Tag Archives: Skrat

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.

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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.

Bacardi Nh7 Weekender, Kolkata 2014 – Day 2

12 Nov

Read our day 1 coverage here.

November is a wonderful time to have open air festivals in Calcutta. The weather, after having remained consistently lethal for the past six odd months, begins to enter a rather pleasant phase. The sky is the perfect blue. The heat doesn’t kill you any longer. The sweat dries faster. A zephyr actually exists. And best of all, unlike other places (cough cough, Bengaluru) where the rain often plays spoilsport, it remains wonderfully high and dry all day round.

So when Day 2 of the Calcutta edition of the Bacardi Nh7 Weekender kicked off on a fine Sunday afternoon, it was all smiles, laughter and cheer that rang around the beautifully set up Nicco Park grounds.

I was slightly late to the show that day, and when I reached, the first act had already begun at the MTS Discover arena – the French duo, As Animals. Their music was a rather interesting conflation of electronic and alternative, and seemed like the sort that you’d enjoy even more when intoxicated – which the lead singer Zara, going by her completely phased out appearance, probably was. But let that not deter me from transcribing the acts that were to follow.

After a brief stint with these French trippers, we crossed the English channel, and went off to the Red Bull Tour Bus to see Houdini Dax, an extremely … (no points for guessing) British three piece brit-rock suit. Houdini Dax hail from Cardiff, Wales, and they look and sound absolutely, and quintessentially British. They played a rather energetic gig upon the Tour Bus (which included a surprise Beatles cover), and the frontman even ventured down in an attempt to woo the women with his rather “fragile” paper heart. And oh! Did I mention that their bassist looked like a complete Paul McCartney knock off?

While the Houdini Dax was galvanizing a small crowd around the Tour Bus, an eclectic Indian folk outfit was slowly turning out to be the center of attraction of the evening. Maati Baani at the Dewarists’ Stage packed an incredible amount of Indian punch. They had it all – Hindustani classical, Bengali baul, rustic folk, Sufism – peppered with a dash of new age funk and world music. Fronted by the beautiful Nirali Kartik, and a host of other supporting musicians, they carved out a beautiful one hour of varied and soulful compositions in an environment that was predominantly Western-heavy.

Maati Bani

Maati Bani

Meanwhile, the ebullient (and yet another French) duo, The Inspector Cluzo had started creating a ruckus at the Bacardi arena. We went over to find a bearded frontman hurling profanities at everything that was American and British. He proudly touted the fact that their music was absolutely natural – with nothing that was pre-recorded and sampled – and all that they used to perform live, were not laptops and tracks, but their bare hands. On that note, he sent a few heavy riffs flying into the crowd while the drummer entertained us in some rather unique ways. Of the number of songs they performed, one was particularly memorable. This one, titled “F*ck the bass player”, was basically a song about the uselessness of a bassist in a band. Needless to say, they didn’t have one, but it did raise several eyebrows and ruffle many puritan feathers in the crowd.

The Inspector Cluzo

The Inspector Cluzo

The Inspector Cluzo then gave way to the Sky Rabbit on the Red Bull Tour Bus. This four piece electro-rock group from Mumbai played out a rather lackluster gig, following which we headed back to the Dewarists’ stage to see Appleonia – which wasn’t all that great either. The next big thing that we were particularly stoked about was Indian Ocean, which was still a good one hour away. So to while away this gap, we decided to remain near the MTS Discover stage, and munch on pizza slices, to see who filled in for Pentagram (who had cancelled earlier that day). And boy, were we in for a pleasant surprise.

The Ganesh Talkies, fronted by Suyasha SenGupta turned out to be The Undisputed Find of the Day. Suyasha’s captivating stage presence kept the whole crowd hooked while the extremely groovy rhythms and guitars kept a number of heads bobbing up and down. The Talkies’ set included songs from their Technicolor and Three Tier Non AC albums – the result being a heady mix of alt-rock, reggae and dance.

The Ganesh Talkies

The Ganesh Talkies

Next up, were two stalwart acts – both of which have been around for more than two decades and enjoy a cult following in the country: Mumbai based alt-rockers Indus Creed on the Bacardi Stage and Delhi based fusion masters Indian Ocean on the Dewarists’. For me, the decision was a no-brainer, and after having spent not more than ten minutes being bemused by the former, I headed off to have my mind blown to smithereens by the latter.

Indian Ocean is one of those bands that aren’t just heard or listened to. They are experienced. One’s perception of their music transcends far beyond the realms of the sensual, and borders on what could be called the spiritual. Be it Himanshu Joshi’s alaaps, or Rahul Ram’s bass riffs, or Tuheen Chakravorti’s Tabla – they manage to create those picture perfect moments when tranquility and ecstasy co-exist in harmony. Their gig that evening, was essentially part of their tour for promoting their new album Tandanu, and therefore most of the songs were new to me. The fact that they still managed to reach deep down and evoke a plethora of feelings just proved beyond doubt that they continue to be a class above the rest – even after all these years.

Indian Ocean

Indian Ocean

Towards the end of Indian Ocean’s masterclass performance, I had to take my leave to go pay a visit to the Red Bull Tour Bus where Sriram TT and his gang of garage rockers – Skrat, were setting out for a hard hitting, angst-ridden gig. This would be my third Skrat gig in a little less than a year, but it turned out to be as fun as it always had been. Belting out their heavy, riff driven melodies, and their tongue-in-cheek lyrics (“love is like pool / all colour but only balls”) they brought in a completely new dimension to the prevailing mood at the venue, which had just been charged up, rather emotionally by Indian Ocean’s poignant tunes.

Skrat!

Skrat!

Forty five minutes of Skrat later, the entire crowd around the Nicco Park grounds gravitated near the Bacardi Arena where the headliners were about to take off. Mutemath, the American alt-rock group, who even boasted a Grammy nomination to their name, were known to some, and unknown to others. But from the moment they kicked off amid a flurry of confetti and electro-rock tunes, there was not one soul who didn’t have a huge smile plastered on his or her face. I’ll confess that I hadn’t thought so highly of Mutemath before (my primary exposure to their music being a soundtrack on the Asphalt 8 Android game) but boy. Were they bloody good! Paul Meany’s eclectic vocals, his dexterity with keyboards and keytars, Darren King’s thumping beats and not to mention Todd Gummerman’s wonderful guitar work – all fell in perfectly to deliver one of the best live experiences that I’ve ever seen in my life. They performed most of their popular hits, including “Chaos”, “Blood Pressure” and their Grammy nominated single, “Typical”. In the end, they added a wonderful twist when Paul got on top of a rather bling-bling mattress (or was it a magic carpet?) and went sailing over the crowd, while simultaneously performing with consummate ease.

Mutemath

Mutemath

It was close to 10 PM when the burning embers of the fantastic evening began to fade. The lights on the stages had been turned off. One of Quidich’s supercool quadcopter-cameras whirred above my head. I looked around at the venue that was quickly emptying and  couldn’t for the life of me reconcile the pity sight with the extravaganza it had just hosted.

So there you are. That was the end of the epic Calcutta Weekender. It had been a grand success, but if I had to choose I would probably choose Day 1 over Day 2 as my favourite.

As they say after Durga Pujo here in Calcutta – “asche bochor abar hobe”,  you can rest assured that T5R will be back for it next year as well.

 

Words and pictures by Subhayan Mukerjee (@wrahool)

 

 

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

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

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

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