Tag Archives: Afflatus
Mad Finale to The Mad Festival, Ooty
Day 3 of The Mad Festival was the final day in this glorious mélange of Music, Arts and Dance. While there was a small increase in the crowd, a few familiar faces were notably absent on an early Saturday morning, possibly nursing hangovers. If Day 1 was the day of the big-name acts (Indian Ocean, Raghu Dixit, Swarathma to name a few) and Day 2 the day of alternative, left-of-centre acts (Sulk Station, Bicycle Days, Schizophonic), Day 3 was easily the most versatile in the sheer range of acts lined up.
Confession time, folks – we almost missed Spud in the Box. In our endeavour to eat some authentic Ooty breakfast, we traversed through some narrow lanes, one-ways and parking-spot-less streets only to realize we were quite a distance from the venue. Nevertheless, we did manage to make it in time for the much-touted Spud in the Box. The “folk-rock” genre attributed to them in the schedule was a complete misnomer. S in the B play good ol’ rock and roll with no frills attached. After the heavy EDM/electronica inspired music of Day 2, it was refreshing to see Day 3 start off with a more “traditional” rock band. This young outfit was impressive in songwriting and execution especially on songs like ‘Train of Thought’,’ ‘Jokes Aside’ and ‘Attention Please’. The band mentioned that they’d been practicing hard in rehearsals to which someone in the audience rightly replied “It shows!” Drummer Vivaan Kapoor, stick-twirls and all, is a good showman and manages to maintain a steady groove which gives the other five musicians on stage room to breathe. Their set did sound repetitive toward the end with common lyrical themes that you’d expect from teenagers but don’t let that stop you from checking out this young and talented band in the future.
We managed to catch only the last two songs by all-girl rock band Afflatus and we regretted it the instant the first of those two songs had been wrapped. Featuring a short-haired spunky vocalist stalking across the stage like a lioness, the band boasts a very tight sound. The sound itself is a post punk, mostly rock inspired affair but what probably did us in was the vocalist and her powerful pipes. With a faint hint of funk-y riffs overset by accented lyrics, for us, Afflatus was the dark horse of the festival.
Live Banned can lay claim to being India’s first live mash-up act. Seamlessly drawing from heavy metal classics, 90s Bollywood numbers, bubblegum pop, South Indian cinema and pretty much everything else in between, they are a tour de force in entertainment. Playing at the enviable early-afternoon slot to a boisterous and upbeat crowd and dressed in their trademark garishness, they rocked the capacity crowd present at the Blubaloo stage. Kicking things off with the not-sure-whether-to-headbang-or-tapanguchi ‘Ringamukka Kats’ that moved from the Swat Kats theme to ‘Appadi Podu’ and other such South Indian kitsch hits, they touched the nostalgia chord with the Generation Y folk present. Behind all the tomfoolery on stage, Live Banned comprises essentially excellent musicians in their own right as evinced by their debut single ‘The Auto-Tune’, a glorious humdinger about apathetic auto-drivers and their antics. Their set closed with the energetic RATM-and-Prabhu-Deva (yes, you read right) influenced ‘Rage in Ranipettai’ which had the 1000 odd crowd bouncing up and down during the final chorus. Live Banned were cruelly denied their encore due to time restraints but this was easily the best-received act of the fest up to that point. To paraphrase from Auto-Tune, “Live Banned makes us…so….haaaa”.
Peter Cat Recording Co. feature among our favourites. Their gypsy-ish influenced cabaret styling strikes a chord that few other bands can hit today. While there are enough and more bands to go around who can play decent metal, decent alternative and amazing blues, there are few who can sing in the macabre tone that PCRC employs. At The Mad festival, the band played to a sedate audience. Images of Hindi movies from the seventies flashed across the screen behind the band serving as a sort of anachronistic addition while the band crawled through the setlist on the cold, rainy morning. ‘Happiness’ with its slow yet delicious chord progression was our best pick from the set. The song fit the “mood”, and a few people near the barricade fell into a synchronous swaying, which was slightly hypnotic. However, ‘The Clown on the 22nd Floor’ is our usual choice when it comes to PCRC; it’s one of those songs that’s just a pleasure to listen to – the melancholy verses chained to the upbeat chorus also makes it one of the most popular songs by the band. ‘Pariquel’ was also a crowd pleaser. The tone of the song is deceiving, and if you listen closely you’d hear a world of pain in the lyrics. “My girl, she won’t confess, but she’ll be your lover and maybe your guest. Her eyes shine, they’ll drape you blind, cut you in pieces, and rape your insides.” Suryakanth whipped out a megaphone during the latter half of the set and there are a few amusements in life that will equal a man planted on stage singing into a megaphone with such force that will make you take a few steps back! The band ended to the usual requests for an encore, which we found surprising since the audience had been politely detached through most of the set.
Within this music-rollercoaster ride, where music poured from many parts of India and the world, let us pass the western progressions and desi patterns, beyond metal-aggression, rock-n-roll domination, or acoustic-submission. Let’s take a break. Let’s talk about temple bells, ghungrus and flutes, tungnas, sarangis and madals, about freedom, happiness, and home. Let’s talk about Kutumba. Kutumba is an instrumental-folk music group from Kathmandu, and they humbly accept the massive mission they are out to accomplish – preserve Nepalese culture and art by spreading the love and happiness through music. And when on a Sunday afternoon in the hills of South India, you sit down and watch them play, you don’t feel too far away from the eastern mountains. It’s not just the texture that’s put together with the playing of exotic (and cherished) instruments, it’s so much about the melodies they create, and emotions they express. They played many traditional tunes and also their own compositions. There were songs about liberty, voice of the youth, restlessly happy hearts, even about infidelity, and for most part there were no lyrics. The band introduced the song and the music delivered the message. The tungna may start an upbeat song and when you nod your head or sway your body or even tap your feet, the sarangi may suddenly join and play a melancholy tune and the mood changes from celebration to reminiscence, the madal beat recreates a sense of urgency, simultaneously the flute brings composure, and it slowly builds all over again leading to the second bout of ecstatic dancing. And this is just a sample of what the hour long experience was. The band connected well with the crowd, and when they asked for us to join either with clapping, or singing and dancing along, we obeyed as if we were hypnotized. By the time they concluded and bid farewell, the feeling of ‘Resham Firiri‘ (a fluttering heart, such as silk in the wind) was too hard to hold back, and we continued “… sometimes singing, sometimes dancing, resham firiri…”
Asima on the Calaloo stage, was up next. Putting together an ensemble that primarily had 5 vocalists, almost “Carnatic Acapella” accompanied by various instruments, this act from Kerala was definitely different from the rest of the lineup. Starting off with an invocation to Lord Ganesh, that began in a 5/4 rhythm and moved to a regular 4/4 rhythm, Asima didn’t really jump out and grab the audience’s attention. Their manager then proceeded to introduce the act and their style of music, followed by which they proceeded to present their interpretation of Kumar Gandharva’s interpretation of a Kabir panthi. The kanjira in this piece shone through quite nicely on the mix with some lovely, unique harmonies. Their next piece ‘Swagatham’ was on the Mishra Chapu tala (alternately, 7/4). Asima sounded a little flatter on this one and didn’t really impress. The second part of their set did impress though. Launching into a traditional Kerala folk song with gusto, the presence of the guitars was finally felt, the overall sound was much more dynamic and several rhythm changes were pulled off nicely. The pick of the setlist was their rendition of Swati Thirunal’s thillana in Raga Dhanashree. While not quite as heavy and energetic as Agam’s rendition on the previous afternoon, Asima’s version had its moments, with the 5 voices coming through in a clear, crisp manner that highlighted both the lead and the backing vocals. The rhythm changes were also handled with aplomb. All in all, Asima showcased a different brand of music at The Mad festival, one that several audience members, even those unfamiliar with Carnatic and Kerala folk music appreciated.
By the time Slain had got on the Calaloo Stage on the third day, at 5 p.m., the sky had grown cloudy and chilly winds had started blowing. On this day, the progressive rock band from Bangalore chose to play with a 10-piece Concordia Choir. The band had undergone a few lineup changes recently and was playing with a new vocalist, Ranjit Abraham formerly of Parousia. Slain’s music is immensely melodic with songs praising the Almighty Lord. Bryden Lewis, the lead guitarist, is especially brilliant with his solos – his fingers fly over the fretboard faster than the eye can see. The choir gave a certain fullness to Slain’s music and added a new dimension to it. The gig staples like ‘Your Majesty’ were made more interesting because of the choir’s presence. However, the sound levels for the choir were a bit low in the mix and, hence, it took some effort to discern the singing. Overall, Slain put on a mighty energetic performance and audience was seen enjoying it really well, some of them were even crowd surfing.
With an unexpected bit of scorching, late afternoon sun beating down at the venue, the Sanjay Divecha Project took to the stage. There’s a snowball’s chance in hell of Sanjay Divecha disappointing any sort of audience (20 people at an impromptu busking or 200 people at a festival) – the man is a genius – though we were wary when we heard that the line-up was brand new and it was the first time they were playing together onstage. But we’ve got to mention in particular that the sound was really good. All the instruments were suspended in this perfect balance throughout; if you cut the set into chunks and listened to it only in these segments, you could immediately spot the consistency. As pretentious as that sounds, it’s got truth to it! The only downside was that there was a mismatch when Sanjay and Chandana Bala sang together that was hard to miss. Starting off with an invocation – the band’s crisp sound had the audience in its sway. Sanjay accompanied Chandana in the shloka. The embellishments made to the invocation did that much more to convince the audience that several musicians who had played onstage during the rest of the festival were being actively outclassed â as unfair as it is to make comparisons. The first song ‘The Meeting’ had a catchy melody that was set over by swaras instead of words. While starting out peppy, we were more taken by the interlude – a delicate score on the acoustic where Sanjay played off a litany of interesting percussive sounds from Sanket Nayak that later singled down into just the Cajon. We were particularly taken by the percussion – Sanket had the tabla, a high-hat, a Djembe and the Cajon among other smaller instruments under his command. The band played some material from Sanjay’s album Full Circle and also included some new tracks. By far the track with the most feeling was ‘Le Gayo Jiya’, which is a familiar track off the album. The entire performance had a very appreciative audience lolling around on the grassy lawn, immersing themselves in the music, even so far as to forget about the scorching heat.
A large crowd had gathered at the Blubaloo stage in anticipation of Thermal and a Quarter and when Bruce greeted everyone with a “Hello, you Mad people” there was a veritable uproar from front row glued to the barricades. TAAQ kicked things off with “the second song about autos” in the same day and a crowd favourite, ‘Meter Mele (one and a half)’ was an instant success. I’ve always wondered how the band can bring so much soul into a song about auto drivers and their proclivity towards asking for fares so high that it’s almost damnable. Any song we’d written ourselves on the subject matter would’ve been considerably more violent. Techies in the crowd squirmed and grinned uncomfortably as Bruce poked fun at how much his hometown (Bangalore) had changed thanks to the influx of Information Technology and everybody squirmed (or hooted) when he mentioned that the next song ‘Mighty Strange’ was about the terabytes of free music we download that find an undisturbed abode in our hard drives. The percussion on the beginning of this song is a cornucopia of sounds that stands out despite playing a relatively small part. The upbeat bass section and the light melody can camouflage the piquant lyrics if you aren’t listening close enough. It’s a technique (consciously or unconsciously) employed by the band that adds layers to all their songs. If you think you know everything about a TAAQ song, think again. The rest of the set went predictably well. We weren’t too moved by their cover of ‘In Bloom’ but a live performance of that song merits less focus on the technique than the feel of a Nirvana song played live.
God’s Robots came onto the Callaloo stage and the first thing that hits you is that, visually, they’re an interesting band. A wisp of a lady accompanied by eclectic bearded gent – you wonder, whatever could they have in common to make music together? Music, mind you, that was the result of steady 6-month collaboration overseas between the Mumbai-based Shridevi Keshavan (Tamaara) and Janaka Atugoda who was in San Francisco at the time. The dedication impresses you. The duo walked on stage (accompanied by a percussionist) and set the mood immediately with Janaka playing some fast-paced synth pop and Tamaara layering snatches of haunting vocals over it. It seemed an unlikely sound from the duo but the crowd appreciated it nonetheless. There’s a heavy bass intrusion every now and then – this could seriously have gone either way – but we think they pulled it off without anything seeming untoward. Our favourite of the set was ‘Falling’; on the album the song is languid and mired in a lethargic sort of feel but live, onstage, with Tamaara singing with feeling and grooving along to the sitar imbued beat, there was nothing like it! As a live act, people tend to underestimate the difficulty an electronic duo has in recreating the sound on an album but God’s Robots doesn’t hold to it and changed things around in their favour. Kudos to them!
Indialucia, the final musical act on the Blubaloo stage, promised an interesting setlist. With some members hailing from Poland, they described themselves as a Flamenco act that also incorporates traditional Indian music in their repertoire. The very meager crowd was due to Dele Sosimi and the Afrobeat orchestra having taken off on the Calaloo stage to a rousing reception. Indialucia flattered to deceive. The overall sound was not as impressive as one would have hoped for, although there were several flashes of brilliance from every member of the band. The confluence of flamenco and Indian music was not immediately apparent, the band clearly sounding largely separate with a not very apparent confluence. The presence of a Flamenco dancer in the middle of the set did liven things up a little, but by and large, the set by Indialucia was a little off the mark and uninspiring.
Dele Sosimi is the person who played keys and also directed music for the originator of the Afrobeat genre (Fela Kuti). At the Mad festival, Dele’s was one of the closing acts. His Afrobeat ensemble performed as a nine-piece outfit, fully loaded with bass, guitar, drums, congas, a three-piece brass section (trombone, tenor sax, and trumpet), a female dancer cum backing vocalist, and Dele on keys and vocals. Their music is a mix of traditional Nigerian music and bubbly jazz and funk. While Dele took the center-stage playing keyboards, his chanting-vocals created appealing hooks. Very soon, this unpretentious performer began commanding authority with his baritone singing and crowd-connect. The songs were no rush affair. Every song was allowed to build, sometimes starting with a funky guitar or a groovy bass swing, other times with the riffs coming from the brass section, the African beats and psychedelic keys just glazing it all. And then there were those eccentric dance moves which Dele solicited – the kind that require circular or front-back movement of the pelvic area, but which the crowd was hesitant to oblige to. “You keep it reserved for behind closed doors”, he joked. It looked entertaining on a guy with Dele’s build though. To sum it up, we went there as irregular listeners of the Afrobeat genre, expecting congas and standard dundun patterns, but the brass with funk and jazz, the dance moves, the trippy hooks and the overall psychedelic scoring bowled us over. Next thing we did – buy the CD and get it autographed by the main man. Dele Sosimi, we will remember you.
Back at the Blubaloo stage, Isha Sharvani and her expansive troupe closed out the festival with their hypnotic dance routines. With colourful costumes and exquisite choreography, the troupe fittingly brought the 3-day extravaganza to an end.
Elsewhere at the venue, people in high-spirits danced to the impromptu djembe jams that spouted in the thicket of trees between the two stages. One heard “CSK CSK” chants only for the predictable “RCB RCB” riposte a few minutes later. Cigarettes were bummed off strangers, blurry cell-phone camera images were recorded and contact details were exchanged as the festival faded into the night. Many of us bumped into some of the artists who had gamely chosen to stay and witness the rest of the acts. The warm communal vibe that everyone experienced was unlike anything we had experienced at a Indian music festival and we wished it wouldn’t end so soon. Alas, all good things do come to an end and we grudgingly headed back to the campsite trying very hard to overcome the effects of the alcohol to make mental notes about the festival and what a festival it was!
The Mad Experience at Fern Hills Palace, Ooty
The first edition of The Mad Festival was greatly anticipated mainly because it held the promise of bringing Music, Arts and Dance together – each one being a form of expression where the difference lies only in the medium through which ideas, thoughts and feelings are conveyed. A closer look at the festival details revealed that they had an amazing line-up with some of the most accomplished musicians and dancers. The location seemed to be the cherry on top of the cake – Ooty was the perfect destination to head to, to enjoy three days of unadulterated bliss. There was no way we would miss this one.
The journey began with high expectations, mixed with a lot of apprehension because it is a known fact that organizing events of this magnitude with performances by 48 artistes over a span of 3 days is no ordinary task and since this was the first edition of The Mad Festival, we hoped that everything would run smoothly without any glitches. Strategically placed signboards on the streets leading to Fern Hills ensured that no one had trouble finding the venue. A massive doorway at the entrance announced the name of the festival in bold letters. The setting for the festival was provided by sky-high trees, lovely hills outlining the venue and step farms, lush green with tea plantations. The sheer beauty of the place, and the lovely weather made the venue seem like any art lover’s paradise!
The security at the entrance stripped people off all their eatables, unsealed cigarette packs, lighters and water bottles after a thorough inspection of bags and sent the articles collected straight to the dustbin, with no provisions for collecting them after the festival. However, this was forgiven and forgotten as soon as one got past the gates and beheld the massive stage setup. The two stages at the venue called ‘Blubaloo’ and ‘Callaloo’ (which apparently don’t mean anything, in case you were wondering if they had any tribal significance) were set up at different locations and were well-separated from each other by the Mad Bazaar, such that walking over from one stage to another wasn’t much of a chore and the music from the two stages hardly interfered with each other. Two massive boards at each stage announced the line-up for the festival, which was a delectable mixture of different genres featuring artistes spanning various countries and origins.
The turnout at the festival was surprisingly low, especially on the first day. Two food stalls and the limited number of tents at the sparsely populated venue made it seem like a large crowd wasn’t expected. However, more people turned up on the second day and the third, making the place a lot livelier. Each day’s proceedings began with an invocation on both stages by the local tribes – Todas, Kotas, Irula, Kattunayakans, Paniyars and Kurumba. On day one, the first few bands played to a sparse audience. However, towards the latter part of the day, a satisfactory number had gathered around both stages to relish the variety of tunes being belted out, scuttling from one stage to another from time to time, not wanting to miss out on too much of anything. The performances on the two stages were well-spaced, giving the audience the opportunity of catching a bit of everything!
The pathway from the ‘Blubaloo’ stage to the ‘Callaloo’ stage was lined by the Mad Bazaar with lovely little stalls that sold everything from soft toys, flamboyant cowboy hats, shimmering bows, feathered stoles, fancy hairbands and tiaras, books with original 3D comic art, hats with oversized bows, unconventional musical instruments to a variety of other trinkets. Cupcakes of different varieties were hugely popular and consumed in large numbers. Curiously, there was very little variety across the food stalls at both stages, which got boring towards the end of three days and also quite heavy on the pocket! The ‘Blubaloo’ stage was also lined by the Paintball Zone that had a foosball table, darts and other fun games to indulge in!
Not surprisingly, The Bar always seemed to have a sizeable crowd with people gathered around, beers in hand, making their own music by beating on cartons that doubled up as percussion instruments and belting out their own tribal calls at the top of their voices. Mild flirting, animated conversations, socializing and bonding over alcohol and shared cigarettes contributed to most of the buzz while the rest of the buzz came in from the stalls comprising the Mad Bazaar.
Sadly, the stalls were the only things that contributed to the “Art” in the festival. The space available around both stages could have been put to better use to display art more extensively. Three days into the festival, we realized that it was more about Music than Arts and Dance, with the latter two thrown in seemingly just to fit the bill to qualify as a festival that promotes all art forms. Hopefully, the second edition of The Mad Festival will have more to offer on that front!
In addition to listening and watching the bands and artistes perform on stage, the attendees could also interact with them at the various workshops conducted at the festival such as the ‘Depth of Expression’ workshop by Susmit Sen and the ‘Chaos Theory’ workshop by State of Bengal. There were also several theatre, photography and Yoga workshops that people could enroll for.
The camping place with over 160 tents was quite a walk from the stage (for those who weren’t smart enough to figure out a shortcut!) and was probably the best place to hang out after the day’s proceedings. Bonfires were lit, guitars were wielded and popular tunes were played that everyone sang to. The chilly breeze and drunken conversations over the crackling of a fire with the soft strumming of a guitar or two in the background brought each eventful day to a close. However, when it was time to retire to the cramped tents, the hard floor and the not-so-warm sleeping bags, one would think enviously of all the people in the palace with a soft bed for comfort. A couple of foreigners were spotted complaining that the ticket said “basic power supply” but there was none provided at the camping site. People had to run to the Dell stall next to the ‘Blubaloo’ stage or the palace to charge their phones, which was quite an inconvenience. The portable toilets were many in number although a few of them were quite unclean. This left people with the only option – of running to the palace located 1 km away from the camping site (unless they knew the shortcut!)
Days two and three definitely seemed to gain a lot of momentum with a lot more people joining in and enjoying the music, sprawled on the lawns, hanging on to the barricades or just dancing to the tunes at a distance. Some even found a vantage point overlooking the hills and step farms, relishing the music while enjoying the sights and sounds. One thing a lot of artistes complimented the organizers on was the sound. There were almost no problems with respect to sound save for some feedback and volume issues here and there. The sound was pristine, with the sound engineers doing an impeccable job, except for the low volume levels for the Concordia Choir and some feedback during Slain’s performance.
The bands and artistes at The Mad Festival covered the whole gamut of genres and sounds. It is rare to come by a festival where you get to see a heavy metal band like Kryptos play alongside a folk rock fusion act like Swarathma or a World music band like Moon Arra. There was clearly an effort made to showcase ethnic music from all over the country. Artistes like The Kabir Project (Sufi, Folk) singing the mysticism of the poet Kabir, Manganiars playing Rajasthani folk music and Vayali folklore group from Kerala portrayed the musical roots of India, while international bands like The Krar Collective from Ethiopia and Kutumba from Nepal had the audience spellbound with their local ethnic music. Fusion acts like Yodhakaa (Sanskrit-based contemporary Indian music), Agam (Carnatic Rock), The Raghu Dixit Project, Indian Ocean and Papon & The East India Company bridged the musical gap between the traditional and the modern sounds, whereas, contemporary rock bands like Motherjane, Slain, Live Banned, Thermal and a Quarter and Avial had the young crowd rocking out. The Shillong bands Soulmate (Blues) and Afflatus (Rock) were particularly impressive with their onstage intensity and sheer incredible musicianship. The Electronic Music fans had something to groove to with bands like State of Bengal, Schizophonic and God’s Robots providing pulsating beats. With such a diversity of music on display at The Mad Festival, there was hardly a soul around who wasn’t caught up with the music of their liking.
Overall, The Mad Festival proved to be a wonderfully executed event that brought together several artistes and fans from different parts of the world and gave them a chance to interact closely and become acquainted with each other. There were incessant compliments for the organizers by artistes and fans alike for having arranged something like this in the first place, in such a beautiful location, and pulling it off in such a short time frame and the vote in this regard, was unanimous. One of the endearing, and overlooked, details of The Mad Festival was that no band was billed as the headlining act with other bands opening for it. All bands, local and international, were given equal opportunity and a level platform to showcase their art. With the festival featuring 48 bands, stretching over three days, on-site accommodation in tents and camps, the air sizzling with carnival atmosphere, The Mad Festival surely has the potential to be India’s equivalent of international festivals like the Glastonbury Festival.