Delhi live music on the up

Post was created on May 27th, 2012

 Until recently, the Delhi live music scene has been long dominated by conventional classic music outfits, playback singers with little charisma, and derivative prog-rock and covers bands. Things are now looking up for Dilliwallahs in search of decent music, with new music venues and innovative acts – both local and international – visiting on a regular basis.

Indian band Sridhar/Thayil has to be the freshest band I’ve seen in a long time in Delhi. Appearing at the Blue Frog recently, they regaled the audience with a winning performance that trod a balance between originality, provocation and good musicianship. Suman Sridhar’s unique voice – reminiscent of jazz great Billie Holiday – swooped and wound its way over the “urban grime” rock-jazz grooves pumped out by the band. Jeet Thayil’s sharp guitar and preacher-style rants drove the performance pace. With each song spanning different musical genres, the lyrics often contained witty word plays delivered with a tongue-in-cheek sense of campy drama. Delightfully rough around the edges at times, Sridhar/Thayil are definitely one of the few contemporary bands in India that manages to balance inventiveness with talent, musicianship and un-selfconscious performance skills. It’s rare to see artistes who retain an aura of cool whilst having fun and inciting the audience to do the same. The band has just released a CD, and – in the name of democratic media practices – encourages you to “buy it (name your price), rip it, whatever, just spread it.”

 

In a different music genre altogether, renowned British DJ Fat Boy Slim hit Delhi as part of his first ever tour to India. Performing in open-air grounds with tickets at Rs1500-4000 ($30-$80) a pop, this gig was definitely confined to India’s urban upwardly mobile youth. Arriving on stage with a lot of fist thumping and MC-fanned hype, Fat Boy delivered a high-octane two-hour set. The phenomenon of a DJ as a celebrity performer has always been a curious one to me, and I was eager to see if it contained any substance. The performance contained some inspired referencing of anthems from the Motown and disco era. Clever visuals added another layer, and partially compensated for a sole performer confined to a mixing desk. Fat Boy’s antics reminded of an aerobics instructor – running on the spot and whooping the audience into star jumping. The exploited in the scenario were the well-heeled cats who paid Rs4000 for VIP seats, which were so far to one side that their occupants quickly moved to join the rabble in front of the stage once the concert started. Whilst the audience mood was celebratory, after one hour, the repetitive electronic beat and trite refrains started to wear thin. But the youthful Indian audience, perhaps enabled through other trance-inducing elements, maintained the fist-thumping pace until the end.

Other live acts gracing Delhi lately included English-Indian producer-musician Shri, who came to Delhi with his band, OK World. Shri set down some killer grooves on his state-of-the-art homemade bass, which were overlaid by Norwegian pianist Bugge Wesseltoft’s skillful tomfoolery with gadgets emitting wild feedback. The experimental music was imaginative and delivered by high-standard musicians, so it was a shame it wasn’t better attended. Let’s hope the launch of Delhi’s Blue Frog will continue to stimulate the live music scene here.

 

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