This week, Kathmandu got to witness a rare musical subculture from eastern Nepal. A culture of brotherhood and camaraderie that bind followers with common love for music. Punk music and its various subgenres in this case.
The musicians and audiences of Kathmandu, mostly aloof of what is happening in the eastern indie music scene, were initiated to the DIY culture brewing in the east. There, musicians are getting together to write original music, recording them and organizing gigs to support each other, without any outside interference. Where one can’t set the artist apart from the audience. Where any sort of income, if there is one, goes back into making and playing music.
Retro Rocket from Itahari and Zero Brains from Dharan—who identify themselves as punk influenced indie-rock and emo-pop-punk respectively—are in Kathmandu, their first ever tour to the capital city. In a series of events that began at Beers and Cheers, Jhamsikhel, on March 20, the bands are taking over multiple venues in the city as part of the tour jointly supported by Kathmandu-based Noodle and Itahari-based KLM Records.
“This tour was made possible only because of the brotherhood we have back home,” says Veesma Khanal, 25, emphasizing again the spirit of friendship that the bands back in the east share. “KLM Records, which comprises of musicians and supporters, joins us like a family.” KLM Records, as we are told, is a record label based in Itahari that binds musicians from cities in the east. The bands there share ideas, gear and even musicians to keep the DIY spirit alive. The record label was most active during the lockdown, releasing multiple tracks from local bands in punk/rock/alternative genres.
Veesma, who has previously lived in Kathmandu for almost a decade, says he found his calling in music only when he went back home. “I couldn’t do much in Kathmandu. I did not find the inspiration here. Back in Itahari, I got together with like-minded musicians to form Retro Rockets in 2016.” The band now has enough materials to release an album with proper studio recording, unlike the few demos it currently has on its YouTube channel. Zero Brains was established in 2018 and has been composing original music ever since, and is also preparing for an album.
For alternative artists like Zero Brains and Retro Rocket, making music has not been as difficult as playing live. “Most bands there play popular covers at pubs and bars. These musicians and venues don’t hold much regard for bands like us,” Veesma adds. “They think we don’t meet their standards.” So the real struggle for the DIY scene in cities like Dharan, Itahari, Biratnagar, Damak and the like is finding a proper venue to play in. The community of punk rockers gets together to find venues and cover costs involved in organizing gigs, also selling artist merchandise to raise funds.
“The Kathmandu scene is much better. There are more people and more venues than back home,” says Dexter Maden, guitarist/vocalist of Zero Brains. It is the first ever visit to Kathmandu for the 22-year-old and possibly his first exposure to mainstream media. The shy youngster lets Veesma answer most questions, only adding bits and pieces. “In Kathmandu, we have been made to feel at home and are expecting a good turnout at all our gigs.”
But although there are seemingly more opportunities in Kathmandu for both the bands, the artists have no intention of coming and settling here. They will come here for shows, will also help more bands tour Kathmandu, but will not move here, unlike most musicians of other genres. “Everyone has to come to Kathmandu sooner or later in search of better prospects—jobs, quality of life, education opportunities,” Veesma says. “We want to stay home for as long as possible, with the family we have earned there and continue to support the music scene in the east.”