It was three days of love, peace and music not in Woodstock, but Ziro. As the picturesque meadows echoed with sounds of 20 ensembles from around the country, the Northeast swayed to its first indie fest of tunes.
Every time someone talks about a music festival the first thing that comes to ones mind is indeed Woodstock 1969. Often hailed as the mother of all music festivals, it never ceased to acquire a mention whenever there is a reference to a magnificent association between love, peace, harmony and music. But guess what, all of that is about to change and especially for the people who were at the Ziro Festival of Music in Arunachal Pradesh from September 14 to 16. From now on every time someone mentions a music festival, it will be the one in Ziro that will secure an immediate mention among the people of Northeast and trust us, rightfully so.
Whether it was the magnificent festival venue nestled amidst lush green meadows of the hamlet between Ziro and Hapoli, the rainy weekend, 20 musical ensembles or having a gala time swaying away to music in muddy fields and sipping on local rice beer, Ziro Festival helped all those who were present at the do to relive moments which many of us have usually savoured in the videos of festivals such as the Woodstock 1969. And we should very well say this that the first edition Ziro Festival will go in the pages of history as one of the pivotal moments that changed the music scene in the Northeast by providing enough exposure to the region for the world to acknowledge its splendid grandeur.
The attendees to the three days of Eat, Drink and Merry festival (as the tagline of the fest goes) were not confined to the Northeast alone. There were people from all walks of life and with different geographical sensibilities. Though the attendance was paltry (considering all three days), but notwithstanding that it was festival that managed to re-establish peoples faith in the power of music and how it can get people together despite differences. And music took the center stage with the artistes and audiophiles – many among who were visiting the Northeast for the first time.
The first day kicked off at around 3.30 pm and went on late till late in the night. Frisky Pints and undoubtedly Bombay Bassment (among the others) were the bands to look out for on the first days schedule. It was a busy day not only for the organizers but also for the festival-goers as all of them was busy getting prepared for the next two days to follow. Setting up of tents, doing a recce of the venue, tasting the available delicious culinary offerings and savouring the scenic beauty of the festival venue took up most of the time. But all that didnt take anything away from these bands that offered a fantastic platter of songs that shook Ziro on the first day and set the tone for the next two days. Bombay Basement with their eclectic blend of tempo-driven hip-hop, funk and reggae gave a fantastic ending to the first day. However, people continued to flood the stage arena long after the music was called off for the night, which gave an impression that people simply wanted more. Those staying at tents at a plateau around some 200 meters from the stage continued jamming with djembes and guitars which they had brought along with them and it continued till the wee hours of the night. The serene environment of the hamlet echoed with music and we all waited for the sun to rise and mark the beginning of yet another fantastic day of music.
Echo of acoustic music from djembes and guitars woke us up in our tents the next morning. Early birds were already on a musical high when we came out of our tents to find out what is going on. After seeing a few of our fellow festival-goers pounding percussions and strumming guitars, we joined in and that set the mood to enjoy performances by the professionals who were lined up for the day. Our impromptu jamming was on a all time high when a soothing cover of Alanis Morissettes song grabbed out attention. We knew it was time for the first act of the day Alisha Bhatt. A singer-cum-songwriter, recently Alisha has been in the news for her soulful urban folksy performances something one can relate with the likes of Joan Baez, Ani DiFranco among others. After a performance in front of a 50 or so people, she left the stage for Aftertaste, a five member alternative rock ensemble from Mumbai.
Here it is imperative to mention that the rains never stopped pouring for more than a few hours in all the three days, but that didnt hinder anyones enthusiasm to watch these acts out which were not only independent in their approach towards music but also unique in their appearance on stage. More importantly, till this festival, we had only heard about many of these acts but never had the chance to witness them live. But, they were experienced festival performers who knew when and how to get the crowd going and it was very much evident right from the time they stepped on to the stage. Aftertaste, as a band, was a pleasure to watch. And right from the word go, these musicians manifested how to articulate a performance, even when one is performing in a venue for the first time in front of a crowd which probably they have never entertained for. Their professionalism was apparent when some technical difficulties struck guitarist Michael Lees setup and Keegan Pereira, vocalist of the band, broke into a spontaneous song with some random yet meaningful lyrics and candidly confessed to us that it was a gimmick to buy some time for his fellow bandmate to fix the problem. They were well received by the crowd and had to oblige to encores. As the day bid adieu and evening set in, it was time for some metal. The only representative of metal in the entire line up of the three-day fest was Lucid Recess (LR), the three member alternative metal guys from Assam. Those who have known LR and their music would know that they are pretty neat in their live performances, but guess it was a bad day at work for the trio at Ziro. LR was followed by some much-needed girl power. And no brownie point for guessing as it was the only all-girl ensemble in the line up The Vinyl Records (TVR).
TVR got a great slot to perform at the festival as they got to perform in the evening on day two. As many of us would know they are good at what they do, but in Ziro their performance didnt have the zing that could make the crowd tap their feet. The highlight of day two was indeed Peter Cat Recording Co. (PCRC) and organizers Menwhopause. We got to know from sources that prior to the festival PCRC were desperately hunting for opportunities to perform in the Northeast and their wishes were granted when they were given a slot in the lineup. They did a fantastic job. Those who havent heard these alternative musicians, we would like to tell them that the ensemble is an unique blend of genres that evokes certain emotions probably something like as if Sid Barretts technical and psychedelic imagery is having a romantic date with that of The Doorss introspective lyricism and lively showmanship. But, the band which stole the show on day two was Menwhopause. The organizers were also blessed by the rain Gods and the audience could savior their music blessing them for coming up with the festival that will be in the coming years one of the most sought after festival in indie musical the map of India (provided its organized again).
The last Day of the festival was once again kicked off by yet another soloist from Delhi Dayglocrazie. The guy with an acoustic guitar is a subtle musician that might remind many of the likes of Jack Johnson and Ben Harper among others. But, here is the catch – unlike any of the above mentioned musicians Dayglocrazies music had a hint of regional elements. To be precise his compositions smelled of baul music of West Bengal cleverly weaved with western music sensibilities to give it an urban avatar. In fact the opening two acts – Dayglocrazie and Tritha Electric (which followed him next) offered some Bengali flavour to the audience in the middle of Arunachal Pradesh in the fest. If Dayglocrazie sounded like baul music, Tritha sprinkled rebellious poetry of Kazi Nazrul Islam, the Bengali poet, blending it with a bass guitar and a well toned drum. In fact looking at the line up of day three it seems the seven bands were paired in accordance of the genre of music they play. For instance after the first two Bengali-inspired poetic acts, it was time for some alternative punk. The Dirty Strikes and Street Stories unleashed their punk-inspired power and at times covered contemporary pop like that of Lady Gagas Poker Face to attract the rain-soaked crowd. But if we are to choose one between the two, our vote will go with that of Street Stories. Mainly because of their exquisite stage presentation and some crazy (we mean literally) guitar playing.
The next two similar sounding bands to occupy the stage one after another were Digital Suicide (DS) from Guwahati and Sky Rabbit (previously known as Medusa) from Mumbai. Music enthusiast in the Northeast are well acquainted with DS post grunge sound. Though it took them quite a while to get their preferred sound out of the speakers and it did irritate the audience who were anxious to savior some of their lucid riffs and distorted bass slap. But once they got going the crowd swayed away to their music forgetting the initial technical hiccups. Sky Rabbit was a soothing surprise as we have heard them when they were a metal ensemble named Medusa. Their sound and compositions echoed of a peculiar British neo-rock tinge which was appreciated by the crowd.
But, it was celebrated veteran pop/rock musician Lou Majaw and his friends that took the third day of the festival to a crescendo. We all know Majaw and his music. Being in the Northeast he is no surprise as we get to see him every time there is a rock concert of some magnitude. The veteran clad in his trademark shorts and multi-coloured socks yet again gave a reason soothing enough for the crowd to go berserk and scream for encores compelling the artiste and his associates to render one song after another long after they formally bid adieu to the crowd. But, the love for music in the Northeast was evident when the crowd refuse to left the concert venue even after the organizers called it a night, So much so that they were left with no other option but continue playing music so what if it was CD recordings. From Pink Floyds overplayed Another Brick in the Wall to Jon Bon Jovis previously unheard remix version of Wanted Dead or Alive there was everything that shaped many of our tastes in rock.
Well, there was no Jimi Hendrix, Canned Heat, Joe Cocker or Sly and the Family Stone for the crowd to savior. But will it be too much to say that the lineup definitely had the potential to become one of these great acts and hence Ziro Festival was nothing short of what they call a perfect field day for musicians and music lovers. We sincerely hope the organizers give it a serious thought to organize the festival next year so that those who could make it to the festival and were on a wait and watch mode will get a chance to relish some serious independent music that too in Apatani style. Till then keep your fingers crossed!
Time check – it was 18 o clock. Was I going to make it on time for the JD rock awards? At around 7-ish as I was zooming on the highway, I was mentally preparing myself for what the entire evening was going to be like. I got to the venue at sharp 7:30 and was mighty pleased to see that the entrance was nicely decked up with sweet signage complete with a desk of folks from Rolling Stones magazine/JD to check invites and sort out the invitees. They had setup a neat-looking JD/Rolling Stones magazine backdrop for photo-ops with a dozen photographers trying to squeeze out glamour shots for their respective publications. It all looked a lot like an elite fashion event.
This was the first time that I had entered this stage at Mehboob Studios and as I later found out this was the first time they were doing a live music event at this particular studio. It was huge with an incredibly high ceiling and the minute I got in, I was immediately enveloped by the smell of expensive alcohol and the sound of general last-minute sound check noises. I got in just in time to hear Luke Kenny start to rev up the crowd to get the Rock Awards going after introducing himself as the host. The turnout for the rock awards was modest at first but the place got crowded later, not uncomfortably so at any point. Furthermore, the place had long bars on both sides serving unlimited JD on the house!
Sky Rabbit or the erstwhile Medusa played a tight set of their tracks in spite of the odd sounding PA mix which I would largely attribute to the high ceiling and room in general. The Sky Rabbit sound, if I were to describe it from the few songs I heard them do in that particular setting, was a mix of post-punk and electronica, which for some might be pretty reminiscent of early Coldplay. However, it was packed with enough new ideas to still be quite distinct sounding.
Indus Creed was up next and they played a long set. I liked quite a few of their songs, but I certainly would want to hear the album that’s coming out soon so I can listen to them without having to put up with spectacular room reverb. They were quite energetic on stage, were groovy and had interesting bass lines and harmonic modulation throughout, which I quite love in a band.
Next up was Ankur and the Ghalat family. Since the first time I heard these guys at Blue Frog when we were all doing a mixed singer-songwriter set, I’ve always liked their downright earthy sound and honest songwriting. Moreover, their sound has always retained its simplicity and has a nice clarity in the way the songs are arranged and the harmonies are brought out.
For the most part, I expected this to be a lot like the splendid party thrown by the nice people over at The Blue Frog, a few months ago. Except at the end of it, maybe there would be a good old fashioned fist fight over who deserved to win best award for a three legged drummer. This certainly was at par and done on a much a larger scale apart from being an awards event. However in retrospect, I figure that one of the nicer things about the Bombay music scene is that nearly everybody has played with everybody and shares a healthy mix of camaraderie and the Bohemian spirit of I-don’t-really-f**king-care which leaves little or no place for any kind of angst or I-know-where-you-live type of behaviour. Bombay is certainly a great place to be a musician.
Amongst mixed reactions, knowing nods and downright ‘What the Frankenstein’ reactions the winners for this years JD Rock Awards were announced. Bombay Bassment won Best Emerging Act which I suppose was well deserved. They have acquired quite a following in the past year and their live act is very entertaining. Bassist Ruell Baretto was nominated for Best Bass Player at the last JD Awards and the band was ecstatic when they found out they had won this year. It would be great to see where and how this band evolves and where they go with their sound. Dischordian won the award for Album Art of the Year designed by Hemant Kumar for the album The Feni Farm Riot. Pentagram won several awards some of which were for Best Vocalist, Best Guitarist, Best Video and Best Album. Shiraz and Vishal were pretty much on a marathon to collect the plethora of awards that they picked up. Best Vocalist (Female) went to Subhadra Kamath from Fire Exit. Best Drummer went to Vibhas Venkatram from Eccentric Pendulum.Stefan Kaye from The Ska Vengers picked up Best Keyboardist. Best Bassist went to Abhinav Chaudhary from The Circus. Best Producer went to Miti Adhikari for his work on Menwhopause album Easy. Best Venue went to Blue Frog which couldn’t really have gone any other way! A special award for Years of Excellence went to Lou Majaw.
The party continued for quite a while even after the awards were done and host Luke Kenny had signed off. The alcohol kept flowing and people seemed to be having a good time too. The place had a steady influx of a lot of familiar faces from television and movies who didnt really have much to do with the rock awards or rock in particular but certainly contributed to the overall eye candy. I think that purely for the great setup, the copiously flowing alcohol and the abundance of legs, the JD rock awards was certainly a smashing night.