Pledging to continue playing music, underground musicians in Pakistan lament the many problems that dog them. They include high entertainment taxes, expensive music equipment, a dying concert and gig scene, 'musically illiterate audiences' and the specter of virtually no financial reward.
'The monstrous entertainment tax on musical events such as concerts and festivals needs to go,' says Imran Khan Sumbal, bass player for an underground classic rock and blues band, The Mothership.
The Punjab government taxes the entertainment industry under the Punjab Entertainment Duty Act of 1958. The tax was reduced by the caretaker government of Najam Sethi from 65 per cent to 20 per cent in March this year. The Punjab budget for fiscal year 2013-14 made no further changes in the tax rate.
Underground musicians are still dissatisfied with the present rate. 'The 20 percent entertainment tax is killing the music industry. If the government is not putting money into the entertainment industry then it has no right to tax us so aggressively,' says Altamash Sever, lead vocalist for hard rock band Keeray Makoray.
The underground musicians feel disappointed with Pakistani music industry. 'Our music industry has centred itself around the ideals of 'what would sell more',' rues Daniyal Nasir Mirza, lead vocalist for the hard rock band The Red Brick Act.
Rampant commercialism is widely seen as hindering underground musicians from coming onto the mainstream. 'The music industry here has been taken over by a few Godfathers, whom I shall not name,' Sumbal asserts.
'These people are operating the few recording studios in Pakistan and are promoting only the bands they think will be a commercial success, thus monopolising the selection process and harming what is supposed to be the productive evolution of music in Pakistan.'
Besides, the music concerts and gigs scene in Pakistan is floundering. 'The gigs scene used to be good before 2012 but now it is as good as dead,' says Bilal Muneer, the lead guitar player for progressive psychedelic metal band DreamLed. Imran Khan Sumbal of The Mothership agrees.
Daniyal Nasir Mirza says a few bands get to perform at gigs or concerts organised by schools, and at times even get the opportunity to open for larger, better known acts. 'Small gigs take place in Lahore at venues such as The Guitar School, Peeru's Cafe and True Brew Records. Large gigs are, however, not so frequent mainly due to the political situation in the country,' explains Sever of Keeray Makoray.
Even when gigs do take place, underground musicians are seldom paid.
Of all the bands Dawn spoke to, only the Keeray Makoray said they had been paid for their gigs. We haven't gotten paid for any gig yet.