The Good, the Bad, and the Live

An unfortunate incident two weeks ago led to the indie pop-rock group Passion Pit cancelling shows in their hometown Massachusetts. Touring currently to promote their 2012 album Gossamer, the band were unable to perform due to issues, which they didn’t much shed light on. On Tuesday, though, they uploaded a (very cryptic) blog post citing some of the most common reasons why concerts are called off.

Broadly classified into four categories, they included:

1. General illness

2. Mental illness

3. Bad weather

4. Conflicting schedules

The band conveyed their apologies to fans and promised to do a 2014 tour that would make up for this.

While all that seems really thoughtful, the list is hardly complete. I’d like to add to it from personal experience of having been at an international level show that was cancelled two hours after it was scheduled to start. The weather was all right, the band were mentally and physically sound, and they had nowhere else to be. Nonetheless, the promoters called off the concert without giving any reasons. The audience was left hanging, and angry fans went on stage and wrecked the band’s gear.

Where in the world did this shit happen? At a Metallica gig in New Delhi, a city whose vandalism prowess is second only to its per capita spending on gunpowder.

October’s a bad time to be in Delhi. Well, any time’s a bad time to be in Delhi. But the October of 2011 was particularly bad. The nights were frigid and the days saw searing heat. Amidst the general chaos that the city is, an ambitious group of promoters decided to organise a concert for the US-based metal group Metallica.

The gig was scheduled for October 28, on a ground called Leisure Valley in the fringe city of Gurgaon. The people there are not to be messed with. It’s like the whole of Russia condensed into a 1,000 square kilometre radius, with summers that last 11-and-a-half months and instead of AK-47s people lug around country-made pistols.

I worked with Vh1 India at the time, and we were telecasting a delayed feed of the concert along with an interview. We were also given a booth at the venue to sell merchandise and do online promotions. My team and I got there a day before the event, and went for a venue reconnaissance.

Around 3 pm the promoters seemed in full preparation for the big day. Hetfield, in shorts and a tee, was casually strolling around the park while Ulrich tuned the drum kit. The security barricades were set up, the stage looked fantastic and the PA sounded amazing! It was going to be the best fucking gig I’d ever see. Or, in hindsight, the best fucking gig I’d never see.

At 9 am the next day we were in our booth waiting for the gates to be thrown open. People had been lining up outside since 8 in the morning, yelling abuses, shouting their lungs out… in 6 hours they were going to see one of the biggest metal bands perform live. The opening act, a local Delhi band, came on stage and started sound check.

At 4 pm – an hour behind schedule – the gates opened, and people literally flew in. There were old people, young people, teenagers, children, parents… everyone who’d ever heard or heard of Metallica. They all ran in hordes toward the stage, getting as close to it as they could. Twenty minutes later the venue was packed. It seemed like the gig would start any minute, except… it just wasn’t starting. The opening band had walked off stage an hour ago, without performing, inviting a smattering of boos from the audience, and Metallica had just never come on. They were now an hour late, and no one knew what was going on.

It was 45 degrees Celcius out, and people were waiting tirelessly for a concert that was over an hour delayed. The audience decided to take its frustration out on the management, and, charging at the barricade between them and the stage, tore it down. One of the promoters thought that would be a good time to address the audience, and came on stage. But he was so clueless about the entire affair (and at such a loss for words), he wound up blaming the unruly audience for the delay.

Apparently, the band wouldn’t play fearing for their safety. And now that the security barricade was ripped, the band refused to go on stage until it’d been fixed. He was bullshitting us; he knew it, we knew it. About five minutes later he admitted to it too, simply saying the concert had been cancelled as the band had refused to perform. This aggravated the audience more, and about ten guys barged on stage and shoved the amps down on the ground. Another group attacked the drum kit and, within a timespan of ten minutes, a part of the stage broke into flames.

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You know what’s worse than ten thousand people rushing into a venue all at the same time? Ten thousand people rushing out of it. What unfolded in front of me was chaos on a level. People ran around in all directions trying to get to the closest exit while police and firemen ran around trying to calm everyone down. All this while, the promoter, still on stage, kept on screaming: “THIS IS UNACCEPTABLE. THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS. THIS WILL NOT BE TOLERATED.”

Ensconced in our little booth, and a considerable distance from the stage, my team frantically started packing up. We were debating the real reason behind the debacle when one of us noticed a group of angry guys charging at us. My colleague, pale with fear, pointed to the hoarding. It read: “Metallica in India… in association with Vh1 India.” This was it. They wanted a reason why the event wasn’t happening. Why WE’D cancelled it.

We grabbed everything we could lay hands on – our laptops, merchandise, bags – and jumped into our car. Speeding out of the venue, I turned around to get a last look. Stage completely wrecked, people running about, the whole scenario looked grim… and an embarrassing cliché kept coming to mind: the audience there that fateful day wanted to seek and destroy.

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The strangest bit is, to this day no one knows what went wrong. Some people got refunds on their tickets, some never bothered. Papers speculated about the organisers not having the requisite number of licenses required to organise a live gig while some spoke about lax security arrangements. Rumours also circulated about how the band were never scheduled to perform there in the first place. But no one really knew.

The after party happened anyway. Hanging out amidst some of the people that were at the venue (and five-six beers down), we were able to put the incident behind us. But in those tense moments between when the show was cancelled and the men charged at us, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t see my life slowly… well… fade to black.

The GTA 5 soundtrack release and my favourite in-game music

Earlier this month, Rockstar Games’ Grand Theft Auto 5 became the first video game to rake in sales worth US $1 billion in the first couple of days of its release. This is also the only title in the GTA franchise to have an original soundtrack, which comes bundled with 2 CDs of licensed music. The album became available for purchase on iTunes earlier this week, and, looking at the list of artists featured, is likely to sell very well.

gta 5

Not that I’m not a fan of GTA, but I think Halo soundtracks deserve the same kind of fandom. Especially the Halo 4 one, which, spanning 2 hours 30 minutes, is undoubtedly one of the most hypnotic, trance-inducing pieces of music I’ve ever heard. I want to cry and laugh and kill someone and fall asleep all at the same time listening to that soundtrack. Which, ironically, is what GTA is all about.

But why stop at Halo? There’re at least 4 other games I can think of whose soundtracks I am a huge fan of, probably more than the games themselves. They’re spread out over a period of 20 years and span widely different genres, but they’re united by one common, binding denominator: they’re all phenomenal works of music.

Here they are:

Bareknuckle (also known as ‘Streets of Rage’): Fans remember the title track from this chiptune masterpiece, composed by Japanese film composer Yuzo Koshiro, as resembling ‘Sadness’ by Enigma. It’s truly miraculous how Koshiro created such subtle varieties with sounds, synths and rhythms in 1990 out of nothing but those wonky chiptune machines. The music is downright funky, dangerously groovy, and has some amazing rhythm syncopations interspersed with deep bass lines and suave chill. It’s safe to say that with this album Koshiro lays the foundation for all contemporary dub, progressive house and psytrance. Maybe not, but it does sound a lot like a mix of all of these.

streets of rage

3 Eyes Boy: Adapted from the popular romance manga of the same name (of which, too, I used to be a big fan), this is, when I think about it now, one of the more tripped out games I’ve owned as a kid. It has naked gypsies running around, meditating monkeys throwing bananas like boomerangs, levitating masks floating left and right, and you as a bald, angry boy shooting arrows from your third eye. And the music – buoyant, bouncy 8-bit melodies looped with screechy, wobbly Skrillex-like sound effects – take the trip to another level. A trip I used to enjoy even as a small kid.

3 eyes boy

Heavenly Sword: The British-Indian musician Nitin Sawhney composed the soundtrack to this 2007 Ninja Theory game, published by Sony Entertainment for the PlayStation 3. Sawhney, a prolific film composer, produces a rousing operatic score of stunning rhythmic intensity. The ethereal far-East flavoured flute and guitar pieces lend a new dimension to the fictional world that the game depicts. The 24 tracks flow into each other seamlessly to create a magical 2-hour listening experience.

heavenly sword

Heavy Rain: This game has a gloomy plotline – a man in search of his lost son comes across a police officer, a detective and a prostitute over a string of rainy days and finds out they’re all somehow involved in his son’s mysterious disappearance. And the music couldn’t complement it better. Composed by the late Normand Corbell (who won a BAFTA for it), the songs are dark, melancholic and emotional, played on a very minimal arrangement of the piano, violins and double bass. In the end when the son is found, the music is so intense the father’s triumph is literally palpable.

heavy rain

So, as I wait for my copy of the GTA 5 soundtrack to download – which, by the way, I’m going to love considering it features music by Tangerine Dream, Neon Indian, Yeasayer and Simple Minds among other artistes – I would like for you to list some of your favourite game soundtracks from over the years.

International Cassette Store Day

The Saturday before last, September 7, was International Cassette Store Day. It’s when record labels in major cities around the world get together with local music stores and display their collection of old, rare tapes. Like vinyl collectors, there’s also a large bunch of people that collect tapes. While some people are wildly enthusiastic about it, others fear that this regressive trend might end us up back in the Stone Age.

Me… I don’t really much care about the difference in album art quality between tape and vinyl, or the plastic-y feel of cassettes versus the tusk-like smoothness of the vinyl. I’m just a regular person with an iPod that has a 60-hour battery life, which enables him to listen to decent-quality music for a large number of hours. That, right there, makes me happy. There should be a day for that too. Well, there is… they call it ‘every day.’

So, these music stores, back in the day they were everywhere. There was a small one on the ground floor of my apartment building. Most of my collection, the maestros of the era – Boyzone and Michael Learns To Rock – has been acquired from there.

This store, Music Mania, did good business through the 90s, until CDs got affordable and CD players replaced cassette decks. With time, everyone we knew had one… except the owner of Music Mania. He turned out to be a cassette geek and refused to throw tapes out and get CDs. Within a couple of years the store went under and the owner shut shop.

On its last day of operation I went there to have a last browse. They were packing up and putting stuff in boxes. I walked over to the rack that held all my favourite music. The owner came and stood next to me, saying, “Take all the tapes you want. Won’t be needing these anymore.”

I have never left a music store with 48 cassettes. Without having paid for the plastic bag even. The tapes all stuffed into it, I scampered out of there for fear that the guy would change his mind. Luckily he didn’t, but a lot of passers-by sure did give me weird looks.

I went back home, grabbed an old Walkman and threw on one tape after another. My now modest collection sat right by my dad’s, on the cabinet above the TV, perfectly in view for any guest that came in, just as my dad liked it.

That evening, totally unexpectedly, the love of my life sauntered into my living room like a fairy at a half past ten.

This girl, my next-door neighbour, had been my love interest for 5 years running. How exactly I fell in love with her I know not, for it happened sometime during the other 5 years of my life. For a 10 year old, I was precocious in matters of love. And I would prove it to her tonight.

It was her birthday and she had had to spend the entire day at her grandparents’. We’ve all been 10, and a 10-year-old needs a house party with cake and school friends to wind down from a hard day. But she hadn’t got one. It was time to swoop in. I asked her to meet me on the terrace in 10 minutes.

I gathered all my tapes and ran upstairs with my Walkman. She came 30 minutes later, saying her mum had forced her to eat dinner. Then I took her to the edge of the parapet, and we sat down, watching the city skyline in silence. I handed her one end of the earphone and put the other in my ear, and pressed the play button.

“We got a little world of our own, I tell you things that no one else knows,

I let you be where no one else goes, what am I doing without you.”

It was her favourite song of the time, ‘World Of Our Own’ by Westlife. The song ended, and for a moment she didn’t know how to react. Then, smiling – and surprising both herself and me – she leaned forward and gave me a hug. Honestly, I was both ecstatic and crushed. I’d hoped it would be a kiss. But what the hell.

I reached into my bag and put all my cassettes in front of her. I told her about my recent acquisition and that she could have half of it as a gift from me… any 24 she liked. Over the next 10 minutes we sifted through the tapes, and she chose just the ones I liked best.

I wished her a happy birthday and we called it a night. I came back home a happy boy… well, man.

It was the 7th of September, known today as International Cassette Store Day.

And if I were ever to miss tapes, this would be the reason why.