There’s Flamenco and Ilaiyaraaja, Swathi Thirunal and Metallica…Music in the city is eclectic and local bands are jamming to their own beats
There is music afoot in the city. Crashing cymbals blend with soft notes of the violin. An electric guitar plays the swaras of a Carnatic raga. Elsewhere, a Flamenco plays hauntingly, accompanied by rising tabla beats. Bands in the city add their own spin to Indian and Western music genres. The members are mostly from colleges in and around the city. Empty classrooms, music club halls and canteens are their favourite jamming points. Some of them are full time musicians. Thanks to them, the cafes, restaurants and tea shops in the city have turned into addas of alternative music.
Jamming session of Avyaktha, a city based band, is in progress at a coffee shop in the city. They have just returned from their gig in Singapore and Malaysia. They are one of the few city bands to perform abroad. “It was a great show. We are all pepped up,” gushes Vinith P, the drummer. Their songs feature a variety of genres such as carnatic kritis, rock music and familiar Tamil film songs. “Even though we romance different genres, we do not tamper with the core of classical music,” says Vinith. “We play with Western music to capture the beauty of the classical music better.”
7th Frett, which started off as an acoustic guitar band, also has their base in classical music. “But we are also influenced by rock, light music and Rodrigo and Gabriela flamenco pieces,” says Vivek Krishnaraj, the guitarist. And, this is not an exclusive boys’ band. Meet Revathi Mahesh, their drummer. Revathi says she was fascinated by the instrument since she was a small girl. “It was a big surprise for many of my friends in the college music club when they found out I was a drummer. They had assumed I was a singer,” she smiles.
Another band that has created a unique musical idiom is Abandoned Elements from Karunya University. They were rated as one of the first best 16 bands of India by Saarang. On a breezy evening, the band meets at the guest house canteen with laptops and electric guitars. “God rest ye merry gentlemen…”The vocalist of the band, Ashish Joseph hums as Shawn Jacob plays the guitar. “Rock and metal do not necessarily mean voodoo and anti-Christ,” says Aby Oommen the lead guitarist.
“Our music is all about hope and shunning despair. We are even ready to incorporate Hindusthani music into our concert.” Most of these bands were born in college campuses. On a weekday, at Amritha University, one is greeted by pounding drum beats blaring out of the music room. Drummer of the college metal band, Stratum, Vaisakh V.P, and guitarists Vasudevan Nambeesan and Raghav Seshadri, are playing their latest composition, ‘Incandescent’. “Some of us are day scholars. So we cannot jam in hostel rooms. This is where we jam and write lyrics,” says Raghav.
In Karunya University, there are at least 20 music bands, says Ashish Joseph. “We are blessed with a professional studio to mix our compositions.” “Our first single, ‘Awake’ was recorded there,” recalls Shawn Jacob, the drummer. ‘Awake’ received 1000 hits within a day after they posted it on SoundCloud.
Many of these youngsters are not classically trained. For instance, Mark John calls himself a self-taught musician. Says Mark, “I quit from my keyboard classes because the teacher thought I was not talented. I learnt guitar just through listening. Paco de Lucia is my guru.” Vaisakh too began playing drums by practising on empty buckets and plates. It was rebellion that motivated him to take up the drum sticks. “My parents wanted me to learn mridangam. I wanted to take up drums. They did not encourage. So I set up buckets and kitchen vessels in the room and started to play just to irritate them.” But now he says he is a big fan of Umayalpuram K. Sivaraman. “To listen to rhythmic combinations of Indian percussion is fascinating. I am listening more to chenda and mridangam now.” It is the same story for Vasudevan, the lead guitarist from Stratum who used to play guitar for temple concerts. “I never enjoyed them. My interest was in metal genre. I got exposed to the bands largely through the internet.”
Adithya Kiran, the vocalist of the band recalls how in school he and Vasudevan used to fight about their favourite bands. “But we were the only ones who were listening to metal music in our class,” he says. “People listening to metal will always be a minority,” says Aravind R Menon, drummer of the band, Incomplete. “But that is what makes our community really strong.” Aravind and his band members jam occasionally at his flat in Gandhipuram. And their growls and drum beats have invited the wrath of the neighbours, many times. “The problem is people think metal is just noise. There are so many sub-genres to metal such as melodic, folk and even vedic metal,” says Suprith, the band’s guitarist.
Media should also give us some space, says Vivek. “For instance Malayalam channel, Kappa TV is showcasing bands such as Avial and Thaikkadum Bridge. Tamil channels must also do the same.” But things are looking up, notes Aravind. “People have turned more receptive to rock and metal music. Colleges are hosting rock shows. Contests such as Battle of the Bands and Broken Neck are getting popular. Coimbatore is indeed waking up to a new music culture.”