Mahindra I-Rock: Then Vs Now – A visual journey

It started with defiance. The birth of the modern Indian rock fan and the space and audiences for modern Indian rock musicians.

Mahindra I-Rock: Then Vs Now – A visual journey

Mahindra I-Rock: Then Vs Now - A visual journey (photo: IANS)

It started with defiance. The birth of the modern Indian rock fan and the space and audiences for modern Indian rock musicians. It started with defiance in August 1986 against a college principal’s authoritarian diktat cancelling two rock gigs at Malhar, one of Mumbai’s most popular annual college festivals hosted by St Xavier’s College. A public outcry followed.

However, there was one individual unwilling to give up easily. Farhad Wadia of Mirage (one of the bands slated to perform on the college campus) eventually organised Independence Rock at Rang Bhavan for a night of complete rock shindig, not too far from St. Xavier’s College.

Soon, the festival earned the sobriquet – “Woodstock of India.” With 28 successful editions, it evolved into a legendary rock festival that left a deep impression on the Indian Gen X rockers. Today, in its 29th edition and rechristened as Mahindra Independence Rock, the festival is one of the oldest and largest music festivals in India.


Mapping its path from Rang Bhavan to Bayview Lawns

For long, I-Rock has been synonymous with Rang Bhavan in South Mumbai. The venue was iconic for music festivals and had a certain charm. The festival persevered here despite controversies over noise pollution, battling permission issues, and numerous threats to pull the plug. It even found a new home in Chitrakoot Grounds in Andheri until it halted entirely in 2013.

In 2022, after almost a decade-long break, Mahindra I-Rock made a historic return to reclaim its cult status and rich legacy of sparking a roaring rock scene in the 80s and 90s. This time, the festival welcomed rock scenesters to its new home at Bayview Lawns by the Arabian Sea.

The festival’s spirit of “independence” endures

The Independence Rock gets its name from being held annually on the weekend of India’s Independence Day on 15th August. True to its name, it was much more than a rock festival. I-Rock was a means of identity and belongingness to a community. It was an outlet, a channel to express freedom through rock for the youth in this country. It was the ultimate rite of passage for Gen X, and this kept the genre relevant.

This core spirit of freedom and independence has endured through its previous editions before its hiatus in 2013 and even in its 28th edition post-hiatus. The iconic festival continues reflecting on the social and cultural changes and democratises music.

From covers to original music

It began as largely a covers festival but increasingly saw original music. This also had to do with I-Rock’s eagerness to discover and give new talent a chance to take the stage at the festival.

The scenario was such before the talent content that preceded the festival – several unsolicited cassettes from underground bands or canteen bands would land up at the homes of organisers. Some lucky emerging acts found a chance to perform with popular bands like Pentagram (which gave Bollywood Vishal Dadlani), Parikrama, or Down Sterling (in which AR Rahman was a keyboardist), eventually rising to fame in the rock scene and coming back as part of line-up to perform at I-Rock. Some of these bands include Parikrama, Bhayanak Maut, and Zero.

Even today, Mahindra I-Rock continues to serve as a launchpad for raw, new talent via an online band hunt before the festival. The winner gets to be the opening act of the festival.

Going back to the roots with local flavour

Regional rock music has picked up not only in the city but also in the country. And the festival has taught its audience to embrace the idea of rock that needn’t be English-heavy. Through the editions, its stage has seen Indian musicians blend diverse sounds of the tabla, mridangam, flute, violin, and many other instruments for a raging, head-banging crowd.

In fact, from the northern Hindi-Punjabi chorus by Bloodywood to influences from the South like Thaikkudam Bridge and Avial, the 28th edition of the festival welcomed multiple languages and influences into its fold.

Not just a festival but an experience

Mahindra I-Rock is not just a music festival like in the 90s. With festival goers expecting a degree of care in terms of food and beverages to indulge in and production value thanks to their global exposure, the festival has evolved to give a holistic, larger-than-life rock experience to the attendees – which was not the norm two decades ago.

The two-day festival returns for its 29th edition to Mumbai’s Bayview Lawns on the 4th and 5th of November 2023. This year’s stellar line-up is bringing authentic sounds from diverse corners of the country and includes bands like Girish and the Chronicles, Mama Tips & The Mama’s Boys, Gutslit, Swarathma, T.ill APES, Tough on Tobacco, Agam, Parikrama, Bhayanak Maut and Kathmandu-based Underside.