Ziro Festival - The hills were alive with the sound of music
My head was throbbing from the adrenalin rush. My vision was not really clear. I was trying my best to keep focus so that I don't lose equipment. People screaming were 'Gaaaaandu' from the crowd. It was business as usual. The Gandu Circus set for me is impossible to describe because I am on the wrong side of the stage. You'll just have to catch it sometime, somewhere. The MC came on and started announcing the next band while I packed my pedals, cables and guitar. Jiver , Q and I got off stage and begin a long hug fest. Festivals mean a lot of hugging. It is good. It also means a lot of love and camaraderie. Hug my band, hear our songs.
Digital Suicide from Guwhati, came on in their freaky outfits next. One of them wore a cardboard box on his head. They interested me because they dropped their ambient alternative rock roots for Dance music. It’s a sign of the times. It’s the decision to gently push the pent up aggression in a musician towards clean fun energy with a touch of political awareness. The three-member outfit, has now become a two member laptop dance set up with minimal vocals and four bass drums hits on the floor. Laptops, midi controllers, keyboards, guitar and bass guitar manned by two guys. This is the future of electro. The usage of organic analogue elements with the electronica. Ask Dualist Enquiry, I'm sure he'd concur. They slammed the crowd with their grooves and the dance vibe set up by us was continued nicely and smoothly forward. Check them out. Up next were the ultimate dance electro live funk genre bending Shaa'ir + Func.
The closing act for the night, Monica, Randolph, Pman and Aditya got on with a sense a unnerving cool. Shaa'ir + Func hadn't played since March since they were concentrating on new material, which they played in their set. Backstage, when I spoke to them, I felt the edge in them, which seemed to disappear as they got on. I realised that some beings are more comfortable on the stage than anywhere else in the world. The performance was electrifying. From the word go, Shaa'ir was dancing, swirling, singing at the same time without running out of breath or losing a note. I don’t know how she does it. Func had his usual monster guitar, the Gibson SG, which he was strangling to extract his trademark sound. If there is one guitar player in this country whom I can spot just by hearing, it is Func. A very unique angular vocabulary coupled with a disdain for guitar clichés, combine to create a truly global unique style. The musicality is focused and sharp. Caged energy, exploding at times. We danced ourselves dizzy. Their new album 'Mantis' is available here.
This led to an after party on the terrace of the paradise guest house. Suryakanth's electro avatar 'Lifafa' was followed by Your Chin's electro set (Sky Rabbit's vocalist's solo outfit) which was stunning. It reminded me of Kavinsky, the artist who scored some of the songs on Nicholas Refn's sexy urban drama 'Drive'.
Oxygen took over next with Randolph Correia pitching in and giving everyone a taste of his groove references. Kiran Rao was spotted at the proceedings grooving to the music.
With the last day to go the party wound up a 4 am with every one attempting to go back to their beds. Not everyone succeeded of course. I found a guy sleeping on a chair out in the cold at 6 am. Another one elegantly wasted in the premises.
I went to the venue early to catch 'Lee Ronaldo Steve Shelley and the Dust' formerly from Sonic Youth, sound checking. They sounded tired from the journey but went through the motions smoothly enough.
The day began with Sulk Station at three thirty in the afternoon. Gloomy, electronic, melancholic, trip hop. Tanvi's silky voice leaned towards innocence rather than sexuality, the words were personal and the groove sparse and minimal. There were just two laptops on stage, but unfortunately for them there were no visuals at the Ziro festival. After a while I realized the lack of visuals is fine. Everyone had settled on the grass. I lay down and stared at the sky. The vibe began to happen for me. Quite a trip. Their album from 2012 'Till You Appear' is available here. I bought the CD.
Next up was The Bicycle Days who kept the mood within melancholia, but gradually built up energy. The band was superb but I could spot their references quite easily which flitted from Radiohead to Porcupine Tree. The singer sang in the style of Thom Yorke. The melodies were very unpredictable and the touch of Progressive rock in their music was a surprise for me. The name didn't hint at it at all. Both the guitar players were really individualistic and appealing. Thankfully there was no shredding (fast guitar playing). I hate it when ability competes with art. The songs were not really straight up and they were going for an obtuse vibe, which their fans were digging. You'll know what I mean if you hear their album 'Calamitunes' here.
The male sex symbol of the festival was the front man of Skyrabbit, Raxit Tiwari who took the stage with his band to a lot of cheers and anticipation. I had heard of them and was quite eager to check them out. From the word go, the band side-stepped the clichés of Indian rock music. Raxit's deep voice is very distinctive and I can safely say that I can recognize him anywhere in the world. Minimal samples layered the live band to give the gig a more produced sound. Most of the samples were used very intelligently making the sound thicker rather than electro. Indie/ Alt is how they describe their sound and for once such a young band was right about their sound. Energetic and mellow at the same time they held the crowd in a head nod trance. The trip intensified as the set progressed to their hits Hilltop and Anti coke Ganpanti. Definitely worth a listen.
Randeep Singh and Anup Kutti from Menwhopause were some of the main organizers of the festival. I could imagine how tired they must have been. But when Delhi's favourite band took the stage there were no signs of fatigue. The healing powers of music work magic. I speak from experience here. The crowd sang along with their songs. Their album Easy had won them several accolades earlier, so everyone knew the songs. Randeep played bass and sang some of their newer material. He showed some manic energy. They didn't do their comedy hit 'Kaatil Sardar', but I guessed that's reserved for Delhi audiences. Their new drummer seemed to be really fitting into their chemistry. Check out their website. Definitely wins my vote for the coolest Indian band website.
The grand Finale saw Lee Ronaldo, Steve Shelly and the Dust (from Sonic Youth) on stage with a the entire audience going insane. Lee Ronaldo's voice and guitar controlled the crowd with authority while Steve Shelly banged the kit like its meant to be. A lot of guitar antics with a view to creating alien textures kept the gig dynamic. The mid tempo alt rock songs created the mood for a truly chilled out festival which reluctantly came to a close. People wouldn’t leave their venue in spite of having to board the buses to catch their flights the next day from Guwhati. The 14 hr drive would give everyone enough time to reflect on how important it is to have some serious fun.
The sun gods blessed the second Ziro Festival and I think this festival will really grow. If not anything else this'll give a lot of people a reason to visit Arunachal Pradesh. Plan for a few extra days. It’s a massive heartbreak to leave just after. Goodbye Ziro. See you next year.
Post and Pictures by Neel Adhikari
Neel Adhikari is a music director/ singer songwriter from Kolkata. Fiercely independent, Neel has steered clear of the mainstream music industry. A rocker at heart he hosts the Open Mic in Kolkata and plays with two bands 'Neel and the Lightbulbs' and 'Gandu Circus' while helping and inspiring younger musicians in the city.