Tag Archives: chennai

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, Bangalore 2014 – Day 2

15 Nov

The Bacardi NH7 Weekender is one of our favorite events of the year. It lets us catch up with tens of acts from across the country – some new, some legendary – all within a beautiful, aesthetically arranged venue. On the weekend of November 8th and 9th, we went to the Bangalore edition of the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, and were blown away by breadth of artists on stage. Here’s our take!

Beautiful aesthetics

Day 2

As with Day 1, our journey on Day 2 began with the Red Bull Tour Bus. The originally slated act, Delhi Sultanate and Begum X, was cancelled, giving way to an amazing performance by Your Chin, the peculiarly-named solo act of Sky Rabbit’s lead singer Raxit Tewari. Your Chin’s metered electronic music, buoyed by Raxit’s genuinely pleasant voice, seemed to pull the expansive lawns in front of the Tour Bus into a much closer venue. “Run Along Little One” was a stand-out track in Your Chin’s brilliant 45-minute set.

Your Chin

In perfect contrast to Raxit’s calm, subtle music was The Inspector Cluzo, performing immediately after at the Bacardi Arena. The self-touted farmers from Gascony, France, enthralled the audience with their music as well as what can only be described as stereotypically French stand-up comedy – the biggest butt of which was, of course, those Englishmen and their pissy English music. The Top Five Records team couldn’t help but remember the French knights scene from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. (Those silly English knnigghts!) All said and done, The Inspector Cluzo were a massively entertaining act, and rightly gained hundreds of new fans that day.

Inspector Cluzo

Up to this point, we had covered every stage except the Micromax Mega Mix stage. Thus, we made our way there to catch Klypp, a Bangalore-based duo specializing in making soundtracks to your inner visual-weaver (their words). Next, we caught Blent, a Bangalore-based game designer turned musician who currently serves as the resident DJ at the massively popular Humming Tree in Indiranagar.

However, this was all filler compared to the act that was setting up at the Dewarists: Thermal and a Quarter. Since 1996, TAAQ has been Bangalore’s most beloved alt-rock product, with several legendary albums under their belt. At the Weekender this year, we were incredibly lucky to hear the band’s latest album, The Scene, in almost its entirety. The album featured a tongue-in-cheek look at India’s music scene today, from the good (so many women festival-goers!) to the bad (all those ‘musicians’ on their Mac Books).

Thermal and a Quarter

Throughout their humbling one-hour show, Mr. Mani inadvertently schooled every lead singer in the country on how to captivate an audience’s attention: not by yelling at them to jump (ahem, Mink) or mumbling at them to dance if they want to (ahem, Your Chin) or by ignoring them to a large extent (ahem, Money for Rope). No, Mr. Mani captivated the audience by genuinely connecting with them, by giving a likeable intro to each new song, by playing skilled, appropriately-sized solos, and by creating a generally friendly and relaxed vibe. So much so that the audience had quite a smattering of little kids dancing with their moms!

Mr. Bruce Lee Mani

Mr. Bruce Lee Mani

After the show, we walked 20 metres to the MTS Discover stage, where Skrat began their ever-electrifying set. Like TAAQ, Skrat also took the Weekender opportunity to showcase songs from their new album, The Queen. The Top Five Records team has been in love with the album ever since its launch last month, and we naturally loved the chance to hear some of Skrat’s best new songs live. In particular, the wordless choruses on “Machete” and “Stomp” were the stand-out moments of the band’s raucous gig. The frenetic atmosphere was ably helped along by Skrat’s charismatic lead singer, Sriram TT, who was (or seemed to be) drunk out of his mind. He even ended up doing a tribute dance to Rajni Saar, in a not-so-subtle tip-of-the-hat to Kollywood in light of Amit Trivedi’s Bollywood extravaganza the previous night.

Skrat

Here, we must put in an extremely important word to the the festival organizers: NEVER pit Skrat against the F16s. It’s just not fair to make us choose between the two Chennai exports. Unfortunately, by the time Skrat’s monumental one-hour frenzy ended, we were left with just 15 minutes of the F16s, over at the Bacardi Arena. Luckily, we got to catch our favorite song, “Light Bulbs”, along with one or two new pieces that the band debuted.

The F16s

After the double bill of Skrat and the F16s, we were too tired to catch but a few minutes of the wonderful Soulmate, comprising two of Shillong’s bluesiest, most talented individuals. After refuelling with food and drink, we made our way to the Bacardi Arena, where almost everyone had gathered to witness the spectacle that is Mutemath.

On a personal note, though, some of our team felt that perhaps calling a sparsely known (although talented) band was kind of an elitist take on what constitutes a headliner act. We’re pretty sure that 80% of the crowd knew less than 20% of the songs that the band played. But, on the whole, the crowd didn’t seem to care. Overall, Mutemath had the energy and raw talent to close out the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in a fitting manner, and that’s what mattered in the end.

MUTEMATH

MUTEMATH

Words by Neeharika Palaka. Images by Rajat Tibrewal.

Indie March Night at Counter Culture, Bangalore (22/3/2014)

29 Mar

The month of March was a great time to visit Counter Culture, an excellent, aesthetic live music venue in the bustling Bangalore suburb of Whitefield. March 8 fielded an eclectic and wholly excellent bevy of women artists in honor of Women’s Day; this weekend features Avial, Agam and Lagori in a delicious palette of modern Indian music. But last weekend was truly the centerpiece of the whole mad March extravaganza: five gifted, exciting bands that form a rough outline of where Indian indie is today and where it has the potential to go.

First on the billing at the Indie March night on March 22nd was the intriguingly-named post-rock Bangalore act Space Behind the Yellow Room. This was the first time I’d heard them, and the little that I did hear that night was magical: the ethereal, frenetic music setting the tone for the night that was just unfolding. Interspersed throughout their mostly instrumental pieces were some rather unfathomable, but wholly enjoyable shrieks and screams from the drummer (we’ll never know if they were parts of the composition, or in-situ improvisation). Unfortunately, due to a number of reasons including Bangalore traffic and unfashionable lateness, I only managed to catch a few snippets of their music, but it definitely made a great first impression. And raised questions, too: what is behind the yellow room?

 

Which space? Why yellow?

Which space? Why yellow?

Space Behind the Yellow Room was followed by Until We Last, another post-rock band from Bangalore. From what I could gather, there were two different impressions that people had about Until We Last following Space Behind the Yellow Room. Some, like myself, thought it wasn’t the smartest of lineups: post-rock is great for quiet introspection and expensive headphones, but by this time, most people had had a drink or three in them and wanted, well, dance music.

Until We Last

They were dancing, but in a more post-rock way.

Others disagreed. Another Top Five member found the band to be top-notch, and arguably one of the centerpieces of the music that evening. Either way, though, Until We Last definitely did not disappoint. I had first seen them at the Bangalore Weekender last year, where they completely transformed a lawn on a bright Bangalore morning into a dreamlike, almost ethereal space. Here, too, they brought the same ethos, but perhaps their music is more suited for the aforementioned bright mornings: a few hundred tipsy twenty-somethings aren’t the best vessels of contemplation. Special note must be given, though, to their track “Water” as well as the way they signed off: “We are Until We Last.” Think about it. It’s pretty deep.

Like I said, two post-rock bands back-to-back wasn’t the greatest of ideas. In essence, the atmospheric drama carefully draped over the crowd by these two bands was ripped apart the second the F16s took to the stage. The young Chennai indie rock band were coming off of strong wins at IIT Madras, JD Rock Awards, Hornbill and pretty much anywhere else they went. It only took a few minutes into their tight, spotless set to realize that they deserve every damn one of those awards. The F16s have really got it all together: the suaveness, the confidence, the professionalism and, yeah, the hair.

The F16s

For me, one of the greatest moments of the night was when they broke into an absolutely perfect cover of “Mansard Roof” by Vampire Weekend. And these guys really are real rock stars. Of the five bands that played at Counter Culture that night, the F16s were the only band that had the audience singing along to every one of their tracks: the beautifully executed “Light Bulbs” was a particular stand-out. Last month at the JD Rock Awards, the F16s won “Best Emerging Band” and I have to say, Rolling Stone pretty much got that one exactly right.

After an amazing one-hour set, the F16s handed over the stage to Skrat, their fellow indie rockers from Chennai. Theatrical and energetic, Skrat are quintessential entertainers, led by the instantly likeable Sriram TT. The clock was ticking around midnight at that point (Whaddup, extended Bangalore curfew!) and most people in the venue were quite well sloshed. The crowd basically went wild during Skrat’s well-known and well-loved tracks like “Samurai Badass” and “Tin Can Man”, but things reached a different level of pandemonium when the band proclaimed their love of motorbikes and immediately got a guy to ride a motorbike to the front of the stage. Unfortunately, I don’t have photos to prove it, but I assure you it was awesome.

Shortly before the motorcycle arrived.

Shortly before the motorcycle arrived.

Most people didn’t really get over the F16s-Skrat double blast, which meant that the final band of the night, Parvaaz, unfortunately didn’t get the audience it deserved. The few people who remained sober until the end claimed that Parvaaz was pretty good too, and that they boasted of a heady mix of technical competence and soaring Urdu vocals. Apologies for our inability to verify that claim.

Parvaaz

Clocking at a little under six hours, Indie March Night was a mini-festival in itself, and a really great way to spend a Saturday evening/night.

Words, photos and video by Neeharika Palaka and Subhayan Mukerjee

The F16s: Kaleidoscope

28 Aug

Top Five Records is no stranger to the Chennai Music Scene; we’ve done our best to highlight the polished, challenging, unique indie sound that comes out of a city that normally has a less-than-stellar reputation for indie music. Bands like Little Babooshka’s Grind, Junkyard Groove, Adam & the Fish Eyed Poets and the Shakey Rays have challenged that notion time and again over the past year or two, and now it’s the F16s’ turn to challenge India’s perception of what the southern city’s young musicians can come up with.

The F16s
The F16s’ debut album, Kaleidoscope, is a mix-and-match of styles, genres, sounds, stories and inspirations (although somewhat skewed towards a mix of Arctic Monkeys and the Strokes) that comes together in a burst of colour and shapes, and ideally beer. It’s almost overwhelming. Heady, carnival-inspired post-break-up indie? Check. Guitar-fuzzed, anthemic garage rock? Check.  Smokey-back-room-inspired depressing alt rock? Check. Kaleidoscope works as the perfect showcase for one of the few Indian bands who can rightly claim the tag “genre defying.”

It also doesn’t hurt that the EP is accompanied by absolutely gorgeous album and single art.

It also doesn’t hurt that the EP is accompanied by absolutely gorgeous album and single art.

So, on to the album, then. “Prelude” first tiptoes and then charges onto the scene armed with a driving guitar riff, pressing drum beat and tinged with acid techno. A little over a minute later, however, “Light Bulbs” strolls in: a swinging, off-centre electric piano groove, with drawling guitars and drawling vocals. Full of a painful, morose sort of ennui, it’s almost impossible not to imagine a depressed 20-something in a Delhi restrobar with her friends, trying to stay afloat in the gloomy bar-hopping culture of young corporate India. Appropriately enough, the song ends with a vocal harmonization that rivals that heard in Coldplay’s “Viva la Vida”. It does have way more cowbell though, so I suppose in some respects it’s even better.

The depression doesn’t abate as the EP slides into “Avalanche”. We love the original acoustic version, but it’s great to hear it fully realized in electric: subtle organ shifts and a catchy syncopated guitar rhythm (anyone else hearing A Certain Romance?) strengthen a song that’s about trying to run away from your troubles.

It’s not all doom and gloom, however. Martin Luther King Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech allows for a bizarre but  fun segue into “The King’s Dream”, a song that starts off sounding like Jet and ends up sounding like The Fratellis. Fuzzy guitars and a very danceable beat make for  the kind of music that’s perfect for non-IDM-saturated hipster parties; their groove just won’t let you stay still. Don’t worry, though: the Reverend’s spirit lives on in the song through its lyrics full of rebellion (although admittedly from an upper-middle-class youth perspective). 

“Who Robbed the Rogue” moves The F16s’ sound into new territory yet again, flying through the Strokes’galaxy with a minor stopover in MGMT’s world. The song’s outro is a universe apart entirely, and builds up into a crescendo of what we can only describe as Wagnerian rock (think early-2000s Muse).

“My Shallow Lover” is a great follow-up song after “The Rogue”. Ostensibly a song of discovered adultery with none of the tears and all of the middle fingers, “My Shallow Lover” doesn’t beat about the bush:

“I don’t give a fuck about who you love and who you want and who you are, because I’m more important than you.”

High on cheek, sugar, and rotary organ keyboards, what sets this song apart from all the others in the EP is its super-awesome carnival descent at the end of the track: A heady mix of shoe-gaze and dream-pop that sounds exactly how I imagine dropping acid and riding a merry-go-round would feel.

Wrap your head around that for a second.

“Nuke” slows things down a bit, for a second, before turning up the fuzz slowly. First comes another Arctic Monkeys-esque drum groove (revisiting “Whatever People Say I AM” territory), before Josh opens his pipes again to belt: “Can you take control?” The song’s outro returns us back to Kaleidoscope’s initial techno-ish feel, albeit with a heavier, more industrial sound, before we’re left to our own devices surrounded by a fading hiss of static.

Kaleidoscope does have its rough parts: not all songs are for everyone, and it takes a rather unique listener to be able to appreciate each and every song. We’re talking about a release that jumps from genre to genre, from inspiration to inspiration, and from story to story almost every other minute.  Still, each jump brings you to newer territory and more awesome sounds, so the aural exercise is definitely worth it.

Go listen to the F16s on their SoundCloud account and buy their EP over at OK Listen. And check out the band’s Facebook Page for lyrics and absolutely gorgeous album/single art!

Also, a huge shout-out to Harshan Radhakrishnan for making keyboards sound cool!

– Karthik Manickam

A Shakey Picture

8 Nov

The Shakey Rays are a three piece rock and roll band from Chennai that have been creating waves of awed adoration wherever they bring their unique tunesmithery. Coming off of a brilliant show at BITS Pilani’s cultural fest Oasis, the boys are now gigging their way through Delhi, winning the hearts of hundreds of fans (and women) wherever they go. Top Five Records caught up with Dhruva, Vikram (Vicky), Niranjan (Ninju), guest bassist Abhinav (of fellow Chennai artists Adam and the Fish-Eyed Poets) and band manager Jolene for a quick fifteen minutes in between their hectic calendar.

Top Five Records: Congrats on the excellent show, guys! Those of us that weren’t lucky enough to be there to see you guys opening for TAAQ got regular, ecstatic updates from people that WERE there.

Pilani, as you guys know now, is in the middle of nowhere, which is quite a change for most bands gigging around India in the same five or six cities. Tell us a bit about what you were thinking when the cab driver was taking you through the seemingly endless rustic hinterlands of dust and Haryanvis.

Ninju: We saw our lives flash before our eyes.
Dhruva: Lord have mercy on our poor souls!
Abhinav: It was dusty.
Vicky: I was praying dude!
Abhinav: He (Vicky) was seeking divine intervention.
Jolene: It was exhilarating and scary at the same time. The drivers were racing each other, driving on the opposite side of the road and missing oncoming vehicles by mere feet of distance … we tried to alleviate the fact that our lives were on the line by alternatively trying to sleep, talking to each other and analysing the 90’s Bollywood love songs being played on the stereo. But all’s when that ends well, we got to campus alive and were later told that the sort of ride we had to campus was an important part of the BITS experience.

TFR: BITSians pride themselves on being, well, chilled out (sometimes a bit too much, actually). Tell us a little bit about your Oasis experience.

Dhruva: Brilliant!
Abhinav and Ninju: Special mention to Jashid and Champu (Vineet Chaudhury) for taking us around and being generally awesome.
Vicky: We didn’t steal any towels, though I hope I didn’t put one in my bag by mistake.
Jolene: I’m super glad we got to play this gig (thanks Neeharika, Karthik and the organizers). Playing in front of such a large audience, so different from the pub goers we’ve usually played to was an important step in itself, never mind the somewhat mixed reactions.

TFR: BITS was the first college gig that you’ve played as a band. How was that experience different from your usual gigs?

The whole band: More crowd! More people! Much better!
Vicky: We heard a horn from somewhere in the crowd during our set. That was sort of cool since we’ve been looking for a horn section since a while now and we randomly heard one; wonder where it came from?

TFR: One of the main concerns for most non-metal bands playing college gigs is that college kids expect metal and only metal bands. Did you feel that that was a concern at BITS? Did you get the crowd bobbing to the Diddley beat?

Dhruva: No, it seems like people only wanted to dance and we gave them that.
Jolene: I heard we were picked to play ahead of Scribe. That’s pretty cool, considering the band’s massive popularity.

TFR: Did you walk around campus a bit? Did anyone take you to Sarla, tell you what ‘putting’ is, or introduce you to the beauty of a Thunderbolt?

The band: Yes to all. Every item on the checklist, tick.

TFR: Tell us a bit about TAAQ. Did you meet/hang out with them?

The band: We met them, didn’t hang out with them. They seemed like nice people.
Ninju and Dhruva: Their drummer is awesome.

TFR: You guys have completed a country-wide tour recently. Do you have another such tour in the works? Tell us about some upcoming gigs.

Jolene: We’ll do another tour only after releasing an EP or album. We’re playing a lot around Delhi this month and charting out gigs for December/January as well. Details come up on our Facebook page as gigs are finalized.

TFR: If we still lived in a world of vinyl records rather than mp3s, then Shakey fans all over the country would have scratched their copy of Tunes from the Big Belly out of sheer over-use. We need new material! Is that happening?

Dhruva + Vikram: We are in the process of writing songs, most of them are still in the demo stage.
Jolene: 16th of this month is when we’ll digitally release a new single, hopefully with a B Side.

TFR: One of the biggest questions we’ve had about you guys, and one that shames us for not knowing despite being huge fans, is the origin of your name. Please tell us it doesn’t actually derive from “Shakira”.

 Vikram: No real history behind the band name. We were looking for something particularly interesting and Dhruva, being the most interesting member in the group, came up with “The Shakey Rays”.

Dhruva: I suppose there’s a degree of truth to that. It’s a question that often comes up, and I wish I remember how it sprung up- I think we we’d had a drink or ten when THE SHAKEY RAYS presented itself in bold letters.

TFR: A lot of BITSians read this blog. Is there anything you’d like to say, as a closing note of sorts?

Vikram: No, not really… Thanks for the chicken!
Dhruva: Thank you for dancing, BITS!
Abhinav: Thanks for Neeraj Shridar.

So there you have it. You can listen to each of the Shakey Rays’ pop gems of perfection here. Happy listening!

Skrat: Skrat in the Shed

25 Jul

If Chennai can claim any resemblance to an established alt rock scene in the city, a good chunk of that credit has to go to a band like Skrat. They have held out, survived the blizzards of lineup changes, a dearth of good audience and the hazards of taking a break in a very weak environment. They have taken their time to make music which screams in your ears that it’s Skrat, and nothing else: for example, take ‘Black Hammer Man’ or the ever-popular ‘Stay Wild’. Skrat is a band that has been courageous enough to take the time to find its own ‘sound’.

And that’s exactly what the band did, with Skrat in the Shed.

 

Skrat in the Shed is essentially a seventeen-minute, five song video showcase (see above) of Skrat playing five new songs, shot and recorded in front man T. T. Sriram’s ‘garage’, the jam room for many Chennai bands. Their first song “Tin Can Man” starts on a promising note with well-matched vocals and a foot tapping chorus. If that wasn’t enough to catch your attention, then the fast paced “Smoke a Cigar” grips it. The song is well-written and accompanied by catchy riffs, and the change of pace in the middle of the song is just brilliant.

It does look like all songs were performed in one go, with only a few tight seconds for demarcation. After “Smoke a Cigar”, we settle down to a nice and leisurely “Big Bad Bombs”. At just about four minutes long, this track has some soulful vocals and restrained drumming to go with it.

The next song “High” already seems like the next crowd favorite. Its low toned, deep and measured riffs sound like Tony Iommi cured of his lymphoma and back from his Sabbath-ical. On Skrat in the Shed, it is this song that reminds us most about just how much Skrat has striven to evolve and mature, tired of everyone telling them how to play their music. This slow paced song, presented with elegant vocals and good bass, is sure to have your heads rocking slowly in harmony with its title.

Bringing things to a fast paced end, leaving you craving for more is “Shake It Off”. Again, good guitar work does the trick here. Although old timers might question Sriram’s vocalizing of the lead tune, it’s still fun: and still Skrat in its own way. And what more, it worked with the audience which sang along when they performed at Alliance Francaise, Chennai recently.

All in all, Skrat in the Shed is a great album (and a neat video) by Skrat. They look all set to hit the mainstream and play regularly to bigger audiences. You have to be very determined and lucky if you get to make a successful comeback and reinvent yourself in the process. And Skrat looks like they’ve given their all.

– Prasannaa

Top 5 Artists from Chennai

28 Jun

Due to a certain chain of events in my early twenties, I was made to spend the first half of this year in (what I assumed was) India’s capital of fervent orthodoxy, Chennai. When people heard of my move, they offered their condolences and (more often) their schadenfreude: but not one of them offered me a heads up about the thriving musical scene here. Now, when you see the words “Chennai” and “music” in the same sentence, it’s natural to expect the word “Carnatic” to pop up soon after. The only phrase I knew that went against this intuition was “Junkyard Groove”. But, as I eventually discovered, Chennai is one of India’s premiere hotbeds for young, alternative talent. Here’s a list of the best alternative indie that the city has to offer.

5. Little Babooshka’s Grind 

Rounding out the end of our countdown are the excellently-named veterans Little Babooshka’s Grind (LBG). They really are pioneers of Indian original rock music, making great electro-rock songs (see: “Doll” on the Blue Butterfly Express EP) way back in 1999 when most other bands on the scene were covering songs that had already been covered a million times. Songs like “Codeine” and “Money” brought sufficient funk to their old-school classic rock sound on first album This Animal is Called the Wallet, while “Basics of Life” is our favorite track off of sophomore album Bad Children.

They’ve been around for almost two decades, but the all-originals band isn’t going away anytime soon. Last November, they released new single “Big Words”, from the upcoming album Wake Up… The Break Up, when they got selected as one of the five bands at the Ray Ban Never Hide Sounds band competition. As an added bonus, here is a rare LBG cover of Foster the People’s “Pumped Up Kicks” at The Great Indian Oktober Fest, Bangalore last year!

4. Harsha Iyer

Next up on our list is a young singer-songwriter from Chennai whose debut made quite the splash last year. Harsha Iyer, at all of 19, released an album on which he wrote, sang, performed, and produced all of the twelve original tracks. Not bad for a kid who in an alternate timeline would be getting ragged by college seniors. Dabbling in a plethora of genres with a self-confidence that most 19-year-olds don’t possess, Harsha took the Indian indie scene by storm with Curious Toys. Tracks like “Overcautious” and “I Find You Boring” celebrate his considerable youth, whereas on songs like “Money” and “Not Dead Yet”, Harsha weaves tales of imaginary characters with surprisingly shrewd songwriting skills. The Chennai musician is now releasing a second album, a twenty-track behemoth, in two separate installments a month apart. His first single “Mystery Woman” is out already, and you should definitely give it a listen.

3. Adam & the Fish-eyed Poets

AATFEP is a real gem of the Chennai scene. The band is the solo singer-songwriter project of a certain Kishore Krishna, who also happens to serve as something of a mentor for younger city musicians like the above-mentioned Harsha Iyer. Both his debut Snakeism (a la the shape-shifting slitheriness of the genres on the album) and his sophmore Dead Loops are spectacular examples of what the country’s indie musicians can do if they push themselves to their boundaries. It really needn’t be said how there are far too many ‘indie’ ‘musicians’ in India who do no such thing. Snakeism in particular is dark, seething, stylish and clearly bursting at the seams with exceptional talent. “Black eyed Monster” and “Little Monkeys” are the shiniest in this gem box of a debut, whereas “Purgatory City” (Chennai?) captivates on Dead Loops. Don’t think too much. Go download both albums and just listen. Don’t be shocked if you are genuinely amazed at the influences and styles and genres that are at play in AATFEP’s work. This, my friend, is music for the cynics.

2. Junkyard Groove

At number 2 is the band that originally put Chennai on the indie map: Junkyard Groove, or JYG as it is fondly known. Ever since their debut way back in 2005, JYG has opened for some of the most famous international acts to perform in the country, and for good reason. Exceptionally refined production values, good songwriting, and truly gifted musicians: there is little that this band lacks. The energetic funk on “Feel Like a Knife” (from their 2009 album 11:11) entrances you seconds into the song, and just wait until you get to the fat bass interlude. “Folk You” and “It’s Ok” are pretty snazzy too. Their latest single “4 to 5 Things” sounds like a rocked-out Irish jig. We really suggest you listen to it.

1. The Shakey Rays

It’s hardly over-stretching the truth to state that there’s nothing in India quite like the Shakey Rays. Tight arrangements meet genuinely good songcraft in perhaps one of the most innovative bands ever to call India their homeland. You can literally listen to any five seconds off their debut, and conclude that it is both shockingly original and unnaturally good. Divine pop tunesmithery and a certain inimitable sense of musical intuition run wild and free on Tunes from the Big Belly, bringing up DMB and the Beatles and RHCP and the Kinks and whoever else with the greatest of skill: i.e., influenced by, but not imitations of. It can be safely said that there are about three or four new bands in India who have mastered this art, and possibly none as well as the Shakey Rays. As their name suggests, this band is truly the sunshine filtering through the smog of the Indian indie scene. Perhaps it is only apt that they hail from the city of year-round sunshine.

It’s impossible to pick favorite tracks on the album, but “I’m Gonna Catch That Train” is a good place to start. It takes a lot of talent to beat Junkyard Groove at their own game, but the Shakey Rays show immense promise. Music fans in Mumbai, Pune, Bangalore and Delhi rejoice, for the Rays are coming to a venue near you in July! Please don’t miss it.

Agree with the top 5? Disagree? Let us know in the comments section! 

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