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The Great Indian Rock

Great Indian Rock closed the year with big names, an ambitious tour and the best edition of the festival yet

Deepti Unni Jan 24, 2011
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Deepti Unni

The Fuel Great Indian Rock festival has come a long way from its low-key beginnings as a platform for local bands to showcase their talents. Having established itself as Delhi’s flagship rock and metal festival, over the last few years the festival travelled to various other cities and adding big name international acts to their roster. This year was a landmark year for the festival. Not only did GIR go to Pune, Bengaluru and Kolkata outside of the usual blowout two-day finale in Delhi, they also had their most rockstar-studded lineup yet ”“ UK prog/math metal band Tesseract, Norwegian metallers Purified in Blood, returning Viking metallers Enslaved and the trump card, Swedish experimental titans Meshuggah.

The Pune leg of GIR had quite a bit to compete with, what with being held at the same venue – Elysium Lawns – that hosted NH7 a little more than a week before. The euphoria of NH7 clearly hadn’t faded as fans traded stories while waiting for the gates to open and the inevitable comparisons were made. The crowd had only begun to trickle through as Pune homeboys Noiseware opened the show but they had the front row warmed up and ready as they belted out crowd favourite ”˜Maut ki Ungli’ and their now super-popular cover of ”˜Smooth Criminal.’

Tesseract found popularity in the country in the wake of bands like Textures and Meshuggah from who they draw much of their musical inspiration and the audience seemed familiar with their music. Chugging riffs, clean and screamed vocals and polyrhythmic grooves were the mainstay of their sound and they played a tight set, aside from a few pitching problems for new vocalist Dan Tomkins, and despite the fact that a large part of the audience was still lolling on the grass at the back they appeared tremendously grateful for the appreciation shown to them by the rest of the crowd.

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Enslaved were clearly crowd favourites. From the time the band broke into ”˜Ethica Odini’ and burned through songs from Isa, Vertebrae and their latest Axioma Ethica Odini, they had the audience eating out of their hands. They even dropped the fairly obscure ”˜Alfadr  Odhinn’ from their 1993 debut, the closing track of their set that was greeted with just as much enthusiasm as their newer material. The set was dogged by sound issues, though, with the guitars occasionally sounding raw and abrasive, and inconsistent sound levels marred the execution of the songs.

But the evening belonged to Swedish trailblazers Meshuggah. Fans were crushed against the barricades as the crowd stormed in to get closer to the band as they dropped ”˜Rational Gaze,’ their flagship track ”˜Bleed’ and scorcher ”˜Electric Red’ in rapid succession. Erratic mosh-pits broke open in the crowd, people trying vainly to keep time with drummer Tomas Haake’s intricate polyrhythms and even Meshuggah haters couldn’t keep from moving to the music. Live, the band played with an almost elemental fury, making little small talk and generally not looking like people you would want to catch a beer with after the show. (“All our songs require intense concentration,” said guitarist MÃ¥rten Hagström of their disapproving frowns and seeming inapproachability while on stage. “There are many subtle changes and nuances that we have to pay constant attention to.”) The attitude, however, only contributed to the intensity of their music, dark and brooding and beckoning to something almost primal in the audience. ”˜Pravus,’ ”˜Stengah,’ ”˜Combustion,’ ”˜Lethargica,’ ”˜Perpetual Black Second’ and ”˜Straws Pulled at Random’ followed without any letup in the intensity, despite the sound levels being lowered significantly (to pacify the police, it was said). Closing the set with the massive, percussive ”˜Future Breed Machine,’ Meshuggah concluded the Pune leg of GIR and prepared to lay waste to Bengaluru the next day.

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But it wasn’t just the audience that was overwhelmed by the band. Meshuggah too seemed surprised at the reception accorded to them. “We were kinda surprised because you don’t know what to expect when you go into a new territory,” said Hagström. “The crowd was awesome. We’ve never been here before and there were like 2000 people screaming ”˜Bleed’ and other song names, waving a Swedish flag”¦ It finally made sense why we came down here and it was a good call,” he smiled, closing what was surely one of the best years for metal in India.

(With input from Hamza Kazi)

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