This trip was special to me beacuse i set out with friends and friends of friends who were all musicians. Even better we were all off to see Opeth. A band who's music i venerate and has innumerable fond memories tied to it. This is my attempt to try and do a music review/road trip journal/ personal diary :) Try and read it through :)
Ston’d is all about the music. A group of dedicated metal heads who despite their daily callings to dental college or work have managed to persevere to earn the title of “local legends” in the Bangalore music scene. They were kind enough to let me tag along to one of Indias largest college festivals where they hoped to earn new fans and maybe the respect of International Metal band, Opeth.
Every once in a while a restless soul needs a change. Just being off doing something different and seeing new things does wonders for the mind. I’m glad I had a chance this week to have a go at both. A group of friends had been invited to IIT Chennai for its annual festival called Saarang. They had been chosen for the college and semi pro band categories. Their band by the name of Ston’d being anything but. With over a 100 bands from all over the country sending in demos it was prestigious enough to be among the top 18 to be chosen. One long 7 hour train trip later we found ourselves catching buses and weaving between Chennais infamous traffic trying to get to the lush IIT campus. Another group had decided to drive down so luckily we were slightly less burdened with equipment than we would have been but nevertheless it was slightly awkward carrying guitar cases and cymbal stands in buses so overcrowded that people were hanging off windows. I hate exaggerations and this is certainly not one of them. But half the fun of a journey is getting there. Sure anybody could have called on an A/C cab with plenty of leg and boot space. But we chose to spend 16 Rupees covering the 20 Km route. Aside from saving some cash for extra food later on it also let us see Chennai the way it really was. The bus driver was friendly and popular with the locals. Aside from happily accommodating our long haired lot with excess baggage that would make any airline company roll over there were cases like the guava salesman who had brought his wares onto the bus and had placed it right next to the driver for safe keeping. Students at local primary schools were busy copying off each other’s homework on the dashboard. Everyone was given space no matter how little of it existed. Our first taste of Dravidian hospitality. By the time we finally made it to the campus however we were nothing short of exhausted, luckily the other group had made it ahead of us had brought their car to the gate and picked us up for the 5 minute drive into the campus where our hostels were waiting. Fortunately the students at IIT are a dedicated bunch with some of them staying awake into the wee hours of the morning just to ensure everyone had a room with mattresses and linen. The hostels were clean (at least the first two days we were there) and were perfect for a much needed nap. But that wasn’t to be. The Festival had started and there were events happening everywhere. From famous speakers dishing out lectures on the meanings of the universe to the trivial joys of life like paintballing and treasure hunts, Saarang had it all. It was the golden year of Saarang so IIT had gone specially out of its way to bring down some huge talent from india and abroad. In fact the main reason the metal heads of India were clamouring for tickets and a chance to show their stuff was because of a Swedish Heavy Metal band called Opeth. Opeth had been roped in to not only perform on the last night of the four day festival but also be Jury at the finals of Decibels, the Semi-Pro music competition. The Second day saw the bands sweat it out in the heat of day and with chennais sun showing no mercy it looked set to be a tough slog. We found out the Judges for the semi finals were from Junkyard Groove. More of a funk and rock oriented band they were rather known for being partial too thier own genre as well as being quick to dispel Metal bands. Added to that Stond’s previous encounters with the band had not been too courteous to say the least. But the band gave it their best. With a three song set and 15 minutes on stage they gave it their all. In fact the previous day Abhijit, the bands vocalist and de facto manager, had dragged the group to a jam room at the opposite end of the city to rehearse and make sure everyone was in the groove. It certainly paid off with praise coming in from all quarters. The band actually managed to pull the audience out of the shade and come up to the stage (and the heat) to headbang. Something not many bands accomplished that day. I must interject at this point that if they had played any longer I would have needed a neck brace for the rest of the month. But still there was no rejoicing. The mood was still one of quiet acceptance that they had come this far and this would be as far they would get this year. Aditya, their guitarist, picked up his bags and made his way back to the hostels. No looking back. When I followed him for a quick word on how he felt about the show he just mentioned how great the audience was and how awesome it would have been if they could have played in front of Opeth.
In a typical movie like scenario where most if not all hope was lost Stond were quetly listening and cheering as the top three bands were announced to go to the finals. There was even a wild card entry from the college bands called E-flat. Lauded for their use of an Indian sound everyone was jumping and cheering as Junkyard groove announced the Bands would play on the same stage as Opeth. To share a stage with an International band as famous as Opeth is an honour very few Indian bands have had, atleast at the semi-pro category. Finally in the words of Junkyard Groove “ the last and final band to be selected.....Stond”. The euphoria could last only for a few several minutes. They had to report to the stadium at 5:30 PM. It was already past five.
As a representative from Saarang led us to the VIP gate of the main stage of the 8000 seater Open Air Theater we learnt that Opeth had been staying on campus. Suprising considering musicians on their calibre generally demand nothing but five- star treatment. As we waited outside the main gate a silver Toyota cab pulled up and out stepped Mikael Akerfeldt and the rest of Opeth. So unassuming was their entrance that the bystanders present were momentarily left confused but soon the cheering and applause started and the message was spread. Opeth was in the house.
Watching the first four bands play was impressive. Starting promptly at five thirty each band was given a total of twenty minutes to set up their gear and play. As the evening progressed and got darker the stage lights started to come on adding to the drama. Ston’d managed to pick the last slot for the night and had the full effect of the darkness and stage lights. They gave it their all with Abhjith lunging into the crowds and starting up mosh pits. The crowd was nothing short of brilliant with metal horns being raised throughout the performance. Opeth too seemed visibly impressed but going by the previous performances nothing was for certain. Opeth were a seasoned heavy metal band and impressing them at their own genre is no easy task.
When the show ended Akerfeldt led his troop upto to the stage to announce the results. Anoop, ston’ds bassist won the best bass player award for the second year running. With that in the bag and a show to remember the band decided to celebrate with a midnight run to the canteen. The next day Opeth themselves played a two hour long set comprising of songs off almost all their 8 albums. Some of the songs stretching on well past the ten minute mark. Epics like Heir Apparent and Deliverance had the crowd going crazy.
--------------This is to be continued.... but let’s assume I passed out and woke up on a train station ;)
check out Ston'ds music at http://www.myspace.com/stondbangalore