Battle of the Bands

The Pakistani television series Pepsi Battle of the Bands is unarguably the biggest music competition in the country right now, where a diverse range of bands from different parts of the country perform and compete against one another. With the second season of the show released 15 years after the first and managing to take Pakistan by storm with energetic and crowd-pulling performances, expectations for Season 3 are much higher. Season 3 is off to a strong start so far, but will the upcoming episodes continue to impress the viewers as well ?

Since the 1980s, Pakistani bands have been an integral part of the country’s music industry and have not only made a name for themselves in their home country, but internationally as well. Despite the fact that in the 1980s and 1990s there was only state-owned Pakistan Television (PTV) and the privately owned Network Television Marketing (NTM, which was launched in the 1990s and is now known as ATV), and a dedicated but smaller amount of time was given to music on the two channels, such bands as Vital Signs, Junoon, Awaz and Strings still managed to make a name for themselves on the international front, paving the way for other bands from the country to follow suit.

The first season

In the early 2000s, the arrival of more private television channels and radio stations in Pakistan meant more airtime for Pakistani music. In 2002, Pepsi Pakistan launched Battle of the Bands. It was a first-of-its-kind music competition in the country and many bands auditioned.

The judges for the first season included Vital Signs members and music producers Rohail Hyatt and Shahzad (Shahi) Hasan along with cultural critic Fifi Haroon. A total of 170 applications were sent in, of which 70 were registered and the top 20 were selected, which was then narrowed down to the top 10 after a tough process.

The first season was won by the band Aaroh, which managed to beat runner-up Entity Paradigm (EP) by a small margin. Both bands achieved mainstream success thanks to the show. Other bands that competed such as Mekaal Hasan Band and Mizmaar also found mainstream success.

These bands went on to release songs and albums that became quite popular with the masses. Aaroh released two albums, Sawaal and Raag Neela, both of which were critical and commercial successes. The single “Na Kaho” became Aaroh’s most popular song.

Entity Paradigm released their debut album, Irtiqa, and singles such as “Hamesha” and “Waqt” received a lot of appreciation.

Mekaal Hasan Band found success with their debut album Sampooran, and Mizmaar achieved fame with their first album, Kash.

The demise of the music industry

Unfortunately in 2007, Pakistani music entered a horrific period. Bands and musicians one after another started to disappear. EP disbanded that year, followed by Aaroh in 2009 and then Mizmaar.

The Pakistani music industry at that time was plagued with piracy and corruption. The security situation of the country was tense as well. EP made a comeback in 2009, as did Aaroh in 2014; however, the situation in the music industry during that time period was not stable, forcing both bands to disappear again. Mizmaar, on the other hand, made a comeback in 2015, a time when the music industry was slowly reviving.

Amid all the darkness, there was still a ray of hope. There was the popular Coke Studio, which was contributing to the music industry, but  it was a platform for established musicians. Many independent acts during that time also started emerging throughout the country. Despite the fact that there were a few record labels that were almost going bankrupt and television channels were playing foreign music, they still managed to promote themselves through the Internet. There were many events too, but one thing that was missing was a proper platform for these acts to showcase their talent in order to reach a wider audience.

The revival of the music industry

In 2015, considering the tragic state of music channels, which were playing foreign content and giving little to no airtime to local music, a new model that took advantage of the Internet was introduced, and that was the arrival of streaming platforms such as Patari and Taazi. Although the process to revive the music industry completely was slow and to this day, a lot needs to be done, streaming platforms did manage to give musicians some if not much relief.

Last year, it was revealed that Fawad Khan, the former EP frontman, was returning to his musical roots with the second season of Pepsi Battle of the Bands as a judge. On July 22, 2017, a title song that was a mash-up of two popular Pakistani songs, “Dekha Na Tha” by pop singer Alamgir and “Do Pal Ka Jeevan” by Vital Signs, was released. The music video featured Season 2 judges Fawad Khan, Meesha Shafi and Atif Aslam on vocals while Shahzad (Shahi) Hasan, who was a judge on Season 1 as well as Season 2, performed on guitar. Aaroh frontman Farooq Ahmed also appeared in the auditions round as a guest judge. Pakistani actress, model and host Ayesha Omar was announced as the host for the second season.

Despite a mixed response to the release of the second season at the start, critics and audience reviews became more positive as the season progressed. The second season was won by Karachi-based band Kashmir, while the band Badnaam from Lahore came in second.

Apart from that, the second season featured a diverse range of bands not just in the Top 8 list but in the auditions stage as well, such as Roots, Jasim Haider and The Pindi Boys, Madlock, Darvesh, Aura, Shajr, E-Sharp, Sikandar Ka Mandar and Khamaaj, to name a few.

The second season also saw the return of Season 1 winners Aaroh, who not only performed their hit songs “Raag Neela” and “Na Kaho” on the show, but released a new song, “Mein Nahi Manta,” as well. Season 1 runners-up Entity Paradigm also made a surprise comeback in the last episode of the second season performing their hit single “Hamesha.”

Season 3 and the future

Because of a positive response to the second season of Pepsi Battle of the Bands, it was likely that there was going to be a third.

Similar to Season 2, a title song was released, which featured Fawad Khan, Meesha Shafi, the pop rock band Strings, Season 2 winners Kashmir and Season 2 runners-up Badnaam. The song was a mash-up of Kashmir’s hit single “Kaghaz Ka Jahaaz,” Badnaam’s rendition of the song “Kala Jora Pa” and the popular Pakistani song “Hai Koi Hum Jaisa” by Strings.

The Strings duo Faisal Kapadia and Bilal Maqsood replaced former judges Atif Aslam and Shahi Hasan. The latter, however, will serve as a producer this season. Ayesha Omar returned as a host this season as well.

The first and second episodes, which covered the auditions round, aired to positive reviews, and viewers were introduced to many talented bands from all over the country.

The first episode featured the bands Xarb, Faisalabad-based I.FR.A, Dhool from Rawalpindi, Aag, Estraplock, Tamasaha, Sarmasta, and two bands that were rejected last year, Khamaaj and Ehl-E-Rock, also made a powerful return. All bands performed exceptionally well – the duo Aag with their powerful energy, Nukta with maturity, Sarmatsa with their uniqueness and Khamaaj presenting a soulful vibe – but the band Tamaasha stood out from the rest when they covered Aaroh’s “Raag Neela” with so much passion and energy that the judges were forced to get up from their seats and give them a standing ovation.

The second episode introduced viewers to more talented bands. The bands that were featured in the second episode included Easy Games, Kaghaz, Deja Vu, Bayaan, Aarish, 21 and OB Positive, who auditioned last year as well but didn’t make it to the top eight. Just like the first episode, the bands gave their best; however, the bands that really pulled the stage were Kaghaz with their cover of Junoon’s “Taara Jaala,” Bayaan with their original “Farda,” and 21, who presented themselves as a strong punk rock band with their original “Taare.”

The top eight bands that have been selected are Tamaasha, Bayaan, Sarmasta, Khamaaj, Kaghaz, 21, Xarb and Deja Vu.

With the auditions round, Season 3 is definitely off to a strong start, but that does not mean the show is completely perfect, because there are some issues that need to be addressed.

The first issue is that only Top 8 bands make it through the next round. Considering the fact that many bands participated this year and more and more bands will audition in the next season, the top eight should be doubled to top 16.

The second problem with the show is the editing process. Some of the performances of the shortlisted bands are not shown, making it not only difficult for viewers to understand on what basis they were selected but also depriving the bands of the luxury of showcasing their talent to a wider audience even if they don’t get selected. The auditions round should at least stretch to two more episodes.

The third concern is that while it is valid for the judges to shortlist bands for the top eight, when it comes to the Top 8 round the power of voting should be in the hands of the viewers, which might make the show more interesting and challenging. The judges should only focus on providing comments when it reaches that point. In the previous season, the viewers were only able to vote for the winner but had no authority in voting during the Top 8 round.

With that being said, Pepsi Battle of the Bands has indeed, as many people rightly put it, brought the band culture back to Pakistan. Even the bands that didn’t get selected but had their performances shown have found a wider fan base through the show. The start to Season 3 is powerful; let’s hope this ambiance of the show is retained in the upcoming episodes, and the next season as well.

Turyal Azam Khan

Turyal Azam Khan is a Pakistani writer, blogger, and journalist who mainly focuses on current affairs, social issues, lifestyle, and culture. He has written for Daily Times, Dunya Blogs, EACPE, The Nation, Naya Daur, Surkhiyan, The Times of Israel, Street Buzz, IBC English, Mashable Pakistan and The Diplomat.