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Interview with Markus Schulz

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Markus Schulz is a German trance music DJ, musician and producer. He is best known for his weekly radio show titled Global DJ Broadcast. He is also the founder of the label Coldharbour Recordings and Schulz Music Group (SMG), an artist management company which manages rising stars in the industry such as KhoMha, Mr. Pit, Grube & Hovsepian and Adina Butar. Schulz is all set to perform at season 7 of The Sunburn Festival as part of the big one!

WTS: You moved to America when you were 13. Which would you say has influenced your interest in making music – your German roots or your new home in the States?

Schulz: Both. I became fascinated with radio at a young age. Because I didn’t have that many friends when growing up, radio acted as a companion for me; a way to escape. I didn’t get to forge long friendships because my step-father was in the army, and we’d therefore be moving home a lot. I was one of the so-called “army brats”. But the radio was always there. I loved getting lost in the music.

I emigrated to the US when I was 13, and this was the point where the breakdance scene was massive. I’d make breakdance tapes and trade them with other people, much like people do nowadays downloading liveset and radioshow rips. The breakdance movement eventually led to us throwing parties, and in my case, gave me my first footsteps in DJing for a crowd. Moving on to production after that was a natural step.

WTS: Is it true that your first gigs in America were mostly at gay clubs? Why was that and how do you think your audience has expanded since?

Schulz: That is indeed true. When I started becoming booked as a DJ around the Boston area, I would be playing in the Top 40 clubs. It was ok to an extent, but not particularly gratifying on a personal level, because playing solely the Top 40 music can burn you out creatively. It was only when I started attending and DJing at the gay clubs where my passion for DJing really ignited, because now you were playing for people who knew their stuff. It presented that challenge of pushing boundaries musically.

One of the biggest moments of my career was my seven year residency at The Works in Phoenix. That was the point where I began to feel that I could create my own identity – where people would be coming to see me DJ rather than just going for a night out generally. It was during those years where I began concentrating more on production and originals.

WTS: What is the entire process behind creating your albums? How many songs do you have to sift through before you find the perfect ones?

Schulz: Artist albums are completely different from everything else you do. The art of songwriting brings a lot of self-exploration and assessment. Sometimes you could be working with as many as three other people on one song – a fellow DJ collaborator, a singer and a songwriter. These tracks tend to take so much longer to create, but because of the amount of effort, the rewards feel greater.

When all is said and done, I’ll usually have around 25-30 tracks created, and roughly 65% of them will make the cut. Sometimes after the album is released, I’ll revisit the projects of some that didn’t quite feel right at the time and work on them again for the future.

WTS: Scream received amazing reviews worldwide; is there another album in the works?

Schulz: There sure is. The whole Scream project has felt like a career journey – encompassing the album, the big singles and the first attempt at a Bus Tour last spring. I had so many ideas while on the road and being inspired by the fans that I felt I should continue the ethos with a second chapter.

Scream 2 will continue much in the same vein as the first offering – nice melodic vocal tracks featuring new singers, a couple of collaborations and plenty of big anthemic instrumentals. Some of the tracks were showcased on the Buenos Aires ’13 compilation – Remember This, Mardi Gras and Towards the Sun (my collab with Rex Mundi). I’ve just managed to complete the album in time for Christmas, so it’s set for release in February with a host of parties to celebrate.               

WTS: You’ve been for DJing a long time now. If not a DJ, what else would you like to be?

Schulz: I get asked this a lot, and the honest answer is that I cannot imagine myself doing anything else for a living. It sounds very corny but I genuinely think I was put on this earth to do what I have been so lucky to do all these years – entertain and connect.

If I had to pick something, I’d love to have a go at running a radio station. As I mentioned earlier, the radio medium has played a very important role in my life, so I’d love the challenge of programming a station under my vision.

WTS: What is the idea behind your sometimes alias Dakota?

Schulz: The main ethos of Dakota is the instrumental, clubby side of my sound.  The biggest difference between it and theMarkus Schulz tracks / albums is that with Dakota it’s just entirely me from start to finish, making conventional club tracks that fuel my DJ sets. The tracks tend to be a little deeper and slower.

Even though most of my focus this year has been on Scream 2, I have still kept the Dakota alias active. Baraccas was actually the last thing I worked on before putting the Buenos Aires ’13 compilation together, and of course there was Doors Open – a 22 minute long track that has acted as my opener when I play my open to close solo sets. I have a couple more projects ongoing that will help me get ready for the long sets in 2014.

WTS: Who would you say is the biggest influence on your music?

Schulz: If we are talking about one single piece of music, I would say Pink Floyd’s Dark Side of the Moon album. Even today I could put it on and still develop new ideas just by listening through from start to finish.

Nowadays however, and as silly as it sounds, it’s the fans who inspire me. When I am on stage performing, I get so many ideas inside my head when looking out and seeing the reactions from the fans. A lot of the Scream 2 album was influenced by the experience of the Bus Tour that took place throughout the spring. 

WTS: In your opinion, what have been the best tracks of ?

Schulz: In no particular order, Fisherman & Hawkins – Apache, Markus Schulz – Remember This, KhoMha – Hydra, School of Seven Bells – Reappear (Thomas Datt Remix), Rex Mundi – Backpain, Grube & Hovsepian – Trickster, Wellenrausch & Basil O’Glue – Wickaninnish, Beat Service – Arcade, Danilo Ercole – Player One (Gai Barone Remix), Max Graham – The Evil ID.

WTS: Who’s your favourite upcoming artist these days?

Schulz: He’s been around for a couple of years, but I think this year marked the moment where people really started taking notice of Beat Service. His remix of ‘Nothing Without Me‘ is still so essential in my livesets almost a year on from when it was first made, and he’s gone on to make really booming originals like ‘Arcade‘, ‘Reach the Sun‘ and ‘Undercover‘.

And there’s no way we could call him a newcomer, but I’ve loved how M.I.K.E. has reinvented his sound this year. From his album that came out in February to the new stuff he’s done for me at Coldharbour, they are all so addictive.

WTS: Are there any artists that you haven’t collaborated with yet but would like to?

Schulz: I’ve always admired Eric Prydz’s work through the years.  His productions always have that special catchy melody and I’m immediately drawn to his name if I see any new content from him popping up through the promos or on Beatport.

In terms of outside the box choices, having the opportunity to work with a band like Coldplay or U2 would be a dream. I’ve really admired Lana Del Rey’s work over the past 18 months too; her whole Born to Die album is great, but the ‘Summertime Sadness‘ track is a real guilty pleasure of mine.

WTS: Name one track that you wish you had produced.

Schulz: That would have to be the original Cass & Slide version of ‘Perception‘. It first surfaced when I was moved to London at the turn of the millennium, where I was trying to rediscover the magic in the music after being badly burnt out after the Phoenix years.  It reminds me a lot of going to clubs like Ministry of Sound and Turnmills just as a clubber, seeing the big international DJs pass through at the time. When Naimee Coleman’s vocal got added, it just escalated the track even further to become my all time favorite.

Fortunately, as many of you know, I was given the privilege of remaking the track a few years ago, as part of my Do You Dream album. And to be able to get Justine Suissa on board for the vocals was just incredible. She did such an unbelievable job on the lyrics. It’s such a powerful line that we can all take inspiration from – “Rise up together”.

WTS: Tell us a little bit about KhoMha, the Colombian DJ you manage.

Schulz: My boy KhoMha! I’m so proud of how he continues to develop. I had known him for quite a while due to playing in Medellin so often. But the one distinct point I remember about him was the night I was playing a solo set at Amnesia in Ibiza, and he sent me the demo version of ‘Rainy in the Night‘ about an hour before I was due to leave for the club. I loved the track so much that I burned it and played it in the first hour, and his name started to spread.

Then when I came up with the concept of Schulz Music Group – taking people under my wing and managing them while acting as their booking agent, he was one of the first on my wishlist. We had a lot of trouble getting him a US Visa; so much so that he couldn’t make it for the Los Angeles ’12 release party, but now that it’s thankfully all sorted his tour schedule has just exploded. And he continues to fuel my livesets with some of the most outrageous melodies I have heard in tracks. He’s just going to get better and better.

WTS: What do you think of the new generation of producers and DJs? Do you think they’ve contributed to the sudden upsurge in dance music’s popularity?

Schulz: There’s no doubt about that. I think it was needed for the scene in a way. For many years the scene felt a little tired. It was the same lineups on the same stages at the same festivals. But now the newer generation have come in and brought new production ideas to the table, and therefore brings an element of excitement along with it.

However, there has been a side effect to it, namely that the producers who have come in and scored a massive hit are thrust into this enormous tour schedule, with little to no experience of DJing. So that’s where you see the routine 1 hour pre-programmed set, which never changes for a year or whatever city they are playing. That is hurting the art of DJing, and that’s why for me the most important thing we have to ensure while we are going through this explosion is that the art of DJing is preserved and appreciated. I think that the people who have the ability to read a room and react accordingly should be celebrated more.

WTS: You’re performing at POPNYE in Oakland for New Year’s Eve. If you weren’t, what would you be doing on a typical New Year’s Eve?

Schulz: Haha, that’s a good question. I think I’ve only had one New Year’s Eve in the past 10 years where I didn’t have a gig, and if I remember right, all I did that night was just have a quiet dinner with my family. It will be a fun experience this year, because I get to share the stage with Ferry for the New World Punx show. We’ve never done a New Year’s Eve together before.

WTS: At the Winter Music Conference, you play a drinking game where you take a shot every time someone messes up. Who’s got you the most drunk in this game?

Schulz: Haha. Well, because WMC takes place in Miami, I have to act as the host. It’s always a crazy week, because you have to divide your time between preparing for some of the most important shows of the year, whilst attending BBQ parties put on by agencies and promoters where things can sometimes get a little messy. Needless to say, if I am playing the game, I make sure it’s on a night where I have nothing to do and don’t have to get up early the next morning.

WTS: You’ve been to India before, how much do you feel the EDM scene has changed over the years?

Schulz: I can easily measure it by the amount of people from India tweeting me during Global DJ Broadcast every week. The volume has spiralled, especially in the past year. There were so many people asking when I was coming back to the country. So to be able to do it on such a grand scale of the Sunburn Festival is great for me. I’m hoping to see more and more producers come out of India in the future. I remember playing one of Praveen Achary’s tracks on Global DJ Broadcast earlier in the year, and my twitter timeline blew up because I was supporting an Indian producer. So hopefully more and more talents like him can come to the fore.

WTS: You’re going to be in Goa during the best time of the year! What do you think of the city, one of the origins of electronic music?

Schulz: It’s such a beautiful place. One of these days I’ll have to plan a vacation there. And although I haven’t gotten to see much of it, I have read enough stories online about how much it blossoms throughout Christmas. And you’re right in saying that electronic music owes a lot to the roots of Goa. All the dreamy melodic trance can point to influences of the vibe there. You never know, I might get inspired for a new track idea from this year’s visit.

WTS: Sunburn as a festival has been hailed as Asia’s #1 Dance Music Festival. How do you think it compares to those in Europe and America?

Schulz: Sunburn is one of those festivals where the mood of the crowd will be dictated not just by the music being played, but also by the ambience of the scenery around them. Because of Goa’s location and the position in the calendar of the Sunburn festival, there will most likely be a very diverse international audience, arguably more so than any other festival worldwide. 

WTS: Anything in particular you’re looking forward to at Planet Sunburn this time?

Schulz: It’s going to be a special show because it means that for the first time, a Global DJ Broadcast World Tour episode will come from India. Headlining one of the day is a huge honor for me too, so hopefully I can deliver a set people will enjoy long beyond the event. Having wrapped up things on Scream 2, I can probably take the shackles off and slip some of the material into my set now. So keep an eye out for that.

WTS: Now that you’re in India and the music scene has exploded here, any advice to budding DJs?

Schulz: Simplest advice is to try to develop your own style. I think the best way to approach it is to take little bits of influences from different sources, and make them a hybrid of you own. For example, I get inspired by a lot of melodies in classic and modern rock. Bands like Pink Floyd, Led Zeppelin, to the modern day melodies of Coldplay. At the same time, I love listening to drum n bass because of the basslines present in that genre.

Nowadays for DJs, productions act almost exclusively as your calling card. So getting that big unique production out in the ether is incredibly important; because if there is something appealing, that will attract the attention of the more established names and help give you a shot of momentum.

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Sound Awake – Reattempting EDM

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India has always been recognized worldwide as a land of festivals. Love them or hate them, none of us complain when we get that random holiday from work. DNA Networks, with their new project Sound Awake tried to add the Indian flavor to an already established concept – EDM festivals – which have been a major driver of music tourism in Europe and the Americas.

DNA went all the way to secure some of the top international DJs who have a history of performing at the top EDM festivals and brand names with that one famous track separating them from the total unknowns. To their credit, being popular is not the same as being good, and we gave them the respect they deserved and went in with an open mind.

Sound Awake - Reattempting EDM

Sound Awake was hosted by Bangalore on the 4th of August at the Supernova Convention Centre, starting early at 11 AM but going on till the city limits of 11 PM. The venue was spacious, discreet and thus hilariously far for city dwellers. The headliners for the first ever Indian EDM festival were Darude, Taboo, Yves LaRock and Dirty Vegas; of which only two managed to turn up for the event. The media were informed of Taboo and Darude’s absence on arrival.

However, most people forget that music is only half of what makes a good music festival. Just look at Tomorrowland – you can find the top DJs of the world in Ibiza or Rio at most times of the year; what you won’t find is the epic stages and mad crowds that make the experience what it is. This is something DNA picked up on and the entire event was very visually appealing. The four stages each had their own charm, and with the flea market thrown in you could get that relaxing Goa feel of being close to the beach.

Sound Awake - Reattempting EDM

Now let’s take a look at what the four stages had to offer. First up was the MTV Indie stage – quite ordinary looking, this stage went live at 11 AM opening up the musical proceedings by hosting local DJ talent that played to a crowd of less than 100 people, trying their very best to get over the Sunday morning blues. Local heroes DJ Clement and DJ Ivan played on till 2 and were the first bright sets of the day, more on DJ Ivan later.

Sound Awake - Reattempting EDM

The next to open was the Heineken Hed Kandi stage – a crystal ball housing the DJ made this one of my favorite stages. The ball was lit up with some mind blowing visuals as the sun went down and truly got the party started. By this time the crowd had grown to the higher hundreds and the festival vibes were kicking in. The highlights were Igor Project and DJ Dan Van, who was occasionally complimented by two beautiful women from Ministry of Sound playing the Violin and Sax respectively – adding the missing Oomph to some standard commercial mixes. Igor Project was involved with the crowd from right after his set, all the way till the end and played the perfect MC – keeping the party going every time the crowd lost interest. The set list was quite well mixed with the stand out tracks being sing-along mixes of ‘Summertime Sadness’ (only because of the amazing visuals and that one beat drop) and ‘We Are Your Friends’, which had a slightly edgy thump about it missing from most of the other songs.

Sound Awake - Reattempting EDM

Kingfisher Ministry of Sound stage was the third stage to open at the festival – with big names like Santero, Tim Cullen and Shane Kehoe getting the best seats in the house – on top of a massive speaker pile up setting that I wish I could re-create in my living room! Upbeat mixes of ‘Hello’ and ‘We Found Love’ kept with the sing along theme of the festival. Shane Kehoe did briefly take it to the next level with a monster mix of ‘Camorra’ by Nicky Romero with bass drops sent from heaven, immaculate scratch timings and perfect fade outs for the downtempo bits. Expectedly so, the Bangalore crowd had the best reaction to ‘Losing My Religion’ by R.E.M and ‘Get Lucky’, the new Daft Punk super hit. At this stage you could see a theme emerging of rocky sing-along mixes.

Sound Awake - Reattempting EDM

The grand finale at the main Pepsi DNA Live stage was delayed a bit, but with LaRock opening it was definitely worth the wait. The crowd had reached its peak with close to 10,000 people as it slowly moved across the venue from other stages. The level of anticipation grew and the crowd was rewarded with an overall decent set list full of EDM classics and  the occasional nonsense. Classic mixes of ‘S.O.S’ by Rihanna and ‘Allien’ by Pryda were bang on cue and did the night justice, but I was equally disappointed to hear ‘Kolavari Di’ being snuck into the set. Shapeshifters had a  very forgettable track list which would have been better suited to the first half of the day – yes it was original and immersive but they simply could not keep up with the crowd’s energy levels. ‘Lola’s Theme’ was an obvious exception, but that was the least expected from this veteran duo. Their music was mostly pure downtempo beats which gave the crowd the perfect opportunity to refill those beer glasses.  Dirty Vegas, who have a Grammy to their name, more than made up for it with their spectacular live act – involving Steve Smith singing the words to most of their mixes, most notably ‘Need Somebody To Love’ and their evergreen original ‘Days Go By’ where the crowd was equally involved. Definitely something I would like to see again!

Sound Awake - Reattempting EDM

In-between all this magic were some generic commercial tracks that littered the night, the likes of Swedish House Mafia‘s ‘Greyhound’ and ‘Save The World (Tonight)’ to name some. But I did hear my new favorite song  as well – a brilliant mix of ‘Sweet Dreams’ (Avicci mix),  Daft Punk’s  ‘Harder,Better,Faster,Stronger’ and David Guetta‘s ‘Without You’ with a drop before every chorus. You could never tell which song would follow after the drop and the alchemy was quite unique.

Let’s go back to the cliché of ‘Bangalore likes Rock’ which was a standout theme at this festival. This was the first time I witnessed a near mosh-pit at an EDM gig when Nirvana‘s ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’ and Pink Floyd‘s ‘Another Brick In The Wall’ were played back to back. Hopefully we can get out of this mindset and have artists stop feeding fuel this stereotype.

Sound Awake - Reattempting EDM

LaRock had to come back on stage to fill for the absence of Darude and Taboo, and this time he managed to outdo his previous set. The first real scratchy – edgy mix that was played all day, Benny Benassi‘s ‘Satisfaction’ would have been most people’s highlight of the entire festival if only he didn’t close with his signature mix of ‘Rise Up’. Both tracks are fairly popular, but sounded significantly different from the iPod version many of us carry around. One of those times you really appreciate artists who try to stay fresh and relevant.

Sound Awake - Reattempting EDM

LaRock left the stage to a rapturous applause and chants of One More. Igor Project then came on to let the crowd know of the after party at the Hed Kandi stage – DJ Ivan was doing another set just for us!

I’m not sure how to interpret this, but DJ Ivan doing a repeat set drew the biggest reaction from the crowd all festival. As he took his seat in the crystal sphere the lasers started beaming and Bangalore’s favorite DJ took a bow to his beloved audience. One by one the Ministry of Sound DJs came up to the stage to say their farewells, while Igor Project was omnipresent with his smoke gun, spraying the crowd with every bass drop – a sign for the unaware to reach for the skies.

Sound Awake - Reattempting EDM

My new highlight for the night, something that managed to outdo Yves LaRock playing ‘Rise Up’ – was DJ Ivan busting out Above&Beyond‘s ‘Sun & Moon’ to a large gathering of Bangalore’s ‘real’ EDM fans – as they all put their hands up in unison and sang the words with their eyes closed, a sort of prayer to show thanks for the night.

Overall, DNA Networks’ new venture into the Electronic space can be deemed a success. Yes it needs bigger names from the industry to come down, maybe a later start time, less Rock mixes and a closer to home venue, but as DJ Ivan himself said to the crowd, This is something big and it only gets better from here. We wholeheartedly agree and look forward to the next installment!

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Akash Kaul

Akash is an Investment Banker by day, and a video game junkie by night. He enjoys reading, writing sappy love songs and discovering new music. Follow him @defysky

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ZIRO – Mud, music and madness

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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 one’s 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 it’s 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 people’s 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.

Day One

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 day’s 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 didn’t 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.

Day Two

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 Morissette’s 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 didn’t hinder anyone’s 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 Lee’s 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 didn’t 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 haven’t 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 Barrett’s technical and psychedelic imagery is having a romantic date with that of The Doors’s 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 it’s organized again).

Day Three

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 Dayglocrazie’s 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 Gaga’s ‘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.

The Finale

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 Floyd’s overplayed ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ to Jon Bon Jovi’s 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!

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Debarun Borthakur

Debarun Borthakur has been a journalist for the last 7 years in many national as well as regional news dailies. His forte is music and loves to be honest with his words. He has been strumming the guitar for a decade now and swears by authentic Delta blues and Seattle's grunge.

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The Family Cheese at The BFlat Bar, Bangalore

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An eclectic mix of almost every genre imaginable, The Family Cheese was an interesting and enjoyable start to the weekend. At Bflat on Friday night, they played Psychedelic Rock, Progressive Rock, Blues, Funk, Gangsta’ Rap, Electronica and Brazilian Bossa nova! They even let loose a riveting Pink Floyd cover!

We entered the venue just as the band was setting up. There was some classic jazz on the speakers which instantly induced a positive vibe. As the drums were being set up, Homi started playing the groove of the background track flawlessly. This was a small initial dose of the band’s technical prowess. They soon progressed into a sound check which was a jazzy jam. Each member fed off the others’ energy and it was clear that they were proficient and capable.

The band consists of Apurv Frank Vedantam “Lala” Isaac on Lead guitars and Vocals, Homi Rustamji on Bass and Yohan Marshall on Drums and Vocals. They are all students of the Swarnabhoomi Academy of Music, Chennai. They introduced themselves (and each other) with loads of jokes and teasing. It was obvious that their egos aren’t as immense as their musical training. Also, after every song, Yohan kept repeating the line “We are the Family Cheese and we absolutely love that breakfast!“, which was funny at first but seemed a little strange after a few songs.

They then began their set with an original which gave off slight alternative rock vibes. Lala proved himself to be a competent singer with Yohan effectively backing him up. The solo was a tad too reminiscent of ‘Comfortably Numb‘ and Lala’s delay-heavy guitar tone embellished this similarity. At the end of the song, Yohan quipped sarcastically that the energy in the crowd was too much to take, once again dishing out their brand of humour.

They then started playing a Brazilian bossa nova tune ‘Black Orpheus‘ and we were left speechless for a minute. It did look like things were going to get serious when Yohan pulled out brushes and soft sticks. Their ability to play jazz was really impressive. The phrasings were sublime and really well constructed. Homi played his six string bass wonderfully and perfectly complemented the guitar. The walking bassline seemed to jog in the middle and eventually even ran! Yohan played a very intense drum solo in the middle of the song and blew the crowd’s mind. Along with the intense precision and technicality, one could also hear a lot of konokkal within his phrasings. He is an insanely talented individual and a force to be reckoned with on the drums.

They then played an original titled ‘Stories of the places you’ve never been‘ which was a progressive rock/metal song. Lala shone through on lead guitar. The crowd lapped up his licks and solos. Lala seems to be most at home with progressive rock/metal and played face melting solos and demented arpeggios effortlessly.

The band then went into total ‘mess around’ mode with Yohan leading their whimsical experimentation for the night, on a ‘Sit on your bum groove‘, as Homi described it. The playfulness began with Yohan singing ‘Toothpaste baby’ or ‘Two-piece baby’ over some blues. The band then started a rap song with Yohan rapping in Gujarati about how his mom wouldn’t let him drink daaru or bring chokris into his room! Lala also joined in and they covered Afroman’s ‘Colt 45′ with Yohan using his cymbal hits to censor obscenities. It was clear that they wanted to have as much fun on stage as they possibly could.

They then played an original called ‘UNIR’ which was again a progressive number. This was followed by a heavy cover of the blues classic ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ with Yohan on vocals. They played a decent rendition of the song. It was Lala’s birthday the next day and the band got one of their friends to smear cake on his face during the middle of the song. This was another example of how open and easy-going the band was. They had already impressed the crowd with their technicality and now proceeded to have as much fun as possible.

They then launched into a medley of famous tunes like the Simpsons and Mario theme songs, followed by some very off-time signature jams. Next up, ‘Blue and pissed off’ was an original blues song but played in a very progressive and experimental light. The highlight of the song was Homi’s bass solo. By now Lala was tired of the cake on his face and took a break to clean himself up. Homi and Yohan launched into an electronic drum & bass jam which was a little too experimental and didn’t really go down too well with the crowd.

Lala returned and the band played one of their best known originals ‘The Cheese’ which Yohan proclaimed was “Homi’s song”. Why it was called that was obvious the second the riff started. Homi played tapping riffs with both fingers and created a complex interplay with the guitar on a 9/8 time signature. There were complex interludes and psychedelic portions with myriad effects which felt and sounded like an acid trip.

The band ended their set with a rendition of Pink Floyd’s ‘Comfortably Numb’. The dual vocals of Yohan and Lala more than did justice to this famous albeit overplayed classic. Lala’s sometimes overly heavy and Gilmour inspired tone and style seemed to finally get some relevance in the solo. He was totally in control and walked out into the crowd and even got a member of the audience to pluck his guitar for him.

Overall, the evening was very entertaining. It was heartening to see talented musicians having so much fun on stage. The Family Cheese is a funny quirky band, technically proficient and easy going. Although their jokes and banter were humorous, it did get a tad excessive towards the end, but considering the vibe of the place and the fact that they had mainly their friends and family present, it can be understood. The band did spark our interest and it would be interesting to see what they can do with a bigger audience and a more structured setlist.

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Abhishek Prakash

Abhishek Prakash is a Bangalore based guitarist and is a third of local act Groove Chutney. He loves jazz, street food, Woody Allen movies and often pretends to be a writer.

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Parvaaz Live At CounterCulture: The Behosh EP Launch

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Kashif Iqbal and Khaled Ahmed moved out of Kashmir a few years ago and have been involved independently with various acts since then in Delhi and Bangalore. The two friends found each other in Bangalore and Parvaaz was formed in 2010 with a different line up. Sachin Banandur and Fidel D’Souza soon joined the duo on drums and bass and have been regularly writing music and gigging since then.

Parvaaz has just finished recording their first EP, Behosh. After countless hours of recording and spending most of their money on their new album they have produced something remarkable. CounterCulture on Friday the 13th, July, saw Parvaaz take to the stage for the launch of their much awaited album which was officially released with the members of Swarathma on stage with the band.

Their music is surprisingly fresh and original. It’s definitely the rock n’ roll that we know and love but it’s especially hard to pigeonhole a band like Parvaaz into any sub-genre. They have managed to seamlessly blend in elements of Hard Rock, Blues and Psychedelia into a sound that is uniquely theirs. The lyrics are mostly in Urdu and Kashmiri and draw from their personal experiences and there is considerable depth to them.

The first time I heard the name Parvaaz , which is Urdu for “flight”, was through their drummer Sachin Banandur. Sachin started his musical journey by playing the Daf when he was just five years old to accompany folk musicians in his native village of Bananduru. He has a very feelbased style of drumming which I really enjoy and has an intuitive knack for picking up odd time signatures. During this time I was very unfamiliar with their music except for bits of demos that they had been recording. I really had no idea what to expect.

The first track from their set, ‘Shabaan’ completely threw all my preconceptions about “Sufi Rock” out the window. Many have incorrectly labeled their music as “Sufi Rock” which has something to do with the irresistible urges that people have about putting everything into categories. Khalid, the band’s frontman told me he has no idea what Sufi even is.

The next track ‘Lolmatlai’ from their new album is a song about love, not towards anyone or anything in particular. The entire song is in Kashmiri and the word ‘lolmatlai’ itself means caring and unconditional love. It’s an emotion that can be related to anything at all. When I asked Sachin about the song and the meaning behind it he mentioned how he gets goose bumps every time he plays it live. The song really emblematizes Khalid’s voice. Throughout the history of rock n’ roll, there have been messianic figures leading the charge, those special, intense, magnetic front men who inspire a level of devotion otherwise found in only religion and football.

Next up was ‘Khufia Dastaan’. Their music keeps you hooked in from the start till the very end like a journey through the valleys of Kashmir. I could hear a heavy influence of The Doors, Pink Floyd and Led Zeppelin in their sound – just my kind of music! Khalid’s voice takes this already intense instrumental section to another level.

Itne Arsey Ke Baad’ was written two years ago and relates to Kashif and Khalid’s experiences on being separated from their homes. It talks of missing home and being taken in by all the distractions when away. The music is beautifully haunting at times. “Kab tak aise jiyein, kab tak haske sahein. Duniya ke sara nasha, kab tak aise piyein” is probably my favorite lyric from the Behosh EP. The lyrics will give you some serious food for thought and from what I understand both Khalid and Kashif have been influenced by Kashmiri poetry and literature.

Marika’ is a song about a very dear friend of the band from Norway. The lyrics are dedicated to her ways of doing things and the light she shared with the band. Kashif explains, “The song is about what we felt when she was here and what she shared with us. She’s travelled all over the world and so she had so many stories to share. She was also a great cook; the song even speaks about that!”

They followed up with ‘Laale Zaar’, ‘Mastaan’, ‘Zikr’ and ‘Ziyankar’. Parvaaz makes music that glows with meaning and a love for arts’ external power to touch the soul. They have an instinctive ability to express love, loss, happiness and heartbreak through exquisite melodies and complex arrangements. The music haunts and consumes in the best way possible.

Playing the album a few more times makes it obvious that they have a firm hold on their inspirations, and are using it to guide them into a formidable future. Make no mistake, this is not throwback music, but genuinely progressive. Their 2011 release ‘Dil Khush’ (which is also featured on the EP) hinted at the blueprint which the band intended to use to map out an interesting body of work. There is a lot of depth, and layers of guitars, other instruments and extended drum solos.

The last track they played was ‘Behosh’. The track offers a continuation of this approach, as Kashif offers some soulful lead guitar work and Ahmed uses his voice as an instrument, rather than merely intonating lyrics. And I must mention that the bass lines to me sounded like they were drawing inspiration from the other members of the band so as to add more texture to the songs. The four of them have great chemistry on stage. You need to watch them live to get an inkling of what I am talking about. The song is about a man describing a vivid dream he had, which encompassed his entire life and the struggle in it. When he wakes up his inner voice tells him how naive he had been throughout and how worldly pleasures have distracted him from what is truly important.

At this point the atmosphere at CounterCulture was electric. If they can manage to continue with this much vitality and passion all the way through, we might be onto the makings of something legendary. At the end of their set, the band gave their heartwarming thanks to everyone who was present there and to everyone who made the event possible. You could tell from the way the four of them looked at the audience that that moment was a microcosm of what they have gone thorough as a band, the good and the bad. It was a wonderful, uplifting moment that demonstrates exactly why the fans of this band really connect to the music at a higher level.

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Sonic Flare at Hard Rock Cafe, Hyderabad

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When you bring a bunch of working professionals, the love of rock music and great talent together a band like Sonic Flare is born. After many “beginnings” in 2002, the band was formed with Neeraj, Jongky, Ajit, Vinay and Martin as their first lineup. The current lineup of the band, however, is vox by Nikhil and Priyanka, Neeraj on the guitars, Jongky on the keys, Ajit on the bass and Vinay on the drums.

Sonic Flare decided to celebrate Republic day at Hard Rock Cafe, Hyderabad. An evening of good classic rock, their set list included a couple of their own compositions and covers of some of the all-time classic greats with vocalists, Priyanka and Nikhil taking the lead alternately.

Sonic Flare at Hard Rock Cafe, Hyderabad

They opened with a cover of Black Crowes’ ‘Hard to Handle’ that got people grooving. Tina Turner’s ‘Simply The Best’, Eric Clapton’s ‘I Shot the Sheriff’, and Jefferson Airplane’s ‘Need Somebody to Love’ were nostalgic for those who grew up to listening to them. The blend of both Priyanka’s and Nikhil’s voices was harmonious when they sang The Knacks’ ‘My Sharona’. Also, their covers of Pink Floyd’s ‘Coming Back to Life’ and Cranberries’ ‘Zombie’ were probably the best versions heard live in Hyderabad. The rest of covers included Dire Straits’ ‘Money for Nothing’, Queen’s ‘Under Pressure’, Van Halen’s ‘Jump’. And the finale –  the all-time favourite Guns n Roses’ ‘Sweet Child O’ Mine’ got the crowd singing along.

Whereas ‘Take Me Away’, ‘Beautiful World’, ‘Stay’, ‘Dream On’, and ‘Me and You’ were their original compositions, which felt like they stepped out of the 80s. Their music is a light-hearted blend of rock, funk and blues. Every composition had its own essence and ‘Stay’ seemed to be the favorite among Sonic Flare fans.

Sonic Flare at Hard Rock Cafe, Hyderabad

Thanks to dry day the turnout was not great. This did not bring down the spirits of the band and those present, and turned out to be quite an enjoyable evening. The band interacted with the crowd and had great stage presence. Their energy was contagious. Though the sound had some tweaks here and there, it did not affect the performance.

There are only a few bands that play classic rock and blues, Sonic Flare being one of them. With the bluesy vocals of Priyanka, awesome ranges of Nikhil, the classic tones of Neeraj’s guitar, some crazy bass lines by Ajit, the old school tones that Jongky played on the keys and Vinay not skipping a beat on the drums, this band played to perfection. Each member of the band brought his and her own flavor to their music. Despite the small turnout, it was a wonderful evening of classic rock. Nobody really wanted the evening to end.

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Vini Lilian

Vini works with an ad agency. She's a metalhead who can't play metal so she writes about it. She loves tattoos!

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Blend No. 3220 at Cafe 1730, Pune

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On the Holi/Women’s day weekend, I decided to catch up with a couple of old friends at Koregaon Park and watch Blend No.3220 live at Café 1730 Beans & Booze last Friday. It happened to be an important gig for this newish blues band, which was welcoming its new lead guitarist Pratyush Pillai and bidding farewell to its faithful bassist Sajib Biswas. Named after a blend of Old Monk rum, Blend no 3220 plays blues rock with provocative lyrics, repetitive chords and the idea of reaching out to people rather than chasing commercial success.

Quite appropriately, Blend’s first song ‘Mean Trouble Woman’ was about members of the band who have come and gone. Losing band members can be hard, especially if you’ve been jamming for some time and realize you’re good at it. Earlier this year, Sandro Sadhukhan left Blend No 3220 to fulfill other music dreams. The backbone of the band was his partnership with lead singer, Arnob Chouduri. Tonight’s tragedy was Sajib Biswas, their bassist, returning to his homeland – Bangladesh.

Attrition forced the band to look out for fresh talent and through Biswas’ contacts they were able to procure the Best Guitarist of MTV Rock On fame – Pratyush Pillai. This shy 25-year-old is not only technically precise but also immensely humble after his desi-fusion band, Khilaugh finished second at MTV’s rock music reality show. Nicknamed Shredman because of his metal/hard rock influence, Pratyush is evidently still learning to complement Blend’s passionate Bengali blues soul. As a recent addition, he has been practicing with the band for just a week and you can tell that the blend is not as perfect as it should be. When Arnob went “Pradyush, baby you know how you make those dirty sounds on the guitar,” he seemed to think it was probably part of the lyrics and there was no response from Shredman.

The well-dressed drummer, Sumair Zubairy, sported a black studded jacket and proudly held his Mohawk high, as local blues legend David Mancy took over for a guest performance. Somehow his demeanour and showmanship made him slightly unapproachable and I only attempted a handshake at the end of the show, as I was told he’s the reason the band doesn’t require an agent or a recording label.

Continuing with their soft rock intro, the band played ‘Somebody Else, a warning to any lover in a mediocre relationship. Next up was ‘Highway’. Introduced as “deep and pervasive”, this one was about getting high – “one of the greatest feelings in the world”. Some audience members smiled and whistled in recognition while others left in search of the metaphoric highway.

Then came the soulful ‘I’m coming to get you’ which was based on Arnob’s experiences while working at a forensics lab. “I felt like a rat hiding in your house,” he commented when asked about the back story. Forth on the list was the explicit ‘Down Rite Dirty, talking about things that are otherwise taboo. ‘Crying Still’ was about a 45-year-old insomniac who was so frustrated with life that he took his shotgun and killed his entire family. Lucky number six was ‘Beeswax’ a standard folk song from Mississippi – a typically fun-to-perform 1800s song. The thing about blues is that it’s familiar. Even if you’ve never heard these particular songs before, you can relate to them. Especially if you’ve listened to enough old rock music, everything begins sounding like home.

The European themed Cafe 1730, I’m told, is more of an after party place. It’s just above Kivas and earns its patronage from the fact that it’s open till 4 a.m. It has nude paintings on the ceiling above the 40-inch screen and Bose speakers worth 2 lakhs. They didn’t have a sound engineer that evening, just someone to help set up the equipment and then the band members were left to “do their thing”. No one in the audience would have guessed that the piano was never meant to be incorporated into the gig. The way Arnob used the instrument after the intermission, felt as if he was familiar with it and had planned it that way. But I talked to him later and found that it was done on the fly.

Throughout the random jam-based set list, Arnob handled the harmonica with ease earning him the nickname “Blowman”. “Other people tune their instruments, I blow”, he joked. It’s this type of explicit references that got the crowd going and encouraged the band to perform old favourites. Arnob is a passionate writer but prefers to have sloppy jam sessions on stage rather than covering other musicians. This time, though, they did three covers and a few blues standards just to keep things going. Chuck Berry’s ‘Johnny B. Goode’ and Muddy Waters’ ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ gave the night a much needed upbeat familiarity, which was missing from Blend’s own compositions.

The audience consisted of friends and fans from the music community. Much to my amusement, someone with a Lamb of God t-shirt sat in a corner nodding away to the blues. At our table, a friend nursed his Vodka as a garrulous flirt charmed a pretty girl. I guess one could blame the sad turn out on the fact that most Pune people were at  Blackstratblues / Warren Mendonsa’s gig at High Spirits and given a chance this band would have been there as well. Arnob dreams that one day it’ll be possible to gather a few music enthusiasts and roam the city from one gig to another with just a guitar for company. This gig, however, ended with a tribute to Sandro Sadhukhan, their ex-vocalist and guitarist. Pink Floyd’s ‘Shine On you Crazy Diamond’ , with a little bit of ‘Wish you were here’ thrown in for effect, was a perfect fit for the end of the evening.

It’s not surprising that most of the audience stayed back to chill with the band over crappy cocktails (stay away for the ginger wine and never waste your money on ‘Chocolate Dream’) and wholesome dinner (Bolognese Spaghetti was a hit!) I got to talk to the band in the everlong intermission (why bother about time when things aren’t shutting down at 10.30?) and they shared their experience with the music scene. Newcomer Pratyush seemed to feel that Indian musicians can’t afford to make their passion a full-time occupation. He is the proud owner of a Gibson Les Paul Studio Edition (Ebony) thanks to MTV Rock On. “Even though we didn’t win, the show helped me pursue music as a hobby”, he says “Indian bands don’t get to perform like this unless they’re well connected.”

Personally, I hope Pratyush can dedicate more time to Blend no 3220. Especially because I’ve seen Biswas, Arnob and Sandro jam together and I know how tight their music is. In impromptu music that depends, almost solely, on the partnership between the vocalist and guitarist, you can’t afford to have anyone who is too passionate about his or her musical instrument. Here’s hoping that Pratyush will break out of his metal/rock mould that was created around his MTV Rock On fame and blend into the current blues rock scene.

Blend’s frontrunner, Arnob had a different opinion about the band’s future. “It’s not that difficult to market a band. We get mall and restaurant gigs quite easily but they expect us to be human jukeboxes and play commercial hits.” said Arnob. “We might record a live album”, he adds “But we’re against commercializing our music because that spoils a musician’s way of thinking.”

This was Sajib Biswas’ final performance as Blend No 3220’s bass player. “His forte was ‘thinking music’. He loved to experiment and learn from everyone around him,” said Arnob, who was sad to see another familiar face disappear. But they’ve wasted no time in finding a replacement. Another MTV Rock On participant, Keshav Iyengar, will be joining Blend’s line up. Along with all their fans, I’m looking forward to see how this new chapter of Blend No 3220 turns out. From the looks of it Blues abhi baaki hai!

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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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Bhoomi, Caesar’s Palace and TAAQ at the Bengaluru Habba 2012

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First things first – What a venue! The open air amphitheater with the UB City tower looming majestically in the background, and its big bright blue horse logo looking down upon us was quite an amazing sight! And what’s more – for a city perpetually stuck in traffic jams, its habba started dot on time.

The line-up on this particular evening comprised of metal aficionados Bhoomi, the multi-genre, Bangalore based Caesar’s Palace and Bangalore rockers Thermal and a Quarter who made a surprise entry later. All three of them, veterans of the Bangalore rock scene, took to the stage with the promise of a great Saturday evening and they sure lived up to it.

Bhoomi, Caesar's Palace and TAAQ at the Bengaluru Habba 2012

First up was Bhoomi, one of Bangalore’s oldest and best metal acts. They started the evening with their renditions of rock classics like AC/DC’s ‘Highway to Hell’ and Pink Floyd’s ‘Another Brick in the Wall’, and smoothly drifted into Deep Purple land with Jason Zachariah belting out the keyboard solo to Deep Purple’s ‘Highway Star’ and then Tony Das belting out the guitar solo from ‘Burn’, both playing them absolutely perfectly. Though I’m a fan of bands covering songs their own way rather than playing it exactly like it is, I have to admit that Bhoomi’s version of ‘Another Brick in the Wall’ did seem a tad out of place and unnecessarily heavy. Tony Das sang the next song ‘Burn it Down’, a very bluesy number with some great guitar licks. This was followed by another cover, Mr. Big’s ‘Daddy, Brother, Lover, Little Boy’.

They finally went into their originals, starting with ‘Inside Story’, a song about the press today and its obsession with the personal lives and affairs of celebrities. It had some great harmonies between Tony and Jason and ended with a really cool guitar-hero solo from the former. Next they played ‘Uncultured’, a song about riots with some really powerful vocals. It had a great vibe and had me replaying “Come help us fight…War without reason” in my head even after they finished. Their last song was ‘The Game’, a song about playing music live (I loved how Sujay bonded with the audience by explaining each song before playing it. Tony thought the better alternative was to chug some beer before each song. I loved that too!) The final track had a great riff, fierce drumming from Kishan Balaji and very eerie vocal harmonies, a powerful song to end their performance.

The band announced their new album set to release later this year, which is being produced by Neil Kernon, of Queensryche and Nevermore fame. When asked if this is the next big step for Indian bands i.e., to have internationally produced and marketed albums, frontman Sujay replies, “Definitely. It’s already happening. Not only international producers, but there are also many Indian producers with very good technical skills. In a few years, the Indian rock scene will be self-sufficient and we won’t have to look to the west for everything.”

Bhoomi, Caesar's Palace and TAAQ at the Bengaluru Habba 2012

Next up were Caesar’s Palace   a rock/funk/blues/soul/jazz/disco/phew! band from Bangalore. They played a very groovy, almost dance-y set of songs. They started with a cover of RHCP’s ‘Readymade’ and soon went into originals starting with ‘3 hour love affair’. The bassist Kenneth Wilson’s getup with his hood and shades (at 8:00 in the night) looked exponentially less pretentious with each note he played as he got them grooves going. ‘Stare’ had some funny lyrics about the cliche` of thinking deeper. Unni, the frontman then announced that they were going to cover Bappi Lahiri and frankly, I was disappointed to know that it was a joke. This is one band that could actually pull it off! They did come close to it though as they played a very 80s disco style original called ‘Get Your Mojo On’. By this time, Kishan Balaji had begun to look like some medieval war hero (read madman) behind his drums. He and Jason Zachariah had battled and conquered every style from heavy metal to funk and now even disco, both of them having played for both Bhoomi and Caesar’s palace.

They continued their brand of funk with a sense of humour with ‘Wol Chod’, which had some cool slap bass and screeching wah. ‘Dreams’ had a groove that got the entire amphitheater swinging their heads from side to side and had some interesting guitar and bass harmonies. The song ended with a great keyboard solo. They then went into a very well done medley of Michael Jackson’s ‘Smooth Criminal’ and ‘Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough’ followed by Tenacious D’s ‘Tribute’ that ended with the outro of ‘Stairway to Heaven’ which Unni pulled off perfectly. It was great to see how open minded they are to different genres of music, and not just open minded, but also technically proficient enough to pull off all these varied styles.

Bhoomi, Caesar's Palace and TAAQ at the Bengaluru Habba 2012

The highlight of their performance was ‘I Don’t Need No Doctor’ by Ray Charles, done in a modern John Mayer style. It ended with a jugalbandi of sorts between the guitar and keys. Jason then played a beautiful piano solo that quietly blended into ‘Swim’, a lovely ballad. They ended with ‘Bittersweet Mind’, a typical 12-bar blues song but with some exciting odd-time signature twists to it.

The night was already going on a high when Unni announced that Thermal and a Quarter was going to take to the stage next and caught everyone by surprise. Thermal and a Quarter or TAAQ , as they are popularly known, consists of Bruce Lee Mani on vocals/guitar, Rajeev Rajagopal on drums and Prakash K.N on bass who happen to be Bangalore’s favourite power trio. This was proven by the fact that despite the fact that it was getting late and terribly cold in the open air amphitheater, the audience didn’t seem to want to be anywhere else.

Bhoomi, Caesar's Palace and TAAQ at the Bengaluru Habba 2012

The trio kick-started their set with ‘Can you fly’, a typical TAAQ song with jazzy guitar playing, great vocals and a powerful rhythm section. Their second song was ‘Meter Mele One and a Half’, about the auto-rickshaw drivers in Bangalore. As Bruce Lee Mani sang about the woes of the average Bangalorean, I couldn’t help thinking that the band’s music IS indeed the sound of urban Bangalore. They do sound like UB City at night, like the traffic jams, like Masala Dosas, like an auto-rickshaw’s faulty meter, like Cubbon Park, IT parks and all things Bangalorean.

They continued in the same spirit with some “tapang-blues” with ‘If Them’ and ‘For the Cat’ which got few audience members even doing some tapang moves in the front row, as Bruce himself cheered them on! Quite impressive on the part of the dancers I’d say, considering the fact that ‘For the Cat’ had many time meter changes.

Their next song ‘Birthday’  was dedicated to Rajeev’s mother as it was the eve of her birthday. And apparently it’s no ordinary birthday song. As Bruce explained, “It’s about wanting my birthday to be a space and not a time. Very deep…very deep!” This was followed by one of my personal favourites – TAAQ’s rendition of ‘Hey Jude’. It amazed me to see how they could take a classic as popular as ‘Hey Jude’, turn it upside down and change it around completely and still maintain the feel of the original. TAAQ’s version of the song has to be heard to be believed! Their last song ‘Chainese Item’ sounded like the theme song to a spy movie where everyone’s running behind a plate of chow mein, for some reason. Or maybe the ridiculously cold breeze was finally getting to me!

Thermal and a Quarter were undoubtedly the heroes of the evening, captivating the audience with their distinct sound and energetic performance. Overall, a great gig and a perfect Saturday evening, all three bands providing three different versions of that rock and roll sound we all love.

The moral of the story at the Habba’s rock fest seemed to be that rock fests no longer mean copying the west. As the three veterans showed us, rock music in Bangalore today is more about ourselves and all the things that affect us in our lives. It’s more personal and easy to relate to than ever. I think it’s this quality of the music that made it so enjoyable and is making an increasing number of people turn up for concerts like these.

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Abhishek Prakash

Abhishek Prakash is a Bangalore based guitarist and is a third of local act Groove Chutney. He loves jazz, street food, Woody Allen movies and often pretends to be a writer.

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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.

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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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