Pictures by Abhishek Gunaratnam
Back in the days of Orkut, Sriram was watching Ice Age and chatting with Tapass on a messenger from that age, Windows Live:
Sriram: Dude, the jamming’s great. I love how tight our band is! We’re gonna give a killer performance during our first gig.
Tapass: All that’s awesome man. There’s one thing though. We’re just gonna be speechless when someone asks us what we’re called. Our band doesn’t even have a name yet!
Sriram: How does Manny sound to you?
Tapass: No. Sid? Hehe.
Twenty minutes later:
Tapass: That sounds nice! Let it be SKRAT though. You know, just to dodge copyright issues.
Eight years ago two buddies met after a long gap of two years. Skipping the hugs and pleasantries, Sriram got right down to business – to check if his friend, Tapass, was better at the drums than he was previously. And thank the Lord he was, because that’s when he began his guitar experiments. As all meetings go, they sat down and started chatting about nothing and everything. And as it always happens with guys who can play instruments, it struck like a bolt of lightning.
”Dude! We should so form a band!”
There were three others they knew who played instruments – one who played the keyboard and did vocals, another was a bass player and finally – a lead guitarist. Soon enough, they jammed. This group of young musicians transformed plain tunes into jaunty, spirited, feel-good music that got even the staunchest grey-haired man to revisit his juvenile past. Six days after the band was formed they bagged themselves a gig at Unwind Center, Chennai, where they had to open for Nerverek!
July 21st, 2006: This day was a big deal. The band arrived at the venue where the poster read: SKRAT OPENING FOR NERVEREK. The bassist – Satish, was staring blankly at what he had just read, “Dude, I thought we were the only opening band. Who on earth is Skrat?” And then it dawned on Sriram. “No! Tapass you were serious when you said you liked the name? Let’s go tell them that the name may be subject to change.”
The venue was packed, the incandescent lights, smoke, the energy –it was more than they had expected. They mused: So this is what it meant to be in a band and play live. They got out of their reverie when their name was announced. “Macha, it sounds kickass. This is it. We’re SKRAT!” – Tapass was finally satisfied.
The series of events that followed would take anyone by surprise. Nerverek updated their status to: “That Skrat band played some pretty cool music!” Skrat’s fan following on Orkut increased to 400 members, and frontman Sriram fondly recollects this incident as their “Kolaveri moment.”
Over the period of one year, this alt-rock band worked their charm in a number of South Indian cities. Their euphoric music gathered a frenzied fan following and by 2007, their inboxes were filled with requests to perform. Skrat made sure they were remembered in cities like Vellore, Bangalore, and not to forget, Chennai. Then, fate decided to drop a bomb. Their keyboardist/vocalist decided to leave, and after some contemplation, it was decided that Sriram would take over vocal duties. With that, Skrat emerged to be a 4-piece band.
2009: Progressive metallers, Opeth came to India for the first time to perform at IIT Madras and satiated Chennai’s metal hungry crowd. That was not all. Skrat’s winning streak was noticed by none other than Swedish band itself! Tapass ran out, yelling “I GOT OPETH’S PEDAL!”
Nevertheless, fate could not resist the temptation of fiddling with them. This happy series of events was followed by the departure of their lead guitarist Chirag, who wanted to pursue his second love, cricket and conquer the business world.
2010: Amidst college life, studies and exams, a compilation of 8 tracks, under the album Design was released in 2010. High on all this success, Tapass decided to take a step forward and go to UK for higher studies. While he took Appa’s and Amma’s blessings to study for a year, the Skrat guys were going crazy without their drummer. And then with the lemons that life gave them, they ordered some tequila shots. Before they knew it, they were on the next flight to UK for a gig!
While still recovering from a mind-blowing crowd response, they returned to India but with the absence of their drummer. That particular period of time hardly presented them with gigs, only because they had a filler drummer to keep the momentum going.
2012: Tapass returned to India and everything went on perfectly again, until a there was a sudden turn of events. Abhinav, the lead guitarist of the band found rock music dreary and moth-eaten, while pop was as attractive as Scarlett Johansson. This was followed by his resignation, for he wanted to try his luck with India’s growing pop scene. Sriram looked at the rest of his group and said, “Tapass and Satish, we’ve been the only members who have been consistent throughout. I’m done with any more additions. It is just going to be the three of us now.”
Things did not look good though. Frustration gnawed at their insides as they were reaching nowhere. Their music was playing the devil with them, hanging around vapidly. Satish was the first person to lose it. “I AM TRYING AND TRYING BUT NOTHING IS COMING! (sic)” That was a moment that marked a change in the style of music they played. Rage directed Sriram to unplug his pedals and plug in directly to the amp while Tapass threw away his double bass and toms. They were back to the basics and what followed was completely insane as the trio came up with five brilliant songs in less than thirty minutes! Sriram was ecstatic. “That was perfect. After going through so much, I didn’t think giving up was the solution at all. This was amazing guys, let’s go celebrate now!”
2012: Rock n Roll fans were going gaga over new albums that were released by upcoming bands. Skrat did not want to lag behind in the rat race they were a part of and set to discuss plans to boost their name across frontiers.
“Should we release a new EP? Or maybe work on a new album?”
“Well, an EP would go unnoticed and what good would an album be? It’s going to get dismissed as just another album by the people. No, we need something bigger.”
How does a live video, consisting of five new songs, shot in a garage sound to you? No gaudy lighting, no ‘Indian masala’ – just a video with the band playing songs that gave people a glimpse of their sophomore album. Well, Skrat were dubious about it too. How would the audience take a 17-minute long video devoid of the tantalizing visuals or the typical incessant drama? However, the gripping music made everyone’s neck hair stiff as they connected viscerally with the music and the video. As always, with the help of the craftsman Mr. Toby Joseph (who has also worked with The F16s, Grey Shack, Franks Got The Funk etc), behind the sound, Skrat In The Shed was born. They decided to pool in all the money they had and flip the coin. The response was astonishing, with the numbers ratcheting upwards in terms of viewership. The transition in their style of music from funk to alternative rock hit the nail on the head. Fans increasingly started referring to them as Skrat in the Shed instead of just Skrat. What they did was groundbreaking in the independent music industry. Fans were eagerly awaiting the release of their next album, Bring Out The Big Guns.
2013: As badass as it sounds, ‘Bring Out The Big Guns’ sported the line-up and the sound changes that the band went through. Followed by the outrage of the indecisiveness of their past members, and the success of ‘In The Shed’, ‘Tin Can Man’ and ‘Smoke A Cigar’ hit the records and got the people to boogie down and bunny hop. Under the lining of the perky and exultant music, the lyrics and the instrumentation elicited something deeper. They underscored not-so-trivial issues, uproar and an ‘I-don’t-care-about-the-rest-of-the-world’ attitude. The album was their vent and their release. It celebrated the 3-piece band that Skrat is now, and the permanence of it. Overwhelmed, the frontman declared, “It’s just going to be us, our designers and our photographer. We are the Skrat family.”
A few months later…
Satish: “Machi, how cool would it be to perform on top of a bus? And it’s not namma local Chennai 5A, for your information.”
Tapass and Sriram were completely bewildered. “What are you talking about?”
And so they heard about the Red Bull Tour Bus Gives You Wings tour.
300 bands applied to play on the Red Bull Tour bus, and Skrat was one of them. 15 worthy bands got selected to play at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender on the bus! Videos were shot, uploaded, and the voting season began.
2014: Sriram goes mad with excitement and jumps on his très cher bed when he reads the numbers. Skrat had won 1,388 votes out of the nearly 5,000 votes that were registered, making them the winners of the Gives You Wings tour!
The band took the phrase “going places” to a whole new level, as they travelled almost 17,000 kilometers across the country. The most exciting part was when they entertained thousands of rabid fans and were having fun themselves while playing on the bus. It was an out-of-the-ordinary, unbelievable experience. Scoring an extensive and diverse fan base, Skrat’s gig record went through the roof. The Red Bull Tour Bus gig has carved a niche for itself in their memories. Climbing atop a bus and performing is no cakewalk.
Later in September, the band released their third album, the much awaited The Queen! Their captivating album art was splashed all across social media and the teaser made people stand on their toes eagerly looking forward to the release. Shortly after the album release, the band had a gala time touring across five cities, performing at various legs of the Bacardi NH7 Weekender along with their local buddies, the F16s. This is one tour the band would go on for years as they gathered a whole new Skrat family, geared up for months to travel on road from city to city, and performed to have one of the most unforgettable experiences of their lives!
These were people who used to sleep in the staff room of a college because of a lack of accommodation, performed without good sound and were victims to many other bad tricks played on them. They spent the night at a restaurant, waiting to play for their friends, and sometimes all they got was the stone cold floor of the lecturer’s quarters to spend the night. Everyone seemed to extract their sadistic pleasure from them, and the band doubles up with laughter thinking about those instances even today.
Sriram chuckles as he ends his story. “This is who we are! We are three different people who share varied musical interests, but have managed to find the common ground. Satish loves the Goo Goo Dolls, Head in the Heart, Noah and the Whale, while Tapass loves anything and Everything. The Foo Fighters have been my greatest inspiration. I’ve also developed my music taste from my dad, who religiously listens to the classic stuff every morning. Collectively, we love the Foo Fighters, The Raconteurs, The Vines, Supergrass and so on. We have performed at a lot of places, and in the beginning, I used to source our gigs. However, we now have our dear old friend Nithin, who has been managing us for the past two and a half years. And if there is one place where we would want to perform, it would be the UK…or perhaps Australia. The garage scene is really good there! But as they say, home is where the heart is!”
The band started off as bored engineering students coming together, and today, the 26 year olds are more energetic and enthusiastic than ever. Skrat is known for their mischievous antics on stage, with Tapass and Sriram fooling around and Satish strumming his bass as an added effect.
This band has now played over 170 gigs in the country, and the growth has been tremendous. They keep modifying their music according to the changing trends, and place great importance on getting the audience to groove. They play solely for the entertainment of their audience, and have not succumbed to the monetary perks the industry provides. This is exactly what keeps the music running in their veins for when a hobby is made a source of income, “the attractive Mahatma Gandhi notes begin to take over the sanity of the artists.” They have attracted crowds that number 5000 people and that speaks volumes about everything they have done. They do as they please without thinking twice about the repercussions and Skrat is completely alive in its music because of that.