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Skyharbor: Indian Metal’s Poster Act

How one quiet musician put together the nation’s hottest new metal band

Deepti Unni Nov 01, 2011
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Keshav Dhar

What does biomedical engineering have in common with Marty Friedman? The answer, equally unlikely on both counts, is Delhi-based guitarist, producer and composer Keshav Dhar. Dhar, the brain behind Indian metal’s most high-profile new band Skyharbor (formerly Hydrodjent), has in the last two years risen through the ranks to become Indian DIY metal’s poster boy. And his mix of djent-based riffing, ambient soundscapes and dense, layered guitarwork has got the attention of some of the biggest names in international metal, including ex-Megadeth guitarist Friedman and ex-Tesseract vocalist, Daniel Tompkins.

Dhar’s foray into music began early at age six, when his parents had him take piano lessons but when engineering college called, the guitar became his companion. Having joined Manipal University for biomedical engineering, Dhar says the isolation helped him work on his own music. “At Manipal, the only potential people to play with were the ones who were in that little town. Unfortunately, there was no one at that time who was into this kind of stuff. But then I’d actually started getting more into this kind of sound after listening to a lot of similar projects at that time, you know, online collaborative project and solo musicians like Acle [Kahney] from Tesseract, Misha [Mansoor] from Periphery,” says Dhar. Excited by the possibilities of what he could do with just a guitar and a computer, he began to play around with sounds and found that it worked as well or better than a band. “Firstly, there was no one who could argue with me and I had full creative control. And the cool thing about writing and composing songs on the computer ”“ although that sounds very lame, it’s a very unmetal thing to do ”“ but there’s so much you can explore through that, sonically, creatively.” Dhar’s experiments with the computer also made for a curious way of composing ”“ he pasted parts from riffs together to create new ones and then learnt to play these riffs anew, which also went a long way towards further honing his writing skills. “This way I found that my songwriting chops developed quite a bit. I personally believe that songwriting is as much of a skill as guitaring is,” he says.

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When Dhar completed his engineering and returned to Delhi, he found himself leaning towards sound engineering. “I’d go to these studio and musicians’ forums online and ask for advice on my recording and mixes. Obviously, everyone on the internet is very happy to give advice and soon people started commenting on the songs. And they would say, ”˜I didn’t like your recording but that’s a cool song.” So he started focussing more on the song than just the production, encouraged by the positive responses.

But encouragement came from more than just forums. As Dhar began work on his album, in October 2010 he was contacted by the then-vocalist of UK progressive metal band Tesseract, Daniel Tompkins. “I got a message on MySpace from him saying that he really liked my song and he’d like to do a guest spot on one song. I said, ”˜Sure man, that’d be exciting,’ and then I sent him some more material just for him to check out and he really liked it and then it turned out that he sang on almost 80 per cent of the album.” Then, earlier this year, Dhar found an e-mail from guitarist Marty Friedman in his inbox, expressing interest in working with him. “He said he liked my stuff and asked if I’d be interested in collaborating. Obviously, I thought I was being taken for a ride but then I added him on Skype and then I was like, ”˜Fine, I’m talking to the real guy.’” Friedman went on to contribute to two songs on the album and extended an invitation to Dhar to collaborate on Friedman’s solo album as well. Skyharbor had well and truly taken off.

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Skyharbor’s much-anticipated debut album is all set for release on November 20, at the NH7 Weekender festival, and will also feature collaborations from fellow guitar whiz Vishal J Singh and Bhayanak Maut vocalist Sunneith Revankar. The event will also mark the debut of Skyharbor as a full-fledged live band, albeit minus a vocalist as Tompkins’ schedule didn’t allow him to be at the fest. The line-up includes Indigo Children’s Nikhil Rufus on bass and US drummer Anup Sastry, who first got in touch with Dhar for drum covers of Skyharbor songs. Dhar’s also interested in touring abroad though he’d rather have a manager handle the logistics. “I don’t know how it will happen unless we have people who can set that up for us. As far as I go, I know people but I’m no good at the management side of things and I don’t even want to be involved. I’d rather just be making music, so I’m hoping we’ll be shopping for labels, see what happens and take it from there. But I’d love to get this show on the road,” he says.

Photo Credit: Siddhartha Menon

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