Karachi’s new underground music scene draws inspiration from the city’s chaotic character

01 March 2014

ON A DECEMBER EVENING LAST YEAR, Karachi’s T2F café, a coffee shop and bookstore frequented by writers, artists and activists, hosted a concert called Bunny Cycle. Blankets covered the ground floor of the open-plan space. Drums, amplifiers and laptops filled an informal performance area, and Japanese fitness videos were projected onto the wall behind it.

There were a few hiccups before the concert, which was organised by the bands performing that evening. The neighbours had complained that they could smell hashish, and about half an hour before the show began the musicians were busy assuring the T2F staff that there was nothing to worry about. The matter was settled without a fuss, and an audience of about a hundred people was soon sitting on the floor. Almost everyone wore black, and flannel and khadi were the preferred embellishments. Thick-rimmed glasses were the accessory of choice. The next day, a local newspaper described the gathering as “bohemian.”

The show itself proceeded without a hitch. The lineup delivered a variety of contemporary music: the post-grunge experiments of Sikandar ka Mandar, the electronic soundscapes of Alien Panda Jury, the folk-rock of Ali Suhail and the psychedelia of Lower Sindh! Swing Orchestra. With all the excitement, it was easy to forget that the café, which describes itself as a “community space for open dialogue”, had been the target of a notorious heist two years ago when a charity art exhibition called Loot Maar was visited by armed men who took the title to its literal extreme, robbing visitors of their cash, cameras and laptops. The people running the café refused to shut it down or beef up security. Crime was, after all, a part of daily life in Karachi.

Ahmer Naqvi is a freelance journalist based in Karachi who writes on cricket, music, cinema and popular culture.

Keywords: Pakistan technology Karachi cities independent music youth culture electronic music Coke Studio Pakistan