“Are you going alone?” I can’t help but smile at that question flicked at me by curiosity. I’m in the company of strangers seated in the confines of a bus organised to lead people to the ‘happiest music festival’. Strangers they may be, but it’s so easy to strike a conversation with any of them. All of us are bonded by the anticipation that the NH7 Weekender festival generates. What started as a single city event – the Pune edition even now is still the biggest – now tours four cities, a sign of the ‘scene’ having grown bigger.
There was a lot of muttering about the quality of the line-up for the Bangalore edition being ho-hum. The lack of familiarity with many of the bands may have been partially responsible for that. It didn’t bother me. I stuck to just 2 – the always fun Red Bull Tour Bus and the much bigger Bacardi Arena at opposite ends of the field – of the 5 stages on Day 1 and that was a hugely rewarding experience. The funk and swing duo Madboy/Mink got the Bus rolling with a lively set followed by the Welsh boys of Houdini Dax setting the Arena alight with their high energy music that caught many of the ‘ho-humers’ by surprise. But this was a deceptive prelude to what was to follow because right after that came the heavy artillery. It started with the progressive instrumental metal band Pangea which in my reckoning was THE BAND of the show – both days put together. The boys hardly spoke. They didn’t need to. Their music did all the talking. I know at least three people who detest metal but who were stopped short when they heard Pangea. I was grinning whenever I caught sight of them getting into the groove during the performance. Converts! Yessss! Australia’s Money For Rope took to the stage next with their brand of psychedelic rock. Revelation, and not just because the keyboardist and later the guitarist/vocalist took their shirts off. I haven’t heard their studio work but they were exceptional playing live. I’m not entirely convinced though about their need for 2 drummers, but it looked and sounded good. It was a pleasure seeing and hearing The Supersonics on their comeback. I would love to see them play again in a different setting because it was weird finding them plonk in the middle of what clearly was an evening of metal mayhem on these two stages. I was astounded the Bus didn’t come apart during Undying Inc’s thunderous set. When these boys and subsequently Scribe and Bhayanak Maut played, you could once again see how big metal is in Bangalore.
While all this was going on, I fell prey to the tell-it-as-it-happens bug. And so I furiously went about working my phone to upload pictures and tweets. But what do you know! For some reason, my service provider’s data connectivity got me nowhere even though the signal indicator looked good enough to take me to and back from Mars in a jiffy. But there was free wifi provided by a competitor. Aha! I read a lot into that. Still idiocy had seized me fully. I logged onto the wifi which required me to ‘like’ the provider’s Facebook page and happily plugged away at my live commentary. Pretty soon I found myself – rather, the demon that had possessed me – endorsing the “blazing speed of beep-beep’s 4G service”. Thankfully, a quick self-exorcism took care of it. The phone would have its Sunday off.
I started Day 2 listening to 2 frogs – isn’t that what the Brits lovingly call the French? Non? Je suis désolé. Pardon my French. The Inspector Cluzo duo took the mickey out of the English, the Americans, Mac, the Colas, Monsanto, electronic music and even bass players. All that didn’t detract from their music. But it was a little sad – the band trying to send out a message of Leftist solidarity with a bunch of moneyed brats who were happily sipping their cola (Zero calories. Oooh!) laced with Bacardi. What had me in splits was when they tried to connect with the audience with a “You are farmers, we are farmers” line. Well, at long last we have graduated from being snake-charmers. Well-meaning fellows, I think, but woefully ill-informed. Anyway, it was good fun – the crowd enjoyed it. The Bus then played host to Bombay’s brilliant Spud In The Box. I risked missing the early part of Thermal And A Quarter’s performance just so I could see these boys in action. And there was some reward for it when the band was enhanced by the brass section of Kavya and Rahul from Clown With A Frown. A rush over to The Dewarists (wine and music, people, always the twain shall go together) stage where I caught Thermal And A Quarter. It’s been a long while since I’ve seen them play live. Joy! Years and years of making music and they continue to be relevant, clever and crisp with words and music. I’m always excited by power trios but often disappointed. But Skrat justify that excitement as they keep getting better and better with each performance. Just a few days back I went to town saying that was the best I had seen them play and trust me, it was special. Then they went and topped that last Sunday. Fresh off the release of a new album, they exude so much confidence in their craft. This is a fantastic band that owns the stage. The Blues is being kept alive in this part of the world by the likes of Soulmate. Led by the redoubtable Rudy Wallang on the guitar and Tipriti Kharbangar’s colossally powerful (how does someone as petite as she is do that?) voice, this band from Shillong in the North-Eastern state of Meghalaya could well call Bangalore a second home given how popular they are here. Yet I was in the midst of people who had not heard the band before. But each one of them was evidently floored. May the soul tribe grow.
There was much that I missed entirely. I only managed to catch some parts of the final act, Mutemath. I’m sure they’re all that they are cranked out to be but I was too tired at the end of it all to give the band the attention that they probably deserve. Overall, while I can’t speak for everybody but I think happiness was served in generous doses on highway NH7. The bus moves on to Pune and then finds its terminus at Delhi.