If there’s a case to be made for there being a method to madness, it could be found in the complex, often beautiful and somewhat off-kilter sound of this cheeky band.
Here’s a unique approach to keeping the squares out: throw the naughty bits bang in the band name. Not surprisingly, in the case of Emperor Minge, hardly anyone seems to have caught on (“Ladies and gentlemen, the minge!” announcers are often given to gleefully proclaiming at their shows). This has, however, not deterred the motley crew from continually striving for at least some friction. “Yeah, we had one of our sets cut short recently”¦ the owner was visibly perplexed at the antics of our burlesque dancer,” said keyboardist/vocalist and founding member Stefan Kaye, referring to the interpretive belly-dance by Anjoe Teresa Chadha, who accompanies the band live. We’re doing a short sit-down with EM (the band is completed by co-founder and drummer Nikhil Vasudevan, vocalist Parvati Krishnan, bassist Abhishek Mangla and guitarist Rohit Kulkarni) before rehearsal starts for the upcoming Emperor Minge Medicine Show. “We get quite a laugh out of the fact that our band’s name might be said in polite society. But we want to do something less ambiguous,” Kaye elaborates, as if to put all doubt to rest. “Maybe a chorus that’s like an earworm. So you get up in the morning and you’re going ”˜ch-choo ch-choo choo ch** ch**’”¦ it’s so catchy you can’t get it out of your head.”
So they’re not short on deviant shenanigans, but what sort of an outfit is Emperor Minge? Kaye described the upcoming programme as “free-form avant-garde classical jazz punk disco hybrid.” “It’s a sum of all its parts,” he added. “I hate it when we’re called a multi-genre band by all you clever fucking know-it-alls… just because we play a bit of reggae and a bit of funk.” Their MySpace page goes a step further by listing EM as a Chinese pop band. Which, of course, they’re not. “A few months ago that was ”˜Korean Pop,’ ” said Vasudevan. “And after one show a young couple came up to us to say that they’d only showed up because they were fans of Korean pop, but were thrilled because what we did was so much better!”
But delving into the eclectic collection of tunes they’ve put together in the past two years, it’s little wonder that both Kaye and Vasudevan don’t venture further than a few anecdotes and reluctant circumlocutions when posed that question. There music is no one thing. It could be many things; for the lack of ready markers perhaps a Zappaesque collage of psychedelia, smooth-jazz, western classical and avant-garde madness (“more like Captain Beefheart,” Kaye corrected me). Over the past two years they’ve put together a collection of tunes that overtly and unintentionally reference sources and subjects from krautrock vamps and Gilmour solos (‘Ring of Bone’) to Combodian pop/psy band Dengue Fever and acid jazz band Corduroy (‘Spy Thing’), Well-Tempered Clavier-like left hand passages, tritone stabs and chanson (‘Human Abstract’) as well as disco and class-A drugs-dependency (‘4 Better of Worse’). The music is often restless and busy, yet always returns to its crowd-pulling central motifs, putting on display an exceptional command over genre along the way.
At the centre of all the action, Kaye transforms from his subdued and faintly nervy off-stage persona into all the force and focus of a thick spring uncoiling. The relentless pounding he gives his red Nord Stage compels everyone to keep up with his frantically-paced changes (he writes all the tunes in EM, while lyrics are plugged-in over Skype thanks to friend Jamie Kelsey in London). He ensures that the song remains of prime importance and the accoutrements don’t become annoying distractions.
At the Medicine Show, EM decided to go acoustic and besides Chadha, also featured a part-choreographed part-improvised performance by the Sadhya dance troupe with synchronised film projections by UV Studio. Days after the show, it’s still hard to say whether it was all very together. At its worst, it may have been a kind of variety show. But at its best moments, and for the most part, all the esoteric mechanics peeled away to reveal an engaging and groovy, even serene, core.
”˜Ring of Bone’: A bouncy track traversing spacey soundscapes.
”˜Sleepless Dream’: Jazz, funk, rock ”“ it’s all here on this beauty that could easily pass off as a Bond theme.