“Indian fans are more into moshing” – Ann talks to Sahil Makhija, of Demonic Resurrection!

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Well, that’s not the whole truth – Sahil is also involved with Reptilian Death, and the mastermind behind the heavy metal/cooking show, Headbanger’s Kitchen. In addition to showcasing his culinary passions, it also provides a good look at part of the local Indian metal scene, when he invites musicians over for an interview and dinner (well… I guess we can count that dessert episode as dinner, right? The best part of dinner.)

More to the point, I had been online friends with Sahil for about four years, now. Since the earliest days of Metal-Meltdown, in fact. Following him on social media, I noticed from my end that he was a very hard working person, dedicated to not only his band and his fans, but clearly the Indian metal scene as a whole.

While Sahil has his foot closer to the modern metal style, he doesn’t shy away from discussing the scene and its issues on any platform. It was for this reason that I was especially excited when I got the news of Demonic Resurrection coming to (London) town in the summer, since it meant that I could finally pick his brains about this part of the metal world. But first, I had something more pressing to ask…

I understand that this is your first ever European tour, let alone UK tour?

This would be the first proper tour that we’re doing! I’d say that it’s more of a UK tour, seeing as how we’re only doing one European show [at Wacken Open Air], so it’s a UK tour!

A few years ago when you wanted to come play Sonisphere, there were some difficulties when your visas got rejected.

How common do you think this is, for bands who want to travel to other continents?

I would say that it’s not regular actually, because most of the other visas are quite easy to get. If you’re traveling to Australia for example, you can probably smuggle yourself in on a tourist visa; the UK though is very particular about this, and so are very difficult to deal with when it comes to getting a visa.

That’s why we had a bad incident that time, when our visas were rejected.

So now that you’re here, how are you finding the UK tour?

It’s an absolute blast! We’re having an incredibly good time, and it’s the first time that we’re driving from one city to another, staying in a van, using sleeping bags, camping – hehehe! It’s the real deal, so we’re really enjoying it!

Based on what you’ve experienced by this point, how does the UK metal scene compare with the Indian scene?

I would say that it’s a lot harder here, actually, because there is much more work involved in being a band than there is back home. Also the audiences – I would say that back in India, we’re used to playing to large audiences as everyone already knows us over there. So in that respect, this is the real deal, as we’re building everything up from scratch! Also, Indian audiences are more into moshing; I don’t see much of that here except for the “new age” bands in the deathcore or metalcore genres. In Bombay, it doesn’t matter what heavy metal genre you play; there is a moshpit!

So it wouldn’t be unusual even to see a moshpit for a traditional doom show?

Yeah, you would not be surprised to see that, over there! Though there aren’t too many doom metal bands specifically, you will see a moshpit for any band.

We had an alternative rock band get a moshpit, we had a pop rock band get a moshpit… trust me; anything’s possible!

Sounds like it!

I think that people in the UK prefer more to just take in the music while drinking beer and raising their fists, going “oi, oi, oi!” Haha! And to headbang, of course. Which is a bit like in Norway; in that country, no one really moshes, as they like to stand and listen while banging their heads a little bit.

We enjoy this, as long as people enjoy themselves by the end of the day. We see this inbetween the songs when they cheer for you, and come speak to you after the show. They love your music, and come to buy your merch and CDs. You may not see that when they’re just moshing at the show, but they’re into it!

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Aside from the lack of a moshpit, what other cultural differences have you noticed in the UK?

It’s pretty much the same as it is back home, but the only difference is that [in the UK], everyone brings their own gear! That is, everyone brings their own ampheads and all that basic stuff, while in India, everything is already there for you to use at the venue. That’s the main difference, along with the observation that bands in this country work harder, due to the competition being much more fierce.

How so?

Well at this point, if you’re in a doom metal band, you’re probably one of three doom metal bands. If you’re a thrash metal band, then you’d be one out of fifteen, maybe. If you’re in a black metal band, then it would be one out of thirteen!

The competition is still not that great in India, as you can still do something which has already been done and be considered unique. Obviously this is changing now, even if you’re one of the thirteen black metal bands. You still have to do something to make yourself stand out from the crowd!

In the UK, there are probably like five hundred black metal bands, which makes it much harder to do this!

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From my own experiences in a South Asian immigrant household, heavy metal in India belongs more to the middle classes in the Indian Subcontinent, than it does in Great Britain and Western Europe [where it has roots in working class culture].

That’s absolutely true, and it’s something which even I tell people in interviews! English music is a luxury in India. People who are sort of well off will likely go to a school where English is the primary language, whereas public schools will have Hindi or Marathi and so on as theirs. So there is a language barrier to start with, and obviously buying an instrument isn’t very easy for (the lower classes). Their release is watching movies in cheap theatres, or religious festivals where they can get out and party. That’s where their entertainment is, rather than with heavy metal.

Even activities like going to a multiplex and so on, that’s what the middle classes do, and what the lower economic classes can’t. We have a huge disparity between the classes, and because of this, for a good, fifty years, heavy metal will remain a luxury music for most people.

Despite its being a luxury, there are still Indian kids who illegally download albums, perhaps even more than British kids in the UK!

There’s a different reason for that! While they may be sort of well of, they still come from rather “orthodox” families, where metal music isn’t encouraged by their parents (who) associate it with smoking, drinking… this probably even goes for those kids who simply like rock music, unless their parents grew up with that kind of music.

In this case, there isn’t any concept of BUYING music, since most music is consumed via Bollywood, the main entertainment industry, and sometimes religious tapes or stuff like that. So these families will have no ideas about an artist who is earning a living through making music, or even that his music is being illegally downloaded. Half of them don’t even know how to use the computer!

They can’t tell their kids that they’re doing something wrong, and that’s why downloading isn’t thought of as something wrong.

This is one of the main reasons why file-sharing takes place, and people like myself and Keshav Dhar [of the progressive rock band Skyharbor] have always made a strong case when we tell fans to buy music, and we’re seeing the change, slowly. But at the day, it’s still young kids aged fifteen to twenty five, who are still dependent on their parents for pocket money, who won’t indulge them by buying CDs (for them).

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Keshav Dhar, from his article, “Keshav Dhar vs The Internet” as published on RSJOnline

A guitar, yes, maybe you can learn how to play, but a CD? They won’t encourage their children to spend money on that, so the kids will just download it. I’ve had some ask me if there was a shop where they can go to buy albums for themselves as they can’t have them delivered home, because their parents would refuse. Our own drum tech says that he can’t buy certain t-shirts, because if his dad saw the print, he’d say “You can’t wear this at home!”

Those are the kind of problems that we face. I think that as the audience matures and continues to listen to metal from the ages of twenty to fourty, then evolution in the Indian metal scene will happen, and illegal filesharing won’t affect it as much as it does now.

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How far would you personally say that issues like religion and politics affect how music, especially heavy metal, is consumed?

Politics doesn’t affect metal at all in India; they only care about things where there is big money, which the music doesn’t have. I think that most of the people involved in that area aren’t even remotely inclined towards metal anyway, because the kind of people that we see in political or religious groups aren’t the ones who would go to a concert. They’d more likely be the “Orthodox Indian stereotype”.

Would you say that there is a religious barrier against heavy metal, in India?

I wouldn’t; I’d say that religion does do its own thing, and does control a lot of what’s going on, but not so much with live music. There is a bit of disparity, where religious functions can carry on until late in the morning, whereas a rock show has to shut down at 10pm. Yet no religion (in India) opposes the music, as they don’t care. There’s no money in it! Unless there is money, then people won’t get involved.

Hinduism is the main religion of India, so I guess that for something to really be offensive, it would have to attack that, rather than Christianity (which is the more conventional target in Europe and America)!

Yes to some extent, but more than being anti-Hindu, it has to be on a national level. When I say that, I mean that it has to reach the masses in India, who live in villages or in a tier of three or four cities, where it would actually cause some kind of stir. As of now though, these people won’t even discover what bands are doing.

So until it’s something that will be broadcast on national tv, it will not affect anything. Also, the censorship is very strong, so it wouldn’t even get on tv to begin with! As long as the music stays online, and doesn’t go viral enough for a Hindu right-wing group to get a hold of the content, it’s fine.

So an Indian black metal band which attacks Hinduism is unlikely to truly upset anybody, in this regard.

Yes. There are just one or two bands in that genre who sing about anything related to Hinduism anyway; they’re still stuck in that “Satanism” phase!

Unless it reaches the right people, it won’t offend anyone… though I do remember when Slayer’s ‘Christ Illusion’ came out in shops, it DID offend one Christian guy who wrote in with his complaints, and the record label (just to be safe) removed it immediately from the shops in India.

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Nothing happened – there was no protesting, nothing! Just one person wrote an angry letter, and the label got scared and took it off the shelves. Again, Christians are mostly in the middle classes (at least in Bombay), so they’re more likely to walk into a music shop and see something which would offend them. But we’ve had Cannibal Corpse albums in the ’90’s, including the ‘Vile’ album, sitting in the shops, uncensored, and no one has never said anything!

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This year saw the release of a concept album from the band Sceptre, which was fueled by outrage towards the treatment of women in Indian society. In particular, the rape of a young woman on public transport a year ago.

How far do you think Indian politics and social issues will have an impact on the Indian metal scene?

I think that in every country, the place you live in will naturally affect you as a person, musician or band. Obviously some bands like DR will choose to leave this out of music and take our energies into fantasy, but a lot of bands will use the music to express their dislike [of these issues].

We have a band called Zygnema as well, whose songs are anti-government and show a dislike for what’s going on. There was a terrorist attack as well, so they have a song against that. Sceptre, like you said,sang about the atrocities committed against women in India, on their recent album.

A couple of bands take this route, but a couple also don’t; that’s the same as in every country.

It’s been fourteen years since you started Demonic Resurrection. When you began, how did your family respond?

I’ve been very lucky to have two great parents who grew up in a very “modern” family! My mom used to listen to Pink Floyd, The Doors, The Beatles… and so did my dad. She also went to concerts, and took me to my first live show, which was Jon Bon Jovi in 1994.

I don’t think that they’ve ever had an issue with me playing heavy metal, but they did have an issue when I dropped out of college. As long as I was able to show that I was able to earn a decent living, however, they were okay.

So my family has been very supportive, and I wouldn’t have been able to get even half as far today, without them.

Can you tell our readers what it is you do, for a living?

I work with Furtado’s Music as their Artist Relations and Social Media Manager. Before that, I used to work as a professional Sound Engineer for five years, in a studio.

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Let’s talk more about Demonic Resurrection. The new album, ‘The Demon King’, sees the start of a new lyrical trilogy?

Well, it’s not a trilogy, as we don’t know what’s going to happen. We like to leave the end open to interpretation, and we could pick up the story from there, or just start something new. Either way, the album is complete!

The song writing’s also much stronger, this time around…

Yes, possibly because we’ve had the same line up for a while! Our lead guitarist, Daniel Rego, joined us in 2008 and has stayed with us ever since. Being together as a band for so long… you find that you understand one another’s abilities and sensibilities, so you can bring that together.

Your music is death metal with symphonic melodies, yet what is it about the fantasy angle that appeals to you?

Well, I used to like fantasy stuff, anyway! I’m a huge Lord of the Rings fan, so it was natural for me to write that. I also used to write a lot of “emo” stuff, back in the day when I was younger! Haha!

But when we reformed Demonic Resurrection back in 2003, we decided that we needed a new lyrical direction, and darkness was picked as the theme, which we took from there.

Hence your “Darkness” trilogy…

Yes, and now we have the new story of the Demon King.

Between today and the time that you first began Demonic Resurrection, how would you say that your focus has changed?

I don’t think that it’s changed much apart from the inevitable musical evolution, since I’ve always been committed to the band. That has never wavered over the years.

I’ve had my moments of weakness of course, like when we were watching Opeth live, and our visas (for playing Sonisphere and touring the UK) were rejected! Those are the low moments, but you just pick yourself up, and carry on.

I understand that you have your own record label, too.

Yes, I used to, but I’ve shut it down for anything which isn’t my own project.

I started Demonstealer Records at the time, because there wasn’t a label which would promote our music. When I released the second DR album through it, it did quite well and gave me the idea to do this for other Indian metal bands also. I did it for as long as I could, but I had only three albums to release in two years, so I had to put it to an end. However, I was able to sign a deal with EMI Music and Universal Music India, to release and distribute these albums.

You’ve also had bands from as far as Singapore and Japan signed up to your label, at the time.

Yes, when we released split albums, I remember contacting Warface from America, which led to an Indian subcontinent album; we had Severe Dementia from Bangladesh, Dusk from Pakistan and DR from India. I also knew this band called Helmskey from Singapore, so I was able to ask them for some bonus tracks.

It was a good mix, and it gave people a chance to discover new music.

What can you say that you’ve learned about the music industry?

A hell of a lot! I’ve learned everything, from how to read contracts and doing business… and most importantly, how to stand in line at the post office!

I’ve been in the music industry for fourteen years now, so I believe that I’ve gathered enough information to help younger bands in India, so that they won’t make the same mistakes that I made. I learned literally everything through trial and error!

It’s why I also speak at music conferences when I’m invited, or when I get the opportunity [to do so].

When I saw the guest speakers for India Music Week, as an example, I saw that there was even support from industry leaders in Norway?

India and Norway have had a tie-up for a few years, where they take an Indian band over there and then send a Norwegian band over to tour India.

That deal had ended last year due to changes in the Norwegian government, but for a good ten years there were a lot of great things which came out of that: it brought over the likes of Enslaved and Satyricon to India, and it let [Demonic Resurrection], Bhayanak Maut and Kryptos come over to Inferno Festival. It’s been a very great collaboration!

Before we close this interview, any last words to the audience who is reading this?

I would just like to thank everyone for checking out Demonic Resurrection, and I hope that you like our album, ‘The Demon King’.

Cheers, and stay Demonic!

sahil-makhija

K. Ann would like to thank Sahil Makhija and Candlelight Records, for making this interview possible.

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