But I almost didn’t. The hills, cool weather, 3 days of what promised to be great music. A temptation that I nearly desisted biting into. The thought of going alone and that this was right before a vacation break that I was taking with family kept me on the fence despite having booked the festival and travel tickets. Perversely, a raging fever that I picked up the evening before decided it for me. 5:30 the morning of Oct. 25th found me at the bus station. Don’t ask – it’s the way I am. With the exception of maybe 3 or 4 people, the bus to Ooty was filled with people headed to this year’s edition of the M.A.D. festival of music, art and dance (actually lots of the first, much less of the rest) otherwise called goMAD. Quite a few of them would be staying in the tents organised at the beautiful Fern Hills Palace grounds, the venue of the fest.
Back when I was in college, bands would play only covers because the audience would not accept originals. It’s taken years, the dedicated efforts of a few pioneering bands and the quantum increase in access to change that. Now, even when covers are attempted, the band puts its own stamp on it. There’s a burgeoning indie music scene in India with an ever-increasing roster of acts that produce music from the exceptional to the indifferent to the downright pathetic. At goMAD, I did not expect the last and fortunately, reality justified that expectation. Or maybe I got lucky in avoiding rubbish while hoofing it between the 2 stages, pleasantly distracted by the goings-on in between and that damn fever which kept me from staying later. The same, I’m sure, made me miss some very good music too. Anyway, here was my opportunity to hear and watch a wide assortment of bands play live. Some I had seen and heard before, others whose studio work I had listened to but many that would be a discovery for me. There’s no way that I’m going to write about the 30 odd bands that I saw and heard at the fest (of the 50+ that came in).
I was pleasantly surprised by Clown With A Frown with its funky big-band sound. That brass section could so easily have been gimicky. But no, it was very competently done and a lot of fun. I had not heard these guys before. Their performance intrigued me enough to try and get hold of more of their music. I absolutely had to be there for The Baiju Dharmajan Syndicate’s slot. The reticent Baiju is so effusive with the guitar that it’s easy to overlook the band itself. Perhaps it’s better that way because I was clearly turning off in the segments that he was not playing. Maybe it’s my bias towards the man’s genius and Motherjane, the band that he was formerly part of and which disbanded a few years back. I’ve heard the Shakey Rays’ studio work and I love their sound. But they really need to work on their live act. There were moments of brilliance there but they could do with lots of polish. Their problems with the sound didn’t help, of course. The sound checks at the fest were one of the few disappointments. These guys and The Bicycle Days seemed to suffer the most from it. The Bicycle Days’ performance was so much affected that it was, for me at least, a very disjoined performance. But I heard enough of the band to want to land up at one of their live performances again, hopefully in happier circumstances. The jazz sextet of Radha Thomas with her beautiful, sexy voice, Aman Mahajan on the piano/keyboards, guitarist Ramjee Chandran, Matt Littlewood on the saxophone, bassist Mishko M’Ba and drummer Jeoraj George that is The Radha Thomas Ensemble was a delight, as usual. It takes a little while to get used to Radha’s subtle weaving of Indian Carnatic music’s threads into jazz’s fabric but one’s patience is well rewarded. The two metal bands that I heard at goMAD blew me away. Inner Sanctum was a first-time listen for me. I turned an instant fan. What more can I say. These boys were preceded on the stage by one of my favourite metal bands, Bevar Sea. These guys deserve to make it big on the international stage.
Apart from the issues with the sound checks, there were a couple of disappointments for me. One was the no-show of the Peter Cat Recording Co. whose performance I was looking forward to. The other was Agam. Mind you, Agam played competently but I’m seeing and hearing a sameness in their live performances that’s dulling it for me. And the constant pointing to Praveen, their brilliant guitarist, is starting to grate. This is a band of extremely gifted musicians. They don’t need to constantly call attention to one guy. But that’s me. Clearly, the rest of the cheering crowd didn’t seem to see it the same way.
Two weeks of trotting around the country, sleepless nights, long hours of travel to get to the venue – none of this did anything to diminish Lagori’s stage presence. To my mind, their’s was THE live performance of the festival. This is a band whose stage craft I have seen evolve. The quiet presence (mind you, there’s nothing quiet about their playing) of Geeth Vaz and Ed Rasquinha on guitars, bassist Shalini Mohan and drummer Vinyl Kumar strikes just the balance to the manic energy of singer Tejas Shankar. I keep thinking the man will crash into one of his bandmates anytime but I have never seen it happen. The band insists on the audience joining in and the audience on its part has absolutely no trouble doing that. I only wish Tejas would let up once in a while, allow a breather for the wildly jumping and screaming hordes. Heck, I ended up with bleeding fingers in one hand and a walnut sized clot on the other from banging on the railings.
Many highlights to the festival but the enduring sound from there was that of Parvaaz. This is a band that does not rely on talking or histrionics to make up a great live performance. They just play – unfettered and with incredible soul. It made my hair stand on end. I’m amazed that I hadn’t heard the band till then despite having heard much of them. Well, that’s corrected. Kashif Iqbal’s scorching guitar, the tight rhythm section of bassist Fidel D’Souza and drummer Sachin Banandur and the searing, brilliant vocals of Khalid Ahmed remain etched in my memory. I’m so looking forward to much more from Parvaaz.
As I headed back home from the mountains, I thought about the one thing that bothers me about most of these bands – longevity, with its attendant consistency of musical output. So many bands fade out after their first album. I just hope that’s no longer the case.