The northeast of India is full of talent; it’s time promoters looked past Soulmate
We’ve always known that there are some great acts in the northeast of India, from veteran folk rocker Lou Majaw, to progressive metallers Lucid Recess. So why is it that the only ways these acts get to play at the bigger shows is by moving to Delhi (Dayglocrazie, Vinyl Records) or being fucking Soulmate? Some of the most wonderful sets of the festival came from local acts I had never heard of (though there were a couple I should have heard of). One afternoon, it was Manipuri folk legend Rewben Mashangva, whose blues tinged set on the smaller second stage (which ran for only two hours each day) could serve as a microcosm of the entire festival. The charismatic Mashangva radiated good vibes as his mix of local folk tradition and ’60s rock and roll got people to shake off their hangovers and put on their happy faces. We lounged around in the shade and exchanged jokes with random strangers as Mashangva took a break to find a replacement drummer from the crowd, his regular drummer having to go play with his other band. It’s this sort of spontaneous and good natured picnic sing-along vibe that makes the Ziro experience special. Another highlight was the Omak Komut Collective, a folk fusion act from Itanagar. The frontman Omak Komut is also the head priest of Donyi Polo, a local animist religion, and it was a delight to watch him jump around the stage in traditional attire as he sang beautiful folk songs of the ‘Adi’ tribe. Fans of North African desert rock and Afro-Cuban music will especially love their blend of jazz, funk and oral folk traditions. Other highlights include the Imphal Talkies (politically charged folk rock, albeit with slightly awkward English lyrics), Digital Suicide (Daft Punk without the daftness, eminently danceable electro-punk) and Dosser’s Urge (who had a contingent of schoolkid fans, all dressed in uniforms and shouting along to every line).
The rest of the country has some great acts too
The rest of the line-up had no real surprises, but that doesn’t mean there weren’t some great sets from scene regulars as well. The Whirling Kalapas were predictably tight and predictably dull, and Shaa’ir + Func had me quickly running to the booze stalls, but Donn Bhat + Passenger Revelator were suitably revelatory (dear lord, forgive us our puns). I loved Bhat’s solo album One Way Circle (released in 2006) and was very excited to see them live. I was pretty drunk by this time and my notes are no help (“wonderful amazgkrn!”), so all I can tell you is that they were brilliant and I was bouncing non-stop through their set. Sky Rabbit were as consistently great as ever, and evoked a great response from the crowd, with people breaking into dance all around me. Peter Cat Recording Co. were similarly excellent, Gandu Circus were simultaneously entertaining and a little bewildering with their songs about masturbation, tube lights, and the role of genitals in society. A 3 PM slot with a crowd still feeling the effects of last night’s after-party is not the best setting for any act, but Sulk Station persevered with an excellent and challenging set of noise-leaning trip-hop. And the after-party itself featured a few great sets – Lifafa’s (Suryakant Sawhney) disco-wedding tunes, _RHL’s (Sulk Station’s Rahul Giri) hip-hop heavy DJ set, and Your Chin’s (Raxit Tewari) dreamy electro-pop. It’s safe to say that everyone was on their A game at Ziro, and anyone complaining about the quality of music on display must be tone deaf. The after-party also resulted in a number of alcohol fuelled hilarities that I will save for another day.
Inside every cynical music journalist hides a gibbering fanboy
Music writers are often viewed as jaded, cynical hacks and perhaps that’s an accurate representation of us (try not to be cynical after you’ve heard a hundred overhyped buzz bands floating on hot air and inoffensive, bland music). But put us in front of an artist that is actually good (or okay, one we really like) and all that sophisticated world-weariness disappears, leaving behind a gibbering idiot. Which is what happened when I ran into Lee Ranaldo and Steve Shelley on the first day of the festival. Ranaldo and Shelley, for those who don’t know, were part of the seminal noise/art punk band Sonic Youth, whose music has influenced my life directly and indirectly more than they will ever know. The idea that I would see them perform at a tiny festival in Arunachal Pradesh was surreal enough, but running into them in the crowd left me dumbfounded. Literally. A drunk friend and I stood next to Ranaldo, giddy with excitement but unable to say anything at all. This continued on the morning of the third day, when I met the band at the local MLA’s house for a charming little press conference. I still cringe at the memory of staring down at my notebook, hungover as fuck, unable to think of a single question (other than “what happened with Kim and Thurston”) to ask a man whose music I have been listening to for a decade now. (I finally managed to speak to Ranaldo at their Blue Frog gig in Mumbai, where I gushed like a schoolgirl meeting Justin Bieber). Thankfully, if Ranaldo was creeped out by my silent, creepy love-stares, it didn’t affect their set. Lee Ranaldo and The Dust played one of the most amazing sets I have ever seen, filling the empty and silent Ziro sky with walls of distorted noise and wailing feedback. I could give you a song-by-song breakdown, but nothing I can write will do justice to the vision of Lee Ranaldo hammering away at his guitar with a bow, or the band breaking into a noisy, fuzz laden cover of Neil Young’s ‘Revolution Blues’. Surrounded by grinning faces tinged with disbelief (“Is this really happening?”), I remember standing still, transfixed by the waves of guitar noise flowing from the speaker stacks. I was bundled out of the venue during their cover of Sonic Youth’s ‘Karen Revisited’ (aaarghh!) in order to catch the bus to the airport, but even that disappointment ended in a beautiful memory; walking down a narrow, empty road surrounded by trees as Lee Ranaldo and The Dust ended their set with a 15-minute noise jam, sending out blasts of dissonance at me across that beautiful, peaceful valley. Till next year, Ziro.
Click here to read part I of the review of the Ziro Festival of Music 2013
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