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The Bicycle Days feat. Audio-visual performance by Nikhil and Abhinav at The BFlat Bar, Bangalore

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I’ve always enjoyed gigs at The BFlat Bar and unlike some other similar venues they have kept live music in mind while designing the venue – no awkwardly elevated stages and bad PA systems. The set started at 9:00 p.m. with an audio-visual performance by Nikhil and Abhinav. The lights were dimmed down and a projector beamed live effects on a screen behind the stage while the artists stood behind their consoles. I had heard Nikhil before at a sound installation he had put up with a friend at The Mad Festival. He records a lot of his own samples that he uses in his set. His style cannot be easily typified under labels such as electro, psy or dub. I can only describe it as “far out” and something you either really enjoy or don’t understand. The audio-visual set opened a door leading to an entirely new and thrillingly unsettling musical dimension: a sprawling, amorphous journey through fragile but foreboding soundscapes that takes in everything from electron glitch sounds and shimmering, shadow-shrouded psychedelia to bursts of disorienting noise and scything swathes of diaphanous synth horror. Though the music is electronic, it seems to have evolved organically.

Watching The Bicycle Days up close is a completely different experience from watching them at a concert with a large audience and a distant stage. The Bicycle Days are an eclectic bunch of people who work really well together to say the least. Their bass player Shek can be found at the skate park on Sarjapur road on most days where he is also an instructor. Their guitarist Rahul is also a sound engineer and does sound for a number of bands apart from teaching guitar at popular Bangalore music school ‘Taaqademy’ (setup by the veteran rockers Thermal and a Quarter).

The Bicycle Days have a hyper-evolved sense of limitless experimentation, where no idea is deemed too preposterous to warrant consideration. There’s a heavy use of samples, vocal effects and controlled feedback and yet the music remains the focal point of attention for the band and the audience. And don’t let the ambient textures and digital soundscapes fool you; their sound is still very much rooted in straight up rock. There was a lot of heavy riffing through the set. Having stepped so deliberately away from traditional rock structures, many would superficially mistake their sound as a rejection of heaviness, or extremity and of anything that fans of aggressive music might regard as sonically satisfying.

They started with ‘Conundrum’, ‘Tele Drug Zombie’ and ‘Something Human’, which I really liked because of the guitar riffs. ‘Crawl’ was almost like a hypnotic prayer with only Rahul creating ambient sounds through his rig and echo-drenched vocals. There was a degree of intimacy and intensity on display throughout the set that suggests a much more involved writing process than anything that could be bashed out while under the influence.

They went on to play some new material that they’re going to release soon and the evolution in their sound was very noticeable as the set progressed with ‘Wishes’, ‘Indignance’ and another track that they haven’t named yet. The band closed their set by returning to the more familiar tracks such as ‘27′, ‘Circles’ and ‘Sober Anthem’, which sounded especially distinct due to the venue and the lighting and visuals.

I read somewhere that a Bicycle Days concert is an experience that will scar and caress you at the same time. It had its moments of macabre serenity, bleak elegance and otherworldly malevolence that make it a far more uncomfortable listen than any more traditional barrage of distorted riffing and guttural growls. Few informed listeners will be surprised to discover that they have created something that resounds with fierce originality and an almost defiant disregard for the rock n’ roll status quo. Watch out for the video for ‘Wishes’ from their upcoming album.

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The Bicycle Days at The BFlat Bar, Bangalore

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Dreadlocks, a leather beret and a familiar Floyd note was all The Bicycle Days gave us as an intro to their unique brand of psychedelic rock music. The Bangalore-based band performed at BFlat, Indiranagar, on Friday, 28th Oct. It was their new bassist Abhishek’s debut on home ground. The 8 p.m. gig started out with an experimental reggae-trance sound, making the 5-member band seem like an acquired taste. By the end of the evening, TBD settled into racier Radiohead-influenced material, which pleased their head-banging, foot-tapping fans.

The band’s opening number, ‘27′, had the much-required, shiver-down-your-spine effect on their early-bird audience. Taken off their 2010 debut EP 42, the song was first reminiscent of Pink Floyd before it suddenly sprouted alien sounds and drummed itself into something halfway melodic!

The second song, ‘Zorbing in Space’, confirmed the band’s non-conformity with the basic rules of song-writing. It gave us a glimpse of lead singer Karthik’s Marley phase. Following the half-hearted applause from the audience, they decide to talk to us about their third song. “This is Something Human”, said guitarist Rahul Ranganath, “It’s about humans.” Who needs long intros when the songs speak for themselves?

Around the time the Delhi-Metallica fiasco started dampening spirits at our table, The Bicycle Days kicked in with ‘Tele Drug Zombies’. It reminded us of Incubus with a slight jazz undertone. A hand full of die-hard TBD fans were lingering at the bar, mouthing the lyrics of the very aptly named ‘Fevered Ego Circus’ and bouncing up and down to the more upbeat ‘Something Human’. Little did they know that Karthik Basker had listed this song as ‘Something Gay’ on his tissue paper setlist that we managed to acquire post the show!

I like a band that doesn’t take itself too seriously and chills out with the audience more for the love of music than for the love of themselves! The Bicycle Days weren’t trying to be cute or charming. They didn’t play to the audience, but they did encourage applause. “We want more energy, Bangalore! Get drunk!” instructed Karthik just before their 5-minute timeout. “Awesome guys!” cheered the front row tables.

Our table, barely ten feet from the stage, was filled with half-empty beer bottles and Kung Pao potato. We were surrounded by the usual chilled-out Bangalore crowd, who just wanted to escape the Diwali bang-bang, which seems to be the only music we’ve been forced to hear over the past week! By the time we had soaked in the smells and sights of the tastefully decorated pub, the band had subtly returned with their sixth song ‘In This Moment’. It was the only song with a hint of Indian classical instruments, but it retained the band’s mysterious experimental tone. On their MySpace page, the band categorizes their genre as ‘Alternative / Experimental / Indie’ music. But I think the word ‘Alternative’ is the only one that truly captures their essence.

Seventh on that night’s setlist, ‘Radio Song’ was slow and enchanting. Maybe not as a much of a ear-pleaser, it had the energy to captivate listeners. Finally I could place Bicycle Days in the same zone as alternative rock band Radiohead’s OK Computer album. The band thanked the audience for the heartfelt applause that followed.

Mostly instrumental, ‘No Battery’ started off with dripping-water sounds and progressed into squeaky echoes of a child’s voice. Karthik had his arms folded across his chest and he randomly threw in some awkward hand gestures, which perfectly matched the song. The Bicycle Days had escaped into a world of its own. I sensed an element of disconnect, because of the lack of eye contact and verbal communication among band members. But more experienced TBD fans seemed to disagree. “Tonight the band is very ‘in-sync’ with each other. They’ve tremendously improved since the last time I saw them,” said Shruti Naik, who had attended TBD’s December 2010 gig at Xtreme Sports Bar, Bannerghatta.

As the night progressed, the 6-year-old video-gamer behind us fell asleep in his father’s arms. This didn’t stop his rocker-dad from head-banging and air-guitaring to ‘Circles’, the most popular song of the night. ‘Circles’ was the encore and came to be my favourite as well. The stick-in-your head guitar riffs caught my attention and sustained it through indecipherable lyrics. Considering I was a first-timer to a Bicycle Days gig and to B Flat, I couldn’t afford to be biased. But being a wordsmith, the absence of meaningful lyrics was my only pet peeve for the night.

The show met a ‘Sober Death’, which the band had strategically saved as the last song on their setlist. Throughout the gig, I was dying to ask the bassist, Abhishek, about the psychedelic stickers on his guitar but had to contend with staring at the equally psychedelic Dylan poster on the B Flat wall. Overall, I came away with an acquired sense of appreciation for the band’s music and a strong desire to see them live more often.

Parnika Reys Gamat

Parnika believes every song is a living person in an alternate universe she'd like to visit someday. You'll hardly ever see her without her headphones. Her other interests include travel, photography and poetry.

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Great Indian Rock 2010 – Day 1 at Palace Grounds, Bangalore

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Heavy metal in India is big. Heavy metal in Bangalore is big. Gone are the days when the washed-up classic rock act toured India to promote their new album that no one else would hear. Nowadays bands in their prime want to tour India. They see it as an opportunity to connect to a wider audience. They are surprised when they see 3000 plus Indian fans singing along at a show. This familiarity is of course due to the Internet. Even the most obscure bands have ardent followers here and since listening to non-pop International music is still fairly niche in India, these bands get sufficient word-of-mouth publicity. This phenomenon especially rings true for heavy metal and all its sub-genres. India has seen many heavy metal bands in the last couple of years and these are bands that still have the ability to sell out stadiums anywhere in the world. Satyricon, Opeth, Amon Amarth etc have played to massive crowds in India and so it was no surprise when Meshuggah were announced as one of the headliners for the 14th edition of Great Indian Rock (GIR).

This year’s GIR, like the last, was a two day event with Swedish metal giants Meshuggah headlining. Local acts Bicycle Days, Slain, Kryptos and Bhayanak Maut were the opening acts, presumably lined in increasing order of loudness. Surprisingly the online buzz before the concert wasn’t as much as I expected. The ticket prices were slightly steep and/or there aren’t as many Meshuggah fans in Bangalore as I expected. I reached the venue early as I had backstage access and it was a privilege to see the band do their sound check. Watching vocalist Jens Kidman in particular blew me away as he seamlessly shifted from a meek ‘check check hey hey’ to a deafening guttural growl. Guitarists Thordendal and Hagstrom too toiled hard to ensure that they got their guitar tone perfect. Once they finished their sound check, I loitered around the venue and noticed it was considerably smaller than the previous concerts I’d attended. There was also just the solitary food stall and one tiny stall selling overpriced Meshuggah tees.

The Bicycle Days played in the dreaded opening slot to a lackluster crowd. The band seemed disinterested in the proceedings, robotically going through the first half of their set. I’ve always thought that TBD sound better in an indoor environment and that performance just proved it. They did find some energy when they played ‘27‘ and ‘Circles’ off their debut EP 42. Karthik Basker’s processed vocals adding a dimension to their psychedelic music.

The next band up on stage was Slain who, in my opinion, are perfect for an outdoor stage or arena. Their progressive/power metal reaches out to most audiences and it’s hard to dislike a performance by Slain. They performed material from their new album Here and Beyond and were consistent as always. Bryden’s lightning-fast, complex solos were impressive and so were the vocal harmonies that they managed to pull off.

Kryptos, who gig extensively across India was the next band on stage. Sadly Kryptos maintain a small repository of their songs on their live playlist. I love ‘Spiral Ascent’ to death, but even the most devout fan would tire of listening to ‘Descension’ live for the 50th time. They played out a predictable setlist of ‘The Revanant’, ‘Mask of Anubis’, ‘Altered Destinies’, ‘Descension’ etc. Bizarrely enough the volume on the PA was turned down (apparently due to a wedding happening in the adjacent grounds!). The audience chants of “Volume, Volume” grew louder but unfortunately the PA levels didn’t.

The same problem persisted with Bhayanak Maut too but the tragedy was that BM completely messed up their sound. This is a band that I love to see live because of their energy and stage presence but somehow they never got the audience’s reception that usually greets them. Even the band was appalled by the lack of enthusiasm of the crowd as they tried their best to force moshes but to no avail. Also, their new avatar with two vocalists seems completely pointless as new vocalist Sunneith doesn’t add anything to the band’s sound. ‘Twas definitely not one of BM’s better performances.

Finally, to quote an old cliché, it was time to witness what everyone had come for. Meshuggah have this reputation for being an excellent live act and considering the technicality and experimental nature of their music, it’s quite an achievement. Now I can say for sure why they have this reputation. The band completely made up for the disappointing decibel levels in the opening acts with their monstrous sound. The twin 8-string detuned guitars have this low frequency tone that perfectly captures the abrasiveness of their music. Thordendal’s off-scale solos were mind-blowing as he, with his guitar almost touching the ground, played every note exactly like the album versions. Vocalist Kidman too maintained the same level of ferocity with his menacing growls throughout the gig. They performed their obZen tour playlist as they displayed their prodigious talents with songs like ‘Rational Gaze’, ‘Bleed’, ‘Sane’ etc. Thomas Haake should be contender for ‘Best metal drummer’ as his machine-like drumming in odd time signatures seemed impossible. They also, to my great joy, played ‘Straws Pulled at Random’ which is my favourite Meshuggah song. The signature bass line was sufficient to get the small but ‘high’ crowd going. After pounding the crowd with their discordant metal for little more than an hour, they ended their gig with the popular ‘Future Breed Machine’. The audience was left a little disappointed as they didn’t play out an encore as they usually do but seemed satisfied with the whole concert experience. I heard the common ‘my neck hurts from headbangin’ refrain from excited teenagers as I exited the venue mentally ticking off yet another band from my list of bands-to-see-before-I-die.

Sohan Maheshwar

Jack of all tirades, total shirk-off. Follow Sohan on twitter! @soganmageshwar

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42 by The Bicycle Days

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Bursting onto the scene with their unique sound, The Bicycle Days have emerged as a breath of fresh air in the Bangalore rock scene. When most Bangalore bands these days just tend to explore the different sub-genres of metal, these young chaps have the cajones to meld a variety of influences into their music. Taking inspiration from esoteric sources such as Radiohead and Bill Hicks(!), TBD have gained a considerable reputaion for themselves in a very short span of time. With Douglas Adams as their guide, they released an EP called 42 earlier this year. While it may not be the answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything, 42 is certainly the answer to the dying[citation needed] rock scene in Bangalore.

It is not very common for a band to release an EP this early in their career but The Bicycle Days (or the acronym friendly TBD) have done so with aplomb. The hallmark of this record is the band’s confidence in their ability to meld electronica samples with guitar driven rock. This is evident on the brilliantly written ‘Psychonaut‘ which shows off guitarist Rahul Ranganath’s mastery of digital loops and samples.

The pick of the album definitely though is ‘27′. A spacey track that reaches a crescendo with singer Karthik Basker’s vocals urging the listener to laugh, sing, dance and unlearn. It is now a fan favourite and a concert staple and one can see why.
The closing track ‘Zen’ (with Ajit Ranganathan on veena) has a catchy riff and is a fine way to close out the album. Well, almost. Play the track for a few seconds after the silence and lo and behold – a secret track! This track mostly consists of eerie loops and Karthik’s Thom Yorke- influenced wails. Tip o’ the hat to the band for including a secret track!

It is a fine line between “insprired by” and “copying” and a criticism of this EP would be that TBD have tread on it. While sounding sufficiently original, you would be hard pressed to find a music fan who wouldn’t notice the very evident Radiohead influences on this album. That being said, TBD have created a unique space for themselves by incorporating the use of samples and vocal processors in their sound. It ain’t easy to translate this onto a live stage and TBD have proved their mettle with their gig at Kyra which has now gained a legendary status amongst music afficianodos. With some polish(the track ‘Circles’ is slightly derivative of the other tracks on the album) and a capable producer, this is a band that can go a long way. Till then turn on, tune in and space out.

Sohan Maheshwar

Jack of all tirades, total shirk-off. Follow Sohan on twitter! @soganmageshwar

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