Here’s who stood out at Chennai’s Road to GIF indie music fest


From deforestation to social awareness, musicians at The Road to GIF created music that extends beyond the usual bubble of lyrics and laughter

The past weekend, Chennai saw two clear days of sun before the rains returned with a vengeance.

On those two days, Buck’s Amphitheatre in YMCA, Nandanam offered a vista of blue skies, and bright green parrots flitting from one towering tree to another.

It offered something else as well, something a bit more unique: about 20 musical acts gathered on one stage, diligently serenading over 800 music lovers, one song at a time.

This was the first edition of The Road to GIF — a pre-event for Unwind Centre’s international music event Global Isai Festival (GIF), scheduled for February. It was noteworthy for two reasons: the sheer number of upcoming indie acts across various languages and genres, and the simple, open venue that made acoustics a challenge, but more than made up for it with a variety of upcycled art installations.

Here’s who stood out at Chennai’s Road to GIF indie music fest

Day one saw a number of acts, highlights being rapper Jack’ Styles and the electronic music duo Radiotronics, comprising LS Shenkar and Eddie Prithviraj. The rapper, who is also the lead vocalist of Rap Machines, singlehandedly raised the intensity of the event from his first song. Shenkar and Eddie took forward with intriguing, almost psychedelic tracks.

On Day two, soul music duo Tabby and Sanjai were one of the first morning acts, humming out some deep yet breezy tunes to the accompaniment of songbirds overhead. Then came the Owl Monk Collective, beginning with soft tracks like ‘Chinaman’, ‘Rise’ and ‘Clarity’ that had the audience swaying lazily in the sun-dappled amphitheatre. Their next song, however, took a surprising turn. ‘Blind’ was a new track, more intense and deliberately jagged than the others, with a darkly intense riff and political lyrics. “We wrote the tracks in August, when the news of Kashmir first came in. But we started playing it just last week; with the crackdown against anti-CAA protests, we couldn’t keep our art in a silo anymore,” they said after their performance.

A couple of jibe-riddled acts followed, including Kuleepadaii and the catchy, colloquial Masal Vada. Maanjah Boys upped the ante with a performance that was essentially rap, but accompanied by keys, bass, guitar and drums. The instruments added to the mood, supporting the rap, which dominated throughout. Tracks included ‘Baby ma’, a love song “inspired by a Vadivelu joke”; and ‘Thambi epo kalyanam’, a catchy number with a smooth trickling of keys, jazz-esque guitar, and heavy drumming, all to a foreground of staccato vocals.

Here’s who stood out at Chennai’s Road to GIF indie music fest

Talking crows, dying trees

Then Othasevuru gave the afternoon a different turn altogether.

The duo’s entire set was in the form of a narrative — a touching, absurdist tale about crows, pigs and a dying tree — interspersed with fable-like songs in the Tamil folk style.

While their first song likened democracy to a leaking water bottle with a hole in it, their second had a lovely, soft rhythmic tint that was oddly reminiscent of Baul music.

It was after this that their voices (with nothing but a guitar to help) really took over, travelling across the open space and reaching the scattered audience with introspective questions about the many different people who live inside each individual, some creative and others self-destructive.

What followed was track after introspective track, some earning spontaneous bursts of applause, others leaving a sudden resounding silence when the two voices abruptly stopped singing.

Yet others — like a song from a crow’s perspective about human ignorance — evoked spontaneous, surprised laughter at unexpected punchlines. Few songs are simple and yet powerful enough for an audience to sing along when it first hears it — most of Othasevuru’s tracks achieved this.

The duo was followed by a pleasing, if apolitical, set by the one-track-old Joint By The Sea that flanked its single ‘Lucid Dreams’ with a couple of fillers.

Where is the support?

But sadly, the crowd had dwindled by the time the best acts of the weekend took to stage. For all the hundreds who showed up sporadically to support their friends and other musicians, the venue could have taken hundreds more, and the lineup certainly deserved it. But audience lethargy is a clear challenge as far as indie music in Chennai goes.

Here’s who stood out at Chennai’s Road to GIF indie music fest

For a band that is less than a year old, The SyZyGy seems to be well aware of the art of taking a stage by storm. It began with the groovy ‘Perfect Place’ and then moved on to ‘Blue Shade’, which started out with a dreamy intro before abruptly heightening both the tempo and the vocals and then dropping to something very slow... so in sync was the band that each member unconsciously headbanged together while performing, without even noticing each other.

The band had the audience in thrall. So did Jatayu: the last act of the night, which took the audience in a mellow, semi classical direction. Their highlight was ‘Pazhi’, from their latest Chango Tales — a dark piece with a mournful violin by Akshay Ganesh. ‘Chango’ on the other hand, was a sunny track: for all the experiments, growls and strums over the weekend ended on a simple, joyous note .

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Printable version | Jan 24, 2020 6:47:22 PM |

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