Breaking the sound barriers

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LAHORE – The ground shook and ears were left ringing, as five underground bands played their guitars on stage, the audience too screaming away in excitement. The Octave Project, organised by the Curtain Call Society, held its second concert after November and for the audience, it was nothing more than something they craved for.
Even though bands played some English cover songs which most had not heard of, belonging to rock bands that people were not aware of, the overall excitement spread like wildfire. The concert started with a soft acoustic show by band Dou Hazaar (2000), which played an interesting and original mix of songs. The first was a mix of old TV commercials, which left the audience laughing and wanting to hear more of what was to come.
Of course nothing can go on, but after an original rendition of ‘Maain Ni Mein Kinnu Akhaan’, a Saraiki folk song, which blended fabulously on Usman Qureshi’s accousitic lead guitar, and vocals, along with Ahmer’s Dabunka percussions, the band registered itself a hit. If the end of the first track disappointed the audience, Dou Hazaar came up with another eclectic mix of some classic Indian songs, including even ‘Munni Badnaam Hui’.
This left the audience singing along with the band, something which really kicked off opening for the show. Following up was Odyssey, a shock rock group in terms of what Pakistan usually gets to hear. Inspired heavily by thrash-rock band Metallica, Odyssey’s playing was very similar except the vocals which were not the typical growling, roaring metal vocals. Instead clean vocals were used by band’s vocalist Raja Nabeel.
Unfortunately, a bad sound system, deteriorated the sound quality and lyrics could not be understood properly. At times the guitars were much louder than the vocals and this ended up in drowning the singer’s voice. Rhythm guitarist Hussam’s churning, grinding, and shredding could only compete with Waqas’s lead guitars, which spurned and spewed real angst. The band says their inspiration comes from a variety of sounds, right down from ‘eastern classical’, to the thrash band Slayer and the progressive rock band Dream Theatre.
Of course for a band wanting to perform hard rock or metal, it is impossible not to be influenced by Megadeth and Alice in Chains. Bassist, Zain, and sessions drummer Yousuf (from a band called Taka Tak) were powerful elements which yesterday’s gig could not have done without. The sludgy bass created a garage aura, while, Yousaf’s pulsating drums was perhaps the best advertisement for what was happening in Al Hamra’s Hall 3. But perhaps the best take was on Sajjad Ali’s Babia, a hard core rock version of the synth pop song of the 90s.
This was a fine piece of work, with catchy guitar riffs and crashing rhythms reviving once again, Sajjad’s hit song in memories of the audience. When Odyssey left the stage, much to the relief of those whose eardrums were left ringing, the Lifebouyz came up with their country blues, (they even sat on the stage like country musicians, all in a row). Musically, this band was excellent and the songs they chose to sing were all of what signified their inspirations.
Peggy Lee’s ‘Fever’ was their first take, followed by their own softer acoustic rendition of All Your Love Tonight by Whitesnake. Mannan the vocalist was a technically correct singer but when Alice in Chains No Excuses came up, his voice lacked the soul and tremor that Layne Staley had had at the time. He quickly compensated this by jamming the blues with BB King’s excellent Chains and Things, followed by Led Zeppelin’s Babe I’m Gonna Leave You.
But in the audience, people were either awestruck, or were vapid as to what was going on. Pure blues is not something that the public has been generally exposed to. The Lifebouyz had Fawad on leads, Adil on rhythm and bass both and Raja Nabeel on percussions and keyboards.
The mellowest band of the night in terms of impact was AlterEgo, even though musically it was well-rooted in inspirations but alternative rock was probably not appreciated wholeheartedly by the audience, while the mood had already been created for a harder sound of metal and a more melodious sound of the blues, Alter Ego did not fit in either.
Ali’s vocals were strong and well in tune and the rest of the band (Saquib on drums, Asim on guitars, and Taimur on bass) performed as well as the other musicians did that night, the audience would not have appreciated them if it had not been for their cover songs of Mahiya and Hit Me Baby One More Time.
AE’s attempt to cover Annie’s Mahiya was successful enough, but Britney Spears’ Hit Me Baby One More Time, was maybe stretching it a bit, especially as rock performer Marilyn Manson, had already done it spontaneously once in his concert. AE’s endeavour to do the same thing with practice was perhaps not a good idea.
Still there were some Spears listeners in the crowd and a few girls were amused to hear the version. Ali says that the band however always chooses to play one song of their own (in this case Burzukh), and another unconventional one which is usually not liked by the audience. They work on a new version to reintroduce the song to the audience.
Major inspirations, he says, are Kenny Rogers and Nirvana, a broad spectrum of musical influences with many other bands in the middle. “There are bands which people don’t usually listen to, but they are a major influence on me, while our guitarist loves listening to Slayer, Metallica and Alice In Chains. But melody is important for us,” he says. The last band of the night, Aag hit off well with their original also called “Aag”.
While Haroon started off with Mohammad Rafi’s “Suhani Raat” on acoustic, his vocals did not impress and he was slightly out of tune, but once he started his shrieking Deep Purple style, the band was an instant hit. His brother, Usman, an aggressive drummer was the only other band member. “We try not to limit ourselves to any kind of music,” says Haroon. “Music itself is our inspiration.
Locally and internationally, we have so many genres and bands that we love, that to name one would be wrong,” he says. Pehla Nasha’s punk rock version, by Aag was also a huge hit and to hear the song from such a new perspective was enjoyable. Some audience members even took to dancing to the song. “We are still trying to explore and discover ourselves musically,” he says.
Aag will probably creep quickly into the mainstream very soon. Recently the band has been interviewed by BBC Radio.