This is a photograph from last Friday night. The occasion is a “pre-party” event for the NH7 Weekender, which happens in Bangalore this coming weekend. The four people you see on stage are Adam & the Fish-Eyed Poets, who are responsible for one of the best albums I’ve heard this year. The three others are the crowd.
The new Adam & the Fish-Eyed Poets record talks itself into a corner. By definition, it couldn’t have sprung from anywhere but here – it is a concept album built around a ruinous “arranged” marriage, and is therefore, like the entrance exams, and lying to your wife about your cigarette habit, automatically very Indian – and yet, it will never meet this version of the country. The lads’ vocabulary consists of efficient two minute popcraft, reverb-heavy new-wave guitar, and drums and bass which crackle and snap all over the shop; this is an idiom that the people they paint wouldn’t know or care less about; thus, simply through choice of lexicon, the record and the world it describes will always be forced to stare at each other from a distance, in mutual incomprehension.
‘Twas brillig in a slithy Bangalore Friday evening it was that Adam & his Fish-Eyed Didgeridoos played to
a warehouseful of skanks & punks shooting up in the toilets and swigging their glycerol blokes in shirts carefully folding their napkins in the gentle, subtle candlelight whilst their well-cleavaged (but very expensive) girlfriends caught up on local gossip. Christ, what are these lads going to do?
There’s a small homemade revolution brewing here right under everyone’s noses. In the past year, three improbable little records have come out of Chennai which knock a modest, but significant, hole in the otherwise very sensible view that nothing good is ever going to come out of this country the way it’s going. These albums – Tunes from the Big Belly by the Shakey Rays and Curious Toys by Harsha Iyer, both débuts, and Dead Loops from Adam & the Fish-Eyed Poets, a sophomore – make up an oddball trio: in an industry lorded over by over-privileged brats playing the superstar to crowds conditioned to not erupt in outrage when yet another too-well-known-for-their-own-good rock group shows up and condescends to them and insults their intelligence by hawking triteness and bloat, these three stand by the backdoor, looking smarter-than-thou and refusing to make friends.
There’s no room in this country for Adam. He & his boys get to do afternoon slots at festivals, get hammered and watch as bigger, worse bands hog crowds and get laid, and slope off the morning after by bus back to Chennai, from whence they sprung. When Bangalore’s rock crowds trade their wallets for a good time, they expect chest-hair, Ibanez solos and knuckleheaded showmanship: Adam & the Fish-Eyed Poets fail to deliver on all counts.
It may well be true that the larger the population, the larger the niches. And yet, it is equally true that this is India we’re talking about, and therefore it’s entirely likely that the niche you’re after has been hounded out of business, simplified into charmlessness, or had simply never existed in the first place. In any case, a festival which billed itself as a showcase for “new sounds” was certainly going to be a “niche” event – new sounds aren’t India’s most pressing concern – the question, though, was, what sort of niche? Continue reading