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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.

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Bacardi Weekender 2013, Bengaluru: Day 2

29 Nov

When we last saw the Weekender venue late on Saturday night, the ground was a wet sludge of mud and grass. The rain had started getting irritating, clothes were splattered with filth and everyone was generally miffed that they had to miss some great artists.

The atmosphere in the bus to the venue on Sunday was rather subdued. People kept glancing up at the menacing grey clouds seemingly speeding along with us to the venue. A couple of people behind us were grumbling that this wasn’t a cheap festival; washed out stages won’t get you your money back, whether you saw artists or not. And we were quite inclined to agree with them.

Dance music greeted us upon entry into the venue, but it wasn’t as enticing as Dakta Dub yesterday so we moved on to the Bacardi Arena area. To our pleasant surprise, we found that the Red Bull Tour Bus stage was functional, and protected with a thick tarpaulin roof to boot. The show, it seemed, will go on.

The first artist up was a dreamy post-rock band from Bangalore called Until We Last. More than a little reminiscent of God Is An Astronaut, the band filled the stage and our heads with deep, complex and emotive music. After the rather harrowing experience on Saturday, it felt great to lounge on the grass on a Sunday afternoon, listening to atmospheric, thoughtful music. Perfect!

Until We Last

Until We Last

Now, it’s important to note here that the Bacardi Area and the Red Bull Tour Bus stages faced each other; to get from one to the other, you only had to cross a small stretch of ground. This turned out to be a stroke of logistical genius, we soon realized.

Ten seconds after the beautiful dream of Until We Last faded away, classic rock started pouring out of the speakers at the Bacardi Arena, where The Fender Benders had just begun their set. With true Indian legends like Amyt Dutta and Sanjay Divecha mesmerizing us with their Fender fretwork, it seemed impossible for the jazzy blues jam to get any better – until, of course, Mr. Warren Mendonsa himself stepped on stage. Jayanta Dasgupta’s Clapton-like swagger, Jai Row Kavi’s immaculate drumming, and Mendonsa’s mindblowing solos added to an atmosphere at the Arena that is impossible to put into words.

The Fender Benders: Amyt Dutta

The Fender Benders: Amyt Dutta

In one fell swoop, everyone present felt that the Weekender already paid its dues for a washed-out Saturday, and then some. The most magical moment of the set by far was when the whole ensemble performed the blues standard “Let the Good Times Roll” even as rain clouds rolled in. Whether it was a heaven-sent sign, a spirited directive or just a plain coincidence, it does not matter; that one minute became the Weekender’s Moment to Beat.

Warren Mendonsa

The Fender Benders: Warren Mendonsa

Needless to say, it is not an easy task to follow an act like the Fender Benders. And few bands can live up to the challenge quite like Skrat, a spunky grunge/garage rock band from Chennai. Sriram TT and his boys wowed the crowd from atop the Red Bull Tour Bus with their wild songs and unstoppable energy. Favorites like “Tin Can Man” crazed old fans and created new fans, while newer songs like “Samurai Badass” left everyone in awe of the young band’s raw talent. Props to Skrat for rousing up an enthusiastic and wholly unpretentious crew, too!

Skrat

Skrat

The second Skrat ended their tight, killer set, it was time to run back across the lawns to the Bacardi Arena, where the Baiju Dharmajan Syndicate began their set. The ex-Motherjane guitarist, self-styled as a Carnatic Guitar Maestro, led the audience into a mystical light and sound extravaganza that seemed to end all too quickly. If there was a negative about the act, it was the presence of the Syndicate’s rather douchey singer who tended to overpower Baiju’s soaring, poignant guitar.

Baiju Dharmajan

Baiju Dharmajan Syndicate

Finally, at around 6 pm, we caught our breath at Maria’s Goan Kitchen, located right near the now-hallowed Bacardi Arena and the Tour Bus stages. And not a drop of rain so far! Papon & the East India Company, headed by the talented Papon, were already setting up at the Bacardi Arena, but I rushed to the Other Stage for a promising set by my new favorite singer-songwriter Nischay Parekh. The Calcutta lad shot to fame during the festival A Summer’s Day, helped along by his phenomenal love song, “I Love You Baby, I Love You Doll”. Nischay’s colorful stage presence and beautiful voice was the icing on the cake of the unforgettable three hours so far.

Nischay Parekh

Nischay Parekh

After Nischay’s short and sweet set, I headed back to the Bacardi Arena, where I found the crowd in a sort of frenzy. And for good reason – Papon was singing “Banao”, his famous ode to Ms. Mary Jane! He closed off his set with a spectacular Assamese folk song about the Baisakhi festival, managing to get everyone (and I mean everyone) on their feet. Papon really has it all: grace, humility, stage presence, and a killer voice. I felt almost honored to see such a great artist live!

Papon & the East India Company

Papon & the East India Company

After 5 busy – and completely dry – hours, the crowd seemed to be trying to get rid of the ‘dry’ness in a different sort of way. By the time Australian indie rockers Hey Geronimo took over the Red Bull Tour Bus, only a handful of people managed to stay on their feet. The rest were plopped on the grass, finishing the last drops in their Bacardi buckets, and stayed that way through most of Swarathma’s set too.

Swarathma

Swarathma

Hunger coupled with tiredness from hours of non-stop excitement kept me away for nearly all of Karsh Kale Collective + The NH7 All-Stars but I’d already got my money’s worth. And no, it didn’t rain a single drop on Sunday.

So there you have it. Day 2 certainly filled us with music-induced happiness, but also left us with a sort of wistfulness of what Saturday might’ve been, had the heavens not opened up. Overall, the Weekender was a great, if not grand, success, and I’m certainly going to be back next year.

A look back: Day 1 at the Bacardi Weekender 2013, Bengaluru

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