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Review: Hornbill International Rock Contest 2013

Kolkata rap rock band Underground Authority wins this year’s contest, with Dimapur band We The Giants and Chennai’s The F16s winning the runners-up titles

Anurag Tagat Dec 23, 2013
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Kolkata rap rock band Underground Authority's frontman Santhanam Srinivasan Iyer Photo: Danii Lee

Kolkata rap rock band Underground Authority’s frontman Santhanam Srinivasan Iyer Photo: Danii Lee

What does it take to win a million rupees? Apparently practice, and a lot of it. This is not only evident by the performance of Kolkata rap rock band Underground Authority, but also encouraged by organizers at the eighth edition of the competition. Mumbai-based True School of Music, which was sponsoring prizes and giving away scholarships and masterclasses as runner-up prizes had set up a second stage behind the main stage for bands to rehearse ahead of the finals. While every other band was out feasting on local cuisine and rice beer, Kolkata band Underground Authority were rehearsing hard on the second stage (I spotted the band jamming four times in three days).

Rapzilla: Underground Authority

It was tough to miss the small-framed guy with a red-haired Mohawk walking around Solidarity Park, the venue for the fest or rehearsing with his band, Underground Authority. The Mohawk-sporting frontman Santhanam Srinivasan Iyer told us how his five-member band went straight to rehearsals as soon as they arrived on the festival site and also how they’d booked the first slot to soundcheck ahead of the finale. Underground Authority shot to fame in 2010 after performing on the second season of reality show India’s Got Talent.

When I asked Iyer about the following they gained ever since they made it to the semi finals, he was modest about it. Underground Authority have 84,000 fans on Facebook and while their India’s Got Talent performance included covers of AR Rahman songs such as “Ek Ho Gaye Hum Aur Tum” and “Urvasi,” the band arrived in Kohima armed with originals from their upcoming debut album You Authority. Iyer said with a hint of pride that his band had won every major competition in India since they formed in 2010 and Hornbill was the last one to tick off their list.

Local hits

The crowd at Hornbill 2013 Photo: Danii Lee

The crowd at Hornbill 2013 Photo: Danii Lee

But the odds weren’t skewed in favor of UA from the start. When the list of nominated bands was announced, it seemed like Trivandrum thrash metal band Chaos and Chennai rock ’n roll band Gray Shack seemed to have good chances. But both bands from South India backed out as they couldn’t fund their own travel to Kohima. Hornbill’s fund-your-own travel stipulation also meant the international rock contest was not quite international. Both Nepal death metal band Dying Out Flame and Australian indie rock band Escapades didn’t make it to the festival. Dubai-based Naga musician Johnmpamei overcame the budget constraints by recruiting a local band from Delhi for the competition.

But where Hornbill International Rock Contest failed to live up to its international tag, the selection of local bands from the North East, particularly from Nagaland, was impressive. Kohima pop rockers Making Merry might have slipped in a few covers of their indie rock idols Phoenix and Foals, but they brought warm romance to a cold festival night with songs like “Deeper Side of You” and switched to the more emotional “Better Not Dream, ”˜Cause It’s Only a Dream.”

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Dimapur got repped by alt rock band White Noise and indie rock band We The Giants. While White Noise kicked off with a cover of Katy Perry’s “Roar,” their peers We The Giants almost outshone them with their arena-sized rock. Vocalist Kevi Pucho was kitted in a plaid shirt to look as indie as indie can get, but also backed up his cred with strong R&B vocals set to powerful rock on songs like “Take It Away.” We The Giants were pitch-perfect as finalists, though they settled for first runners-up with a prize of Rs 3.5 lakh.

The F16s Make A Smooth Landing

Vocalist Josh Fernandez of The F16s performing at Hornbill 2013 Photo: Danii Lee

Vocalist Josh Fernandez of The F16s performing at Hornbill 2013 Photo: Danii Lee

Bands from other parts of the country including Chennai electro rockers The F16s were also strong favorites at Hornbill. While bands from Nagaland had home support, save for folk fusion band Purple Fusion, who competed on the final day of auditions only to be heckled and called “a very poor band” by some of the audience members despite having catchy reggae tunes such as “Ho Hey,” The F16s were one of the few bands that had the local crowd cheering. When vocalist Josh Fernandez complained about a bad throat on stage during auditions, someone from the 1,000-odd crowd recommended loudly that he drink boiled water. Maybe Fernandez took the advice or did something right and his band claimed the second runners-up prize of Rs 2.5 lakh, part of which will go toward buying gear, according to guitarist Abhinav Krishnaswamy. Keyboardist Harshan Radhakrishnan won the best Keyboardist prize [Rs 30,000] and The F16s were also judged the most promising band, which got them a two-month course at the True School of Music and gigs at Blue Frog, Mumbai and Pune.

Dimapur Scores

Dimapur band We The Giants' vocalist Kevi Pucho at Hornbill 2013 Photo: Danii Lee

Dimapur band We The Giants’ vocalist Kevi Pucho at Hornbill 2013 Photo: Danii Lee

First runners-up We The Giants had a lot in common with funk rock band Gingerfeet from Kolkata, who walked away with the main prize last year. We The Giants, like Gingerfeet were formed just ahead of Hornbill with the purpose of competing at the rock contest. Just as members of two bands ”“ metal band Damagera and alt rock band Spunk ”“ got together to form Gingerfeet, We The Giants also comprises members of two local acts ”“ Insipid and Clueless Attention.

While not a single band from Mumbai made it to Hornbill, seven Delhi bands competed this year. Two of them ”“ psychedelic rock band The Urban Early Men and Hindi alt rock/metal band Nigambodh ”“ made it to the finals. While progressive metalcore band Colossal Figures from Delhi, Delhi-based Arunachal indie rock band Yesterdrive had a big sound, soft rock band Johnmpamei and the Band, pop punk rock band Red Light Passengers and experimental metal band Phobia didn’t make it past finals.

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Apart from The Urban Early Men getting a surprisingly good response to their nine-minute epic filled with jazz movements and roaring blues solos and Nigambodh shifting effortlessly between rock and metal, I didn’t see Delhi bands do much. Apart from complain about living in a dorm and wishing they had a car to explore Kohima that is. Yesterdrive deserved to make the finals since they stole some of The F16s’ thunder with their indie rock.

Something about politically incorrect [and sometimes incoherent] rhymes seemed to have hooked the judges ”“ True School of Music co-founder Ashutosh Phatak, Nagaland youth activist and pastor Doring Lungalung and actor Purab Kohli ”“ impressing them enough to make allowances for the lack of originality. This is probably the reason why Ranchi rap rock band and Rage Against the Machine fanboys 4 Degrees of Freedom were selected as finalists. But it’s fair to say that Underground Authority had a fresh approach to songwriting dedicated to the Naxalite movement [“We Realize”] and youth leadership [“Microphone,” which pays tribute to American indie rap band Flobots]. Their fun side on “Kaash Meri Girlfriend Was This Turning On” was boisterous, but cringe-worthy.


The crowd gets their paint on at Hornbill 2013 Photo: Danii Lee

Audience members get their paint on at Hornbill 2013 Photo: Danii Lee

Metal vs Rock

Hornbill International Rock Contest stayed true to being all about rock. That meant metal bands, though given the chance to compete, got the cold shoulder. Organizers admitted that they want the contest to be more about rock rather than metal, but the fact that so many metal bands including groove/death metallers Sycorax, Gangtok metal band Eyestill, female-fronted Indore metal band Zero Gravity and Delhi progressive metalcore band Colossal Figures were shortlisted may have given the bands [and the audience] false hope.

In its eighth edition, after offering hundreds of Indian bands a chance to launch their careers with big cash prizes delivered on time [winners were called over to the Nagaland Music Task Force’s temporary office at Solidarity Park and handed over cheques right after the results were announced], Hornbill continues to seriously promote upcoming bands. Future editions of the contest aim to feature at least South East Asian bands and promote Nagaland as the hub of rock in the country. With just a Rs 50 entry fee to watch the contest, numbers in the crowd varied between 500 during the auditions to over 7,000 on the final day. With support from the state government, drawing thousand-odd attendees and attracting the newest crop of bands from the country, the Hornbill International Rock Contest takes another step toward becoming a bigger event.

Hornbill International Rock Contest 2013 Winners:

Winners: Underground Authority (Kolkata)

1st Runners-Up: We The Giants (Dimapur)

2nd Runners-Up: The F16s (Chennai)

Best Vocalist: Santhanam Srinivasan Iyer (Underground Authority)

Best Guitarist:  Aren Longkumer (Infuse)

Best Bassist: Soumyadeep Bhattacharya (Underground Authority)

Best Drummer Sourish Kumar (Underground Authority)

Best Keyboardist: Harshan Radhakrishnan (The F16s)


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