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The "Linux Can!" Story

One of our more controversial songs (other than CAP 5101, whose real story remains to be told by Gaurav some day :), is an instrumental number we play, strangely named "Linux Can!".

This cheesy little number, which seems to have become some kind of anthem among the Free and open Source Software (FOSS) crowds in India, has an interesting story worth telling:

The "Birth" of Linux Can!

In 2000, Mrinal was interning at a software company where a lot of FOSS work was the order of the day. One day, as a kind of side project, and to prove that it could be done, he decided to use a cheap little CASIO keyboard that was lying around, to compose an instrumental song, and multi-track record it completely on a Linux PC. Those were the days when Linux was not as capable as it is today, and this kind of thing he was attempting was effectively impossible then.

In Mrinal's words:

"Linux Can" was composed in June 2000, by me and Atul Chitnis. I was working at Exocore during that time, and I had been trying to get Jazz++ to work on Linux with the AWE64 card that I had. I finally managed to get it working, and we sat down and made this tune in an hour or two with Atul's MIDI keyboard, and Jazz. We also played this song at the next Bangalore LUG meeting, where I was giving a presentation about making music with Linux and Jazz!
The name of the song has its origins as well as in its style - while the implication is clear (Linux Can do it), the style of the music was reminiscent of that used by star violinist Vanessa-Mae. A simple word play (Vanessa-Mae - Vanessa May - Linux May - Linux Can) gave the song its name, and it stuck. :)

First Live Performance of Linux Can!

The song lay in cold storage until end-2002, by which time we had formed Phenom and had been playing together for more than a year. In December 2002, we were invited to perform what was to be our debut solo-show, at the annual FOSS community's event (Linux Bangalore, now renamed to FOSS.IN).

As we were rehearsing for the show, Mrinal remembered "Linux Can!" and we decided to "Phenomize" the song and play at this very appropriate event. One small hitch - we forgot to practice it!

As the show went along, Mrinal suddenly slapped himself across the forehead and frantically whispered "Damn, we forgot to practice Linux Can!". So we decided to perform it anyway, and it brought the house down. :)

As performed at Linux Bangalore/2002, the song has some major highlights, not the least being that Mrinal played the guitar, while Sashi played the drums! Another highlight was JD's keyboard playing - he didn't know the song, and learned it as we were performing it on stage - something you can hear loud and clear in the recording! And Gaurav, who at least had the sense to ask Mrinal what the chords were, 2 seconds before the song started, thumped away merrily on the bass.

Linux Can! at Linux Bangalore/2002
Phenom performing "Linux Can!" at Linux Bangalore/2002

The crowd was on it's feet, Atul (who was managing us by then, but had no clue that we were going to pull this stunt) sat on the floor before the stage grinning like an idiot, pleased as punch, and we had a very memorable performance, indeed.

The "Rushed" version

In 2003, at the same event, we played a completely different version. This time, instead of the straight 4/4 beat, we "Rushed" it - with a complex, technical beat that behooved our flavour of the year - progressive rock. Geddy Lee would have been proud of us, but unfortunately we have no recordings of the session. :( Which may be a good thing - we discovered later that the lead guitar had serious fretting problems and things sounded kinda weird on the PA, though it sounded great in our heads!

Linux Can! at FOSS.IN/2005

Fast forward to 2005, where we performed again at FOSS.IN. This time, the guitarist was Tiny, and he gave the song a completely new interpretation, as you can see the partial video below (Thanks for the video, Swaroop!)

Phenom performing Linux Can! at FOSS.IN/2005

The Linux Can! Controversy

This time, things didn't end there - the press got wind of this one, and given the circumstances just after this event, the song found itself featured centrepiece in an article in the mainstream press! This, of course, resulted in a gadzillion hits on our website, and tons of downloads of this song (and all our other songs).

2006 - Another year, another version

One more jump - the very next year, FOSS.IN decided to use the song again. But this time, we didn't perform it live - instead, Gaurav worked with Thermal and a Quarter guitarist Tony Das to redo the song yet another time, and it became the theme of the event, played to mightily pleased crowds at the closing function.

We are quite pleased to see this little ditty take a life of its own, and hope others will follow suit to bring out new versions of the song. If you do please let us know!, so that we can link to it!


Here are downloads of some of the versions of the song:

  1. Mrinal_and_Atul_-_Linux_Can.mid
    The original MIDI file created in August 2000 using Jazz++ under Linux

  2. Mrinal_and_Atul_-_Linux_Can.mp3
    The same as (1) but rendered as an MP3 file for easier listening

  3. linuxcan-phenom.mp3
    Phenom performing Linux Can! at Linux Bangalore/2002

  4. LinuxCan.mp4
    Video of Phenom performing Linux Can! at FOSS.IN/2005

  5. linuxcan2006.mp3
    Tony Das' version of Linux Can!, recorded for FOSS.IN/2006