Tag Archives: indie rock

Bacardi Nh7 Weekender, Kolkata 2014 – Day 1

11 Nov

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

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

Enter the Bacardi Nh7 Weekender.

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

And then suddenly, it was there.

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

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The music. Oh my God, the music.

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

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

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

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

 

Warren Mendonsa of the Blackstratblues.

Warren Mendonsa of the Blackstratblues.

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

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

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

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

Rupam Islam of Fossils.

Rupam Islam of Fossils.

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

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

Amit Trivedi with his entourage.

Amit Trivedi with his entourage.

Bhayanak Maut

Bhayanak Maut

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

Read our Day 2 coverage here.

Words and photos by Subhayan Mukerjee (@wrahool)

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Top Five Songs to Include on a Mixtape For Your Indie Beloved

14 Feb

Trying to think of a way to introduce a Valentine’s Day-themed list article while avoiding all the common tropes (pro-Valentines, anti-Valentines, pro-anti-Valentines, etc.) is becoming harder and harder; there’s very little middle ground to walk between flower-burning and chocolate-gorging.

To try and skip over the debate, this T5R article instead provides five non-conventional songs that you ought to use when making that time-tested classic gift: the mixed-tape.

More specifically, here are 5 songs that absolutely have to go into your next mixed-tape for your present and/or future beloved; this way, you won’t have to reuse “With or Without You” for the 900th time.
 
 

5. “Absolutely Cuckoo” by The Magnetic Fields

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The Magnetic Fields’ three-volume concept album 69 Love Songs contains exactly that: 69 love songs. Despite the fact that the album is about love songs, and not love itself, “Absolutely Cuckoo” definitely works as an unconventional inclusion on any romantic mix tape. Stephen Merritt manages to condense all the neuroticism of an early relationship into barely a minute-and-a-half, by imploring her not to fall in love with him just yet (since he might be cuckoo). In the process he admits to falling in love all the same, and also builds up the most fantastically in-depth worst case scenario of what would happen if things went south. The song’s beauty lies in the fact that we’ve all done this. We’ve all caused our what-ifs to pile up until all we can do is wallow in neuroticism. “Absolutely Cuckoo” takes this tendency and turns it around to create a song that’s so warm, well-crafted and mildly humorous that it effectively reveals the emperor’s nudity, while also providing an absolutely endearing song with which to bring you and your steady closer together.


 

4. “Stealing the Moonlight” by Gold Motel

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Gold Motel’s upbeat jangle-pop infused “Stealing the Moonlight” from their debut album Summer House perfectly articulates the emotions of the early days of a recently- re-enamored social introvert’s relationship. Greta Morgan’s aloof, unencumbered vocals combine with a bouncy set of guitars, bass and drums (provided by Chicago colleagues Eric Hehr, Dan Duszynski, Matt Minx and Adam Coldhouse)  to capture the warmth and fuzziness of early love. The wide-eyed innocence that “Stealing the Moonlight” conveys is instantly relatable (in a way which reminds me of “I Want to Hold Your Hand” by the Beatles) and works well on any mix.


 

3. “Hotel Yorba” by The White Stripes

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If you can ignore the mild creepiness of Jack and Meg White’s relationship at the time, as well as the slightly off-centre music video, The White Stripe’s “Hotel Yorba” works as a pretty great love song. Against the backdrop of foot-stomping upbeat country and garage rock, Jack White allows himself time to ruminate about an almost whimsical life in the backwoods with his missus. It’s an easy song to get carried away by: the infectious optimism about the future that the song radiates is bound to transmit itself into your inamorato/inamorata, and that can never be a bad thing. Plus, brownie points for being used in the extended pilot of Arrested Development.


 

2. “Ghosts” by Laura Marling

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“Ghosts” takes a rather different approach to the aspects of a new relationship, by looking at that two-tonne tether to the past, i.e. exes. Laura Marling channels the 90s café singer-songwriter in her to produce an acoustic-driven ballad that absolutely has to be shared with your main squeeze. It’s nearly impossible to enter a new relationship without carrying the emotional baggage of the past (as practically 90% of all sitcoms can testify) , and Laura gets that. “Ghosts” conveys the inner turmoil of a man as he approaches his new lover, at once admitting both his haunting by his past and her role in helping with the exorcism. This is a relationship in all its reality – not in isolation, and not under any pretension, but still hopeful.


 

1. “Northern Sky” by Nick Drake

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“I never felt magic crazy as this

I never saw moons knew the meaning of the sea”

Everything about Nick Drake’s world in “Northern Sky” is magical, ethereal, and beautiful. Nick’s easy-going baritone melds with piano, guitar, keyboards and bells as he invites his lover into his world through the simple gesture of telling her exactly how he feels about her.

Nick Drake’s poetry, combined with the gorgeous musical backing, makes “Northern Sky” a timeless work of art. Including it in a mix is a no-brainer.


 
 

Happy Friday and/or Valentine’s Day, from the T5R Team!

– Karthik M. (with a little inspiration from Pune).

Haim: Days Are Gone

6 Dec

A while ago a friend had asked me for a recommendation and I sold him this album saying that it reminded me very much of Fleetwood Mac. He naturally asked if they have a Stevie Nicks. “They’re three sisters”, I told him, “and they’re all Stevie Nicks.” Convincing though that argument is, it undersells the band quite shamefully. Days Are Gone, their debut album is the most likeable thing that I’ve heard in a long time.

Indie rock and pop have a tendency toward snobbishness. There comes a point where in the quest for cool, they substitute irony for intellectualism. That is not Haim. This album revels in the hits of the past three decades, unashamedly drawing from such Top 40 mainstays as Phil Collins, En Vogue and Shania Twain and they do so excellently. The album is much glossier pop than their live shows, but the gloss of a fine polish and not cheap plastic. This album has had years of work put into it and shows every bit.

Despite the influences and despite the sheen, the album and the band simply overflow with personality. Falling is as much fun to watch as to listen to and the music video for The Wire is most amusing. From soft rock to R&B to synthpop, this band does it all and makes it look effortless.

As long as you like listening to music more than posturing over it, this is an album that you cannot help but enjoy.

Metric at Fox Theatre (18/4/2013)

6 May

For those who have never heard of them, Metric are a wonderful indie rock group headed by Emily Haines and James Shaw, who also perform as part of Broken Social Scene. They are one of those bands which justify indie rock as a whole by releasing album after album of solid, intelligent music. Versatile and honest, their music is a pleasure to hear. Seeing them live though was a whole different experience. It was without doubt one of the two best concerts that I have ever been to.

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The opening act was a Nashville-based rock act known as Mona. I had never heard them before and their performance made it abundantly clear why exactly that was. About the only thing that can be said to their credit is that they did have a very eclectic set list. Unfortunately, they could not even manage a jack-of-all-trades performance, coming off more as a four-to-six-of-all-trades performance. These things are regrettable, but they do happen. Let us pass on.

Metric

Metric live is a very different beast from Metric recorded. Their albums are often quite soft, but their concert rocked hard from can to can’t. There was improvisation a-plenty, there were guitar solos and distortions, they were almost an entirely new band, but in a really good way. We don’t go to concerts just to sing along to what we already know. We go to see the performers put on a show, and that should always result in something new.

Live shows are where many bands fail as their music just is not suited to the setting, but Metric put enough rock into their music to assuage any such worries. Emily Haines is an excellent front to the band, displaying enough energy to electrify a theater full of people nearly made catatonic by the opening act. This was an incredible performance in every way. It was mostly hits, but there were a few songs in there that I had never heard before. Their encore was also quite noteworthy. They started with the ever-fun Black Sheep from the Scott Pilgrim movie and also dropped in a really good version of Gold Guns Girls and a very intimate acoustic two-man Gimme Sympathy. Also, the lighting were incredible and it does make a difference.

All told, this was a great concert and I will definitely see them again when they next come to San Francisco. They may be very different in their shows when compared to their recordings, but it makes for a much better live experience. I enjoyed myself, and it seems inconceivable that anyone there did not.

Sky Rabbit: “Anti-Coke Ganpati”

11 Jul

The name of the song is ‘Anti-Coke Ganpati’? Are they a rare species of anti-drug musicians? Or are they just being ironic?’  

Searching for good Indian rock music usually involves sifting through piles of amateurish metal drivel and wannabe alternative/indie bands still searching for their own sound to reach those isolated pockets of unique, memorable music.  However, when one comes across a band like Sky Rabbit, the tiresome search sometimes seems worth it.

Formerly known as Medusa, this electronic post-punk band from Mumbai consists of Raxit (Vocals/Samples), Rahul (Guitar/Samples), Siddharth (Bass) and Harsh (Drums). Fusing electronica with conventional instruments, the band claims to have stumbled upon a unique style and sound. What is remarkable, however, is the way they have perfected this style in their very first album (Sky Rabbit, January 2012). We feel that there are only a few bands in India that manage to sound as spontaneous and self-assured right from their debut.

One thing we quite liked about this song was the intriguing title: most ‘rockers’ would never use the word ‘anti’ in the same sentence as a drug name (much less utter it in the same breath). We’ve determined that the title is either pedantic or, of course, ironic.

So we like the song. Should you listen to it? Let’s break it down.

Pros:

The ambience. The song kicks off with a sampled loop of pleasant, airy electronic, but by the time the drums and vocals kick in a couple of bars later, the song has settled into a soothing, rather lazy groove. Raxit’s deadpan baritone perfectly complements the sampled music and the steady rhythm guitar to set a drowsy, rather heady tone. The bass playing is minimalistic yet tasteful, and the drumming is tight. It is perhaps slightly ironic that a song with an anti-drug stance in its title creates a mood akin to what a stoner would feel after a particularly long session.

The loops. The song follows a slightly unusual chorus-verse-chorus pattern, with an interesting interlude. A few other sequenced samples are layered on top from time to time. My personal favourite is the last sampled loop in the song. As the instruments fade out, sequenced sounds which conjure up images of a Nintendo 8-bit game involving spaceships, play out till the end.

Cons:

Words. The lyrics are slightly puzzling, though. Riddance of blasphemy, idealistic presidential candidates, and the power-hunger of the same idealistic candidates all make an appearance. At one point, the band seems to be taking a dig at our current President (maybe). For a lot of the song, it’s unclear whether the band is going for something lyrically profound, or nonsensical filler words. The title, albeit intriguing, is gibberish as well: does it represent a demi-god figure with an anti-drug stance, or is it, along with a few other words in the interlude, a part of the musings of a stoned rambler? We’ll never know.

The musicianship. In that, no outstanding example of it is displayed in this song, and for that matter, on this album. There are no remarkable instrumental solos or mind-blowing vocals, and it will be interesting to see how the band fares when the novelty of their music fades.

Verdict:

For the moment, Sky Rabbit seems to have hit a purple patch with a unique and refreshingly original style and sound. The trippy ‘March’ and the brilliant ‘I Become I’ are other tracks worth checking out on the album. Even though there is no amazing technical ability on display, the band has a distinctive and impressive style and sound, which they’ll hopefully hold on to in the coming years, while continuing to grow and evolve.

Sky Rabbit plays TOMORROW at Delhi’s Hard Rock Cafe. You should check them out if you’re in the vicinity.

– Soumyadipto

Joyce Manor: Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired

2 Jul

Last year, a young British band called Yuck channeled the apathy of 1990s’ teenagers into a near-perfect indie rock record. This year, a young band called Joyce Manor from Torrance, California does something similar, translating the manic restlessness of the 2000s’ into one of the best punk records in recent times. The nine songs on Of All Things I Will Soon Grow Tired will fill you with an agitated, sustained urge to dance and/or start a band: all within the album’s thirteen (!) minutes of running time.

Similar to Japandroids’ Post-Nothing, the chaotic jumble on Of All Things works well without ever veering into dissonant hipster nonsense (for example, Micachu). The headiness of youth takes you over for thirteen minutes and nine seconds, in bite-sized songs of pure energy.

“These Kinds of Ice Skates” sets the tone for the album, with tight drums, apathetic vocals and an exceptional skill at writing clever lyrics (‘And I don’t think you’re confusing refusal to heal/ With all your selfishness singing, “I know how you feel,”’), all within a minute and a half. “Comfortable Clothes, is a terse tribute to the energetic, fuck-all freedom of youth, reminiscent of Bows + Arrows-era Walkmen. Tracks like “Violent Inside”, “Bride of Usher” and “I’m Always Tired” are heart-felt paeans to youth’s insecurities and melodrama. Despite the mild anguish, however, the band faces as always towards Sunset Boulevard, reminding us of their heritage: that, whatever may come, it’s always sunny in California. (Sorry.)

A classic bass-line drives along the laid-back “See How Tame I Can Be”, but the groovy song bubbles with an undercurrent of adolescent angst (‘And it’s too much to take and so I say to myself, “I never told you that I loved you because I don’t.”’). However, one soon gets the impression that the angst may actually be a joke: that the song’s title – and tameness – is actually a back-handed, precocious compliment to Joyce Manor’s hyperactivity. And the result, hipster aspirants, is irony done right.

Another great song on the album is the mellow “Drainage”, an unexpected, seventy-one-second simple love song, complete with gently-plucked acoustic guitar and faint cello. “If I Needed You There” is Panic! At the Disco with an irreverent buzz cut; against all odds, the minute-long sonic blast not only comes across as a legitimate song, but its chorus even manages to embed itself in your brain.

All through the album, Joyce Manor subtly showcase their many talents underneath the mess and clutter. The band takes pop music, and gives it back to us – trodden, deconstructed and reassembled – and yet somehow pays tribute to it. They are highly skilled editors and arrangers: there isn’t an out-of-place or unnecessary second on the album. And finally, the band is entirely audio-oriented in today’s world of VEVO and pop superstars: they demand – and get – your undivided, aural attention. All of this, and more, comes together on the best song on the album, a cover of 80s one-hit wonder band the Buggles’ signature track, “Video Killed the Radio Star”. We honestly think it’s one of the best covers of the often-covered song, ever.

There are a few criteria that all great songs possess: they grab your attention, pack in as much passion as possible, showcase musical skill, provide intelligent lyrics and have melodic sensibilities. Joyce Manor’s songs rarely cross the two-minute mark, but every single one of them hits all these criteria. The album really is a study in brevity and (there’s no other word for it) genius.

The genius extends to the album cover and title too. The neat capital letters on the cover, defiantly but aesthetically jumbled, give you a good taste of the music that’s inside. The album title, too, strikes us as particularly ingenious. Joyce Manor is a band with enormous talent and very little patience for bullshit. They are confident enough to cut down their album to less than 90 degrees on the clock. Naturally, mundane things in life tire them, and this album is a divine distillation of all that.

Verdict: Of all things Joyce Manor may soon grow tired, but of Joyce Manor you will not very soon grow tired. If you have thirteen minutes and nine seconds of time, listen!

– Neeharika

Kaav: “Thee”

29 Jun

 

Kaav, Kerala’s own three-piece instrumental band, makes me truly excited to be a music listener in India today. In an industry where Indian-influenced rock has little real identity, Syam Pai (guitars) Shabeer Ali (bass) and Arun Kumar (drums) manage to stand out. It’s not difficult to imagine the group lying around on Vypin island on a stormy Sunday afternoon, making musical magic against the background of Kerala’s heavenly atmosphere. To witness this magic, look no further than “Thee,” a single from Kaav’s latest aptly named album Raphsody of Rains (produced with the help of Indian legend Baiju Dharmajan and Cochym Records).

“Thee,” means fire in Malayalam, and according to Kaav “represents the inner fire or the inner strength of humans that gets unleashed in different ways.” The song captures the essence of this strength perfectly, and constantly has throwbacks to the images brought up by the album’s title itself. It’s impossible to listen to the initial bars of the song without thinking of the first few smatterings of raindrops on a cloudy, thunder-filled day. The track starts up with a mood-setting clean guitar strum, accompanied by a low, warm, ringing bassnote and syncopated six-beat hat rhythm; slowly, the mood shifts as the music develops into a harder sound. Softly distorted guitars show up, with gorgeously melodic guitar and bass riffs. The song gradually builds up, but chooses to delay its breaking point – instead, we segue into a beautiful spoken-word excerpt from legendary film maker John Abraham’s “Amma Ariyan.” The critical point happens only after this, and remains wonderfully understated.  The song is then gradually brought back down to earth by a lone, squealing, wavering electric guitar note.

The song’s music video is a piece of art in its own right. Excerpts of Abraham’s film are interspersed in black-and-white with muted-colour clips of the band performing, in an artsy move that never crosses the line into pretentiousness.

Verdict: Kaav represent everything that the Indian music scene has to be hopeful about. Their music retains every inch of their Malayalli heritage, incorporates enough western influence to be accessible to a wider audience, and has a universality to it that cements it as a work of art.
Sidebar: Go check out Kaav’s website. It is *beautiful.*

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