Tag Archives: Schizophonic
Schizophonic at CounterCulture, Bangalore
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!
Music Madness Continues to Day 2, Ooty
We woke up at the campsite, post the madness of the previous night’s campfire and jamming, with the hypnotic and primeval sounds from the Nilgiri tribe’s customary invocations at the festival, and rushed to Stage 1 to watch La Pongal, the first act of day 2.
They kicked off with a group of thappattam players performing off-stage, amidst the audience, trying to harmonize with the band performing on the stage. It was a fearless attempt to give the gig a grand start, and though the sync slipped a bit, no one seemed to mind. La Pongal features Anthony Daasan on lead vocals, as much a comic relief as he is a brilliant singer. He made the “welcome” announcement on a megaphone, working up the audience’s anticipation. Dressed in colorful attires, the very look of the band is cheerful, only augmented by their music which is Tamil folk, with a hint of contemporary. The subjects for their songs move from lullaby to romantic flirtations and from a spirited call-out for friends to feisty bullying of rivals. Among the audience, there were some who understood the Tamil lyrics and laughed at the stories being narrated, and some to whom it was just the upbeat music that spoke. La Pongal made the native and non-native speakers of the language sing and puttu-dance along to the beats of drums, thavil, and pambai. A rousing start to Day 2 at Mad.
Across the woods, at the Calaloo stage, Adam & the Fish Eyed Poets played a turbulent, angry set to the largely hipster crowd gathered. Complaining of a hangover and mumbling incomprehensible song introductions, they performed a setlist consisting mostly of tracks from their sophomore effort Dead Loops. Adam & the Fish Eyed Poets ripped through songs like ‘Little Monkeys’ and ‘Barbed Wire’ with a disinterested sneer that I’m sure charmed everyone. The band (intentionally or not) also successfully translated the inherent angriness in their source material and performed with a disinterested air about themselves. Musically they were spot-on and consistent throughout their set. I also noticed that the guitarist was using a custom Les Paul! *lets out low whistle*. Kishore Krishna’s songwriting is honest and he sings about issues that Gen Y folk can identify with. Another testament to young Kishore Krishna’s songwriting is that it’s hard to slot the band into a particular genre. They lie somewhere between post-punk and indie. The songs are relevant, sharp and as far as the Indian indie scene is concerned, important. Judging by the new tracks they performed at MAD, it certainly looks like Adam has a lot more quality material up his angsty sleeve. A quick afternoon beer (to the utter disappointment of all beer lovers, the price of beer had been revised from a healthy Rs.100 for a 650 ml serving to the slightly unhealthy figure of Rs.200 late on the first evening) later, we were off to catch Goa based world fusion act, Kundalini Airport.
Kundalini Airport took the stage after La Pongal’s impressive performance on the Blubaloo stage. The contrast between the two acts was apparent right at the outset. The outfit led by Frenchman, Paco Rodriguez, gets together in the mostly non-monsoon months in Goa, since the last 4-5 years. The sound check seemed inordinately long with respect to getting the levels right, especially on Mr. Rodriguez’s Sitar and Mandolin levels. Several people in the crowd were seen walking away towards the Mad Bazaar and the Calaloo stage even while Kundalini Airport were trying to get their sound right. An announcement by the band in which they claimed that they’re mostly chilled out people and are not used to being rushed, didn’t really help either. Into their opening track, the one thing that immediately struck the audience was the terrible sound. While the bass was nice and groovy, the drums were comparatively inaudible and the mandolin levels were a little too high, with too much reverb on the vocals that were already dominating everything else. The guitarist had some nice guitar solos to insert into an otherwise monotonous song. Things picked up from there somewhat, with their next song, an ode to Lord Shiva, that left some people in the audience slightly amused. The band sounded much tighter on this track, the issue with the individual instrument levels also sorted out. Their next track was in French, an interpretation of Khalil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’. Featuring yet another groovy bassline (incidentally, the bassist played with a bass stand and a stationary bass, see pictures for more detail). The audience seemed to enjoy this slightly more settled sound as well. ‘Allah Hu’ was yet another interesting track performed by Kundalini Airport. All in all, their brand of fusion seemed a little forced rather than integrating seamlessly, like the ones several other acts pulled off. Post their set, we set off for a spot of indulgence at the excellently positioned Mad Bazaar/Bar, before catching Agam at the Calaloo stage.
Agam peg themselves as Carnatic Rock, and while they sound more Carnatic at times and rock some others, by and large, their music is probably best described as Carnatic ragas built around a distortion infused rock core. It was very evident from the outset that this 7-piece band is exceptionally talented (unfortunately, their keyboardist couldn’t join them at the Mad festival). The vocals are delivered in the Carnatic vocal style and the vocalist/violinist, Harish, is very rooted in the Carnatic tradition. Their songs have a strong bassline with the mustachioed bassist providing raga influenced grooves. The lead guitarist, T Praveen Kumar, was especially brilliant, particularly in the track ‘Boat Song’. ‘Swati Thirunal’ thillana in Raga Dhanashree’ was pulled off in some style, with the band sounding very tight through the complex rhythm passages. Agam ended their almost hour long set with an extended, and quite entertaining jam, between the drummer, Ganesh, and the percussionist, Shiva, in the track ‘Malhaar jam’. Agam is a band which will be liked by all – they are nicely heavy enough to appeal to the youth inclined towards hard rock, classical enough to make the traditional music lover go weak in the knees and virtuoso enough for guitar freaks to whet their appetites.
Meanwhile, at the Blubaloo stage, a crowd had begun to gather to catch one of the more popular bands out of Kerala, Avial. Waiting for them to kick things off however, was the start of a slow and wrenching heartbreak. Avial’s performance at the MAD Festival was subpar. Many of us swear by Avial’s debut CD, going to the extent of calling it the best and most fulfilling product being sold in Indian indie scene. Anandraj Benjamin Paul (ex-lead vocalist) was sorely missed by anyone who knows about legacy-Avial. What we witnessed was the butchering of something so dearly cherished. After a wait (read, long sound-check) of more than 45 minutes they decided to play a set of 20 minutes, which would have been alright, if their act lived up to people’s expectations. It didn’t. They started with two of their latest singles, with Tony clearly struggling to achieve and sustain the highs. They decided to wind up with the crowd favorite ‘Chekele’, which was a disaster not to be missed if you want to hate a band you once loved. Mithun on drums started the song with a lower BPM than the original, Tony struggled with getting the key right, and Rex kept strumming, uninfluenced. The only saving grace of this show was the full-blooded solidarity for the language and love for good-old-Avial, which showed in our desperate attempts at trying to enjoy this debacle. The Ooty sun and the performance led us to the cool shade of the “in-the-midst-of-tall-trees” Mad Bazaar for some respite and refueling. The one big crib by this time for nearly everybody at the festival was the sub-optimal choice and quality of the food that was on offer.
Some hops, a skip and a jump later, we caught The Bicycle Days, playing as a 4-piece act and sounding more cohesive and tight as compared to their earlier avatar as a quintet. The change seemed to have worked to a large extent as TBD played a great set at the Calaloo stage. The classic ’27’ kicked off things with vocalist Karthik and guitarist Rahul turning the psychedelia all the way up to 11 just before the spoken word second-half of the song kicked in. TBD made use of heavy vocal processing and vocal loops to create haunting soundscapes that added up to the ambient psychedelic sound. Also included in their setlist was the mellow ‘Teledrug Zombies’, a song whose title wouldn’t be out of place in a Flaming Lips discography. ‘Conundrum’, a track heavily inspired by Radiohead (especially the falsetto-ish voice) was also part of their set. TBD occupy a rather unique place in the Indian indie scene as purveyors of the psychedelic-electronic-rock sound and it was great that the band stuck to their guns even with the premiere of their new track ‘Vicious’. I’ve generally maintained that a TBD gig is best enjoyed at an indoor venue (their legendary Kyra gig 2 years ago), but the tight performance at MAD has swayed me in relaxing that opinion a little bit. Things had picked up in terms of the crowd numbers and energy levels with the next act on the Blubaloo stage, Papon and the gentlemen he had for company.
Playing their familiar and much loved brand of electronic folk fusion, Papon and the East India Company kicked things off with ‘Rain Song’, speaking of the culture of the hills, with the main man launching into fits of undulating vocal patterns typical to his homeland. The second song began with a shot of thunder (electronic effects were thanks to Brin) that was ominous at first but later registered as majestic as we were taken through the length of the song. After ‘Jiyein Kyun’, from the ‘Dum Maaro Dum’ soundtrack, was given new life, the band moved on to a cover of an Assamese folk song. ‘Boitha Maro’ was riddled by samples from Papon’s laptop, a funky bassline (Dipu) and slide guitar parts by Krishna; it had a fair amount of dramatic pauses and clashing re starts – a tad jolting compared to its predecessors – and had the musical tenor of something much more progressive than the band’s genre. Papon’s commentary about the folk song, its roots and the story it tells was particularly engaging! A cover of popular oldie ‘Mast Kalandar’, complete with table (Kirti) and samples from Papon’s laptop was next! The penultimate song in the set ‘Banao’ with its obvious Ganja references and backstory – had the crowd singing along with raucous spirit before the band brought their performance to a close with another Assamese folk song whose quaint lyrics (trans: If I was a bird, I’d fly to you) were accompanied by the Djembe from Kirti, a wah wah guitar effect and running commentary and translation by Papon.
Post the high-energy act by Papon, we traipsed back to the Calaloo stage for some Mellowdrama and a change in tempo courtesy Sulk Station feat. Movement Artist Archana. Playing tracks off their debut album Till You Appear, the proceedings were kicked off with the opening tracks of the album, ‘Pause’ and ‘Downlift’. Sounding nearly identical to the album, the gadgetry of Rahul Giri and the vocal talent of Tanvi Rao were in ample evidence. However, the station had some more mellow moments than expected when sound issues required a restart of ‘Confessions’, not once, but twice. The pick of the setlist however, as well as our pick from the album, was ‘Bindya’, a well done track that moves and wavers with ambience at the backdrop of the song and Ms. Rao’s vocals at the forefront. The movement artist though, didn’t add too much to the act. This setlist would’ve also been much better appreciated either at a later slot post sunset, or indoors. All in all, we would’ve liked to see Sulk Station go well beyond the contours of what they’ve defined in their debut album. Some more experimentation with sound and stage act would be welcome. By this time, fervent discussions had erupted over which of the two days of the festival was better. While we were debating the issue, we could hear the faint strains of Rajasthani folk music emanating from the Blubaloo stage across the woods.
The Manganiars were up next. While they didn’t have too much of a crowd as compared to the other acts happening around on the evening, the audience present there were given a delightful little performance. Kicking off with ‘Kesariya Balam’, their set was replete with the traditional folk instruments that one was looking for. The highlight of the performance for us was a brilliantly fun percussion jam especially incorporating the Khadtal – a traditional instrument with two wooden blocks manipulated by the fingers, and the Morsing/Morchang – a jaw harp commonly used, interestingly, in Carnatic music as well as Rajasthani folk. The Morsing player even indulged the crowd by incorporating some beatboxing in the middle of a traditional jam. Among other notable pieces that these performed was a rendition of ‘Mast Kalandar’ that didn’t pack as much of a punch as we were expecting. The Manganiars were a pleasant contrast to the electronic and ambience filled music happening over at the Calaloo stage. However, we left to indulge ourselves with some more electronic elements with Schizophonic at the Calaloo stage.
The mantra with Schizophonic is that you either hate them or you love them. There’s no in between. The set suited the weather to the tee (subjective as that statement is). Starting off with a World War II style siren (Artillery Road?) that’s gradually scratched over, dissonant piano notes and echoing notes of a rattle-like guitar patch, two contemporary dancers swathed in a white sheet fought to rise matching chaotic movements to the haunting musical backdrop. Percussion pieces shortened and randomly looped until they sound like gunshots pepper the steady beat as Arjun (in his trademark shawl) and Aman layer guitar solos interspersed with dramatic piano sections. As the piece (song is too layman a word to use) progresses, the sound rises to a half crescendo by electronic additions and then stripped down again to focus on a piano solo by Aman; he has two keyboards splayed before him and shuffles between them to produce the required sound. Trying to make sense of the chaos of sounds that assault you is a deconstruction that sets itself up for failure. If it’s your type of jam, then you’re going to enjoy the almost arrhythmic nature of Schizophonic’s music. The band’s performance explores every range of emotion in delivering its performance; Arjun guitar sounds ranging from raunchy guitar sound over it as the piano receded. The guitar and piano work is intricately timed and interspersed with the samples, they take the audience on a slowly elevating experience. It’s a tad long for our liking but entertaining nonetheless. The dancers reappear on stage after a short break and are more macabre this time. Robotic movements to match the choppy music are increased and their expressions range from intense to conciliatory. The piano changes to a deeper resonating tone and then returns – all this within an hour long set that has the crowd gazing in first-hand wonder at the technicality of the seemingly random elements that made up the pieces in the set.
A feeling of a slightly underwhelming finish to the day had begun creeping in while we made our way to catch Auroville band Emergence. Their performance could be summed up easily in just two words: “Dat Bass”. Adopting a clean, no-frills sound setup, the band sang multilingual pop songs advocating the use of organic farming and the advantages of growing your own food. Bassist Mishko M’ba was clearly the star of the band as he, with his lovely bass tone dazzled the relaxed crowd at the Blubaloo stage. They kickstarted their set with ‘Banner in the Open Road’ dominated by singer-guitarist Krishna McKenzie’s acoustic strumming before moving to the Tamil song ‘Pasumai’ which had a lovely bass solo. Despite the fact that two of the band’s 4 members aren’t Indian, they seamlessly fused Tamil and English lyrics into their songs ‘Ta Ka Di Mi’ was next, a soulful song inspired by the concept of self-sustenance. The slot given to the band was a little suspect as on the previous day, Raghu Dixit Project and Indian Ocean had the audience dancing to their music. Emergence, unfortunately did not have the same effect on the decreasing audience on Day 2. They upped the tempo with a lovely Ska number featuring some seriously boss slap-bass before they ended their peaceful set with ‘Nambikai’ and ‘Afghan Rose’. One minor gripe though: Emergence were hell-bent on making our job harder, introducing the wrong song on two occasions.
Coming to the fag end of the day’s proceedings, we decided to stop over (again), for a spot of beer and head over to the Calaloo stage. State of Bengal had come in to the festival with a promise to feature Paban Das Baul, bringing together connoisseurs of genres as different as London break-beat and blissful, quirky Baul music. For most part of the show though, the DJ/Producer Sam Zaman seemed to have lost his way. He presented a repetitive mish-mash of the thankfully good music he is known for with pointless run-of-the-mill rap, a misspent (even belittled) Paban Das Baul, and totally unnecessary contemporary dance routines that ran parallel on stage. A few numbers to begin with were tight, with funky percussions, and soulful electric violin. Even the rap seemed interesting before getting monotonous. When Paban Das Baul took the stage, State of Bengal switched to a much welcome minimalist arrangement which lasted three songs and 20 minutes. Soon thereafter, the poignant spell ended with an overdose of more rap, more hip-hop moves, more break-beat, and an ill-practiced performance with Papon. Paban Das Baul returned on stage, to be brushed aside, then again be called back to play his gabgubi so far away from the mic, it was almost unrecognizable. People didn’t seem to mind though – the name State of Bengal and music that makes you want to dance is as if all you wish for to end your day.
But the end wasn’t quite there yet. While several people had already left the building, there were some Curious George types who stayed behind to catch the Krar Collective, the Ethiopian ensemble who were the final act of the evening. They didn’t really raise a blip on our radar when the Krar player (Temesegen Tareken, a.k.a Tem in this review) and the percussionist (Robel Tesfaye), who played traditional Ethiopian Kebero drums, walked on stage to greet the sparse audience; they looked innocent enough. The “Krar” in Krar collective is in reference to a curiosity of an instrument that is actually a lyre native to Ethiopia. Tem strummed notes rapidly with an elongated pick (seemingly at random but more likely with expert ease) only a few inches from the fingers of his other hand that was anchored in the lyre’s strings. The individual notes during sound check sounded like a guitar tuned up a couple of scales but Tem used a patch that morphed it into a rich, organ-like sound. While Tem fiddled with the Krar, dancer and singer Genet Asefa walked onstage in an elaborate costume to much applause. The quavering tone to her voice was given center stage on the first song, a traditional Ethiopian thanksgiving ditty. The percussion was interesting, not so much anchoring the song with a steady beat than peppering it with consistent solos.
After a graceful “Thank you”, the band then moved into a song called ‘Wello’. Still blissfully unaware of the virtual tornado of shock and sheer bewilderment that was about to ensue, the audience moved closer to the stage in genuine curiosity as the dancers made it to the stage. The audience was like a waking giant – taking cues from the increasing tempo and the scene unfolding onstage – as the dancers fell into some sort of mating dance, standing a healthy distance apart (for now) while the singing was interspersed with hollering, timed hissing and even some suggestive breathing in perfect timing with the beat. ‘Rominja’, a song from the “east and central” part of Ethiopia, featured an increased tempo and fewer items of clothing; the prudes in the audience were a tad uncomfortable but continued watching nonetheless at this point. But not for long… the increasingly primal dancing mauled the delicate sensibilities of some of the audience members while entertaining the rest of us immensely after it progressed into over-the-top, bawdry mock almost-lovemaking on stage, complete with straddling and wide eyed expressions (us and the dancers). At one point, the general atmosphere of shock and awe was compounded by the male dancer air-cupping his partner’s rear several times and making throwing gestures towards the audience members (several of whom ducked instinctively). Dancing aside, the music was miles from anything we’re accustomed to. We were particularly taken by the lyre’s versatility and the fact that a performance by two instruments and one vocalist had us from the words “We are the Krar Collective”. The day ended much like the first at Mad – us begging for “one more” song, milling in large groups discussing the highest highs of the day, and the lowest lows (mostly of the valley below the campsite). Yet another impressively organized day that ran pretty much like clockwork despite some rescheduling and a light drizzle, meant that we were full of praise for the organizers and performers once again.
People were still talking about “that graceful dancing lady”. A lot of mini table tennis was played, little boys captained foosball teams and gave Anil Kumble type looks to people who didn’t do well on their side. Stalls were visited, wines tried, cupcakes eaten, slightly more expensive beer gulped down, a lot of walking done and a general feel good factor settled in as we headed back to more bonfires and jams back at the campsite.
The Mad Festival Experience
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.
Sanjay Divecha Duet at the Bangalore Habba UB City, Bangalore.
On a chilly evening in Bangalore, I looked forward to being dazzled by the promise of some good ol’ blues, with a little bit of that jazz thrown in! A tad delayed, for whatever reason, one of the main attractions of the night, composer and guitarist Sanjay Divecha, walked onstage with only his guitar for company. The significant lack of other musicians on stage only heightened my anticipation – I’d heard enough high praise about this musical great to know that he wouldn’t be a letdown.
Sanjay’s set at UB city was peppered with original compositions (one by Aman Mahajan as well) and classic blues pieces interpreted in his own style.
Beginning the set with the self-composed track ‘Africa‘, he set the mood for the rest of the evening. I’ve heard a full ensemble version of this track online (with flautist Carl Clements no less) but, somehow, the stripped down version of the song he presented at UB City just took my breath away.
Aman Mahajan – you’d probably recognize him as one-third of the trio that makes up electroacoustic outfit Schizophonic – joined Sanjay for the second song, ‘Rapaz de Bem’, completing the duet promised by the Habba. Accommodating the piano with ease – in fact, giving it precedence from the get go – the duo’s cover of a classic blues number was paced a tad faster than other versions.
The third track, ‘Nardis’ (Miles Davis and Bill Evans) was a delight; the deliberate slowing down to a pause mid track had me at the very edge of my seat at one point. The two instruments took turns with the spotlight and I loved how there was no fencing and that each was given its due.
Next up was the duo’s interpretation of Jimmy Smith’s ‘Back at the Chicken Shack’. A short post-gig interview had us in on the fact that the duo had only hours to practice before they were to go up, but the quality of the performance didn’t hint it at the slightest.
My favourite track of the night, ‘Refuge’, was composed by Aman and appeared to have marked Turkish/Eastern influences, though, during our conversation later, he denied any conscious tinkering in that direction. Either way, it was a beautiful meld of styles.
Jazz standard ‘Ladybird’ by Tadd Dameron was up next. As the name suggests, the track had a flighty tone to it, like the score to a semi-comedic routine – though I wouldn’t trivialize it any further with shady comparisons. To the layman, it appeared the perfect follow up to the slightly dark-edged ‘Refuge.’
Brazilian composer Antonio Carlos Jobim’s ‘Wave’ was next and while it was almost as soothing as the original, the fact that it was only a duo playing it came through like an elephant in the room. A strings section on this would’ve perfected it; at the time, I was hungering for something as small as a cabasa/shaker to soften the delivery and given it that fuller sound. But that’s just me!
‘Thai blues’, one of Sanjay’s own compositions was next, followed by ‘St.Thomas’ a traditional nursery song from the Virgin Islands, adapted by Sonny Rollins into the Jazz version that is probably better known the world over. The last song ‘Spain’ wrapped up the set neatly; the duo took the slightly eclectic Chick Corea standard and refined it to all smooth transitions and managed to make it sound melancholic during some parts and peppy during others.
While it’s easy for certain people to forego listening intently to the sort of music that’s crudely classified as “ambience music”, Sanjay and Aman’s performance drew this member of the audience straight in.
The Big Mushroom Cloud Festival at Counterculture, Bangalore
The Big Mushroom Cloud Festival wasn’t promoted as vociferously this year; while we’re wondering why, we’re also thankful that it panned out that way because the number of festival attendees this time during peak hours was just right – it wasn’t claustrophobic and it wasn’t marred by huge patches of empty grass/tables with people desperately trying to look like they’re having a good time.
Counterculture in Whitefield, known for its extremely chilled-out vibe (you can take your dogs with you to a gig), was buzzing with activity a little past ten a.m. on D-day. It was amusing to watch people bustling back and forth toting everything from humongous ladders to newspaper sculptures to kites! Quiet warnings of “watch it!” or “duck” were uttered more than once by friendly bystanders.
While the food counter wasn’t open that early (the event was to begin at 11 a.m.), people already had the tenacious audacity to walk around with bottles of Millers glued to their fingertips (whiskey was our poison, so we’re not judging)! The venue itself had been done up with kitschy, unusual displays of art made from recycled stuff. The dragonflies, with tea strainers for eyes, bobbing happily above the bands while they played, were particularly amusing as was the centipede-like structure in a far corner. The fest had displays of art by Ari Jayaprakash, literally strung up, and featured a counter with Astral Cat creations.
Members from the Chennai-based hard rock band Totem got onstage to set up a little over an hour after go time. They had the misfortune of playing the earliest set to a crowd that was only just getting lulled into the appreciative mood. There was a short burst of a riff with an electro tinge to it and the ten second vocal that was belted over it was impressive. Anticipation heightened as the band started in earnest but while the sound was fine and the vocals were noticeably good, they didn’t come together as they should have. The bass was particularly impressive with even, deliberate plucking; it overrode all other instruments, not only in technique but also in sheer volume.
The songs they performed, while filled with angst, didn’t bring anything new to the table. We were three songs in and still waiting for something to sound as good as that ten-second sound check. The vocals were impressive in parts and we even appreciated the on-pitch maniacal laughter that accompanied the song ‘Little Gravity’. The last song was a bass-driven number with elongated notes but the incomprehensible lyrics were a tad disappointing.
After the relatively enthusiastic applause for Totem died down, the band introduced their successors – Mushroom Lake. This band’s set was soothing and the words “ambient sound” were being flung around as people walked back and forth between the outdoor area with the stage setup and the indoor area with the food.
This band had a settled feel to them, not only because they were seated for the most part, but also because of the sound they produced; there was a definite hint of whale song at certain points. A minimum of five minutes for a song, but what songs! While they were repetitive, there wasn’t any complaining about their finesse. The band was in sync all throughout despite the fact that they weren’t even looking at each other!
All four band members were bent over their instruments, hair shadowing their faces while they strummed, plucked and tapped for all they were worth. ‘6 A.M.’, ‘Acid Rain’ and ‘The Day After’ had the audience lulled into a sense of comfort as any beautiful Saturday morning should.
When Adam and the Fish Eyed Poets sauntered on stage later that the evening, we smirked because we were one of the few in on their secret. Here it is: there is no Adam. The frontman is Chennai-based singer songwriter Kishore Krishna who formed the current lineup of the Poets to promote material from two previously released albums. The four-member band put on a quick fire set with short punchy songs. A consistent post-punk sound with characteristic overdriven guitars sound punctuated with staccato-like riffs and break sections, a heavy chorus with extensive use of the crash, blended with some lyrical wizardry made for a brilliant show.
We happened to walk in right on ‘Little Monkeys’ and couldn’t help but notice Krishna’s Telecaster with analog stomp boxes. Typically up-tempo and energetic with classy crunchy-fuzz guitar tones and with running bass lines, the songs had Krishna moving from whispers to a rough-voiced lad to full throat screams. Often, even his vocals were drowned out by the music and the lyrics unfortunately were barely discernible. A few songs later, the band pulled a switcheroo with the guitarist and bassist exchanging places on a couple of tracks to end the show. The audience hollered for “one more”, and the boys obliged much to everyone’s delight.
We caught up with Krishna after his set for a little conversation about his influences and aspirations. The sound they have arrived at can be mostly attributed to the late 50s Stax/Volt Record Label’s music era along with the late 70s post punk movement. He said he prefers using his analog pedals because with the limitations in terms of sound, comes the opportunity to arrive at a distinct original sound. It definitely scores over a multi-light-bleeping-console with so much processing power it could take the focus away from the simple things. Since the material draws so much on the songwriting and lyrical themes, their next album has a very imaginative and dystopian concept album with an alternating first person narrative of a 30-year marital setting between a Dyke and a Schizoid. Heavy!
We were just getting comfortable with watching a good act on stage when Adil and Vasundhara walked on. Adil Manuel (guitar) and Vasundhara Vidlur (vocals) head this project that experiments with Latin-jazz, jazz-rock and funk grooves with an extremely intimate RnB and soul-influenced vocal style. Adil and Vasundhara performed songs off their self-titled debut EP that was recorded after they formed the outfit in January of 2009. Most of their tracks on the recording feature as soulful acoustic melodies, so Adil went unplugged for the first few songs of their set. Saurabh on bass and their short-notice replacement drummer provided a funky, low-key groove backdrop to the dominating foreground of Adil’s vast repertoire of nomadic jazz voicing and inversions, harmonically balancing Vasundhara’s soul singing.
Tracks like ‘Just Another Blues’ and ‘Pinocchio Times’ showcased Vasundhara’s dynamics with a powerfully projected voice that could playfully shift from sultry and husky to a strong, big-bodied high note effortlessly. Her impressive stage presence is complemented by Adil’s fluid, McLaughlin-esque solo spots that leave you dazzled for their complexity. You could catch the bass and drums always right in the groove pocket, even over an odd-metered time that Vasundhara simply soared over, powerful and elegant at the same time. Adil had a ball with his ‘Cry Baby’ and went beserk on a solo section. On one Latin beat, Saurabh provided the bass and chord voice with a two-finger tap sequence over the guitar solo.
They ended their set with a powerful song ‘Blue Bashing’, about a spat between two people that Vasundhara wrote after one such incident with Adil! While neither has been trained formally in music, Adil’s biggest inspiration is the legendary Allan Holdsworth and finally had a chance of meeting his idol recently in Mumbai. He also cites greats like Scott Henderson, John Scofield and Frank Zappa for their techniques that continue to inspire his sound. He says it is critical for a musician to develop a sense of “vocabulary” that speaks for your music. Without developing and improving on a vocabulary, musicians cannot achieve an individual style and would end up sounding like just another guitarist. He went on to say if Indian musicians took the effort to work on their identity and sound more original we would not have to seek fame and riches elsewhere. Adil has been a professional musician for years now, having played in bands like Asphyxia, MRP, Polio, The Rock Opera and more commercially with Bandish, Silk Route and Indian Ocean.
Vasundhara said her vocal techniques initially developed while performing with the Choral collaborative ‘Artists Unlimited’ in Delhi, where she was exposed to Gospel, Soul and RnB sounds. She has since performed with international composers and even voiced characters on-screen. Her strength also lies in the fact that she is comfortable singing in French and has performed for various French Music festivals.
After a fitful conversation with Adil and Vasundhara, we had spotted this deranged looking guy with a suit in the audience and thought “Man is he at the wrong gig!” Turns out it was Nikhil, the drummer for the band The Jass B’stards, who incidentally was celebrating his birthday. We had seen a video of these B’stards supporting the Indie singer-songwriter Noush Like Sploosh and were mighty curious about them. There’s an aura of what-are-these-guys-about-ness that surrounds and shadows them. A gamut of instruments was brought up on stage, some shakers, some tambourines, a Theremin (which didn’t work) and two fezs. Stefan (keyboards), Tony (Bass) and Nikhil (Drums) belted out their first track ‘Samba Sin Titulo’ or roughly translated from the Polish – ‘Samba without a title’, a wild instrumental jam led with an Electric Piano melody. Nikhil’s up-tempo, double-time style drumming kept the beat super-pacy along with Tony’s consistency on the bass.
It was more than evident these guys were having way more fun – with their antics and tomfoolery – than the handful of free spirits right below the stage gypsying around to the groove. Stefan scurried off to return with a transistor radio, belting out some static-scratchy Hindi tunes off it. It’s amazing how furiously a drummer can play even with a tweed suit on, so furious and erratic that the other two had to tackle him just to keep his impulses from hurting himself! Stefan kept things wacky with a conductor’s whistle, crying away over some looping convoluted sounds and textures on his Nord keyboard. It was fun all the way with the B’stards, so much that they called on Gauri – another prominent Indie singer songwriter – for a song they haven’t played before. But that’s okay; The Jass B’stards have refined the art of not practicing to an unattainable level. Gauri sang over some improvised lyrics and music, with a bold, broad tom-boyish vocal range, before she darted off stage to an equally improvised ending. Their last track featured some vocals by Stefan, poetry even with small mellow sections in between the main groove sequence that had a sense of terror rising within the music, creating epic tension that crescendoed into a dramatic piano-led outro.
We met with the band post set, and must confess, had the best interview ever. You cannot get a straight answer from these guys and each question meets with pithy, wry, sarcastic humor bouncing off each other just like on stage. It’s worth mentioning some of the band’s influences include the smell of a damp cat, poorly translated Chinese menus and creaky wooden stairs. Nikhil mentioned that of late, he’s been listening to some good Russian music. That was a marked improvement from the bad Russian music he’d been listening to all this while.
Nikhil – “You should also listen to some fine porn music”
Us – “What’s the best kind?”
Nikhil – “Vintage of course”
Four-piece ensemble Peter Cat Recording Company took to the stage next. My only regret is not being to meet with the band post gig, because these guys have the freshest new sound on the block. Their music has been attempted to be described with tags like Gypsy Jazz with Midnight Moonlit Car Chase music inspired by Frank Sinatra and old Bollywood film music. The music has lyrics that are cynical and sinister which, accompanied by Suryakant’s smoky velvet voice, make it sound like ‘failed circus music’. There was a light drizzle in the air when they took to the stage as the penultimate band. Their music is so ethereal and bizarre, yet has this reassuring old world charm like a black and white film soundtrack on vinyl.
PCRC started out as material written by Suryakant Sawhney in San Francisco, which he continued when he moved back to India in 2008. He met members of a local metal outfit Lycanthropia with Karan (drums), Rohan (Bass) and Anindya (Guitars, Keyboard) to form PCRC to record their debut album. They performed the opening track of the album ‘Pariquel’, which seems to talk about delusional lovers and prostitutes, a recurrent lyrical theme. ‘Love Demons’ featured an extended surreal sequence, plunging into a heady mélange of sounds with a quasi-harmonium/Russian organ. The audience just had to have another song, the band brought on the popular ‘Clown on the 22nd Floor’ which has this whimsical swingy carnival sound that ends with a Hindi film dialogue playing in the background.
At the end of the festival, we caught up with Abhishek from Logic and Madness who said the intention of this year’s format was to open up the festival to new sounds and new bands. An alternative festival to bring together off beat culture, art and music and form a collective that would manifest in an out-worldliness of influence on contemporary images and sounds.
It was rather unfortunate that we had to inevitably miss out on the performances by Stuck in November, Avilente, The Family Cheese, Schizophonic and The Bicycle Days; we’re sure we’ll catch them some other time!