Interview by: Onusha Ahmad
Recently I caught up with the members of the local CBM band The Psychonauts.
Hyder Ali, Anas Lufti and Bilal Ahmad were more than happy to tell us that “Music in Pakistan has lost its essence and that it was becoming harder and harder for underground bands to compete with Bollywood and new artists like Asim Azhar”.
Psychonauts that formed back in 2013 is now one of the many underground bands that is having a hard time, to maintain a solid fan base due to competition with others genres of music and artist.
“Music always had a place in our lives since the beginning, but all of us had performed in capacity before coming together. Ali used to be a part of Anonymous, Anas used to be a part of Overdose, Hyder was a member of Replica, and I was a fresh starter”, says the front man Bilal Ahmad. “We first came together as, more or less, a fluke when we decided to perform together in CBMUN in April 2013. A few nameless shows later, we were the Psychonauts”.
When asked how the response has been to their music, drummer Hyder Ali gives a short laugh before answering the question. “The response has been mixed. Not everyone listens to this sort of music. We might play gigs very now and then but that is not enough, People are not interested in this sort of music anymore. They rather pay thousands of bucks to watch Asim Azher perform than pay to watch some underground band”.
“It’s not just that”, adds rhythm guitarist Anas Lufti. ”There was a time when our TV channels used to support music like ours. Bands like Noori, Strings, EP, Mizraab, whom we took inspiration from, were everywhere. Now you hardly see them anywhere.
One of the biggest reasons is that there are not enough channels. And those that are there have Waqar Zaka interviewing bands, which is not right”.
“Pakistani rock is in a stagnant state. Nowadays, mainstream pop and 'bling' prevails, with very little focus on the potential Pakistani rock has. To such a degree has there been a mutation, that rock greats of Pakistan have had no choice but to convert their playing styles to people who are attuned to listening to mellow, non-energetic tones”, Bilal adds.
“Our bands did not get support from the people, which is one of the reasons that you see great bands like EP, have their members acting in drama serials now”, says Hyder.
But the band is hopeful.
Bilal Ahmad believes that the state of Pakistani rock music can change. But only when people start believing that they can learn from music not only Pakistani, but Western benchmarks as well. The simple fact that they should learn from other forms of music rather than blatantly believe in our own capacity to create is a must if we require change for the better.
When asked whether shows like Coke Studio, Pepsi Smash and Nescafe Basement would help revive music in Pakistan, Bilal said that they could. “These shows are the response to a creative hunger that Pakistani crowds have exhibited when it comes to music, but are by no means the only answers. Live acts embody the soul of rock music, and must be promoted. Sort of like the difference between live theater and cinema”.
“There are only a few bands that are helping to keep the genre of rock music alive in Pakistan. One of them is Qayaas”, says Hyder. “Other than that it’s your underground bands such as Kashmir etc.”
However the band does believe that social media can help underground musicians to a great extent.
“Of course the usage of social media is very important”, says Anas. “It’s one of the fastest ways to get your music out and get recognition’.
Bilal Ahmad is of the same opinion. “Social media is our living. No one would know about any music, whether it be underground or mainstream, if there was no social platform to promote sharing and viewing. It also serves as the only means we may use to promote what little music we have through non- commercial and non-monetary means. So yeah. We can't live without it”