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Mosko – Teeth

10 Feb
Gorgeous artwork by Rudraksh Banerjie and Khyati Trehan

Mosko’s debut EP, Teeth, has been a long time coming. The Delhi dance-rock band’s initial duo of Kavya Trehan and Moses Koul have been touring under the moniker since 2014, and their EP release last month has come after three years of work and a reworked lineup (now featuring drummer Suyash Gabriel and bassist Amar Pandey). After so much energy, and effort, and labour, is the payoff worth it?

Short answer: yes.

Teeth is a solid showcase of the band’s unique energy. It’s a mish-mash of ideas and inspirations, jumping around not just across songs but within songs. The album plays fast and loose with the hyphen between the band’s two genres, shifting between danceable rhythms and headbanging beats. It’s far, far too short a release, but offers so much in that small amount of time.

First up is “Smooth,” which perfectly describes Mosko’s sound. The whole song alternates driven grungy guitar riffs (think Nirvana circa “Lithium”) with a more poppy, whirly 3-3-2 organ rhythm. The song is constantly shifting rhythms and beats, but instead of sounding disconnected it just works, because of the way Gabriel’s incredible drumming and Pandey’s competent bass-work backs up Trehan’s powerful vocals. I can only imagine how much of a crowd-puller this song would be live, just by virtue of how far it carries its energy.

Up next is “Mosey Pants,” one of the two tracks co-written by the band’s earlier bassist Abhinav Chaudhury and drummer Karan Malick. It’s upbeat, with some highly infectious guitar licks and solos, yet with just the right number of breath-catching moments to help you keep up. Perfect crowd-puller.

“Ydek” shifts down a gear or two in tempo and beat, while maintaining the energy levels. It’s a measured gathering-of-the-clouds sort of sound, which never quite breaks the levee but never quite needs to.

The final track, “Drance 109,” starts off sounding vaguely Arctic Monkeys and ends up sounding like organised chaos (in a good way). Trehan’s weaponised voice is the lynchpin that ties the explosion together, with space left over for Koul’s guitar work to fill in the rest with a sound ranging from the sharpest electronica to the muddiest of metal.

Mosko performing “Smooth” on Balcony TV

The one drawback to Teeth as an EP ends up actually being the strength that’s going to ensure Mosko’s continuing success: it’s an album that’s guaranteed to sound better live. Mosko are forging ahead as primarily a duo, but the EP promises a duo that will fill up the stage. Teeth is an absolute tease of a release but in the best possible way, a promise of something more when aided by a bunch of massive speakers and a roaring crowd.T

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Pushing the Envelope: An Interview with LIFAFA

23 Jan

LIFAFA is the solo electronic project from Suryakant Sawhney, the lead singer of famed New Delhi indie / jazz outfit Peter Cat Recording Co. While Peter Cat’s music is often a dizzying mishmash of influences ranging from cabaret to psychedelia, LIFAFA is more focused in its palette: desi, electronic, nostalgic, intimate – yet danceable, too.

After a well-received debut EP (In Hi Ko) in 2014, Sawhney released a follow-up EP, Jaago, this month. Our favorite song from the album is the title track. With its harmonium-based intro and Sawhney’s wistful vocals, the listener is immediately pulled back into a Technicolor yesteryear. About halfway through, however, the song melds seamlessly into a dance track that references the same old-timey tones – cinematic swirls, dramatic embellishments – but in a fresh, modern way.

We recently sat down with LIFAFA for a quick chat about the new music, artistic influences, and much more. Read on:

Top Five Records: On Soundcloud, you describe your new track “Jaago” as Bhajan EDM, and honestly we could not put it any other way. How would you describe the LIFAFA sound overall?

LIFAFA: It’s a place where I’d like to imagine I have a completely blank infinitely large canvas to try whatever I like, however niche an idea  and attempt to refine it till its limit before wiping it all clean and starting again on something else. So I guess right now what I’m working on is the sort of Hindi music I wish I heard playing around me. I’ve been driven insane by the fucking awful shit I hear playing outside on radios and giant tower speakers and I hope people steal or buy my music just so some of those speakers are tranquilized.

TFR: Where does Peter Cat end and LIFAFA begin? For example, are there some snippets that you shelve away because they have a more “LIFAFA” sound to them?

LIFAFA: For one, I’ve generally tried to steer those songs which require the precision of dance music production towards LIFAFA. I don’t necessarily separate on the basis of language or quality. But most importantly I’m never in both mind frames simultaneously anyway. It’s a switch I have tried to build slowly which allows me oscillate between a human who thinks and feels in English and one who thinks and feels in Hindi. It takes a bit of time to turn into either person again and everybody must suffer.

TFR: As with Peter Cat, your solo music has a dreamscape kind of feel – it’s often like listening to a lucid dream. How would you describe your creative process? Do you land on the mood of the track first, or is it something else?

LIFAFA: My music all hinges on there being one definite moment where the initial melody, beat or combination struck home. It’s important to remember why you fell in love with a song or were attracted to it and then later down the road, the real test is in trying to recreate that moment in time while upgrading its general production (without losing what give it that soul). I can generally remember the exact moment a song was born. That’s a large reason I made more lo-fi music, because I also felt that, during the process of cleaning it up or re-recording, something vanishes.

TFR: Your music references so many types of art – other genres of music, the Technicolor drama of old Hindi films, and so on. What would you say are your key influences as a musician?

LIFAFA: It’s an ever growing list, starting from my childhood or my memories and tragedies, to neoclassical American music, to jazz, to Vrindavan, to physics, to YouTube, to Jordan Peterson and the Internet. Ultimately in time, I’d like to reference reality and not other art which is just somebody else’s reference to reality. There is no key influence, just the desire to keep re-informing myself and constantly changing.

TFR: You just had your new album launch in early January. Congratulations! Tell us a little about the album. What’s different this time around? What inspired you on this one?

LIFAFA: Well, for one, it’s better produced than my older work. It’s all in Hindi or Hindustani. It’s hard for me to answer this. I think a lot of what I said in the first question is relevant here. I was certainly driven by the idea of attempting to push Indian culture forward, in its own way, and ingest global ideas without become one. Blah, blah, blah. Also, I grew tired of making deeply personal music which I do in English and attempted to find a place where I responded more to my external environment, being Delhi and India, rather than just my own inner psyche.

TFR: Very interesting, thank you. Before we wrap up this interview, we have a few quick-fire questions for you. Here goes!

TFR: What are some album(s) on constant rotation recently?

LIFAFA: Pavilion of Dreams by Harold Budd (can’t get enough). However, I generally listen to tracks and not albums. I’m obsessed with “After the Rain” by John Coltrane these days. “Jamuna Kinare Mora gaon” by Prabha Atre has become a favorite, thanks to a friend.

TFR: What’s your favorite Hindi movie of all time?

LIFAFA: Muqaddar ka Sikander for its music, dialogue and beautiful approach to morality and tragedy. Everything about it is sublime and it never ceases to be accessible, which is the real achievement.

TFR: Drink of choice?

LIFAFA: Bourbon. Bailey’s.

TFR: What’s been your best gig so far?

LIFAFA: So far – at a particular show at the Serralves festival in Portugal, a couple decided to get married while I played “Irradon” and asked me to announce it for them.

TFR: And finally, who would you say is an Indian artist you love? (Not necessarily a musician)

LIFAFA: Amit Dutta, a filmmaker. I only saw fragments of his work and instantly knew he was on a another level. Yet to watch anything by him completely because I keep forgetting to. Some people just frighten me.

You can listen to LIFAFA on Soundcloud, Bandcamp, Apple Music and YouTube. Check out the official website for more information.

Taking a Ride with Ladies Compartment: An Interview

15 Jan
Image by Blankfound Creative

Ladies Compartment is a Mumbai four-piece comprising of Ramya Pothuri (acoustic & vocals), Aarifah Rebello (drums & vocals), Aditi Ramesh (keys & vocals) and Nandita V (bass & vocals).

The band’s sound is a refreshing mix of jazz, soul and blues, with the occasional, intriguing addition of Carnatic classical music. Beyond their sonic palette, the band’s mastery of vocal harmonization really sets them apart. For a taste, have a look at their version of the Beatles’ “Blackbird”. A lone guitar forms a tentpole for the ladies’ four perfectly harmonized vocals in a haunting, stripped-down rendition: a truly unique cover of a timeless classic.

Video by Ladies Compartment via YouTube

If you’re just getting to know the band, let us assure you that these women are not newbies to the scene. Aditi and Ramya are singer-songwriters with a debut EP each; Aarifah, a singer-songwriter in her own right, drums for several other acts, and Nandita is an up-and-coming bassist in the indie music industry. The strength of their individual musical talent creates an easy-going camaraderie that’s highly listenable – and repeatable, too.

We sat down with the ladies earlier this week for a quick chat about their influences, experiences, and plans for the coming year. Read on:

Top Five Records: There’s a great mix of genres in your music – soul, funk, and glimpses of many others, too. What are your key musical influences as a band and as individuals?

Ladies Compartment: Individually, we are four musicians with very different tastes and styles, and we bring our individual influences together to create the sound of Ladies Compartment. If one were to consolidate all of our interests and influences, the list would include Soul, R&B, Funk, Folk, Indian Classical, Jazz, Alternative Rock, Dream Pop, Progressive Rock, Western Classical and Blues music. But these are just influences – we don’t like to label our music because we find this limiting, and one can always go beyond these labels and boundaries when creating music.

TFR: Some of your tunes are well-harmonized ditties while others are much more jazzy and freeform. Give us a little detail into your songwriting process. How do you go about it?

LC: There is no one process we follow. With our earlier songs, Aditi would come up with chords and a rough melody. The band would add instrumentation together, while Ramya and Aditi worked on lyrics and Aarifah and Nandita sealed the piece with smooth transitions and rhythmic patterns. With one of our newer songs, Nandita wrote the lyrics, melody, bassline and backing vocal parts, and the band fleshed it out by adding instruments and modifying the chord structures in certain bits. In our newest song, Aarifah created a rhythmic pattern which the whole band then sat together in one space. Each of us have written our own verse over the same music and you can see how different we are as individuals by the varied ways in which we all have interpreted the music. There is no one process we follow, and we are continuously experimenting with different methods.

TFR: What has been your experience so far as an all-female project in the Indian indie music industry?

LC: We have been well-received and supported by multiple platforms and performance spaces. We have pushed forward by focusing on our music, but the truth remains that people love to overuse and push the ‘all-female’ aspect for branding and this sometimes shifts focus away from the music. We’re trying to move away from this type of branding.

TFR: With the indie scene still being at a somewhat nascent stage, what changes would you like to see for artists to really succeed and cross over into larger audiences?

LC: Monetary returns for artists in the indie scene need to go up. There needs to be more respect for artists, and the careers of artists need to be more sustainable for artists to grow and reach larger audiences. There is an attitude with many venues that if they can get the same act for a lower cost they’ll take the opportunity and pay them less. As a result, many artists are scrambling for survival, and this often stunts their artistic development and ability to reach more people.

TFR: You are hot off a performance at Weekender’s Pune edition this year. How was that experience?

LC: We had a lovely, supportive audience and it was the first time we performed on such a large stage.

TFR: What’s on the radar for Ladies Compartment in 2019?

LC: We are finally going to be recording our original music and releasing it this year. We are also in the process of writing more songs and arranging new covers, so you can expect new material at our live performances this year as well!

TFR: If you had to recommend one or two songs of yours for our first-time listeners, what would they be?

LC: “General Specific” and “Don’t Waste Your Time”.

Ladies Compartment performing “Don’t Waste Your Time” on the talk-show Son of Abish

TFR: Thank you, ladies. Before we wrap up, let’s do a short quick-fire round!

TFR: What would be your dream collaboration (any artist, alive or not)?

LC: Jorja Smith.

TFR: What’s a tune or album that’s been on constant rotation?

LC: “If I Get High” by Nothing But Thieves.

TFR: What’s been your favorite gig so far?

LC: When we were told that our gig at a prominent venue in Bangalore was cancelled upon reaching the venue and we put together a house gig instead, within an hour, with the help of our friends from Bangalore Recording Company and LVNG!

TFR: Who’s an Indian musician / band that you really admire?

LC: Sandunes.

Check out Ladies Compartment’s music on Facebook, Youtube and Soundcloud.

Fresh Voice: A Conversation with Srijit Bhowmick

6 Oct

Sri My Indie Playlist With Sri Vol01 Image 01_Srijit Bhowmick_PC Jyotirmoy Gupta

Srijit Bhowmick is a promising young singer-songwriter from Mumbai. In August 2017, he released his three-track EP Sri, a lilting mix of solid songwriting and good musical instincts. Bhowmick has a unique voice and wields it bravely. Although his tone itself is pleasant enough, his distinction lies in the way he makes his voice glide, shorten, elongate and stretch around the music.

Barely a month after his EP release, Bhowmick was featured on an Apple Music playlist celebrating Indian pop for “Am I Here”, an elliptical, wistful track that showcases his vocals – he makes a growl mutate into an echoing shout and a falsetto transform into a haunting whisper with seeming ease. (Funnily enough, we found “Am I Here” to be the least likely contender of the three songs for a pop music list, but what do we know about lists?)

“Yesterday’s Child” is a short but well-written ode to the growing pains associated with a disappointing middle age – bills, mortgages, all of that fun stuff. Bhowmick’s soothing guitar melody is supported well by piano, played by his associate Hrushabh Talapadatur. “Helpless” is our favorite track, though. The guitar work is deft and well-arranged, and Bhowmick’s voice is tethered within ranges that most people would consider pleasant. The lyrics are pretty good too, with clever lines that easily bring to mind a lost love. Maybe it’s the Dylan-tinged nostalgia that set it off, but we definitely got a whiff of Jake Bugg here.

We recently caught up with Sri for his take on his eponymous EP, his musical influences, and more. Check it out below!

So, let’s start at the beginning. Tell us a bit about yourself! 

I’m an indie singer-songwriter and I write songs about life. I was born in Calcutta but grew up in Bombay from the age of seven. Studying for Engineering/Medical was the stereotypical middle-class expectation, so I picked up the guitar as a replacement in high school. I always liked music and could always sing. And so, it began.

I have been writing for almost eight years now. It wasn’t until 2014 that I felt my solo material was taking some form and shape, something I could be really proud of. By 2016, I felt I finally had good enough material to go live with and so, I’ve been at it ever since.

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We listened through your three-track EP Sri a few times already, and we love it! To us, your music seems to draw influences from Dylan-era sounds as well as newer artists like Alex Turner – but we’d love to hear from you. What would you count as your greatest influences, musical or otherwise?

That feels great, thank you! Dylan-era sounds have influenced me quite a bit in terms of songwriting. Such a defining period in the history of music – I believe the 60s influenced almost everyone directly or indirectly. Having said that, it’s always a difficult thing to answer, because I’ve had a so many different sets of musical influences over time in phases that they must have consciously or otherwise become a part of my “musicality”.

Growing up, I had the stereotypical Indian mainstream influences coupled with what my Bengali roots provided. I picked up the guitar in high school, and so that became such an important time for discovering more music. Since then, my biggest influences have been Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Aerosmith, Dire Straits, Guns ‘n Roses, Nirvana, Pearl Jam, Simon & Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Radiohead, Cat Stevens, Oasis, Iron Maiden and various others, alongside some Bangla rock acts and a lot of urban Indian indie music. As for my writing, many movies have played a huge part. I was lucky enough to have enjoyed Satyajit Ray’s films since a young age; Rashomon, Hazaroon Khwaishein Aisi and Schindler’s List have also touched me deeply.

I would always sing at home, but with the introduction of guitar in life, I could improvise and jam with myself and I think that was a turning point. All of it was self-learned. I did the same with words, experimenting, pouring out whatever that came to my mind, and I think together those things sort of synced sometime around 2014.

I think tastes and attitudes are partly affected by our surroundings. As we know more, we are able to choose the ones we’d like to keep, and discard the rest, and figure out where to look for new ones. That is how the evolution of my musical influences has been, and I think my music reflects that. For example, “Yesterday’s Child” has got a little bit of a folksy vibe, almost like American folk music, but “Am I Here” and “Helpless” have maybe a bit of rock ‘n roll seeped in. Of course, it’s up to the listeners.

Tell us a little about your songwriting process. What comes first – the music, the lyrics, or something else altogether?

Usually, it’s a bit of this and a bit of that. I may have a musical idea and then try scribbling something down. And then I add some more musical ideas. Or the other way around – it really depends on the mood, or what’s on my mind. Did I read something that affected me or observed something or someone or pondered over things or just imagined situations? There’s a lot of to and fro to it. You arrive at a moment, or you try to go back to that musical idea you wrote months and years back as well. There are songs I have written in 10 minutes and there are songs I have literally worked at for days. The whole thing is almost maddening to the outside world but there’s an underlying process I’ve chalked out over the years.

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Your song was recently featured on an Apple Music list celebrating fresh new voices in Indian independent pop. That must have felt awesome! What do you have lined up to promote your EP and spread the word going forward?

It felt really great! I think “Am I Here” is still on there and that’s amazing, given that it’s from my first-ever EP and that it’s alongside such stellar Indian indie acts.

Most importantly, I’d love to play as many gigs as I can, take my music to new places, and hopefully plan a tour. My music is best experienced in the quiet embrace of a listening audience as it allows for my art to flow. Having said that, I’m an indie musician and if you pay me to play to your dog and cat, I will. Plus, cats and dogs are such amazing creatures, so why not!

I would also like to interact more with people on the business side of music. It always helps for an artist to stick to music and grow as a musician, while having better choices and help when it comes to handling the business side of it. I would also love to work on a music video or two. And if there are musicians who really like my music and are interested to work with me, I’d be glad to explore those possibilities as well.

And finally, let’s do a couple of rapid-fire questions!

  • Favorite album of all time? 

I am not much of an album person – when I was younger, I would listen to a song continuously for days and months even, until the shine wore off, before moving on. I believe that each song has got a universe of its own. That being said, Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska was an album that has had a huge influence on me and on my singer-songwriter craftsmanship.

  • Last song that you heard (that wasn’t your own)? 

Warfaze’s “Purnota”, Dire Straits’ “Why Worry”, and Parvaaz’s “Ghaib”

  • Dream venue to play your music, anywhere in the world? 

Nowhere in particular. Wherever I get paid with a good listening audience is perfect for me.

You can check out Sri on SoundCloud and Apple Music

 

NH7 Weekender, Kolkata 2015

18 Nov

Well, it is finally over.

Months of anticipation and planning, the mad rush for tickets, waiting in bated breath for the biggest music festival of the city; and NH7 Weekender lived up to all of that and then some more.

nh7It had started quite a few months back, when the entire music-loving community of the city was shocked by the announcement of this year’s lineup. Megadeth: the name was enough to send the city scurrying for tickets. Shillong and Kolkata would witness Megadeth, while Delhi, Pune and Bangalore would have A.R. Rahman. However, unlike the other venues, for Kolkata this was huge. While a few international bands have played here before, nothing of this scale had ever happened in the past. A lot of people had their doubts whether it would actually materialise in the end, but even the most pessimist of the lot bought the tickets anyway. No one risked regret.

Day 1

The venue this year was different, further away from the city centre and less accessible than the one which hosted the event last year. But on reaching the venue, we were surprised by how elaborately organised things were, right from vehicle parking provisions to free autorickshaw rides from the parking to the main arena. There were sufficient number of ticketing counters, all adequately staffed with crew members eager to help. Once we entered the venue after completing a thorough security check, we were greeted by the usual halcyon atmosphere. The entire ground was brilliantly decked up, with strategically placed pointers to the five main stages for the aid of music lovers running around trying to catch different acts, inflatable bean bags which came to the rescue of those aching legs, amazing food and beverage counters helping everyone to refuel their energy levels. What was good to see was the sheer diversity of the people who had turned up. The crowd included people from all age groups and all backgrounds, united by the love of music.

The biggies in the day 1 lineup included Kailash Kher and his band, Nucleya, Parikrama, the Baiju Dharmajan Syndicate and Cactus, representing the local rock music scene. Kailasa rocked the stage belting out his signature hits like Rand Deeni, Tauba Tuaba, Saiyaan and Teri Deewani. He even invited some girls on stage to shake a leg with him. Guess whose gig overlapped partly with Kailasa? It was Udyan Sagar aka Nucleya. While he has been in the music scene for almost 15 years now, it was the release of his EP Koocha Monster back in 2013 that placed him right in the centre of India’s rising EDM scene. The crowd lapped up everything he served, right from the bass-heavy tracks of Koocha Monster to the more futuristic ones from his most recent EP Bass Rani. Cactus shouldered the lone responsibility of showcasing Bengali rock at this year’s festival and man did they step up! The Bacardi arena was chock-a-block with people cheering and singing along to tracks like Holud Pakhi, Buddha Heshechhe and Shudhu Tumi Ele Na. The Baiju Dharmajan Syndicate and Parikrama also performed at the Bacardi arena amidst much adulation of Indian rock fans.

Baiju Dharmajan bends some strings

Baiju Dharmajan bends some strings

I was a tad bit disappointed with the former in the sense that it was less of a group act and more of a solo show, but then listening to the ‘God of the Small Strings’ is always a delight. Among some of the other quality acts which stood out were those by Nischay Parekh, Prateek Kuhad and Swarathma. One guy who deserved special mention was Jivraj Singh, who had two consecutive performances. He played with Nischay Parekh at first on the Jack & Jones All Star Jamm stage, and then followed it up with a mindblowing act on the Moto Spotlight stage as part of PINKNOISE. The band originally consisted of lead guitarist Amyt Datta, Jivraj on drums and his parents, bassist Gyan Singh and vocalist Jayashree Singh. However, since Gyan Singh passed away they have been playing as a trio. While the performance was quite impressive and refreshing to say the least, Jivraj shone brightly with his futuristic-looking drum setup and plethora of skills.

Day 2

With an even more action-packed lineup, the second day of Weekender kicked off with acts by Neeraj Arya’s Kabir Cafe with their neo-fusion rock set and The Bartender with their refreshing jazzy take on old Bollywood classics like Khoya Khoya Chand, Hawa Hawai, etc. Comparatively smaller local bands like Underground Authority, Neel and The Lightbulbs gave impressive performances as well. Two separate metal acts which added to the all-metal atmosphere were Zygnema and Undying Inc, both at the Bacardi Arena. They had metalheads going crazy, building on to the anticipation for the headlining act of the night. Amidst all the metal hullabaloo, there were a couple of biggies which stole the limelight by their own right. The first was Papon and The East India Company. Now while a few of their songs were quite well-received and got the crowd grooving and singing along to the folk-fusion on offer, personally I expected them to deliver a bit more. Shaa’ir+Func, lead by Monica Dogra delivered a powerful performance at the Motorola Indie stage. However, the biggest gig of the evening apart from Megadeth had to be the one by The Wailers. There is something transcendental about good reggae music. From the moment vocalist Dwayne ‘Danglin’ Anglin, Aston ‘Family Man’ Barrett and company started crooning, the whole ambience was transformed into a magical one. Get Up  Stand Up, Buffalo Soldier and No Woman No Cry got literally thousands of people singing along. The rastafari spirit was further augmented when they called Papon upon stage to accompany them in rendering the cult song Exodus.

The crowd from every nook and corner thronged to the Bacardi arena as soon as the Megadeth records started blaring out around 8:15 pm. The acoustic system sounded a lot like the JBL VTX series which debuted in India in the 2013 edition of the Delhi Weekender to me, but I couldn’t be sure. The chants of ‘Megadeth’ only grew louder by the minute and metalheads were almost on the verge of getting impatient when the band took stage. It was about 8:50 pm. They opened with Hangar 18, took a small break and came back to belt out consecutive electric performances of songs like In My Darkest Hour, Trust and Sweating Bullets. One of the highlights of the act was that Chris Adler, the drummer from Lamb of God, was collaborating with Megadeth as part of a world tour before the release of their joint studio album Dystopia, which is scheduled for release next year.

Megadeth

Megadeth

While Megadeth has never really had any one drummer for too long, Shawn Drover was doing a pretty good job for the last 10 years, which  also made him the third longest serving member of the band after Dave and David. Now while Shawn was one amazing drummer by his own right, I had always felt he was too technical for the style of music Megadeth stands for. Chris Adler, however, is in a different league altogether. A perfect blend of technique and soul, with some of the most killing kick techniques and double bass I have ever heard. That Chris didn’t have a lot of time to fully adapt to all the songs of the band was evident, as he did take a little time to slowly warm up. But by the time Dave had launched into Fatal Illusion, one of the songs from Dystopia, Chris had come into his own. What followed was 45 minutes of sheer frenzy, with back to back hits like A Tout Le Monde, Symphony of Destruction, Peace Sells But Who’s Buying, with the band choosing to end with Holy Wars. From some serious headbanging to moshpits, the Kolkata crowd matched the band’s enthusiasm every step of the way. Insane shredding from Dave, bass solos from David, it was the entire package alright. While the stage lighting could have been better, the screen in the background played clips from movies which had references to Megadeth, like Silver Linings Playbook and Wayne’s World 2, in between songs. By the time Megadeth were done and gracefully bowed out in true spirit of artists, the crowd had gone bonkers and were still screaming their lungs out for some more.

As the people sauntered back with sore throats, aching necks and numb legs, all I could hear was how amazing an experience they had had and how they could not wait for the next edition already. Music had won the day once again.

words: Sayandeep Majumder, pictures courtesy the NH7 Weekender Facebook page.

Sayandeep is the default bong you run into when you saunter around the streets of Calcutta on a lazy Saturday evening. At other times, you can find him riding his bike (which he adores), watching football, or pretending to read Nietzsche. Unlike a default bong, however, he spends a fair amount of time in front of the mirror, styling his hair. He also possesses an eclectic musical taste, which was, unfortunately, all we looked at.

Bringing Out the Big Guns: A Conversation with Sriram TT of Skrat

13 Feb

Chennai-based three-piece Skrat is one of the most original bands in India. Their brand of lager-laden rock ‘n roll riffs have captured the imaginations of thousands of fans across the country. Recently, they debuted their third full-length independent album, The Queen. Singer/guitarist Sriram TT sat down with Top Five Records to talk about formative musical influences, the Skrat crew, a comic book-style universe of Skrat characters, and much more. Read on for an excerpt of the conversation.

Picture courtesy Skrat's Facebook page.

Picture courtesy Skrat’s Facebook page.

Top Five Records: Let’s start from the basics. I’ve seen some interviews and things you’ve done, and I understand that your band name is from Ice Age. But beyond the name, how did you guys meet?

Sriram: The band formed around the time we were all getting into college. Tapass and I have been friends since kindergarten. I’d met Satish through school cultural fests and common friends, so I’d already known him for a few years. It all came together.

TFR: There’s a lot of varied influences I can see in your music. What did you grow up listening to?

S: Actually, my house was always filled with country music and old swing jazz, the Rat Pack and Davis and stuff like that. My dad’s a big audiophile, so all the music I’d listened to at that time was predominantly from my dad. So it was a lot of country, a little bit of blues, and a lot of the Rat Pack kind of music. There was some older R&B as well. My dad really likes to explore and find new music.

TFR: So your parents are cool with you guys having the band and everything?

S: Of course! They love it. My father’s a big fan of music, and my mum likes music as well. In fact, my dad always wanted to be in something like this but never got around to doing it. I wouldn’t say they are the incredibly forward-thinking kind of support that you may expect, but not forbidding [the music] is a big support for me.

TFR: I was at Weekender for the past few years, and your stage presence is just amazing! This time at the NH7 Weekender in Bangalore, Skrat played back-to-back with TAAQ, which I found really interesting because both of you were debuting new albums. Everyone loves your popular songs like “Tin Can Man” and “Samurai Badass”, but how do you get people to move away from that and listen to your newer material?

S: The biggest challenge for most musicians is, once you’ve created something that people like, how can you create something new that people are going to gravitate towards. A while ago, we had a band meeting to decide whether we should make music more like “Tin Can Man”, because people like that sort of thing. At one point, we realized that we’re not trying to make music, we’re trying to engineer it. So we dropped everything and decided to whatever we wanted to do. If people like it, they like it.

And it’s actually been a positive response. All of the reviews say that this album was a lot better. And I do feel that The Queen has caught on a lot faster than the older albums caught on at that time. In fact, we actually get people singing along to and shouting out for newer songs like “Machete” and “Stomp”.

TFR: Yeah, we really loved your album. It’s funny that you mentioned “Machete” and “Stomp”. I wanted to ask you about these two songs (since they don’t even have words in the chorus), and how they relate to your song-writing process in general. Does the riff come first, or do the words come first?

S: “Machete” is based on a big problem we have in Tamil Nadu, and everywhere really: about politicians and goons being the same thing, basically. We’ve always been subjected to torture by these guys, with their white cars and plastic flags – whether it’s something small like creating ruckus on the road, or something big like not letting a business deal go through because they didn’t get their cut. So on “Machete”, the two verses are kind of like a rant against all that, and the chorus is about how there’s nothing to lose when they have nothing to black-mail you with. And that’s why the chorus has no words. (Laughs)

Stomp” is a similar thing, but more about a person being subjected to this kind of stuff. On this song, the words and riff kind of came to me simultaneously. I had originally made the song on an acoustic guitar. In fact, the reason we called it “Stomp” was because the whole song was supposed to be me on an acoustic guitar and a board; very Delta blues kind of thing. And then we tried it on electric and the whole thing became heavy and fun, so we decided to go with that.

TFR: A song that we mentioned before was “Samurai Badass”, which is probably your most well-known song. I think you guys are into manga and anime, so is it related to that?

S: (Laughs) Yeah, we’re big comic fans. More into cartoons and comic books than anime, but yeah. “Samurai Badass” is basically an alter ego of what we were feeling at the time. It boils down to the same thing that Skrat’s been talking about: the only way one person can be not pushed around is if he has nothing to lose.

I find my writing to be a lot more authentic if I am able to create a character having the qualities I want to sing about, rather than singing about the qualities themselves. Suppose I wanted to say, “A person who has nothing to lose can’t be pushed around”. I could have said these lines in a song, but I thought, why not create a character who has nothing to lose and can’t be pushed around? That was my original intent, when I wrote the song on acoustic guitar. But then Tapass came in and said, “Dude, let’s try this on electric!” and that’s how that happened.

TFR: You seem to have so many acoustic versions of Skrat songs. You should actually do an acoustic show!

S: Actually, all of the Skrat songs, whether you believe it or not, are made on an acoustic guitar! (Laughs) And “Samurai” was supposed to be like an Irish pub song, where you get together with friends and drink beer. It kind of became this heavy punk rock song with the electric.

The cool thing now is these characters that we have been developing. Our first album Design had a character called Gunslinger who we brought back in The Queen. I’ve now started working on an entire character universe, and all the characters on all Skrat songs belong to this universe: Tin Can Man, Samurai Badass, Gunslinger, The Queen, Loverider. It’s basically how I grew up. Wild imagination, imaginary friends, single child, all of that stuff.

TFR: Tell us about the Skrat crew. Who are these people, and how do you get them to follow you around?

S: Anyone who helps Skrat, like photographers and sound engineers, are basically part of the Skrat crew. The concept has really caught on ever since we introduced it in 2013. The crew has taken complete ownership. Now we’re coming out with a short movie, revolving around how the entire Skrat crew rode on bikes for our 20-day tour last year.

TFR: Oh, is this the Loverider Experience?

S: Yes, it is. On tour, sometimes I’d wake up in the morning, and these guys would already be in a Skrat meeting. They told me that my job is to write songs, play and do interviews. So they really take ownership. And the Skrat crew has slowly been expanding. It’s 40 to 50 people now! It gives me a little fear because I’m not even paying them, and they are just coming along because they like the music or they’re my friends. On our fourth album, which we’ve already started writing, we’ve put in a song dedicated to the Skrat crew.

TFR: Something we’ve all wondered at Top Five Records is about how Chennai is able to produce so many unique, well-formed bands: Skrat, the Shakey Rays, the F16s, Adam and the Fish-Eyed Poets. Is there something in the water there?

S: I think it’s because we’re slightly remote from any scene. Bombay has its scene, Bangalore has its scene, and you’ve got the scene people. We’ve had no “right way” to do it. We could do whatever we wanted because it was music in the end. It’s not like that in a lot of scenes. You know all those arguments saying, if you don’t like Pink Floyd, then how can you like RATM? So I’m one of those guys who says, I’m a big fan of Limp Bizkit but I don’t really like David Bowie, and people just lose their shit! “How can you say that? You have no taste in art!” and all that.

Another reason is that we’ve all kind of grown up together in Chennai, musically and otherwise. And of course, the fact that it’s Chennai adds a little bit of mystery. So we don’t really have a scene, and we just go off to Bangalore or Bombay to do shows.

TFR: There’s not many venues in Chennai, either.

S: Nothing, absolutely nothing, which is why there’s no scene. But, there’s always a flip-side to it. Chennai has no scene but it has a lot of good bands coming up.

TFR: You mentioned that things in the industry are geared towards more established cities like Bombay and Bangalore. Was it tough to break into the music scene as a Chennai band?

S: Very. Everyone knows Skrat as a band from 2012, but we’ve been a band from 2006. The first six years were just hell. During 2009 to 2010, we had about 20 shows that were cancelled on us in a matter of about 8 months. They’d book us, and then they’d cancel. It was very demotivating, and we’d never get gigs, let alone paid gigs. Even free gigs would get cancelled. Because of all this, a lot of bands contemporary with us broke up.

But Tapass and I had this one thing we’d always say to each other: we’ll play. We’ll play for two people, three people, doesn’t matter. There was no crew or anything at that time, absolutely barebones. We did these things called “sell-outs” where we did RATM covers. Even then, it sucked. Our original guitarist and original vocalist had quit. We ended up as a three-piece, and it really sucked. It was like one of those dreams where you’re running and you can’t run fast enough. It was depressing.

Around that time, we were in a jam session and we were really frustrated. Tapass threw his toms and said, “Fuck it, I don’t want to do it.” I plugged out of my pedal board and went directly into the amp, and we said, “Fuck it, let’s just play something, just for fun.” And in about an hour, we made all of the songs on “In the Shed”. We just jammed, and it suddenly gave us the answer we were looking for.

TFR: Nice. Like true punk in a way.

S: Yeah, or whatever punk means in India, at least. Listen, everybody in India has decent parents and grandmothers. There’s no way you’re punk rock, please. If someone comes up to me and says they’re punk, I’d say, “Fuck you, go home and eat thaiyir sadam.” Punk rock was invented to fight people like Lady Gaga, but in India we don’t have a Lady Gaga, we have Bollywood. Abroad, people may listen to both Lady Gaga as well as punk rock, but here, the people who listen to Bollywood don’t even care about us! That’s why I never go out and diss Bollywood. I think what they’re doing is genius, and we should figure out a way to cash in on what they’re doing.

TFR: Very true. So for this last part, I have a few rapid fire questions to ask you. First one. Who’s one artist in India that you really click with?

S: I would have to say the F16s.

TFR: Favorite venue, and why?

S: High Spirits, Pune. Everyone’s there to have a good time. They’re going have a good time whether you’re good or not, and if they think you’re good, they have an even better time. It’s a great vibe, and I love the management there.

TFR: Favorite album of all time?

S: Chocolate Starfish and the Hot Dog Flavored Water by Limp Bizkit.

TFR: Very left-of-centre. I’m glad you didn’t say Revolver by The Beatles or something.

S: No chance. I’m a Beatles fan, but no, man.

TFR: Last one. What’s on your playlist right now?

S: Dinosaur Pile-up. Got introduced to them in NH7 Weekender. A country artist called Shovels & Rope. And Ty Segal.

Bacardi Nh7 Weekender, Kolkata 2014 – Day 1

11 Nov

The independent music culture in Calcutta has seen a long and meandering history. A history that begins back in the 1960s – a time when The Statesman still held the respect and the readership of the Bengalis, when the Communists were yet to form their first government in the state, and yes, when Park Street was still hip.

It has since then, gone into a period of decline, remained underground for a little over three decades, before resurfacing again, just before the turn of the new millenium. Cynics have always been ready to point out that this resurgence of alternative music in Calcutta has sorely lacked the class and exclusivity that had been the essence of the audacious, non-conformist acts from the sixties and seventies. But, the fact remains that Calcutta is, and will continue to be, a stronghold of India’s vibrant indie music scene. Therefore, it isn’t a surprise that the biggest celebration of indie-music in the country, has Calcutta on its map, every year.

Enter the Bacardi Nh7 Weekender.

We’re huge fans of this festival – you’d probably know that, if you have read this blog before – and we weren’t going to miss out on this year’s edition either. And when tickets for Calcutta went on sale earlier this year, we were probably one of the earliest to get our hands on them. The months that passed till the event kicked off on the 1st of November was pretty arduous, and it was made worse by the teasers that the Nh7 Facebook page kept exciting us with.

And then suddenly, it was there.

The first thing that struck me when I reached the venue, like it had, the last time in Bangalore as well, were the absolutely stunning aesthetics. The venue had been set up beautifully – the colours, the graphics, the stages – top notch stuff. There were colourful banners, cheerful graffiti and other brilliant pieces of art strewn all over the grounds. There were weird and whacky constructions, which piqued my interest for a while, but then remained largely forgotten when the main agenda of the evening, finally took off.

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The music. Oh my God, the music.

If you’re aware how the Nh7 Weekender works, you’d know that it has multiple arenas, where bands and solo artists perform simultaneously. Thus, it is impossible to attend every single act and watch it through till the end, unless you’re a ninja who can bend spacetime of his own volition. The idea is therefore to optimise your time at each of the arenas and chalk out a roadmap, well in advance, in order to fully enjoy the experience.

Saturday thus began with the electronic/funk duo, Madboy/Mink, atop the uber-cool Red Bull Tour Bus. As a starter, their nu disco music, which came with some pretty groovy synthesizer samples and neat guitar-work, provided the right ambience to get into the mood for the “happiest music festival”. Brownie points for Imaad Shah’s hairdo, and Saba Azad’s cuteness factor.

Madboy/Mink had scarcely been performing for half an hour, when my Weekender antennae reminded me that Blackstratblues were about to kick off on the Dewarists’ stage, and this was one act that I had no intention of missing.

I had never seen them live before, but I had had the fortune of seeing their frontman/lead guitarist, Warren Mendonsa at my previous Weekender. I was therefore, well aware of the galactic levels of skill that this one man packed behind his six strings. And I wasn’t disappointed. They began their set with their hugely popular instrumental from their 2007 album, Knights in Shining Armour – Anuva’s Sky, and then proceeded to blow a few hundred minds around the arena with their eclectic collection of blues melodies.

 

Warren Mendonsa of the Blackstratblues.

Warren Mendonsa of the Blackstratblues.

Forty five soul-stirring minutes later, we turned towards the MTS Discover stage where Ankur & The Ghalat Family were setting up for a Hindi gig, and without a second thought, I rushed off to the Tour Bus to meet my old friends, The F16s. The F16s is one band that I am quite familiar with, and while they did lack on the crowd-connection front, they made up for it, by setting a large number of heads shaking, and approximately twice the number of feet tapping with much rapidity. Amongst the songs that they played, was the wonderful “My Shallow Lover”, and the trippy “Avalanche”.

After seeing them play out atop the bus, we headed back to the Dewarists’ stage, where Soulmate, the three piece blues rock act from Shillong were going through their routine sound test. Fronted by the beautiful Tipriti Kharbangar and the clinical Rudy Walland, they played a mesmerizing blues set, topping it off, with what was unarguably the sexiest song of the evening – “If you were my guitar” – after which we rushed back to the Tour Bus and sprawled down upon the ground to give our feet a much needed respite, while Calcutta Local performed in the distance.

It was roughly 7:30 PM when we hoisted ourselves once more to plod over to The Dewarists’ stage yet again. The sun had set by then, and the stage was lit up in a shimmering shade of blue. The characteristic strumming of an acoustic guitar floated out of a dense cloud of dry ice, as the ever recognisable voice of Rupam Islam broke out in all of its grungy, acidic, melody. What followed was probably the best one hour of the whole evening.

Yes, as a Bengali who has grown up in Calcutta through the 90s and the 2000s, this wasn’t my first Fossils concert. But boy, oh boy, this is one band that I don’t think I can ever grow out of. As their cult classics rolled past, I think I lost track of time, space and everything in between. (What comes between time and space, I wonder?) An emotionally charged Rupam then hailed this as a definitive moment in the timeline of Bangla Rock, a moment when Bangla, as a language has broken through its limiting shackles and onto a cosmopolitan stage, and Bangla artists were seen as equals, alongside national and international artists of repute.

Rupam Islam of Fossils.

Rupam Islam of Fossils.

After a terrific one hour of intense Bangla Rock, we took a short break to refill ourselves and then went over to the Tour Bus to see a crooning Monica Dogra, solo. Strangely enough, her iconic mid-riff was nowhere to be seen, and even more strange, she wasn’t gyrating at all. Her gyration and mid-riff were all that I remembered from my last sighting of her at Bangalore, but this time around there was none of that. Truth be told, I wasn’t really paying much attention to what she was crooning, because it wasn’t something that excited me terribly, and because I was pretty certain that I had already seen the best of what the evening had to offer. I just sat there, because my poor feet seemed like they would revolt otherwise, and because I really needed this rest before the final two acts of the evening – which as we had guessed, and as we verified, were as far apart in styles as two dissimilar things could ever be.

On one hand, there was Bhayanak Maut, on the Bacardi arena, who are often touted as the heaviest, and the baddest musicians, in this part of the world. On the other hand, there was Amit Trivedi, the far more mellow and mainstream composer of Bollywood filmy songs. We, as gentlefolk often do, decided to focus on the latter, not because we were particularly fond of Amit Trivedi’s music, but because we had run out of steam and had no inclination to headbang and die brutal and anonymous deaths at the “happiest music festival in the country”. Therefore, after spending a short while amid the frantic growling and mosh pitting at the Bacardi arena, we decided to anchor ourselves at the Dewarists’ where we lived out the evening, till the end.

Amit Trivedi with his entourage.

Amit Trivedi with his entourage.

Bhayanak Maut

Bhayanak Maut

To cap it all off, it was a pretty awesome evening. The high points had been the Blackstratblues, The F16s, Soulmate and Fossils. The not so high points had been the entire  Micromax Mega Mix stage (which I had ventured towards, a couple of times, but had found it distasteful), and the unnecessarily crooning Monica Dogra with a non-existent mid-riff. But there had been more highs than lows, and some great highs at that. We hoped it would continue the next day, and we weren’t disappointed.

Read our Day 2 coverage here.

Words and photos by Subhayan Mukerjee (@wrahool)

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