Farhad Wadia, the founder of the recently revived Independence Rock, widely regarded as India’s most beloved rock festival, takes through the history of the event, in his own words.
I-Rock’s origin story starts three and a half decades ago in Mumbai when my band, Mirage, and Rock Machine, the biggest Indian rock act of the era, were approached to play a concert at St. Xavier College’s youth festival Malhar. It was around a week before the event when the Jesuit principal of the college, in his infinite wisdom, decided that ‘rock’ was the “devil’s music” and cancelled the concert. But this didn’t deter an enterprising student, whom I remember only as Anurag. Soon, Anurag booked the Rang Bhavan venue next door, approached Rock Machine and our band to perform there on the 15 August, and aptly named the event ‘Independence Rock.’
On the day of the show, the bands and the sound and light guys reached the venue to begin their set-up. But young Anurag went absconding as he didn’t have the money to cover the payments! Nonetheless, both bands went ahead with the concert that evening. Approximately 5,000 kids showed up and rocked the night away as we performed! And thus, Independence Rock or I-Rock was born! The rest, of course, is history.
For the next 27 years till 2013, the event was held every year. Eventually, it became the oldest and the biggest rock festival held in the country, where bands vied with each other to get a chance to play and make their debut. In fact, some of the leading rock bands in India today have started off on the I-Rock stage and have gone on to achieve great success over the years.
The event became the breaking ground and stage for some of the country’s most remarkable and high-powered acts like Parikrama, Zero, Agni, Millennium, Mirage, Indus Creed (formerly Rock Machine) Pythogoras & The Right Angles, Chakravyuh, Brahma, Pentagram, Ezee Meat, Short Circuit, Bronze Axe, Down Sterling, Voices, Shiva, the Strangers, Bhayanak Maut, Sceptre and Demonic Resurrection. Popular singers including Shweta Shetty, Jasmine Bharucha, Sunita Rao, Shiamak Davar and Gary Lawyer were also among the artists who played the festival.
In August 2000, The Times Of India said about I-Rock, “Apart from college rock shows, this has been the only event that has regularly promoted nationwide rock talent and catered to local rock aficionados.” Meanwhile, Mid-Day wrote, “There are concerts, and then there is Independence Rock which always goes house full and is the Woodstock of India.” Even MTV and Channel [V] have gone on record to state that it is the “Best Local Rock” festival featuring Indian acts in all of Asia. Moreover, MTV IGGY USA rated it No.8 on the list of 10 Best Rock Festivals in the world!
However, in the course of 27 years, Independence Rock has also had its fair share of adversities threatening its very existence. This made organising the event, let’s say, a very “interesting experience”. Sometimes it was the police or politicians and other times, the Censor Board. Or even rival concert promoters trying to stop the festival from happening by various means.
During Independence Rock 6, it was pouring so heavily, Mumbai saw massive floods. We were sure that we would have to cancel the show. But come 6:30 PM, hordes of kids in shorts and umbrellas showed up, and we had a full house! That day affirmed my faith in the power of rock and roll!
Furthermore, in year 20, Independence Rock had its closest call. For the first time in 20 years, the event got cancelled merely an hour before the showtime as A. N. Roy, the police commissioner of Mumbai at the time, refused permission to allow the event to be staged at the Gateway of India. Around 6,000 disappointed rock fans turned away and left without creating any ‘law and order problems,’ which, incidentally, was the very reason cited by the commissioner in his denial letter.
However, the public outcry that followed was unanimous, and the event was staged a month later at the Chitrakoot Grounds in Andheri. This edition saw the largest-ever audience turnout in the festival’s 20-year rich history, making Independence Rock a household name across India! Truth be told, every year was touch and go, but the festival always managed to prevail and grow from strength to strength.
In 2014, I moved to the US for work, and I had to pause organising the festival. But the plan was always to revive Independence Rock in all its former glory. And early this year, when my friend, V. G. Jairam of Hyperlink Brand Solutions, reached out to me to bring it back, I knew that he and Hyperlink would be the right folks to partner with as they would only make I-Rock bigger and better. And, of course, they proved me right – this year’s festival promises to be the grandest edition to date!
Over the years, several bands have come and gone, and all have told me that playing at I-Rock has always been magical for them. They may play across the country, but nothing matches the exhilaration of the I-Rock stage. What has further amazed me is the number of people – from all walks of life and in every possible stream of business – who have, at some point, attended the event. And how the event itself was a sort of rite of passage for them. As for me, personally, it has been an extraordinary coming-of-age experience, wherein through this event, I have gained both – notoriety and fame as well as bouquets and brickbats! And for that, I am eternally grateful!
I’d like to thank all the bands, technicians, sponsors, press, and mostly the fans for making this a magical and crazy ride to date.
HEY HEY, MY MY ROCK & ROLL CAN NEVER DIE!!! – Neil Young.
Mahindra Independence Rock will take place on Saturday, 05 November and Sunday, 06 November at the Bayview Lawns in Mumbai. Get details here.