During the first two nights of the 10th Performing Arts Festival — a five-day event being held at the Alhamra Open Air Theatre in Lahore — underground rock bands had a reason to stand tall. Bringing the theatre to life with impressive drumming and guitar riffs, they proved that the local music scene was alive and kicking.

“It might sound cliched, but our country has always had immense talent; the question is more about giving it exposure,” says Talal Haider, one of the coordinators for the rock night who is also a Beaconhouse National University (BNU) student. “There is nothing that these musicians cannot do — they can play all the instruments and that too at a competitive level.” Haider, who was assisting the Master of Ceremony of the night, points out that many bands, in order to sustain their passion in these times of fear and uncertainty, hold regular jam sessions in their homes.

The changing face of music

However, since everything is subject to change, even the choices and trends regarding music at the mainstream level are constantly changing. On the local level, many bands are opting for either Sufi-rock or English covers as a fall back. Additionally, many underground rock bands are showing an interest in metal and hard rock.

The diversity of talent can be attributed to several factors, with one main reason being that in recent years, there has been an increase in the availability of instruments as well as musical training institutes. With places such as the Guitar School more and more people are undertaking the task of learning music at a very young age.

Reverting to hard rock

Band Badnaam’s frontman Arsalan Majeed, a student at University of Lahore, claims that these days underground rock bands are doing better than mainstream ones. “Though there is a widespread perception that the underground rock scene is completely dead, there is also evidence that suggests that more music is being produced at the underground level than on the national stage,” says Majeed whose band will be releasing a six-track extended-play album next year. “There has been a resurgence of hard rock — as people want to get louder — hence, the trend is shifting away from acoustic and pop music.”

Badnaam’s performance was one of the best on the opening night (October 11), leaving a lasting impact due to their outstanding drumming and remarkable guitar riffs. Although their performance on “Bhaag DK Bose” (the title track of the Indian film Delhi Belly) along with several Noori and EP songs garnered widespread applause from the audience, the highlight of the event was undoubtedly Majeed’s stage presence, which saw him getting the audience to lean on one knee and head bang in unison.

Meanwhile, Chapter X, another talented band that performed in the event, also impressed the audience with their diverse alternative-rock style. “The challenge for rock music is that there are too many other genres of music that have taken over, with electronic music dominating tastes and trends these days. Due to the influx of a variety of sounds, people prefer this type of music, hence rock has taken a back seat,” says Muhammed Ahsan, the bassist of Chapter X. “The difference between 10 years ago and now is that back then when people wanted to party then they would go to rock concerts, but now when people want to party they go to raves and house parties that play club music.”

One of the festival’s directors, Imran Peerzada, explains that the contemporary situation of music and art reminds him of the Ziaul Haq era. Having grown up during that period, he said music still thrived during Haq’s time, albeit in a controlled manner. However, now it’s taken a violent turn due to constant threats by extremists. “We always try to nurture the talent of young artists by giving them a platform. We would want to do more, but given the current circumstances, one cannot do much,” said Peerzada.


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