In an age where we are constantly dazzled by the wonders of technology, there is often an overarching tendency to celebrate gadgets and gizmos as the epitome of progress; a view to see products of technology as an end in of themselves. What gets lost in this analysis is that these new technologies only matter when their users – people – begin to use it to make sense of their lives and their opinions, beliefs, ideas, likes and dislikes.
Music is a great example of this idea. In many ways, music is treated in Pakistan like a blaspheming, heretic, ‘otherised’ minority which never has a shortage of outraged individuals seeking to unleash their wrath upon it.
And yet, music continues to prevail, its imprint far too intrinsic in our culture to be readily dismissed. Even the militants fighting in the badlands for the imposition of a retrograde ideology have their own soundtracks, replete with booming bass licks.
The emergence of various epochs of popular music in Pakistan has often been an evolution of technology. Again, it is not that it evolved because of technology, but rather technology became the medium through which its evolution found a platform.
In the ’70s, the arrival of synthesisers and fuzz-guitars and all other sorts of paraphernalia led to the advent of a new ambitious sound in the world of Pakistani movies. As the film industry began to shiver and crumble, the intended by-product – music – transformed itself away from film music to pop music.
The second great wave that led to another evolution was brought about by the arrival of cheap handheld equipment to record videos, greater import of musical instruments, and the advent of another channel on the airwaves. It resulted in the great music-video explosion of the early ’90s, with band after band releasing music videos on TV programmes such as the iconic Music Channel Charts, and later, Video Junction.
The past year or so has now seen the development of a new epoch, one which threatens to unleash itself any moment in the popular imagination.
But before we move on to them, it is imperative to go back to our original point – technology is not the winner here.
Music, as with any other art form, is created as the artist’s reactions to their surroundings, their society, the influences of those they admire, the impact of those that went before them. An artist seeks to break from the current to make something new, and yet by doing so also exists as a part of a progression. Music is influenced by other bands, other musicians. It is determined by ideas, by talent, by creativity. The only reason we are discussing technology is because it is the eventual means, the path which allows these creative forces to be unleashed.
A combination of production equipment now readily available as pirated computer software and the ubiquity of websites catering specifically for musicians to share their work, has come together to provide a platform for a new wave of Pakistani music, one which I have lazily labeled as Post-Rock.
Post-rock did not develop purely as a reaction to technology. Its evolution has to do with the emergence of seeing guitars as facilitators of rhythm rather than attention-grabbing solos, the idea of stripping lyrics away from vocals and from breaking away from the formulaic confines of “verse-chorus-lead-chorus” rock songs. In fact, even using the word ‘rock’ might be a disservice, as the music if anything is genre-smashing, comfortably adopting ideas and conventions held apart with sacred reverence in a bygone era.
But what is far more important is that post-rock music is a development of progressive rock and other genres of music which have generally struggled to hold mass appeal. They are not ideal for playing on three-minute radio slots, they do not generally have lyrics to sing along to. They are not useful for playing at gate-crashed, hormone-fuelled concerts, or to be blasted at beach-hut and farmhouse GTs. In other words, they struggle to exist within the conventional norms of how music is shared and listened to.
The role that technology has to play here is two-fold. On one hand it is providing previously expensive production equipment, inaccessible samples and loops right into the hands of anyone with a computer and an ability to download torrents. On the other hand, the prevalence of technology is also important on a creative level. Bands and artists might not have gigs to play, but they can check out each other’s music online and build up an audience there as well, they can learn from each other, and explore ideas others have spawned. In a society where the artist faces perpetual careerist and financial insecurity, the very presence of others going through the same toils is a blessing in itself.
And all these technological and creative impulses are coalescing as we speak to create something (r)evolutionary, something very fresh and new.
Check out the minimalist, haunting, ‘almost reverential’ music of Asfandyar Khan. The gloriously eclectic sample-driven sound of Dalt Wisney, or the densely layered, ridiculously talented, genre-hopping Mole. Then there is the coming behemoth that is Orangenoise, (and which might not sit comfortably with being called ‘post-rock’) – yet its psychedelic sounds are perhaps the closest entry point for a more conventional rock aficionado into this new world. And of course, there are Basheer and the Pied Pipers whose droning, pulsating, subversive music manages the impossible task of living up to the brilliance of the band’s name. There are the more well-known bands as well, such as The Kominas and Bumbu Sauce, which might not fall under the same genre categories, but share the impulse to break down, mix up and mash together the sounds and conventions of the past.
A spectre is haunting Pakistan, the spectre of an era-defining musical revolution.
The views expressed by this blogger and in the following reader comments do not necessarily reflect the views and policies of the Dawn Media Group.