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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!