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The Playlist Special: Stefan Kaye

The keyboardist-percussionist of Delhi based bands The Ska Vengers and The Jass B’stards picks everything from a Schubert string quartet to Queen’s Seventies scorcher — and a bonus Velvet Underground heroin deal–for his playlist

Rolling Stone India Mar 30, 2016
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Stefan Kaye. Photo by Kuntal Mukherjee.

Stefan Kaye. Photo by Kuntal Mukherjee.

Being the versatile performer that he is, Stefan Kaye’s influences range from Western classical to ska, punk and pop. The keyboardist-percussionist of Delhi-based bands The Ska Vengers and The Jass B’stards also lists some underrated artists such as Cardiacs and The Stranglers as his favorites.

 1. “Vitamin C” Can, 1972 

Drummer Jaki Liebezeit and bassist Holgar Czukay were students of avant garde composer Karlheinz Stockhausen; upon discovering Velvet Underground, Frank Zappa and acid, they forged a sound that was both intense and repetitive, and mantric like in its simplicity. Their albums were gleamed from many hours of improvised workouts at their castle studio in Cologne. Can helped me realize how much more could be said with few notes repeated often enough. Many Indian rock outfits would benefit from listening to Can, in my humble opinion.

2. “Reincarnation of a Lovebird” Charles Mingus, 1963 

He called his music ”˜American Folk Music’, heavily influenced by Duke Ellington, double bassist/composer Mingus often went to extreme measures to illicit the kind of performance he wanted from his players, once famously breaking the jaw of his trombonist Jimmy Knepper during a show. That’s not why I like him though; his music is highly lyrical, intense, dynamic, mournful. Classical music with groove, if you will.

3. “Gangsters” The Specials, 1979 

My first exposure to ska was via the UK 2-Tone label around 1980. The Specials’ songs still pack a mean punch, addressing as they do many social issues of the day with a skanking rythmn and the addition of occasional trombonist Rico Rodriguez.

4. “Walk on By” The Stranglers, 1978 

First band I saw live, often derided by punks because they could play their instruments well and two members had facial hair. They occasionally sounded like a punk Doors, largely because of Dave Greenfield’s ”˜massive swelling organ’. Their version of Burt Bacharrach’s “Walk on By” adds a touch of menace to an otherwise affecting love song.

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5. “Change” Killing Joke, 1980 

The original prophets of doom came up with the bass line that was plundered for “Come As You Are” a few years later. As an impressionable 12 year old, this mutant disco song may have been the first dance number I truly dug. LCD Soundsystem lifted this groove for “Losing My Edge.” Their first two albums are stoner dubby punk classics.

6. “The Everso Closely Guarded Line” Cardiacs, 1981 

A highly underrated band, quite unlike anything else. They have a loyal and obsessive legion of fans who have stuck by them for many years. I first saw them live as a teen in the Eighties and went on to work with them in the late Nineties. With mad energy, a theatrical stage show and the most unhinged sounds around, they opened my eyes to what could be possible in live performance.

7. “String Quartet No. 14, Death and the Maiden, II (Andante)” Franz Schubert, 1824 

Much of my writing has been informed by Western classical music, possibly none more so than Franz Schubert. He was highly prolific and reached depths rarely touched on by his contemporaries. This piece is perhaps one of the finest examples of the lyrical beauty and elegiac quality that informed much of his work in the last few years of his life up until his death from syphilis at the age of 31.

8. “Now I’m Here” Queen, 1974 

Before punk came along I was into Queen, The first single I bought was “Now I’m Here” from the same album that spawned “Killer Queen.” This I prefer though. Loved the theatricality, the incomprehensible lyrics (to me) and the heavy Zep-like riffs. Their early Seventies’ output is all that matters really.

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9. “Tomorrow Never Knows” The Beatles, 1966 

There can be few musicians who have not in same way been directly influenced by The Beatles. Many seem to have a favorite period, for me it is their output between ’65 and ’67; most notably the first song they recorded for Revolver at the end of 1965, “Tomorrow Never Knows.” Though not the first song by a western group to use Indian style melodies, tape loops or an unmodulating bassline, it certainly paved the way for greater musical experimentation in the mainstream.

10. “Dance No. 8” Philip Glass, 1981 

His elongated repetitive structures with arpeggiated lines, gradual and subtle change of nuance and texture are utterly engaging. The album Glassworks is a great listen. Glass-type structures appear frequently in music I play. Some just find his music boring. Pay no attention to these people, they are but sad ignoramuses.

11. Velvet Underground – Waiting for the Man

There were hippy bands, flower pop, earnest folk songs singing of love and peace. There was also the Velvets. Lou Reed narrated tales of drug dealers, hookers and kinky sex while Mo Tucker would pound a floor tom, John Cale would play single note lines on viola and often detuned guitars were almost always played in the red. Commercial success alluded them but they were groundbreaking at the time and still they sound as fresh as a daisy. The song is a live favourite of The SkaVengers.

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