The life and times of an indie rock band in Delhi
The BlueRaga Jampad is tucked away in a basement on a narrow street in Delhi’s congested Lajpat Nagar, opposite a popular chicken shop. It’s a busy nook for Delhi’s bands, which hire its well-equipped den by the hour for rehearsals. On a Thursday afternoon, the city’s five-year-old band, Man.Goes Human (M.GH), is practising for a forthcoming gig. Two guitars, bass, drums and a Mac providing pre-composed MIDI tracks kick in, and then, vocalist Aditya Paul begins singing. The song, Crush Before Use, from the band’s new EP, Moonglasses, is a melancholic exhortation to a lover urging her to break free from his smothering adoration and pursue her unfulfilled dreams. The music is lush and full, but the lyrics are unusual and dark. Paul’s vocal range, which effortlessly scales incredibly high notes, is astonishing. I’m hooked.
M.GH is one of Delhi’s rising indie rock bands. The four young men—one of them, drummer Anhad Khanna, is only 19—have self-released an album and an EP. The EP, Moonglasses came out last November; in 2015, they had debuted with a self-titled album. Moonglasses, band leader, bassist and lyricist Shitij Gulati tells me, is like a mini three-song concept album where the protagonist questions realism, identity, rationale and ambition while in a relationship. Dark, deep and brooding stuff. For Moonglasses’ launch at a Delhi nightclub, Gulati, who has a day job as a musical events organizer, and his friend, band manager Tejeshwar “TJ” Singh, distributed mirrored sunglasses in a neat red pouch that came with a free code for downloading the album.
Such strategies form an intrinsic part of M.GH, who use marketing and a healthy dose of hustle to be noticed in Delhi’s fickle music scene, where indie rockers aspiring to make original music find themselves in an ocean dominated by deafeningly loud electronic music aimed at getting intoxicated audiences to dance, or Punjabi pop and rap. M.GH, says Gulati, the oldest band member at 29, adopts a pragmatic approach to traverse this scene. They never turn down gigs no matter how outlandish they are. In 2014, when an event manager gave them 2-hour notice to come and play outside a mall where Delhi’s education department was holding a meeting for youth, they readily agreed, showing up with just two guitars and no singer or drummer. “(Manager) TJ stepped in as vocalist; we played some rubbish, yet the crowd cheered,” says Gulati, “but it was a good call, because the guy who called us gave us contacts that later landed us festival gigs.”
Gulati, an engineering graduate, and his brother, Sharan, 23, have day jobs; singer Paul, 21, is still in college; and drummer Khanna has a side project in electronic music. It isn’t easy to be a dedicated indie rock band in Delhi, but M.GH say they want to keep going. On average, they play two-three gigs at local venues or a corporate event in a month. In a good month, they could land seven-eight gigs. Local venues pay subsistence-level rates for gigs but the corporate ones are what M.GH lean on to make more money—they do have to belt out songs on request (Hotel California and Dum Maaro Dum) that they normally wouldn’t play but they see it as a way of being able to sustain what they really love to play. M.GH have played at the Holi Moo Festival in 2016, the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in 2015, and a gig in Singapore in 2014. They’ve also played at the South Asian Bands Festival held annually in Delhi’s Purana Quila.
More than anything, what keeps them going is their passion for playing together. Paul, the vocalist and possessor of a five-octave range, is trained in Indian classical, but was dying to join M.GH after he heard them the first time. A few years ago, while still in school, he made a demo tape where he laid down his vocals on the instrumental backing track of Radiohead’s Paranoid Android and snuck it to Gulati on Facebook, cajoling and pleading to let him be part of the band. On that demo, which I got to hear, the young teenager sounds so much like Thom Yorke that it is uncanny. Radiohead are one of the big influencers of M.GH, but so are The Black Keys, The Arcs, Wolfmother, and classic rockers such as Pink Floyd, Red Hot Chili Peppers and Rage Against the Machine, whose songs the band also routinely covers.
At the BlueRaga rehearsal, the four seem a close-knit team that has great fun even as they appear disciplined and focused. The intervals between songs don’t exceed 5 seconds, the sound is tight and controlled, and the rapport between band members quite obvious. Gulati says they are confident that they will be able to keep playing together at least for the next five years, and want more gigs in other cities. While they would like to play more original music, M.GH have few qualms about making small compromises.
Post-rehearsal, we’re sitting in a Defence Colony café where Khanna produces a folded paper napkin on which someone from the audience at a recent gig had scrawled requests. There’s Chainsmoker’s Closer, and Ed Sheeran’s Shape Of You, but also High Rated Gabru/Ban Ja Rani by Neha Kakkar and Guru Randhawa. “No, we didn’t do that one,” he says with a wry grin. It’s not easy to be indie and keep rocking in Delhi.
The lounge list
Five tracks to bookend this week
1. ‘Moonglasses’ by Man.Goes Human from the ‘Moonglasses’ EP
2. ‘Crush Before Use’ by Man.Goes Human from the ‘Moonglasses’ EP
3. ‘Sad Paulie’ by Man.Goes Human from the ‘Moonglasses’ EP
4. ‘Id’ by Man.Goes Human from the ‘Man.Goes Human’ EP
5. ‘Leave Me Or Love Me’ by Man.Goes Human from the ‘Man.Goes Human’ EP
First Beat is a column on what’s new and groovy in the world of music.
He tweets @sanjoynarayan