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When Monika Krajka arrived in India, she found that music is a crucial part of the way Europeans experience this country, from the chaotic city to the spiritual heights of the mountains. But she also found that European rock music has a part to play in Indian culture.

India Rock

India is full of places that work like flytraps on European travellers. Whoever wants to get out of the moloch called Delhi gets on a bus towards the Himalayas, where all those peaceful, mythic, shanti places are supposed to be. Where you can drink proper coffee at the German Bakery, where you can see stars at night instead of smog, where you can walk around without getting hit by a car. When you ask your co-travellers about their reasons for coming to India, the answers basically follow the old cliché: spirituality, self-discovery – and music.

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Photo: Dainis Matison (CC)
"Whoever wants to get out of the moloch called Delhi gets on a bus towards the Himalayas..."

Music seems to be the most natural way of connecting with people, especially in a country like India, which makes you feel so very strange and alien even when performing the basic necessities of life like drinking, eating, or crossing a street. Be it old men or women singing to themselves while cooking or collecting garbage in the street, spiritual singings during holy rituals, bollywood hits blasting out from an autorikshaw's loudspeaker, or mythically stylised world music playing in tourist traps: music is everywhere. It's like this country provides you with a soundtrack for every step you take, which intensifies all of your other perceptions: the vibrant colours your eyes try to get used to, the sticky feel of your skin in the heat, the typical smell of mildew, food, fumes, sandalwood, chlorine, perfume and garbage.

In Manali, a small town in the mountains popular among European travellers, we found everything we needed to keep a jam-session going all night long. Although the jams were the usual "Stairway to Heaven"-derived improvisation on blues and jazz standards enriched by Hindi folk-songs, they had a different feel. It was very spontaneous. People who didn't even know how to play grabbed the guitar or drums and just contributed, everyone sang along.

However, Manali is a hippie's and traveller's spot, and those locations follow a different kind of logic which does not correspond to the reality of everyday life in India. It is a place in between, where you can get stuck, losing touch with time and space. I have to admit that after three weeks in Delhi, I enjoyed being caught in between realities, where for a few minutes you find yourself in a dirtier version of Switzerland, until the next monkey or yak crosses your way.

I enjoyed being caught in between realities, where for a few minutes you find yourself in a dirtier version of Switzerland, until the next monkey or yak crosses your way.

Getting back into dusty Delhi after a 17-hour freezing cold, shaky bus drive soon brought me back to the ground. Missing the jams, and knowing that India and Europe have a deeply interesting musical connection, I decided to find if there's any rock music going on in this city of over 15 million people.

In the 60s and 70s, European artists travelled east to explore the virtues and structure of traditional Indian music, eager to expand both their musical perception and their minds. The Beatles started the trend, but many more followed: psychedelic rockbands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd and Amon Düül II found great inspiration in classical Indian music. Spiritual practices, psychedelic drugs, Eastern and European approaches to music began to overlap, and the outcome of this fusion was so fertile that two or three generations of musicians were able to draw on it, and still the resources haven't been depleted.

In return, European rock acts, distributed in India by British labels like EMI and broadcast on All India Radio, gave way to a thrilling garage-rock scene cropping up in college towns like Madras, strengthened by events along the lines of European contests, like the "Battles of the Bands" held by the Simla cigarette company in the 70s.

Knowing about this history of European-Indian interconnectivity, I was suprised to learn that there are only three rock clubs in Delhi. The first address is Café Morrison. After driving through the night with your Indian friends cursing the anti-corruption movement for slowing down Delhi's night-time traffic, you find yourself in an air conditioned lobby leading into a cool and dark club with red leather seats. The walls are covered in photographs of rock legends, with The Beatles and Pink Floyd, but also German bands like Rammstein staring at you. There's soccer on TV, Liverpool vs. Bolton, not cricket.

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Photo: Jessica D'Ovidio
Cafe Morrison, one of three rock clubs in Delhi.

Only two things remind you where you are: the incredible, ear-splitting loudness – every European club would get red-carded for decibel transgression – and the crowd. The place is full of locals: Indian girls in short skirts and boots drinking "freshly brewed German Beer" – I thought I'd never see that in Delhi! – guys with long hair headbanging in front of the DJ's decks. Again, everyone is singing along, even with the German Rammstein song: "Du hast mich gefragt, und ich hab nichts gesagt!" In a way, it feels like coming home, though one thing sticks out: unlike any other rock-club I've ever been to, this place is absolutely spotless.

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Photo: Jessica D'Ovidio
Inside Cafe Morrison: what about sex, drugs and rock'n'roll?

Everything is new and stylish. Even the toilets are working, and there's a sign prohibiting blowjobs. What about the trinity of sex, drugs and rock'n'roll? Has rock lost its spontaneity and wildness when transferred to India? It's there, you can see it in the listeners' passionate attitude, but on a much more controlled level. This place is for the young working class, longing for a little rebellion to compensate a 12-hour shift.

studyingeuropesmall

In this column, we look at places which are "inside out" - where Europe suddenly pops up in a non-European country, or where we find ourselves in a corner of Europe which feels more like China or India. "Inside Out" is created in association with our partner, the M.A. programme "Studies in European Culture" at the University of Constance, Germany.

To find out more, go to www.europa-studieren.de

What's painfully missing, though, is space for local bands. You can't jam on the streets of Delhi unless you want to choke on carbon monoxide or let the humidity ruin your instruments. As long as there's no forum, no connecting platform or jamming possibility for local bands, the experience of live music will be narrowed down to travellers in tourist spots, and the people in the clubs will keep singing along to Rammstein.

Monika Krajka is a student at the University of Constance, Germany, taking part in the Masters programme "Studies in European Culture." She is currently spending a semester in India.

Teaser photo by Jessica D'Ovidio.

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