India almost never saw the words “Hardcore” and “Punk” being used in the same sentence, let alone a clause or phrase. The term “Hardcore” became synonymous with metalcore bands that did not enjoy the Devil Wears Prada or any other metal band that associated themselves with tight pants. Hardcore, for the average Indian metalhead was, put bluntly, an impure form of metal that they found too light. “Punk” in India was an even bigger joke than “Hardcore”. If you knew two chord progressions and your drummer hated playing anything fast or creative, you could form a punk band and state the Ramones as your primary influence. Soon enough, punk rock in India became about not wanting to go school and pseudo-political songs about how politicians are limitlessly greedy and evil (I know, so original and not thought of before). Any previous ideals that Henry Rollins and Ian Macaye spoke about for hours on end were made terribly obsolete as Indian punk band turned to the extreme right and complained against immigration (in a city made of immigrants). During this time, I was your average Indian teenager, hoping to do his post-grad outside India just so that he could be part of a legitimate scene.
It was around this time that the Riot Peddlers began to appear on Ennui.bomb compilations and show line-ups. I remember my excessively condescending metalhead friend (considerable older) telling me that he saw “my type of folk playing fast and complaining” at some show he was at. I followed this claim by explaining to him my disillusionment with both “Hardcore” and “Punk” music in the country, to which he replied, “I don’t know, one of them has a Mohawk”.
Soon enough, I discovered the Riot Peddlers for myself. They played old school hardcore punk and consisted mainly of Arun Ravi on guitar and vocals and Ashwin Dutt on drums, whom we remember from the days of Kinky Ski Munkys and Pin Drop Violence. They had more than one bassists, including Frank Pawar, currently of Atmosfear, whose sheer muscle mass was more than the combined weight of other two members plus their equipment combined.
The music that the Riot Peddlers played was perhaps too stripped down and away from the convention you spotted in and around the city for them too gain an outstanding support. With just a hint of New York Metallic Hardcore, the Riot Peddlers played a raw take on 80’s hardcore, complete with angry D-beats and even angrier guitars. But perhaps the angriest things about the Riot Peddlers were Arun’s vocals and lyrics. The Riot Peddlers were pissed at everything from begging to Bollywood. At the risk of romanticizing too much, the Riot Peddlers became the musical equivalent of that lonely kid at the show, who stood outside when the next band was coming on and told the closest person he could find about how pissed he was about all the bullshit everywhere. If an unsuspecting non-Indian listener stumbles upon the Riot Peddlers, he/she will basically understand what Bombay is all about, cutting out all the preachy, cheesy crap.
What the Peddlers were to the scene was another thing. After initially playing a bunch of college fest, they went on to play Control Alt Delete, Independence Rock and make a mark, being the first truly punk band in a scene of musicians who sold their souls to hipsters and corporate backing. Unfortunately, while their impact was substantial, it never enough to stir up a specialized punk scene. However, what the band did do was lay a foundation for musical and lyrical freedom, something musicians in the coming years would unknowingly benefit. At least, this is what the band did for me.
“We shouted about a few issues. And got back to our day jobs like every other Indian. Nothing much” says drummer Ashwin Dutt, “If you aren’t playing anything close to Green Day or Blink 182, you don’t have an audience. The bigger issue was we were too noisy for the alternative / electro crowd and too mellow for the metalheads. I remember a bassist asking me, ‘How is your comedy band doing? I really like the way you address issues using humour’. That’s the Indian scene for you.”
Things continued in this sense for the Riot Peddlers in this manner for a while. They played in Delhi twice and played around in Bombay. And suddenly they were gone. Erased from our scene that just wanted to see electro bands do the same thing time and again. Perhaps we’ll look back in the future and throw around a few compliments about how great the Peddlers were. Arun didn’t get enough time cause of work and Ashwin reflects on what happened. “I guess the bigger challenge is to do something about the issues you talk about. Not just sit there playing your guitar and moaning about issues. You can’t change the situation. Everyone is sitting in front of their computers and tweeting and updating status messages. There is no one when it comes to helping someone or being part of movement. I guess punk musicians are pretty shallow” says the man who only appears scary till you actually speak to him, “And that’s the reason I resigned from playing punk. Or at least the Peddlers.”
– Vrishank Menon