Tag Archives: Zero

The Universe Has a Strange Sense of Humour by Blackstratblues

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Instrumental music in today’s industry can be a tough sell– people naturally seem better able to connect with ideas expressed through words and lyrics rather than musical ones. Of course this makes things harder for the musician; how communicative can your music be when you’ve jettisoned the expressive capabilities of lyrics? But because the internet is flooded with singer-songwriters who deliver their heartfelt lyrics over tired, four chord guitar playing, any attempt to deliver up a piece of art that speaks solely through sound and melody rather than words is admirable. Warren Mendonsa, the primary guitarist and composer of Blackstratblues, attempts to do just this with his newest record The Universe Has a Strange Sense of Humour. In lieu of singing, Mendonsa uses his guitar to weave together layers of chords and melodies to produce a rock record that, while not perfect, still provides a fair amount of well-executed ideas to please fans of the style.

This is Mendonsa’s third album of guitar-focused rock music under the Blackstratblues moniker, although he has also played as a member of the influential band Zero and as a session musician since the 90’s and early 2000’s. During that time, he has refined his sound as a guitarist, and it shows on this album. Mendonsa describes his work as “good honest music”, and such a characterization is fitting. His playing is not overly technical– instead Mendonsa finds ways to play simply and cleanly with subtle embellishments. He has an impeccable sense of balance and melodic phrasing in his music; for every guitar solo on The Universe, there is also a modest yet catchy riff to provide variation.

Despite the fact that most of the tracks utilize a somewhat underwhelming pop rock structure, the album’s greatest strength is that Mendonsa builds varied, self-contained ideas for exploration within the song. The result is that each track contains elements that sound purely unique from the the rest of the album. The main riff on the opening track ‘Renaissance Mission’ for instance is warped and bent with oscillating textures that rise and fall to create an otherworldly, psychedelic effect. In keeping with the cosmic theme of the record, Mendonsa on the title track arpeggiates airy, spacious keys as the guitar slowly meanders through them as if it were drifting through space. Mendonsa’s dynamic sensibilities also help keep the songs interesting; one of the highlights, ‘E Major Blues’, shifts between extremely calm leads and loud edgier riffing with backing organ chords and hot guitar solos. During these quiet moments, Mendonsa’s guitar is warm and intimate, inviting you to lie down and rest. During the louder segments, the blues guitar soloing ratchets up the tension and excitement before descending back down, and the fact that Mendonsa is able to float between these two moods seamlessly is a testament to his ability. It is in these instances that The Universe achieves what instrumental music often strives for: to convey ideas and emotions in ways that would be impossible with words.

Though Mendonsa is definitely adept at engineering beautiful moments of sound, his guitar-centric approach can become a hindrance, and this is evident in both the mixing and composition. Throughout the album, it rarely feels like him and his band are jamming together as a unit; the drums and bass tend to just form a basic platform for Mendonsa to display his guitar work. The track ‘Anandamide’ suffers from this problem despite the fact that its melodies made it one of my personal favorites on the album. It features a repeated country western flavoured riff and dulcet solos that beautifully flow together, but the guitar never moves from the spotlight for the entire duration of the song. The drums and bass guitar parts sound boring and subdued by comparison, and the band members never seem to play off each other. Throughout the record, the other instruments can sound muted underneath the crisp guitar, and while this shouldn’t be completely unexpected, (it is a guitarist’s solo project after all), it at times feels like the songs were composed with the express purpose of pointing attention to the guitar playing. While there’s nothing wrong with that in itself, achieving that aim by relegating the other instrument parts to the side strips the songs of potential.

There are exceptions of course, such as the tracks ‘Folkish Three’ that utilizes a magnificently cacophonous dhol and drum kit combination to propel the song into an amped-up climax, and the second movement on ‘Two Sides of the Same Coin’, which couples classic surf rock riffs with groovy bass and fun drum fills with hand claps. These moments where the band really plays together turn out great, but they’re too irregular to prevent the record from suffering. Though it doesn’t completely ruin the album, it ends up being a noticeable flaw with The Universe Has a Strange Sense of Humour; while some bands might provide plain instrumental accompaniment to a talented singer, Mendonsa here has a tendency to keep the stale accompaniment while only switching out the singer for a guitar. There are other guitar-based instrumental rock bands, such as Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mogwai, and Jakob, that draw strength from their ability to balance each part and allow every instrument the space to contribute. Granted, the more classic guitar-centric rock sound is Mendonsa’s modus operandi, but he’s done better before in his back catalogue. Even on the previous release by Blackstratblues, The New Album, though it was a rougher recording, it sounded deeper and tighter as a band. It’s fortunate that on The Universe Mendonsa brings improved melody writing and a sharper sense of sonic colour compared to previous efforts, and he really does deserve all credit for keeping several of these songs engaging solely through his playing.

Unlike many instrumental bands from the early 2000’s to today who have been given the now somewhat derogatory label ‘post-rock’, Blackstratblues is focused on creating music that is much more straightforward. While straightforward music isn’t necessarily bad, (there’s a reason “pop” music is popular), the lack of truly bold ideas can cripple otherwise good songs. In the case of The Universe, its music holds very few secrets to dig through and uncover– by the end of the album, its goal of “good honest music” stunts the impact it could have had. These are pop rock songs with blues and classic rock influences, and they generally follow either a predictable verse/chorus/verse form or at least have a repeated riff or phrase that the music will return to. Any musical idea presented at the beginning of a song is carried to its end– they might get tonal or dynamic tweaks along the way, but the ideas remain foundationally unchanged. To be fair, sometimes the structure does work well, as is the case with ‘E Major Blues’ and ‘Come Anyway’, but other times it’s just tiresome, like with the forgettable ‘Little Rascal’ which features some aimlessly ambling melodies that never really go anywhere. I would have loved to hear more experimentation within these songs and for them to be taken in new directions I didn’t expect; there is no track on The Universe that delivers quite the same emotional impact for me like ‘Ode to a Sunny Day’, (from The New Album), as it slowly blossoms when acoustic guitar and piano give way to amplified jamming and drums. Mendonsa’s focus on exploring single self-contained musical ideas within popular song structures still sometimes works well, but it’s not quite enough to sustain the record throughout its run time. Even when it is successful, it never feels like something completely new or groundbreaking– just a refinement of styles we’ve probably heard before.

While I certainly would have liked for Blackstratblues to push the boundaries a little bit more with The Universe Has a Strange Sense of Humour, ultimately it’s Mendonsa’s guitar skills that prove to be both its blessing and curse. The album as a whole feels too straightforward for me to say it’s great, but it would also be grossly unfair to say it’s bad. Though the album is weighed down with overly familiar song structures and at times bland playing, Mendonsa really does know how to write impressive guitar parts and offers a number of memorable moments. If you’ve been a fan of Blackstratblues and its style of instrumental pop rock in the past, then you will easily love this album. If you’re not, then this record could wear down on you by the end, but it’s still absolutely worth a listen for the points where it shines. While The Universe Has a Strange Sense of Humour doesn’t amaze, it does have me excited to see what Warren Mendonsa will do next. If he is willing and able to take his guitar proficiency and push it outside the bounds of his comfortable, established influences, then Blackstratblues could have the potential to make a lasting impression on the world of instrumental music.

Stephen Perez

Stephen Perez is a busy university student that spends an excessive amount of time listening to music and attending music-related activities. He is passionate about art and culture and anxiously awaits the day that he can travel the world. Stephen also enjoys theology, veg food, and reverb.

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Road to Converse Rubber Tracks in India at Richardson and Cruddas, Mumbai

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NH7 Weekender’s Long Awaited Debut In Kolkata

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NH7 Weekenderone of the country’s largest music festivals, finally made it to Kolkata, much to the delight of the city’s music-hungry population. The fourth and final leg of this event was to be held on the 14th and 15th of December, and with the completion of exams at most of the city’s educational institutions, the organizers seemed confident of wooing the huge student community to the venue grounds. In fact the Kolkata leg had a lot going for the city’s music lovers. With the highly discounted ticket prices when compared to the three other NH7 Weekender venues, the tickets rates for the City of Joy were a complete steal! And for the student population there was even an under-21 ticket to add to the bouquet of benefits.

The mouth-watering lineup comprising of more than 40 artistes, spread over 6 stages was surely enough to whet the appetite of even the most cynical music-lover in town. However, the venue chosen to host the 2 days of musical madness left many disappointed. Ibiza Resort, located on the outer fringes of the city in South 24 Parganas, was indeed almost in the middle of nowhere. Not only the distance, but the traffic jams and shitty roads were also a big downer, and due to these factors there were many who ultimately decided to skip the NH7’s debut in the east zone. The organizers too, must have had sleepless nights, owing to the initial negative feedback about the venue. But finally on the day of the event, the Kolkata music-lovers did not disappoint and the massive turnout on days 1 and 2 was enough indication that despite all odds, Kolkata’s love for music would always prevail over long distances, bad roads and traffic jams.

The action on the Day 1 started approximately at 3:30 PM. The layout for the 6 stages in the festival grounds was well thought out by the NH7 team and thankfully most attendees were spared the long-distance-run between the various stages. In fact the biggest conundrum for gig goers was trying to prioritize which artiste’s performance to watch, since many performances would be going on simultaneously at different locations in the venue. The timings of performances at the Dewarists stage and at the Bacardi Arena were the ones that caused the most consternation and those not too adept in time-management had a trying time juggling their schedules.

NH7 Weekender’s Long Awaited Debut In Kolkata

Many music-lovers from the North-East turned up in huge numbers to catch Shillong’s blues giants Soulmate up on the Dewarists stage at 4:30 PM. This gig pulled in huge crowds, and having always been a favorite among the blues lovers in the city, Soulmate went all out to impress one and all with a virtuoso performance. And there was no getting away from the mesmerizing vocals of Tipriti Kharbangar that literally blew the crowd away.

Mumbai metallers Demonic Resurrection were already getting proceedings underway at the Bacardi Arena – the first of three back-to-back metal bands to be performing on Day 1. Demonic Resurrection were hell-bent on bringing brutality to a new level, and in their allotted 40 minutes this veteran metal act managed to captivate the crowd with songs both old and new, including ‘The Unrelenting Surge of Vengeance’, ‘The Warriors Return’ and ‘Bound by Blood, Fire and Stone’ – all tracks from their last album A Return To Darkness. The crowd loved every minute of their performance but 40 minutes were hardly enough to satisfy the metal hungry crowd. It would be approximately another hour until the Bacardi Arena lit up with the second metal act of the evening.

In the meantime, over on the MTS Other Stage, local boys Ifs ‘n Buts were having a ball playing their brand of indie music with the help of a few friends. Unfortunately this particular stage was plagued by music “over-flowing” from the adjacent music arenas and it was not really the best way to take in the band’s acoustic set. While Ifs ‘n Buts were busy enthralling their faithful fans, city heavy weights and NH7 veterans Pink Noise on the Dewarists stage and Mumbai’s Zero over at the Red Bull Tour Bus were both getting ready to up the volume. Choosing which act to catch that evening was indeed a painful decision. The veritable flip of the coin seemed to be the only way to decide which band’s performance to watch.

NH7 Weekender’s Long Awaited Debut In Kolkata

Zero’s energy and verve on stage belied the fact that the band was making a comeback and playing in the City Of Joy after almost 10 years. In fact, it almost made it seem like they had never been on a break! For 40 odd minutes the band dished out a host of evergreen favorites like ‘PSP’, ‘Hate In Em’, ‘Lucy’ and ‘Mariachi’ – and for those 40 minutes the Kolkata crowd was in a complete state of trance. Zero easily delivered one of the best performances of the day and those who attended their gig at the Red Bull Tour Bus stage, left fully satisfied.

Amidst the Zero mayhem, another local musician and singer-songwriter, Tajdar Junaid, was getting ready for his performance at the MTS Other Stage. Tajdar’s recently released album What Colour is Your Raindrop has received critical acclaim from most musical quarters, and for fans of his mellow, lounge-influenced acoustic style of music, it was indeed a treat to see him perform in his hometown – more so since it was his first performance in Kolkata after the release of his album. Tajdar did not disappoint the crowd with his set that included tracks like ‘Aisle’, ‘What Colour Is Your Raindrop’, ‘Though I Know’ and ‘Dastaan’. One of the highlights of this gig was when ace guitarist Warren Mendonsa came up on stage to collaborate with Tajdar. All in all, this was a most satisfying performance.

Day 1 was mostly about the metal mayhem that was to take place at the Bacardi Arena. Judging by the number of metal-heads who had lined up in front of the stage and also taken up strategic positions in and around the vicinity, it was definitely not an advisable place for the faint-hearted to be. After Demonic Resurrection’s early evening assault, the next act to occupy the Bacardi Arena was Delhi’s masters of disaster Undying Inc. Right from their first song, these metal mongers were relentless and they forced the crowd into submission with their raw and powerful aggression. Front-man Shashank Bhatnagar was indeed in his elements that evening, and he had the crowd roaring with approval with his crowd-surfing antics. Shashank was like the conductor of a symphony orchestra, and he expertly orchestrated the crowd into one bloody moshpit after the other – and his efforts culminated in a massive wall-of-death during the song ‘Ironclad’. The fetsival had momentarily turned into a war-zone, and the number of injuries and blood stained faces around the pit area bore testament to this fact. Undying Inc’s setlist included the popular ‘Manimal’ and ‘Contagion’ from their album Aggressive World Dynasty and also their new single ‘Pit Mechanics’ from their new EP Ironclad – and their performance and stage presence that evening left an indelible mark on the minds of every metal lover in attendance. The band certainly upped the ante as far as performance standards go, that many Indian metal bands would find difficult to meet.

NH7 Weekender’s Long Awaited Debut In Kolkata

Meanwhile comedy rock band Vir Das’ Alien Chutney was over at the MTS Other Stage, busy regaling the crowd with their trademark sense of humor. It was the band’s debut performance in the City of Joy, but the huge cheers that followed each song they played would certainly have made it seem like they were Kolkata veterans. The biggest cheers were of course reserved for the song ‘Manboobs’, no surprises there! Vir Das’ on-stage banter, especially about the political leaders of West Bengal also had the crowd in splits.

Day 1 was nearing its end, but there were two huge artistes left before the day finally came to a close. Over at the Dewarists stage, Papon and The East India Company were facing some technical difficulties which delayed their show for approximately twenty minutes. Papon was on the check-list of most music lovers since many of them had never seen him perform live before. And true to their expectations, he and his troupe did not disappoint. This was one artiste who could sell out shows and still remain original and true to his music and he demonstrated this by enthralling the huge crowd with songs from his album The Story So Far and tracks like ‘Boitha Maro Re’ and the popular ‘Banao’. Papon and The East India Company were indeed a class act and hopefully they will be in town soon for more shows.

About 10-15 minutes before Papon and his band of merry men had started wowing the crowd at the Dewarists stage, over at the Bacardi Arena, the sea of black-tee clad metal maniacs had again started to huddle around the arena area. For the Kolkata metal community, THIS was the event they had been waiting for – finally, a metal band of international repute would be performing in the City of Joy, finally Kolkata would get to be on the international metal map.

NH7 Weekender’s Long Awaited Debut In Kolkata

Dutch metal giants Textures had previously been to India three times – and having previously performed in the south (Bangalore, 2009), the north (Delhi, 2010) and the west (Pune, ) in past tours, it was befitting that the band finally completed their Bharat yatra by being named as one of the headliners of Kolkata’s NH7 Weekender leg. And they gave to the city’s ardent metal fans a performance that they would not forget in a long time. The show began with the slow melodic instrumental ‘Surreal State Of Enlightenment’ but once this completed the band launched themselves into a set-list which pulverized the crowd with its sheer brutality. ‘Messengers’, ‘Old Days Born Anew’, ‘The Sun’s Architect’, ‘Laments Of An Icarus’, ‘Black Horses Stampede’ and ‘Sanguine Draws The Oath’ were just some of the songs that regaled the crowd that evening. However with the mosh-pits getting more brutal by the minute and with the metal-heads baying for blood, it took two of the band’s more popular compositions, ‘Awake’ and ‘Reaching Home’ to finally appease the crowd. Textures were truly majestic that evening and they won the hearts and minds of everyone who was fortunate enough to attend their power-packed performance.

And so Day 1 of the Kolkata NH7 Weekender ended with a bang – and there was not a single unhappy soul at the end of the day’s proceedings. Even the bunch of young metal-heads who were feuding over Textures’ drum sticks went home happy when the band finally resolved the situation by offering a plectrum to each of the aggrieved parties.

Another bright and sunny December day, and the expectations of the crowd were sky-high after the success of Day 1. There were some very big names scheduled for Day 2, including a few young acts from Kolkata. And in fact two of the day’s openings acts were The Monkey In Me on the Red Bull Tour Bus and Ganesh Talkies on the Dewarists Stage, the latter opening their set with the song ‘Style’. The band’s flashy style of music was accentuated by their colorful but loud outfits. Their catchy music had the crowd dancing, jumping and doing all sorts of crazy stuff, especially when the vocalist Suyasha Sengupta requested the audience to show some “Bappi Lahiri moves”. Their set included ‘Roadside Romeo’, ‘Pyaar Ka Tohfa’ from their EP Three Tier Non AC and some new material like ‘Dancing, Dancing’ and ‘Brother From Another Mother’. A fun band, especially if you aren’t allergic to the Bollywood style of music.

Day 2’s opening act on the Bacardi Arena was New Delhi’s The Ska Vengers. This 8-piece band was making their Kolkata debut and they were easily one of the best acts of this two-day music fest. Right from the word go, these merchants of ska got the crowd dancing to their compositions which included set regulars like ‘Rough And Mean’, ‘Bam Intifada’ and The Velvet Underground rendition of ‘I’m Waiting For The Man’. The Ska Vengers had a great gig, and special mention must be made of their female vocalist Miss Samara C whose charismatic stage presence hypnotized the Kolkata crowd.

Over on the MTS Other Stage fans of Gangtok’s Girish Pradhan were busy being enthralled by this singer-songwriter’s set-list that comprised of originals and classic rock covers. Girish started his set by playing an instrumental version of ‘Hotel California’, and followed this up with a string of originals that included ‘Loaded’ and the ever popular ‘Angel’. The set also included ‘Hey You’ and a brilliant cover of Led Zeppelin’s ‘Rock and Roll’. Girish Pradhan’s amazing voice and vocal range stunned the crowd and he easily won over the hearts of those in attendance.

NH7 Weekender’s Long Awaited Debut In Kolkata

As soon as Girish ended his set, it was back to the Dewarists stage because Swarathma was the next act to be performing. Their set included popular originals like ‘Duur Kinara’, ‘Topiwalleh’, ‘Kooraney’ and ‘Ee Bhoomi’. During the performance of their song ‘Pyaar ke Rang’ vocalist Vasu Dixit came off stage right in the middle of the audience, which got the crowd going. Despite the obvious language barrier in some songs, Swarathma’s gig was indeed a fun one and there was no doubt that the crowd would be remembering the band’s performance for a long time.

And over at the Red Bull Tour Bus, local lads Write In Stereo were getting the crowd to groove to their indie dance music. Heavily influenced by the band Mutemath, this quartet impressed the crowd with their compositions that were mainly instrumentals and included ‘Tokyo Kyoto’, a composition influenced by their love for anime, space and sci-fi.
The Bacardi Arena in the meantime was fast filling up, for Mumbai’s electro-rockers Pentagram, who were soon to start their set. It has been a while since this band has performed in Kolkata, and their fans were on tenterhooks waiting for the show to begin. But once it did, a huge roar erupted from the crowd. Pentagram began proceedings with their track ‘Identify’, and their set-list also included tracks like ‘Lovedrug Climbdown’, ‘Drive’, ‘Mental Zero’, ‘Tomorrow’s Decided’ and the popular ‘Voices’. The crowd had a ball, and this was evident from the number of bean bags being thrown up in the air and bouncing all over the arena area. Vishal Dadlani’s showmanship and Randolph Correia’s guitars were stand-outs in the band’s performance – with Randolph’s guitaring especially sounding raw and powerful throughout Pentagram’s electronica blended grunge set.

It was time for The Supersonics to join the Kolkata NH7 party and right from the word go this Kolkata quartet let fly a host of popular tracks – both new and old – much to the delight of their faithful fan following, who were attending in huge numbers. The Supersonics were playing in their home-town after a very long time, and not being familiar with their new material, their home support cheered the most for their older originals – ‘Hey Aloha’, ‘We Are We Are’, ‘In Memory Of’, ‘Fable Of A Lonely Fish’, ‘Have A Drink’ and the crowd favorite ‘Yeah Whatever’ were just some of the songs on their set-list for the evening. All said and done, this was a pretty good performance by these Kolkata homeboys.

The event was fast approaching its climax – after twp days of non-stop walking, jumping up-and-down, standing and head-banging, our legs were starting to feel a wee bit heavy and we also had this constant buzz in our heads. So running around the venue to catch the different performing artistes was turning out to be a tad bit difficult for our weary souls. In the final hours we kind of parked ourselves in front of the Red Bull Tour Bus area, which was pretty empty – but it also gave us a good view of the Bacardi Arena as well, where Delhi classic rock veterans Parikrama were already in the midst of their NH7 gig. Like Pentagram, Parikrama too were performing in Kolkata after ages – and these Delhi rockers were successful in wowing the crowd with a set-list that seemed to comprise of originals only. Quite a surprise, this, since the band have rarely played a set-list of predominantly original numbers in Kolkata. It was almost like they were playing a greatest hits compilation and for a change, the Kolkata crowd had the chance to savor their originals like ‘Am I Dreaming?’, ‘Vaporize’ and the ever popular ‘But It Rained’, which was the band’s closing number.

Kolkata’s Nishchay Parekh was up on the MTS Other Stage during Parikrama’s assault, and being one of the rising stars of the current indie explosion in the country, most people at the venue wanted to check him out. Nishchay’s music has a certain freshness about it, which adds to its cool quotient and it was these two factors which helped him to win over his audience that evening. His set-list which had the songs ‘Ocean” and ‘I Love You Baby, I Love You Doll’ were extremely well appreciated.

Back at the Red Bull Tour Bus Mumbai’s hard-core kings Scribe were busy causing mayhem and promoting the pleasures of moshing. Front-man Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy was in his usual over-the-top mood making the crowd laugh with his outrageous comments, although for the most part he let the band’s music do the talking. This was in fact quite a tame show as per the usual high Scribe standards – and the sound was also a bit muffled at times, although most listeners didn’t seem to be too bothered with the sound aspect since they were either too busy moshing or playing around with the beach balls that the band had thrown down from the stage. Scribe’s set-list was interesting but was well short of being “amazing” – and apart from the crowd favorites ‘I Love You Pav Bhaji’, ‘1234 Dracula’, ‘R.S.V.P.’, ‘Calender Khana Lao’ and ‘Cops!  Cops!  Cops!’ the band played a cover of the Fear Factory song ‘Edgecrusher’.

After two days of non-stop music, the Kolkata NH7 Weekender was about to come to a close. There was not a single unhappy soul at the venue, and India’s “Happiest Music Festival” had lived up to its reputation. As Karsh Kale Collective + The NH7 All Stars lit up the Bacardi Arena for the final time, the crowd totally lost themselves to the music, and the dancing and cheering seemed to go on and on. It was truly a wonderful conclusion to a festival that having promised so much was successful in delivering on all counts. To say that NH7 Kolkata did well would be an under-statement – this event was a rip-roaring success and for once everyone, including the fan, the organizer and the artiste, would seem to be unanimous about this fact. One can only hope that the success of the NH7 Weekender Kolkata leg will encourage other event organizers to allow this city to host similar such events in the near future. But if for some reason this fails to happen, well, we always have NH7 Weekender Kolkata 2014 to look forward to!

Reviewed by,

Prasanna Singh and Joy Chakraborty

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Bacardi NH7 Weekender Date, Ticket, Lineup and Venue Details

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Pune

Date: Oct 18-20
Venue: Laxmi Lawns, Next to Magarpatta City
Line Up:
Ankur Tewari, BLOT vs. Kohra, Blackstratblues, Chase & Status DJ Set, Devoid, Donn Bhat + Passenger Revelator, Dualist Inquiry, Indian Ocean, Karsh Kale Collective + NH7 All Stars, Krunk All-Stars, Maati Baani, Midival Punditz (Live), Nischay Parekh, Nucleya, Papon & The East India Company, Parvaaz, Pentagram, Prateek Kuhad Collective, Scribe, Shankar Tucker, Simian Mobile Disco, Skindred, Sky Rabbit, Slow Club, Suman Sridhar feat. Jiver, Textures, The Raghu Dixit Project, Vachan Chinappa, Vir Das’ Alien Chutney, Your Chin

Bangalore

Date: Nov 23, 24
Venue: Embassy International Riding School
Line Up:
Dry the River, Kailasa, Lucky Ali, Mekaal Hasan Band, The Manganiyar Seduction by Roysten Abel, The Raghu Dixit Project, Krunk All-Stars, Noisia, Nucleya, Rob Garza (Thievery Corporation) Solo DJ set, Shaa’ir + Func, And So I Watch You from Afar, Bevar Sea, Inner Sanctum, Karsh Kale Collective + NH7 All Stars, TesseracT, The Fender Benders, Nischay Parekh, Prateek Kuhad, Sulk Station, Zervas & Pepper, Bobby Friction, Cali P & Chiqui Dubs, Dakta Dub, DJ Uri, EZ Riser, Low Rhyderz, Pippin, Poirier, Reggae Rajahs, Sound Avtar, _RHL

Delhi, NCR

Date: Nov 30, Dec 1
Venue: Buddh International Circuit, Greater Noida
Line Up:
Chic feat. Nile Rodgers, Dry the River, Faridkot, Kailasa, Lucky Ali, Mekaal Hasan Band, Noori, Benga, Kill Paris, Michal Menert, Nucleya, Sandunes, Shiva Soundsystem, And So I Watch You from Afar, J.Viewz, Karsh Kale Collective + NH7 All Stars, Meshuggah, MUTEMATH, Scribe, SundogProject, The Ska Vengers, Arooj Aftab, Dhruv Visvanath, Nischay Parekh, Prateek Kuhad Collective, Rajasthan Roots, Zervas & Pepper, Baba Jas, Dubtron, Frame/Frame, Moniker, Soundclash, Swaggamuffin, Tarqeeb, The Grind, The Heatwave, YT, Ziggy the Blunt

Kolkata

Date: Dec 14,15
Venue: Ibiza Resort, Merlin Greens
Line Up:
Indian Ocean, Kailasa, Papon & The East India Company, PINKNOISE, Soulmate, Swarathma, The Raghu Dixit Project, Arjun Vagale presents Re:Focus, Bay Beat Collective, BLOT vs. Kohra, Dualist Inquiry Band, Michal Menert, Nucleya, The Ska Vengers, Demonic Resurrection, Digital Suicide, Ganesh Talkies, Karsh Kale Collective + NH7 All Stars, Parikrama, Pentagram, Textures, Undying Inc, Zero, Girish Pradhan, Nischay Parekh, Prateek Kuhad, Tajdar Junaid, Vir Das’ Alien Chutney, AlgoRhythm, BASSFoundation, David Boomah, Delhi Sultanate and Begum X, DJ Uri, EZ Riser, Reggae Rajahs, Sandunes, Smoke Signal, Sound Avtar, Yidam

Ticket Details:
Community Ticket: Rs 3000 The Community ticket is a three-day ticket available to anyone who has purchased tickets to any of our festivals (Bacardi NH7 Weekender, A Summer’s Day or Invasion), or is a registered user on NH7.in
Regular Ticket: Rs 3750 Valid for all three days
Under-21 Ticket: Rs 1750 (You qualify if you were born after Oct 1, 1992)

BACARDI NH7 WEEKENDER WARRIOR
Pune + Bangalore : Rs 4500
Pune + Delhi : Rs 4500
Pune + Kolkata : Rs 4500
All Four Cities: Rs 6000. Buy tickets for 3 cities and get the 4th free. Not transferable.

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The Jack Daniels Rock Awards 2013

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The eighth edition of the annual Jack Daniels Rock awards was held on the 22nd of February at Mehboob Studio amidst little hype and no fanfare. The invite-only event hosted by Sameer Malhotra and The P-Man (Rohit Pereira) saw successful rock bands from the scene, across genres, being feted for their musical efforts over the past one year, by people who had little or nothing to do with the scene.

Bombay punk rockers, Blek kick-started the evening performing songs from their debut album, Hexes + Drama & Other Reasons for Evacuation to an audience of around 100 people. Their half hour long set included some of their popular songs like ‘Minus the Makeup’ and ‘Fog + Strobe’ which was also nominated in the best song category. Blek’s set was followed by the first set of awards which saw Shantanu Hudalikar win the best producer award. Advaita’s The Silent Sea and Swarathma’s Topiwalleh shared honours for the best album art while The Blue Frog, Mumbai was adjudged the best live music venue.  The emcee then made Michele Obama’s virtual presence at the Oscars seem less random by calling upon a Bollywood designer along with an eye-candy model to give away the next set of awards – Blek were back on stage to collect their award, after being declared the best emerging band of 2012. The next award handed out was for the best keyboardist which was shared by Jason Zachariah (Jason Zac Band) and Zubin Balaporia (Indus Creed). The designer-model duo then gave a priceless tip of advice in fashion to the musicians gathered (who, judging by the vibes, couldn’t care less), before handing over the best drummer award to Jai Row Kavi (Indus Creed). Bombay Jam band Something Relevant was up next on stage, playing a half hour long medley of songs from their second album, We Could Be Dreaming which was released last year.

Actor Suchitra Pillai was then accompanied on stage by Ken Ghosh (Bollywood director) to give away the next set of awards – Tony Guinard of the Ska Vengers tipped my personal favourite Roop Thomas of Blakc to win the best bassist award. Thermal and a Quarter frontman Bruce Lee Mani deservingly bagged the coveted best guitarist award, having being nominated alongside other stalwarts like Keshav Dhar, Baiju Dharmarajan and Mahesh Tinaikar. A clueless Mandira Bedi then walked onto stage to hand over the awards for best male and female vocalists – Vivienne Pocha won the award for the best female vocalist scoring over equally good singers Samara C (Ska Vengers) and Suman Sridhar (Sridhar/Thayil), while Angaraag “Papon” Mahanta overpowered the likes of Uday Benegal, Rabbi Shergill, Bruce Lee Mani, Gareth D’mello and Vasu Dixit in a star studded list of nominations for the best male vocalist.

The Rolling Stone all-star jam that followed, showcased artists from bands like Something Relevant, Split, Goddess Gagged and Colour Compound, recreate the magic of some of India’s most popular rock songs  – from Siddharth Basrur and Gareth D’mello’s duet take on Them Clones’s ‘Zephyretta’  to Rachel Varghese’s cover of Junkyard Groove’s ‘Imagine’, Saba Azad’s cover of  Orange Street’s ‘Candywalk’ to  Gareth’s beautiful delivery of ‘Lucy’ by Zero, Suman Sridhar’s horror screams and deafening screeches on Workshop’s ‘Pudhe Sarka’ to Rachel Varghese’s rendering of ‘Trapped’ by Indus Creed,  the wonderfully selected set list for the jam had something for everyone’s taste and gave the attendees a lot to cheer about.

The Rolling Stone jam session was ensued by the last set of awards that saw Keshav Dhar’s Skyharbor bag the recently introduced – best metal band award before Papon made it two for the night after ‘Boitha Maro Re’ was adjudicated the best song, overshadowing some splendid tracks like ‘Maeva’ (Skyharbor), ‘Fog + Strobe’ (Blek), ‘Dissolve’ (Indus Creed) and ‘For the Cat’ (TAAQ). Former Miss India, Yukta Mookhey was then called out of oblivion to hand over the last couple of awards – Advaita’s ‘The Silent Sea’ won the top honours bagging the best album award, however it was Indus Creed who won the bragging rights and took home the 5 lakh rupees prize money after being adjudged the best Indian band for the year 2012.

Despite oddities of the award presenters, a no-show by most winners and a kitty cat on the loose, the award show at large went off smoothly, thanks (largely) to the free flowing Jack at the event.

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Ken Stringfellow, Tough on Tobacco and Punk Ass Orifus at Blue Frog, Mumbai

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January is a month of pleasant weather for the Mumbaikars. One could not hope for better weather on a day when a musical evening like this was following! The 18th of January was a special day for Mumbai – an event featuring Ken Stringfellow, a maestro in his own right, was slated for the evening in Mumbai’s Blue Frog. American guitarist Ken has been associated with biggies like R.E.M., Neil Young, Snow Patrol and Big Star for several years of his career. We could bet that an opening set from him was sure to be a true reflection of his portfolio.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that there was more – we have all heard Sidd Coutto’s Tough on Tobacco before, but we were wondering how they would sound when Ken’s strings would be strumming along. Stunned? Yes, so were we, when we heard that Tough on Tobacco was slated to join in on Ken’s later performances. It was sure going to be fun!

Ken Stringfellow, Tough on Tobacco and Punk Ass Orifus at Blue Frog, Mumbai

Ken Stringfellow commenced the event at Blue Frog with a crowd of listeners cheering for him. His first sounds were quite conservative, just as it suited the mood. There was pin-drop silence at the venue, and just a minimalist guitar could be heard with Ken’s suave voice. As the chords fluctuated, Ken’s voice responded likewise. Most of the songs that he performed were his own, but he threw in a cover by The Long Winters. How he mingled with the audience was a delight in itself. His jocular mood and remarks, which were occasionally offbeat too, were befitting the kind of ambiance he had created.

By the time Ken wrapped up with his set, one could sense a commotion in the audience. It appeared as if Ken’s set had charged everyone. The hands had begun to sway, and the smiles were widening. A surprise had been shot at the audience! Four young men dressed in formals had taken over the stage. They called themselves Punk Ass Orifus and before the onlookers could recover from the abrupt entry, the ‘men in black’ had set in action! Sidd Coutto took care of the rhythm guitar and vocals. Gaurav Gupta donned the role of the lead guitarist. Johan Pais managed the bass guitar, and Zorran Mendonsa stood behind the drums.

They played a short set, but it was enough to pour life into the audiences. What they played could easily qualify as Punk, Hard Rock, or Reggae. Their energy was never down for a second and they kept the audience engaged throughout. ‘The World will carry on’, ‘Bad Feeling’ and ‘Matter’ are some of the prominent tracks that they played.

Ken Stringfellow, Tough on Tobacco and Punk Ass Orifus at Blue Frog, Mumbai

After a short while, Bobby Talwar of Zero fame reached the stage, and much to our amazement took on the Djembe, instead of his customary bass guitar. It was difficult to believe that his hands were not accustomed to the Djembe, for he played it surprisingly well! The audience grooved along with him – these sudden surprises proved quite effective. However, they were far from over!

Warren Mendonsa was yet to join! He came to the stage to deliver the final song, and chose to play his Black Strat to ‘Mayan Song’, in his distinguished style. His solo performance on this song was a treat to the senses. The evening had shaped up really well! Sidd Coutto appeared once again, and had some fun moments with his kit. He cracked some light-hearted jokes and we caught a glimpse of his jokester side! Perhaps that is what won him the loud screams of “We love you Sidd Coutto!” from the lovely ladies in the crowd.

Ken Stringfellow, Tough on Tobacco and Punk Ass Orifus at Blue Frog, Mumbai

And then there was a pause… For the first time, one could feel some inaction on the stage, but that was tolerable. The evening had been good and quite active by far. After about 10 minutes, the groomed men of Punk Ass Orifus were nowhere to be seen. They were replaced by Tough on Tobacco, who had switched to the informal attire. Jai Row Kavi took to the drums, and Pozy Dhar managed the guitar. What do you know? Some more fun was lined up for Mumbai!

They opened their share with their signature song ‘Happy’. Tough on Tobacco chose most of the songs from its new album, and borrowed some songs from the first album too. Many more tracks were served to the delight of the listeners. The bigger a canvas is, the freer a painter’s strokes are. That is just what was happening at Blue Frog. Song after song, their canvas was expanding, and the genres kept adding up. By the end of several spontaneous performances, Tough on Tobacco had played a wide range of genres, and with an ease that left the listeners in awe. ’Yellow Tops’ and ‘Washing Powder Nirma’ were some spectacular songs that Tough on Tobacco made up.

Ken Stringfellow, Tough on Tobacco and Punk Ass Orifus at Blue Frog, Mumbai

The evening had been fantastic! The audience had enjoyed it to the fullest. What was promised at the beginning, however, was yet to be seen. Ken Stringfellow and Tough on Tobacco were yet to jam together. Right then, Ken returned to the stage, and jammed to the lovely blues song ‘Crack Whores’ along with the band. The evening was now complete.

It was a wonderful moment that Mumbai witnessed on the evening of 18th of January. To those who could not make it this time, I’d say that sometimes wonders happen twice! Make sure you don’t miss out on the next one!

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Blackstratblues at UB City – Bangalore Habba 2012

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We all have our favourite Zero song and mine was ‘Her’. I remember listening to the simple chord work and smooth vocal harmonies and falling in love with the sound back when I was in college and I remember thinking to myself, “Indian bands sound awesome!” Zero has been the benchmark for a band in my mind and to be able to see some of the original masterminds perform live was a treat I could not afford to pass up.

Bangalore Habba probably hit its zenith over the weekend when it featured one of the country’s ace guitarists Warren Mendonsa’s instrumental project Blackstratblues. Warren, alongside childhood buddies Sidd Coutto on Drums and Johan Pais on Bass, performed tracks from his two albumsNights in Shining Karma and The New Album.

The band was visibly pleased with the great looking venue; UB City’s amphitheater was adorned with two rows of LED parcans on trussrods, washing the stage with vivid colours. There was also a backline row of moving headlights that added to the crisp evening ambience. ‘Steppin Out’ was the first track for the evening, a blues rock standard that BSB usually opens a gig with. ‘The Happy Billi Song’ was up next – a feel-good track that Warren really opened up his playing with. It would seem another album is to be expected soon. The by-now grooving audience were treated to a slew of songs that will probably be featured in the next collection. ‘Untitled(1)’ aka ‘E maj Blues’, a warm, slow ballad was the first of the lot.

Blackstratblues at UB City - Bangalore Habba 2012

A cover of Billy Cobham’s ‘Stratus’ was really unexpected, mostly because I’d never heard this song before. A driving bassline with a busy 16 beat to keep the drummer busy let the guitars take over for a groovy jazz-rock track. It is always fun to watch a three-piece outfit create such a ruckus onstage, each maintaining their range, dynamics and yet not sounding like a competition for sonic space. ‘The Universe Has A Strange Sense Of Humor’ was up next – a very intimate and very personal sounding piece, which was quickly followed up with ‘Soar The Sky’ that was easy to listen to and wonderful to watch as it was being performed by the master himself. The highlight was the time meter switches from the solo feeding back into the main motif.

Johan dutifully maintained his elegant bass lines throughout the show and Sidd – a real beast behind the skins, he treated percussion lovers to a magnificent show. His energy was spilling all over the kit and even knocking over hapless drum mic stands that seemed to be in awe of his intensity and prowess.

Warren took a little time to talk about writing the songs in Auckland and how the overcast weather often inspires you to write songs sitting by yourself with a guitar, like ‘Ode To A Rainy Day’ – a beautiful ballad that opens up deep emotions with a minimalist texture that is intensely stirring.

Blackstratblues at UB City - Bangalore Habba 2012

His vocabulary seems to prefer “feel” over technicality and honesty over elitism. Warren’s guitar playing sounds more like an extension of his thoughts perfectly connected with a voice that is singing gloriously in his mind with overwhelming emotion and empathy. ‘Blues For Gary’ brought it all back to the legends who have wielded the strat before Warren – black or any other color for that matter. All of this just had to lead into one of the greatest pieces of music I’ve ever come across – ‘Anuva’s Sky’. All I can say is learning to play this song, will spawn an entire generation of soulful, patient and hardworking guitarists who, in my opinion, are of a dying (unborn?) breed.

The band was wildly cheered into an encore – their rendition of ‘Norwegian Wood’, and as if the night couldn’t get any better, the boys launched into three more ‘Untitled’ jam tracks that simply floored the last bunch of people who faithfully stayed on till the fitting finale.

It was a privilege to be able to watch the Blackstratblues albums performed live – although slightly tailored to suit the minimal performing format – the evening was all about  great hooks worked into catchy melodies, great tunes delivered humbly, with conviction and straight from the heart.

Fidel Dsouza

Fidel Dsouza is a Journalist/Editor at WTS

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Sridhar and Thayil Live at Blue Frog, Mumbai

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I have fond, yet fuzzy memories of the first time I had heard Sridhar and Thayil play live. It was an insanely crowded, power-packed sauna-like atmosphere at a predominantly punk-oriented night at B69, and they were up next after a brilliant performance by Zero. Unfortunately, that is all I remember of that night.

My curiosity was piqued by the few songs of theirs that I’d listened to online before heading for the gig, and I felt that the Blue Frog sound system and ambience would certainly do justice to their brand of music.

I settled in quite early, but the duo arrived on stage only at about a quarter past ten. Gigs often start later than usual at a lot of places and I’ve never been quite sure whether it’s more of a rock star thing or just a venue quirk.

Jeet Thayil held a guitar and was dressed in a dark, spotted shirt and what looked like a black lungi, while Suman Sridhar was decked out in a dark colored dress with shiny embellishments on it. They looked impressively distinct, and their stage presence was undeniable.

The list started off slow, with a song called ‘Single and Preying’, as Jeet clarified that the word prey here was spelt with an ‘e’ and not an ‘a’, and was followed up by a song called ‘Bring Me Rain’, which had some beautifully soothing vocals by Suman Sridhar.

Jeet moved over to the keyboards for the next one, called ‘Double Trible’, and for the first time that evening, introduced the crowd to some of his characteristic ‘spoken word’ verses. After overcoming a few sound issues and restarting the song, the duo livened up the evening considerably with the next track, called ‘This Be The Beat’. With its unique jungle-like thumping bass and a rap jugalbandi, this one definitely got the crowd moving.

Up next was a song that I didn’t particularly like, called ‘Time is a Bomb’, the combination of a trip-hop feel, together with Jeet growling into the microphone sounded a little bit cacophonic towards the latter half.

To add a little spice to this already intriguing cocktail of sound, the duo called up trumpet player Kishore Sodha to join them for the next song and the inclusion created a wonderful jazz vibe on ‘The Drowning Song’.

The music so far had been heady, complex, and at times, even confusing. Suman Sridhar’s vocals were absolutely sublime, with a predominantly smooth jazz-blues influence, and that very special seasoning of Hindustani classical emerging from time to time. Jeet Thayil’s restrained spoken word and occasional growling stood out in stark contrast, and the combination produced a very interesting effect that would take a bit of getting used to.

After a brief gap (in which Pravvy Prav kept the crowd entertained with a drum solo, and Suman left the stage for a costume change), Jeet broke out some well-written lines about the country and the general state of affairs, on ‘One Damn Nation’, while Suman followed it up with the lively ‘Beeru Venuma’, singing in Tamil for the first time that night.

The upbeat ‘Molasses’ was next, after which Suman played a beautiful, soulful solo at the piano, called ‘Rumors of Light’. The high pointof the evening, however, came from a song, called ‘Revolution’. Starting off with some nice blues guitaring, Jeet went on to engage the crowd and create a wonderfully charged atmosphere, with some very relevant and powerful verses about the travails of daily life, definitely touching a sensitive chord with the working population in the audience.

Kishore Sodha was back on the trumpet now, and played with the duo on the next two songs as well. ‘Punk Bhajan’, played a little differently from the recording, had a trip-hop, jazz feel to it and was definitely one of the better songs of the night. ‘I’m the One’ was, as Suman declared, a song for love from a woman to a woman. Interesting.

The list wound up with ‘Here in the Morning’, and ‘Red Wine’, Suman giving it a big finish with her big voice, but lacking in punch overall. It was an early finish to the gig, and I was rather disappointed to be heading back at a little past eleven thirty.

I’d have loved to have seen a little more blues guitar from Jeet. The bassist Kenneth Rebello and the drummer Pravvy Prav were stellar. Without being intrusive, they complimented the lead duo perfectly, and held their own throughout. Suman’s playful histrionics were engaging and raised the performance bar considerably.

The music of Sridhar and Thayil is complicated, and I’d say that their recordings are probably better than their live performances. It will undoubtedly take time for the larger section of listeners to imbibe their brand of music, but all in all, I’d definitely recommend giving them a listen.

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The Feni Farm Riot Album Launch by Dischordian at Blue Frog, Mumbai

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Tuesday nights at the Blue Frog often promise something special. And this one was no exception, as Dischordian launched their much-awaited and long overdue debut album, The Feni Farm Riot. I made my way to the venue after a hard day’s work, and reached there well in time. At the pass counter, I spotted a fair amount of merchandise up for sale, including posters and coasters featuring the impressive artwork on the album cover, and of course copies of the album itself.

In keeping with the creative title, the band had arranged for free Feni shots for everyone who entered, and I promptly claimed mine. Feeling distinctly happier, I settled down at the bar counter with a beer and a few friends, and waited patiently for the gig to begin. Having never watched the band play before, my curiosity was piqued by the range of instruments that currently adorned the stage, including a grand piano, a drum kit, two acoustic guitars and a djembe.

Dischordian’s lineup for the evening consisted of Garreth D’Mello on lead vocals and guitar,Howard Pereira on lead guitar, their newest member Nigel Rajaratnam switching between the saxophone, piano and melodica, and Agnelo Picardo playing the djembe and the trumpet.

The gig began with the slow and introspective ‘Stone’, followed by a track called ‘Baby, Maybe’ and the lyrically interesting ‘Same Old Conversation’ featuring some cool trumpeting by Agnelo, definitely one of my favorite tracks on the album. The band had a smooth, relaxing tone and the crowd was warming up to them nicely.

The next song, called ‘The Curtain’ was a new one as indicated by Garreth, and had an interesting arrangement with Howard relinquishing the guitar to play shakers instead. For the wonderful ‘Scourge of Love’, the band played a slightly different and slower version than the one on the album, and had Nigel switch from the melodica to the piano.

Garreth now left the stage momentarily, and returned with a large tray full of Feni shots, which he proceeded to pass out to a very eager and appreciative crowd. I certainly hope their next album has the words Tequila or Baileys somewhere in the title.

Next on the list was ‘She Lied To Me’, followed by the very intense and haunting ‘Save Me’, and the upbeat ‘Lover’. Garreth then went solo on ‘One of These Days’, and the rest of the band returned to play ‘How I Wait’, ‘Don’t Wake Me’ and ‘November’, all off the album.

The next song had Varoon Nair of The Mavyns accompanying the band on the harmonica. The song was called ‘Must Drink’, and reinforced what was clearly the theme for the night. With a slightly adapted chorus and a little help from an enthusiastic crowd, the band successfully coaxed their only teetotaling member Nigel into downing a few sips of beer, eliciting plenty of cheers all around!

It was now pretty much the perfect time to play one of Dischordian’s best and most well-known songs, ‘The Old Whore’, for which they were joined by Sidd Coutto (of Zero and Tough on Tobacco fame) on the drums. Like a perfect crescendo, the list continued to gain momentum with the brilliant up-tempo ‘our Right Heel’, followed by ‘Bucket of Blood’.

The supposed last song for the night was a cover of Rock Plaza Central’s ‘Anthem For The Already Defeated’ but the audience wasn’t about to let them go anywhere quite so soon! The band played an encore of ‘November’, with Sidd Coutto getting back behind the drums, and followed it up with an encore of ‘The Old Whore’ featuring Howard on the mandolin, and the crowd joining in on the catchy and humorous chorus.

The final song for the night quite clearly put the icing on the cake, as the band signed off with their trademark ‘Mera Sabse Lamba’, a popular (and admittedly PG-13) take on the immensely well known tune, ‘La Bamba’.

If I had to be really picky, I’d say that I might have liked to hear a short introduction to at least a few of the songs, especially since this was an album launch. But whether it was the Feni shots, the strategically placed merchandise, the brilliant set, or a combination of everything, Dischordian certainly launched their debut album in style.

At the end of the day, it was heartening to see a large number of people swarming the counter to buy copies of the album, and for anyone hoping to sell their music, I’d say that this is way to do it!

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