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The Countdown To Ziro Hour

The journey to Ziro Music Festival began on nasty roads with nastier roadkill and a ride through clouds


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13th September

11 pm, somewhere on NH37: Dead python

After 12 hours on the road from Guwahati to Ziro, the van traveling with three bands, Sky Rabbit, Aftertaste and Bombay Bassment smelt like a dive. An nth round of whisky, beer, weed and a new word-association game was peaking when the driver hit the brakes on the highway and pointed to the side of the road. We had stopped right next to an enormous yellow-green python that had parked itself almost in the middle of the road. Before our collective gasp had died down, a speeding bus ended it all in seconds. Sleep would elude some of us for the rest of the trip, but three flat tyres and an agonizing road journey couldn’t drain Aftertaste vocalist Keegan Pereira’s battery of cheer. “Isn’t today the day of the festival? Shouldn’t we be at the venue?” asked Pereira. When the skies opened up, the van wobbled to a stop with yet another flat. Pereira gave in to the pun, “We are tired.”

The festival site at Ziro. Photo: Subham Chakravarty

12 pm, Ziro: Glasto in Arunachal

“This is everything that the photos on the website promised,” said Sky Rabbit vocalist Raxit Tiwari as he took in the endless acres of paddy fields and the clouds drifting across the hills. Although the trek to the festival site came with a disclaimer from the stage manager, Ritinika Nayan: “Guys, you know Glastonbury. This is going to be just like that.” The analogy may have seemed less absurd as we waded through ankle deep mud to get to the stage, but the turnout – some 30 people including organizing staff , media and band members – was probably not even a fourth of Glasto’s volunteer team alone. But it was definitely more than what bands expected given the venue’s accessibility. “We maybe playing to three goats,” said Pereira only half-joking, after we had spent almost a day driving and the journey seemed nowhere close to the finish.

6 pm: Seeking Rabbi

A 20-something Arunachali girl at the festival looked rather put out and wanted to share her troubles. “I actually came to the festival because I read somewhere that Rabbi Shergill is performing today,” she said, nodding sadly when I tell her that the Delhi-based singer was never on the festival line-up. “My brother will come for the entire fest though. He loves all these bands,” she added, looking up at the Omak Komut Collective, which was missing its vocalist Getem, the youngest son of former CM Gegong Apang. Omak Komut Collective that sounded like a competent blues funk act evoked enough interest, but were definitely far from take off. Frisky Pints [Delhi] and Avancer [Dimapur] delivered spirited, yet unremarkable sets designed to remind audiences what a standout band brings to stage: killer hooks.

8 pm: Bhangra phobia

Space, an electro trip-hop project from Delhi with vocalists Tritha Sinha and Ritika Singh at its helm, began promisingly. But breaking into a raucous Punjabi track wasn’t the most ingenious move unless they wanted to drive away the half a dozen unsuspecting audience members still standing after all that rice beer. By the time Bombay Bassment went up, the bhangra fearing festival goers gingerly crawled out of their hiding places behind the hills. The crowd in front of the stage seemed to swell as the two-year-old hip hop act from Mumbai brought on a show that would only be outdone by a certain eccentric bluesman whose performance brought the festival to a close.

15th September

12 pm, Hong : Bamboo mug Vs Bottle

Residents of Ziro and the villages around woke up to the festival slowly. In the village of Hong, a good walk away from the festival site, men from the Apatani tribes were preoccupied with a game of dice. Fuelled by an endless supply of beer – not apang, the local rice beer served in bamboo mugs that is popular with tourists, but regular brew straight out of the bottle, four groups gambled the afternoon away as the rain continued to lash down.

Torrential rain had set back all plans at the Ziro fest including the arrival of bands. The Dirty Strikes, a post punk band from Imphal, had spent over two days travelling to Ziro. “There was a landslide in Ziro, so the road was closed for a day, but we’re used to all this by now,” said vocalist Kennedy Heigrujam. Since the five-member band was to perform on the last day of the festival, Heigrujam had enough time to be part of the audience to catch punk band Blek from Mumbai and Delhi’s Peter Cat Recording Co, who performed on the second day of the fest. “We know Peter Cat from Delhi, but I will be watching Blek for the first time,” said Geigrujam.

4 pm: Ziro’s hero

The band that formed an instant crowd bond on Day 2 was Mumbai’s Aftertaste fronted by Pereira, who went on to prove that he’s a consummate entertainer both on and off stage. The band, which includes Michael Lee on lead guitar and is accompanied by half of Bombay Bassment including Levin Mendes on drums and Ruell Barretto on bass, powered through a dull afternoon slot. Sure, there were more Incubus covers than we would have cared for, but Pereira’s swaggering stage act that included some impromptu rap when the stage sound went bust, was tough to match.

Mumbai’s Alisha Batth also won favor despite struggling through her set and freezing midway more than once. “I can’t move my hand and I can’t seem to play. I’m really sorry,” said Batth during her set that included originals and covers such as Natalie Imbruglia’s Nineties smash “Torn.” For 36-year-old Abijit Singha, an engineer with the Assam Public Works Department, who traveled to the fest, it was instant fandom. “This was the first time that I watched Alisha Batth. She was good and there’s something about her voice. I liked her set despite all the problems,” he said.

5.30 pm: Moshing in the mud

While Blek’s drummer Varoon Aiyer nailgunned their gig hit “Back At The Start,” some fans made the most of the rains and a muddy moshpit in front of the stage. The three-piece punk rock band delivered a performance that was compelling from start to finish. The same can’t be said of the much hyped punk act, The Vinyl Records. The all-girl band performed an awkward, pitchy and embarrassingly loud set that had people scuttling away quickly to the rice beer stalls only to return when Blek took over.

Peter Cat Recording Co. Photo: Shiv Ahuja

As always, Delhi’s Peter Cat Recording Co took charge of cooling off audiences with their trippy, stoner rock. Their shows are not known to climax until frontman Suryakant Sawhney wreaks some form of destruction on stage. At a festival earlier this year, Sawhney knocked the keyboard off its stand as he played one of his feverish solos and of course, ended up on the floor with his keyboard. This time though, Sawhney gave the act a break, but didn’t make any less of an impression, leaving the stage ready for Delhi alt rockers Menwhopause.

16th September

3 pm: Charred rats & Calcutta cats

By the final day of the fest, festival goers from all parts of the country were completely at home in Ziro tucking into charred jungle rats and other local delicacies with a gusto normally reserved for filling, comfort food. What most were unprepared for though was Space’s Tritha performing again in a new, caterwauling Baul avatar. This time, even the apang that flowed as freely as the Brahmaputra failed to wash away the effect of this sound, so The Dirty Strikes from Imphal, who were up next will always be bookmarked as the act that saved the day.

 

The Dirty Strikes vocalist Kennedy Heigrujam. Photo: Shiv Ahuja

4 pm: Pining for Bhayanak Maut

The Dirty Strikes turned out to be our hottest pick of the festival. Kennedy Heigrujam’s striking vocals and the band’s easy vibe is unusual for a punk band, but that’s exactly what set the two-year-old band apart when they performed tracks such as “Leave Us Alone.” “People tell me that I should change the way I pronounce some words, but I’m no Englishman. This is how I sing,” Heigrujam told us later. Street Stories from Shillong, another band with barely legal musicians, delivered an unbridled performance that included relationship angst-driven originals such as “He Can She Can” and a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” While the band continued to perform with undimmed energy, the sound wore out easily, making it clear that they needed melodically different tracks. An ardent fan of the Mumbai metal band Bhayanak Maut chanted all through Street Stories’ set: “I really wish Bhayanak Maut was here.”

 

8 pm: Oestrogen overdose

Sky Rabbit has always had moony female groupies at shows. But their fans in the northeast fell into an entirely different category of crazy, shrieking wildly all through the band’s show and ramming into the barricades with a ferocity that could only be rivaled by the state animal, Mithun [bison]. Of course, this was too much to take for most men in the audience. One even reluctantly paid a backhanded compliment: “They sound like Coldplay, but they’re good.” Sky Rabbit, who are familiar with audiences in the northeast having previously performed at other fests including the Hornbill in 2008, rendered an impeccably fluid set raising the bar for their next gig.

9.30 pm: Shirtless on stage 

Lou Majaw Photo: Shiv Ahuja

The last performance of the festival by Lou Majaw summoned the largest crowd. The 65-year old stormed across the stage in his trademark denim hot pants, belting out the blues with a fire that seemed to be put out after Majaw had performed his encore and shed his shirt. We’ve said it before: if you want fun on tap, Majaw’s your Tambourine Man.

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