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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.

DSCN0078

DSCN0087

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)

Experimental Perverteres: A Conversation with Begum

22 Jul

Photo courtesy Anika Mehta.

New Delhi-based Begum are the most exciting band we’ve heard this year. Two members of the band, Karthik Pillai and Karan Singh, are from the gypsy/cabaret/indie act Peter Cat Recording Company. With Begum, their unmistakable Peter Cat madness is flavored with bassist Kshitij Dhyani’s masterful touch of elegance. It’s a perfect combination.

It’s no wonder, then, that their lead single “Waiting” is such a stunning debut. Karthik syncs his trance-like guitar groove perfectly with his melancholy singing. Karan’s drumming breathes inside delicate spaces as well as it drives segues between different phrases. Kshitij’s basswork is understated and moody, and all the more indispensable for it. The lyrics are poetic enough to feel the song’s melancholy and mysterious enough to add your own imagination to it.


Top Five Records had the chance to have a little chat with this promising young band from the country’s capital. What transpired next was a mad, strangely thought-provoking affair, much like the band itself. Read for yourself:

Top Five Records: Let’s start with the basics. Why Begum? What’s behind the name?

Begum: The name Begum is a tribute to the Queen Preeto, who reigned during the 5th century of Salil Ankola in Noida Sector 18. During her reign, hipsters, indie musicians and other things you can find at dollar stores were given a special place in her court. Her patronage towards Chinese artifacts and other things without a future beyond six months inspired us to come together and produce music with the shelf life of a Durian.

TFR: What pulled you together to form Begum?

Begum: Two smugglers Kshitij and Kartik were caught illegally transporting guitar riffs across the border. During interrogation, they conceded their guilt and were summoned to deliver a bribe in the court of the Begum. While presenting their bounty to the all-knowing Begum, they accidentally hit a set of sacred occult notes. One of the Begum’s guards, Karan, ran to stop them and, before anyone could notice, they were transported to an alternate universe. Now the three men have joined forces to jam until they find the correct set of notes to go back home.

TFR: When did you guys first get into music? What did you grow up listening to?

Begum: We grew up listening to Government propaganda, still our favorite when we need to kick off them blues about our future or where this country is headed. We got into music to prolong this dreamy, blissful, ignorance-fuelled state of oblivion and share the perils with our concerned friends, relatives and parents. Our music comes recommended as the best background score for an intervention by one in four psychologists in Nangloi area of Delhi.

TFR: Tell us a little bit about your single “Waiting”. What’s the story behind it?

Begum: The brain has been flooded by the discharge of the pineal gland cutting off all connections to the body and leaving the brain in complete awareness of its descent into numbness. In the song, the individual is having flashbacks and is viewing himself/herself in second person and third person as he/she slides into death and emerges as free energy, alive and malleable with a certain amount of consciousness. In one word: transcendence.

TFR: Most of your online presence features the image of a lady wading into the ocean. Does the image have any particular symbolism?

Begum: That image was artwork for our single “Waiting” and made sense somehow in context with the song. It has now been changed to the artwork for our new single “Chinbien”, which is being exclusively launched by Wild City. These are Top Secret archival images of rejected ideas for a personality makeover media campaign for one of the top Indian politico-crats, rejected on the grounds of being too nauseatingly humane.

Photo courtesy Begum.

Photo courtesy Begum.

TFR: There’s a certain dreamy melodrama in your music that few other artists in India can attempt, let alone pull off so perfectly. What inspires you to create this very unique style of music?

Begum: It’s a natural state of being, we suppose, the slow motion (as slight as it may be) effect is something we appreciate. But we think this question is best answered by the following quote by former British Prime Minister Benjamin Disraeli, delivered in 1878 while delivering a speech in reference to his liberal rival and famous orator William Ewart Gladstone in the Parliament of the United Kingdom

“You see the whole country of the system is juxtapositioned by the hemoglobin in the atmosphere because you are a sophisticated rhetorician intoxicated by the exuberance of your own verbosity.”

TFR: On a similar note: we think that the music you guys make would be best suited for a particular sort of pensive, elegant atmosphere. What would be your ideal gig venue?

Begum: Parliament of the sovereign, socialist, secular, democratic, republic of Akagarma. A Golden Pillared Opera house along with an orchestra and an immersive and subjectively responsive lighting and visual setup. Globes radiating sound and the warmth of sound pressure levels, tinted audio generators pulsing and rushing through the crowd.

TFR: The video for your new track “Chinbien” features a surreal series of imagery and video clips. How important are visuals to the end product of your music?

Begum: While browsing the Internet to solve the mystery of feline dominance, our video director Samridhi Thapliyal was stuck by a sudden and deeply saddening inquisition. What if aliens are trying to establish communication with us but their mode of communication lies outside of the aural and visual abilities of a common Honey Singh fan? So, to extend a hand of friendship and a proposal for a symbiotic relationship with the dimensions outside of human experience, the music video has been a humble attempt. It is a short catalogue of what aliens should expect to see on a vacation trip to Earth, which Samridhi expects to be picked up by the tourism department of our planet someday.


TFR: If your music had to be slotted between two albums of any language and any genre, which two would it be?

Begum: We would be forced to slot our upcoming album “Begum Bagh” between the available recordings of broadcast from “Phoney Wars” and a spoken word album of all of Alfred Jarry’s work, synchronized to free jazz and Altaf Rajas Alaaps.

TFR: Tell us one artist (Indian or international) that you’d most love to work with.

Begum: Tony Clifton

TFR: When can we expect the Begum album?

Begum: The Begum album will be out by August followed by a tour and one more music video coming up as well somewhere after that. Also we are in the process of composing an Indian Opera, hopefully debuting it sometime next year.

Striking a Balance: A Conversation with Ketan Bahirat

3 May

As we previously mentioned, we were very impressed with electronica/ambient/post-rock band Until We Last’s recent performance at Counter Culture. New writer Anindita Nayak recently got a chance to speak to Ketan Bahirat, founder of Until We Last, about the band, his early start in music and challenges.

Until We Last

Photo courtesy Until We Last’s Facebook page.

Let’s talk a little about their music first. Until We Last songs transport your mind to different level with their unusual mix of melodies, making them sound a little like God is an Astronaut or Explosions in the Sky (though the band does dislike the comparisons sometimes). One of our favorite songs of theirs is “Water”, which sounds even better live than it does on the album. Unfortunately, their SoundCloud channel doesn’t have all of the songs they had performed at CounterCulture, but maybe we’ll find them on their upcoming EP, which is launching in a month’s time. Now, let’s move on to Until We Last’s journey.

Currently in his penultimate year of college, Ketan Bahirat took formal Hindustani lessons back in 6th grade. He picked up guitar skills from YouTube videos and played with two metal bands before forming Until We Last in 2011. Until We Last has been performing live since late 2012, culminating in the launch of an album, copies of which they were more than happy to give away free at Counter Culture. When quizzed about his personal favorite gig so far, Ketan speedily answers with Magnetic Fields, an impressive festival in the middle of the Rajasthani desert.

The name of the band stems from a philosophical note that revolves around travel, our home planet, nature and the quest to strike the perfect balance between sustainability and development. When it comes to song names, it’s usually based on circumstances. Their most popular song, “Rain”, was so named because it was raining when they were composing it! And there is, of course, a conscious decision of keeping a close reference to nature or travel.

 

The initial few compositions were recorded in Ketan’s bedroom. When looking for potential band members, he remained close to the local music artists and often jammed with them. It hasn’t been an easy ride for Until We Last, considering that the lineup has had over ten changes so far. The longest time without a lineup change was for a year, ending when the bassist, Anjan Bhojaraj, left for higher studies and was replaced by Paul Dharamraj, a former member of the Bicycle Days. This aspect is probably one of the major challenges for any band, especially when the band members are so young and other aspects will tend to take higher priorities.

However, working with so many artists has also helped Until We Last’s music evolve. One of their former band members, Bhargav, continues to send across pieces of compositions from Singapore and they are continuing to reach out to other artists who could collaborate with them to produce more music.

Photo courtesy Until We Last’s Facebook page.

One good thing that struck us about Until We Last is that they don’t seem very concerned about the prevalent culture of piracy, especially in a country like ours. Admittedly, the growing number of music festivals and venues is changing that culture in India, but the fact remains that platforms for indie artists to sell music are uncommon and finding people who are willing to buy music is even less common. Until We Last has also seen a good amount of traction from countries like Germany and Russia, where listeners are willing to pay for their music.

But in the end it’s all about sustainability: fans need to buy music to support good artists. On that note, please do listen to Until We Last’s music and maybe buy it too. And be sure to follow their updates on Facebook and Twitter too. We wish them all the success with their upcoming album!

A Very Horrific ‘Maut’ Indeed…

22 Mar

Courtesy their Wiki page.

I cannot do a Top Five list for this band, so don’t expect that. I cannot genre-limit them or compare them to other bands, so don’t expect that either. As part of a pentagram of bands, Bhayanak Maut (BM) has come to define my Indian metal experience along with Scribe, Demonic Resurrection, Skyharbor & Bevar Sea (eclectic, I know). So I thought it would be a great opportunity to educate you sheep about Metchul, specifically about the Indian metal scene (not that I need a reason, but I might as well ramble on).

I confess I’m quite bad at defining said genres, as are most people. Nevertheless, for the uninitiated, one could try to define BM as a heavily deathcore-inclined band with obvious inspiration from grindcore and groove metal. Some would argue they can afford to experiment beyond their comfort zone, while some would say they should hang onto tradition; I couldn’t possibly comment.

Now into two full albums, two (rather brilliant) EPs and knee-deep in their third full release, BM have been around long enough to be called Mumbai-scene veterans. Despite a low-key start and early influence of gateway bands of the wicked West, they have snuggled into a dark independent pit of their own and created their own signature oft-interspersed with a strong Indian flavour (“MNS Messenger” and “Ranti Nasha” hooks always get me) which has predictably translated into a loyal Indian fan-base.  One should listen and compare their exploratory first album Hell Is All People to their watershed Malignant EP (“Elcit Set Nois Rot”, “Boiled.Unwound.Filatured”, “PICA” and “Phlegm Blot Technik”…which is basically all the songs in that EP) to better understand their stylistic shift. Following their phenomenal sophomore Untitled album (“Ungentle” and “You’re Perfect Now Change”: oh, the feels!), I personally think their latest Metastasis EP is an ominous sign of great things to come.

The first thing that hits you about BM is the goosebumps-inducing dual vocals style, followed closely by a dam-burst of bone-crunching riffs and mesmerizing blast beats. It’s obviously not a new concept, but rarely have I seen such synergy between two vocalists: Vinay’s (Vinay Venkatesh) death gutturals are perfectly complemented by Sunny’s (Sunneith Revankar) fry screams, creating a dichotomous clamour that comes together perfectly at crescendos. This swadesi juggernaut is driven by Baba (R. Venkatraman) and Aditya on guitars, while drums by Rahul Hariharan have bound this band together and given them the deathcore-with-no-breakdowns flavour I have so come to cherish. Their bass did tend to get masked in some acts; but they have a new bassist in Ishaan Krishna who joined last year from NerveRek / Modern Mafia, and has fit right into their demolition-derbyesque live acts.

I remember their performance in 2010 at BITS Pilani. Between all the headbanging, moshing and punching (!) in the front row, one image stuck in my head, of both these behemoths standing one-foot-on-monitor and belting out earache in quick and brutal succession (listen to “Blasted Beyond Belief” if you don’t believe me, you philistine!).

I was fortunate to see them live again at the 2012 NH7 Weekender in Delhi and they picked up where they left off in Pilani, which was basically to “tear you a new one”. They are a dying breed, a band which thrives on live performances and is never afraid to improvise. Vinay, his beard, Sunny and Baba are a stage act to admire, and keep every performance volatile and unpredictable. I guess their onstage antics are only surpassed by our beloved clowns at Scribe.

It was hence rather unsurprising that BM successfully owned national rock pilgrimages such as GIR, Deccan Rock and Independence Rock Fest, apart from regularly featuring in NH7 Weekenders and various college fests. They also stepped into hallowed grounds when they followed Demonic Resurrection, Undying Inc. and Scribe in playing at the Inferno Festival in Oslo, Norway. BM is peaking right now, and it’s safe to say they are a source of inspiration for the countless fledgling metal acts that are stumbling around to find their identity and niche in this dank basement that is the Indian scene.

Bhayanak Maut played at Blue Frog’s Metal Night on March 2 (after a year-long hiatus) and it seems like they will play again only next year, so I’ll just go back to my headphones now and wait for their third full-length [storyline-based] (http:/facialdiscrimination.tumblr.com/) album.

– Samarth Hegde

PS: On a related note, connoisseurs of a more extreme experience should check out ‘Demonstealer’ Makhija and Vinay Venkatesh’s brutal-death metal outfit, Reptilian Death. Oh, also check out Sunneith’s groove metal ex-supergroup Providence if that’s your thing.

Top Five Stunning Rock Covers to Shock and Awe

10 Feb

This is an extremely ambitious list. Not only does it try to select five out of all the good, the bad and ugly of rock covers that exist in the world, but it also tries to include a seemingly wide genre of musicians. As a result, you’ll find everything on this list: from an alternative metal band to a Spanish soprano singer, from an alt-rock super-group to a humble Indian indie band, and from a British metal icon to a classical pop pianist, all trying their level best to recreate some of the finest songs from rock music’s tumultuous past. Hope you enjoy it.

5. Tool covers Led Zeppelin’s “No Quarter”

Led Zeppelin

No Quarter” is one of those vintage rock songs that reek of Led Zeppelin from the moment they get underway. Yes, it is bereft of any of Jimmy Page’s textbook guitar solos, and yes, it’s not the first song that comes to your mind when you think of Robert Plant either. Yet, it always comes off as a masterpiece that just couldn’t have been the work of any other band – until nearly three decades later, that is.

Tool, who lay stake to being one of the finest experimental metal bands of today, decided to cover this Led Zep classic in their 2000 album, Salival – and while doing so, they also decided to add a dash of their own progressive flavor to it.

The result is, needless to say, absolutely stunning – though, if you’re a first timer, it could take a bit of getting used to. The cover is over eleven minutes long, over four minutes longer than the original. The vocals, courtesy Maynard James Keenan, are often modulated, which may raise some conventional eyebrows.

But leaving that aside, the music is staggering. The song is dark; there’s an element of dread that runs under the thick layers of drums and heavy distortion guitar. And then there is the usual Tool innovation that rears its head now and then, be it with their rendition of the trippy riffs in the beginning or the bass and guitar arpeggios that replace the original piano.

In the end, the cover completely deviates from the original thanks to a brilliantly improvised climax full of powerful riffs, alternate lyrics, heavy bass and a thundering drum sequence that we only wish had continued for a little more.

With this cover, Tool have not only taken a page from Led Zep’s iconic yesteryears, but have also planted it amid the dreary annals of progressive metal in their own unique manner.

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4. Tori Amos covers Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit”

Tori Amos

To begin, let us first agree upon some things that countless others have agreed upon before. “Smells Like Teen Spirit” is the song of the early 90s, and Nevermind was probably the greatest thing to come out of Seattle since Jimi Hendrix. With these established, let us now look at Tori Amos’ cover of this cult classic.

If you were expecting a faithful rendition, one that begins with the instantly recognizable riff that grunge fans have head-banged to over the past few decades, you probably haven’t heard Tori Amos. Because in essence, Tori Amos is far – really really far – from the genre of music that Kurt Cobain pioneered. She’s a classical pianist, and she’s much older than what Kurt Cobain would have been had he been alive today. Her approach to the song is thus starkly different, and the only way you can appreciate this cover is with an open mind.

For starters, the cover is completely piano-based, and is therefore much, much slower and softer than the loud and angst-ridden original. Which means, if you’re looking for Cobain’s guitar solo, you won’t find it here. What you will find instead is a beautiful voice and some sublime, almost dreamy, piano. This is definitely not what Nirvana had in mind when they recorded this song, but the point is, it’s not meant to be what Nirvana produced either. The two versions have nothing in common except for the lyrics and the skeleton tune; trying to compare the two would be a bit like comparing pizza with cheesecake because both have cheese in them. Yes, it is the cheese that makes both of them so good, but it’s really mindless to try and choose one over the other, isn’t it?

My advice would be to listen to the cover and try to appreciate what Tori has attempted to do.

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3. A Perfect Circle covers John Lennon’s “Imagine”

John Lennon

The original “Imagine” is a very happy song that tries to propagate happy ideas – of unity, peace and humanism. Attempting to make a dark, almost depressing cover of such a happy song does seem like a cruel thing to do – a bit like punching a rabbit in the face, and then trying to feel good about it. But the progressive-alt rock super-group A Perfect Circle had done exactly that in their 2004 album eMOTIVe. And the worst (or best?) bit is this: it is rather good.

The dark undercurrents are noticeable the moment you hear all the minor notes in the otherwise familiar piano arpeggio. John Lennon played the majors, while here, they just don’t. If anyone ever dissed about cover artists, saying that they fail to step outside the original, and that they fail to find a fresh perspective to music, he or she has probably never heard A Perfect Circle. This cover hasn’t just added a unique perspective to Lennon’s classic: it has bordered on the visionary.

The vocals (it’s the same Maynard James Keenan from Tool) continue the same sense of foreboding that the piano began. The droning rhythms of the drums and the synths supplement the vocals to create an atmosphere that sounds and feels sinister, almost ominous.

As a cover therefore, this is top class stuff. It’s quite unlike any other cover that you’ve heard. However, it doesn’t feel complete.

What seems to be lacking is lead guitars, which would have provided the final cut necessary to take this cover to the very top of this list. Apart from that, this is a must-listen – and unfortunately for all the happy rabbit fans, a must-admire.

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2. Montserrat Caballé and Bruce Dickinson cover Queen’s “Bohemian Rhapsody”

Montserrat Caballe and Freddy Mercury

If there’s one word for attempting to cover “Bohemian Rhapsody”, it’s ‘ambitious’, and if there’s something that such ambition can lead to it, it’s generally a disaster. But when you have a Spanish operatic soprano – who’s shared the stage with Freddie Mercury in her career – embarking on such an attempt with the undisputed champion of British heavy metal, it’s difficult to not give them a chance.

The cover is eerily faithful to the original and has all the iconic elements that make the song the classic that it is. The beginning chorus has vocals in different harmonies, followed by Montserrat’s soulful voice that sends a silent shudder down your spine. Iron Maiden fans will absolutely love how Bruce Dickinson’s soaring vocals sink in to take this role. His voice reaches every high note that makes the original so remarkable, and the execution is just so perfect that it would have brought a tear to the eye of old Freddie.

As Montserrat and Bruce alternate with the lyrics, a majestic orchestra gives them accompaniment. What this means is that you won’t find Brian May’s lead guitar when you will expect it; instead you’ll find a wave of symphonic strings, peppered with the occasional piano almost throughout the length of the song. However, you can rest assured that the melodies in the cover are almost as much a treat for your ears as Queen’s original was.

Go give it a listen, and be mesmerized.

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1. Thermal and a Quarter cover The Beatles’ “Hey Jude”

The Beatles

So far in this list we’ve discussed a wide range of covers: a darker cover of an already dark song (“No Quarter”), a seemingly antithetical cover of a loud, angry song (“Smells Like Teen Spirit”), a sad, dispiriting cover of a joyous song (“Imagine”) and an unerring cover of a particularly difficult song (“Bohemian Rhapsody”). To add to this diversity, we’ll now look at a fun cover of one of the most popular songs in rock history.

Thermal and a Quarter have been creating ripples in the Indian indie-music scene for quite a few years now. They are immensely talented and incredibly technical in their compositions, and their cover of the eye-wateringly popular Beatles classic “Hey Jude” comes as a breath of fresh air for all indie music lovers.

From the very first note, this cover stands out. It instantly catches your attention with its strange and syncopated style of play. What follows is absolute genius. The concept is terrific – a funk-blues cover of The Beatles – and the execution is spot on. Bruce Lee Mani’s vocals do complete justice to this bold attempt, as do the clever flute fillers, the pounding drums and the driving bass.

This is just masterclass stuff and thus tops this list. By far.

@wrahool

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