dollar store.
Hence the biggest challenge faced by BoB today is whether it will be able to revive the band culture in Pakistan or not. BoB’s music producer Faisal Rafi thinks it can. “The audience will decide but it’s a big step towards doing that. The show originally supported band culture and encouraged new music and unknown faces. A lot of big stars today came from there. At that time, there wasn’t a lot of band culture and there’s a far stronger one now,” he told The Express Tribune. “So, there will be more intense variety of bands in the show this time. Technology and quality has improved. The internet has connected musicians from everywhere. Therefore, it’s going to be an advanced version of the previous Battle of the Bands and a first step towards getting the band culture back.”
Faisal is right in saying technology has improved but perhaps that could be a disadvantage. When there was no internet, such shows had no competition. Now, social media is where musicians create their fan base. The producer thinks BoB won’t compete with anything because even back then, there were CDs and other mediums to access music.
But more than other mediums, the show was like a lone wolf then. Today, there are shows like Coke Studio and Nescafe Basement. Faisal doesn’t see them as competition though. “We are looking at people who basically no one knows. The promotion of new talent is the ethos of the programme and that in itself makes it stand apart from shows which rely on stars.”
He continued, “There is still a huge band culture. There are over a hundred bands in the indie scene playing currently but the idea is to give them a platform. They weren’t getting one because everyone wants to hire a superstar to sing a song. That’s why, we want them to come here and play their original music and not covers.”
When it comes to looking up unknown artists, BoB has partnered with digital music streaming platform Patari. “We have also opened the call for entries and hope people are going to find out and apply. We have been working with Patari. And then, I have been in the industry for so long that I know studios and producers in Lahore, Islamabad and Peshawar, where we will find the talent. We know where to go.”
Patari co-founder Khalid Bajwa is excited for the show as well. “We think Battle of the Bands is a very exciting idea. It can revive music and band culture in Pakistan, after many years,” he said.
As to what he plans doing differently from how Rohail Hyatt carried the show, Faisal didn’t reveal much. “All I can say is there will be more audience participation and we will use the internet to get them involved. It’s going to be really transparent.”
Aaroh member Khalid Khan said BoB is a brilliant initiative as well. “The reason the band culture died is because there were no such platforms. It discouraged artists. And nowadays, it’s difficult for new artists to get featured in Coke Studio and other shows. It’s great to see Battle of the Bands returning.”
Ahmed Ali Butt, comedian and former EP-member echoed Khalid’s sentiment but brought up an interesting query. “I think it’s a great step in reviving band culture. Whether they will be able to do it or not depends on what they want to do with it. What they need is to not just focus on the show but also its follow-up,” he said, adding that back in the day, they at least used to have concerts. “Producers need to figure out what audience they are targeting. Coke Studio has a certain formula and they feature established artists. The only place for emerging talent to go is Nescafe Basement, which is why it’s popular among the youth. So, BoB needs to figure out their target audience and what happens after the show, what this program is going to do for the following ten years of the local music industry.”