The Countdown To Ziro Hour
The journey to Ziro Music Festival began on nasty roads with nastier roadkill and a ride through clouds
11 pm, somewhere on NH37: Dead python
After 12 hours on the road from Guwahati to Ziro, the van traveling with three bands, SkyÂ Rabbit, Aftertaste and Bombay Bassment smelt like a dive. An nth round of whisky, beer,Â weed and a new word-association game was peaking when the driver hit the brakes on the highwayÂ and pointed to the side of the road. We had stopped right next to an enormous yellow-green pythonÂ that had parked itself almost in the middle of the road. Before our collective gasp hadÂ died down, a speeding bus ended it all in seconds. Sleep would elude some of us for the rest of theÂ trip, but three flat tyres and an agonizing road journey couldn’t drain Aftertaste vocalist KeeganÂ Pereira’s battery of cheer. “Isn’t today the day of the festival? Shouldn’t we be at the venue?”Â asked Pereira. When the skies opened up, the van wobbled to a stop with yet another flat. PereiraÂ gave in to the pun, “We are tired.”
12 pm, Ziro: Glasto in Arunachal
“This is everything that the photos on the website promised,” said Sky Rabbit vocalist RaxitÂ Tiwari as he took in the endless acres of paddy fields and the clouds drifting across the hills.Â Although the trek to the festival site came with a disclaimer from the stage manager, RitinikaÂ Nayan: “Guys, you know Glastonbury. This is going to be just like that.”Â The analogy may have seemed less absurd as we waded through ankle deep mud to get to theÂ stage, but the turnout ”“ some 30 people including organizingÂ staff , media and band members ”“ was probably not even a fourth of Glasto’s volunteerÂ team alone. But it was definitely more than what bands expected given the venue’s accessibility.Â “We maybe playing to three goats,” said Pereira only half-joking, after we had spentÂ almost a day driving and the journey seemed nowhere close to the finish.
6 pm: Seeking Rabbi
A 20-something Arunachali girl at the festival looked rather put out and wanted to shareÂ her troubles. “I actually came to the festival because I read somewhere that Rabbi ShergillÂ is performing today,” she said, nodding sadly when I tell her that the Delhi-based singer wasÂ never on the festival line-up. “My brother will come for the entire fest though. He loves all theseÂ bands,” she added, looking up at the Omak Komut Collective, which was missing its vocalistÂ Getem, the youngest son of former CM Gegong Apang.Â Omak Komut Collective that sounded like a competent blues funk act evoked enough interest,Â but were definitely far from take off. Frisky Pints [Delhi] and Avancer [Dimapur] deliveredÂ spirited, yet unremarkable sets designed to remind audiences what a standout band brings toÂ stage: killer hooks.
8 pm: Bhangra phobia
Space, an electro trip-hop project from Delhi with vocalists Tritha Sinha and Ritika Singh atÂ its helm, began promisingly. But breaking into a raucous Punjabi track wasn’t the most ingeniousÂ move unless they wanted to drive away the half a dozen unsuspecting audience members stillÂ standing after all that rice beer. By the time Bombay Bassment went up, the bhangra fearingÂ festival goers gingerly crawled out of their hiding places behind the hills. The crowd in front ofÂ the stage seemed to swell as the two-year-old hip hop act from Mumbai brought on a show thatÂ would only be outdone by a certain eccentric bluesman whose performance brought the festivalÂ to a close.
12 pm, Hong : Bamboo mug Vs Bottle
Residents of Ziro and the villages around woke up to the festival slowly. In the village ofÂ Hong, a good walk away from the festival site, men from the Apatani tribes were preoccupiedÂ with a game of dice. Fuelled by an endless supply of beer ”“ not apang, the local rice beer servedÂ in bamboo mugs that is popular with tourists, but regular brew straight out of the bottle, fourÂ groups gambled the afternoon away as the rain continued to lash down.
Torrential rain had set back all plans at the Ziro fest including the arrival of bands. TheÂ Dirty Strikes, a post punk band from Imphal, had spent over two days travelling to Ziro. “ThereÂ was a landslide in Ziro, so the road was closed for a day, but we’re used to all this by now,”Â said vocalist Kennedy Heigrujam. Since the five-member band was to perform on the last dayÂ of the festival, Heigrujam had enough time to be part of the audience to catch punk bandÂ Blek from Mumbai and Delhi’s Peter Cat Recording Co, who performed on the second dayÂ of the fest. “We know Peter Cat from Delhi, but I will be watching Blek for the first time,” saidÂ Geigrujam.
4 pm: Ziro’s hero
The band that formed an instant crowd bond on Day 2 was Mumbai’s Aftertaste frontedÂ by Pereira, who went on to prove that he’s a consummate entertainer both on andÂ off stage. The band, which includes Michael Lee on lead guitar and is accompanied by halfÂ of Bombay Bassment including Levin Mendes on drums and Ruell Barretto on bass, poweredÂ through a dull afternoon slot. Sure, there were more Incubus covers than we would haveÂ cared for, but Pereira’s swaggering stage act that included some impromptu rap when the stageÂ sound went bust, was tough to match.
Mumbai’s Alisha Batth also won favor despite struggling through her set and freezingÂ midway more than once. “I can’t move my hand and I can’t seem to play. I’m really sorry,” saidÂ Batth during her set that included originals and covers such as Natalie Imbruglia’s NinetiesÂ smash “Torn.” For 36-year-old Abijit Singha, an engineer with the Assam Public Works Department, who traveled to the fest, it was instant fandom. “This was the first time that I watched AlishaÂ Batth. She was good and there’s something about her voice. I liked her set despite allÂ the problems,” he said.
5.30 pm: Moshing in the mud
While Blek’s drummer Varoon Aiyer nailgunned their gig hit “Back At The Start,” some fansÂ made the most of the rains and a muddy moshpit in front of the stage. The three-piece punk rockÂ band delivered a performance that was compelling from start to finish. The same can’t be saidÂ of the much hyped punk act, The Vinyl Records. The all-girl band performed an awkward, pitchyÂ and embarrassingly loud set that had people scuttling away quickly to the rice beer stalls only to returnÂ when Blek took over.
As always, Delhi’s Peter Cat Recording Co took charge of cooling off audiences with theirÂ trippy, stoner rock. Their shows are not known to climax until frontman Suryakant SawhneyÂ wreaks some form of destruction on stage. At a festival earlier this year, Sawhney knocked the keyboardÂ off its stand as he played one of his feverish solos and of course,Â ended up on the floor with his keyboard. This timeÂ though, Sawhney gave the act a break, but didn’t make any less of an impression, leaving theÂ stage ready for Delhi alt rockers Menwhopause.
3 pm: Charred rats & Calcutta cats
By the final day of the fest, festival goers from all parts of the country were completely at home in Ziro tucking into charred jungleÂ rats and other local delicacies with a gusto normally reserved for filling, comfort food.Â What most were unprepared for though was Space’s Tritha performing again in a new, caterwaulingÂ Baul avatar. This time, even the apang that flowed as freely as the Brahmaputra failedÂ to wash away the effect of this sound, so The Dirty Strikes from Imphal, who were up next willÂ always be bookmarked as the act that saved the day.
4 pm: Pining for Bhayanak Maut
The Dirty Strikes turned out to be our hottest pick of the festival. Kennedy Heigrujam’s strikingÂ vocals and the band’s easy vibe is unusual for a punk band, but that’s exactly what set theÂ two-year-old band apart when they performed tracks such as “Leave Us Alone.” “People tellÂ me that I should change the way I pronounce some words, but I’m no Englishman. This is howÂ I sing,” Heigrujam told us later. Street Stories from Shillong, another band with barely legalÂ musicians, delivered an unbridled performance that included relationship angst-driven originalsÂ such as “He Can She Can” and a cover of Lady Gaga’s “Poker Face.” While the band continuedÂ to perform with undimmed energy, the sound wore out easily, making it clear that they neededÂ melodically different tracks. An ardent fan of the Mumbai metal band Bhayanak Maut chantedÂ all through Street Stories’ set: “I really wish Bhayanak Maut was here.”
8 pm: Oestrogen overdose
Sky Rabbit has always had moony female groupies at shows. But their fans in the northeastÂ fell into an entirely different category of crazy, shrieking wildly all through the band’s showÂ and ramming into the barricades with a ferocity that could only be rivaled by the state animal,Â Mithun [bison]. Of course, this was too much to take for most men in the audience. OneÂ even reluctantly paid a backhanded compliment: “They sound like Coldplay, but they’reÂ good.” Sky Rabbit, who are familiar with audiences in the northeast having previouslyÂ performed at other fests including the Hornbill in 2008, rendered an impeccably fluid setÂ raising the bar for their next gig.
9.30 pm: Shirtless on stageÂ
The last performance of the festival by Lou Majaw summoned the largest crowd. The 65-year oldÂ stormed across the stage in his trademark denim hot pants, belting out the blues with aÂ fire that seemed to be put out after Majaw had performed his encore and shed his shirt. We’veÂ said it before: if you want fun on tap, Majaw’s your Tambourine Man.