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Independence Rock Nostalgia with Farhad Wadia

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Every August 14th and 15th in the 90s, a common sight at railway platforms across Mumbai would be a bunch of guys dressed in all black, long hair, steel accessories and heading to a common destination – Rang Bhavan.

Occasion – ‘Independence Rock’ aka ‘I Rock’.

Rang Bhavan was the mecca of music in Mumbai. Though not in operation since years and lying in a desolate state, the mere mention of the place gives one nostalgia filled goose bumps. For rock fans deprived of quality live shows, these 2 days were the annual pilgrimage. One had to attend Independence Rock to bow, sorry bang their heads to the gods of rock!

Independence Rock is no ordinary rock music festival spanning two days. It was a celebration of music, freedom and creativity with the Master of Ceremony, wouldn’t label him as just an organiser, Farhad Wadia. It is the oldest and one of the biggest rock festival in India, and was included in MTV Iggy’s list of ‘Top 10 Music Festivals Around the World to Check Out in 2010.’

Also termed as the ‘Woodstock of India’, Independence Rock is the biggest platform for rock bands in India. Some of the country’s biggest bands have performed on this stage over the years. Bands like Indus Creed, Parikrama, Zero, Pentagram, Bramha, Millennium, Motherjane, Them Clones, Demonic Resurrection, Pin Drop Violence and countless others.

The Accidental Birth of Independence Rock

 

Considered the ‘cradle of rock’, I Rock’s birth is as interesting as the nights it has hosted. In the 80s, St Xavier’s College, Mumbai hosted the most anticipated festival called ‘Malhar’. Unfortunately in 1986 it was cancelled by the then Principal who considered rock as the ‘devil’s music.’ But an enterprising student decided to organise a rock show in the nearby Rang Bhavan. He booked the venue and hired India’s leading band of the time, ‘Rock Machine’ and Farhad’s band ‘Mirage.’

“The show was scheduled for 15th August and was named ‘Independence Rock’ which we all found very cheesy. On the day of the show, both the bands along with the sound and light guys reached the venue for the sound check but there was no sign of the organiser. He had vanished as he had no money to pay us. Both the bands decided to continue with the show. We told the sound and light guys that they would be paid first and whatever was left, the bands would split,” recalled Farhad.

 

The bands rang up their friends to help them organise the show. Farhad’s karate pals manned the gate, tickets were priced at Rs 20 each and 5000 fans turned up.

“Not only did we manage to pay everyone involved but the bands too made a decent amount. This is how I Rock was born. It was an accident,”smiled Farhad.

The following year, both bands decided to organise I Rock on the same date and venue. The result was just like the previous year. Fans turned up in huge numbers and Independence Rock took off on its historic journey.

I Rock and Rains – A Love Story

As all music aficionados would agree, listening to a live a gig while getting drenched in rain is bliss. I Rock would be organised right in the middle of Mumbai’s monsoon season. Needless to say it poured almost every year. A few fans would be seen carrying an umbrella or wearing a raincoat only to be mocked upon. The rest, drenched in the rain, would be headbanging to glory.

““I think it was the 3rd or 4th year when it rained cats and dogs. I have never seen such rains ever and thought the show is going to be a disaster. But the phone at the office kept ringing with enquiries for the show. At 6 pm I went to check the situation at the gate and saw a queue from the Rang Bhavan ticket window till Metro Cinema. That moment my faith in Rock’n’Roll was cemented forever,” said Farhad.

I want to get in!

As the popularity grew so did the demand for tickets. Earlier fans would queue up on the show day and buy them. Buying tickets beforehand became a must if one wanted to sure to attend the concert.

Recalling a super packed night, Farhad said,

“In one of the shows we had a packed house but there were around 800 people trying to get in. They were pushing the gate to open it. So the security guards and I were pushing the gate against them. Fearing that the gate would break, the venue’s manager unlocked it. The fans just started rushing in and the guards along with me were floored. We were on the ground while the fans were trampling us and running inside. But as we were filled to the brim so they had to watch the gig from the main entrance.”

This is not our Culture!

For years, the conservatives in our society have viewed western influences to be against our ethos. I Rock, too, wasn’t spared. The sight of guys without their t-shirts, with long hair, headbanging and engaging in moshpits was a culture shock for many.
“A senior cop once denied us the permission to organise the show. I pulled some strings through a friend and got it sorted. The next year again, he denied the permission so I approached the court which permitted us to carry on. A few years later, a ‘culture guardian’ holding high office stopped the event. The international press covered the story and the government finally permitted us,” Farhad said.
But ultimately a Supreme Court ruling, regarding noise pollution, put an end to the glorious era of Independence Rock at this iconic venue. That was the day ‘the music died’ at Rang Bhavan.

We dint start the fire!

The good old days when one could smuggle nips of rum with ease into a concert. No frisking, no questions asked. But some took undue advantage of this freedom. A few fans would go extreme, resulting in some incidents that left a bad after taste.
“Some guys would throw the empty nips on the stage. I remember once it narrowly missed Gary Lawyer and hit the back screen. Once my band was backing up for Jasmine Bharucha and one nip crashed on my brand new pedals. I saw the guy who threw it and got him evicted. Everyone’s safety was of prime concern,” stressed Farhad.
It was not always the fans but at times even some artists would instigate the crowd to the hilt. Some bands shared a major love-hate relation with the fans. Though the fans loved their music, they would be booed and abused the most.
“Some of them were real characters man. But that’s what you want a rock star to be like. I never tried to control their words or actions as well, to put it in simple words, it was useless,” laughed Farhad.

The Famous Wall

Every regular would remember ‘the wall’ which was the boundary of Rang Bhavan. Fans with no tickets or cash, like me, would try to scale the roughly 10 feet fall and enter the venue. It was a dangerous thing to do but frankly it didn’t matter to the fans and even the organisers.

“I have myself scaled that wall for The Police‘s concert so it never bothered me,” quipped Farhad.

Adding,

“It was never about the money but was always for the music, fans and the vibe. We knew when we announce the concert, the people will come.”

Resurrection?

Nestled in the US for some time now, Farhad usually spends his time working and recording videos of him playing Rock’n’Roll. You can check them at

https://www.youtube.com/farhadwadia

https://www.instagram.com/farhad.wadia

But wouldn’t the big man want to get Independence Rock back on its feet?

Answering this often asked question, Farhad promised,

“I should be back in India next year. One of my main purpose of the visit is try and get I Rock up and running again. As I have said, it’s not about the money but the music, fans and of course the nostalgia.”

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