This is a review of a review, as it were. Last week, Helter Skelter ran an article by Neeharika Palaka on the Bombay punk group, the Riot Peddlers. I haven’t heard them, so I can’t comment on their music, but Ms. Palaka makes a point that’s worth restating as many times as it takes for it to be heard above the clamour of self-congratulation that surrounds anything to do with “local” music in India.
One of these days, some Hard Rock Café somewhere will have Elvis’s decaying corpse dug up and nailed to the wall behind the bar. This will work out great for them: HRCs do business because they root about in rock ‘n’ roll trash, and hang up the choicest bits in the name of history. And history is all very well, but, done this way, simply amounts to piling a great deal of useless baggage, so it crowds out all the fresh air from the room: it’s not nostalgia that these places evoke, but the stifling feeling that the dead will never leave us be.
I was struck down by a fever the evening Suman Sridhar and Jeet Thayil were bringing their travelling electric soul show to town. Not one of your wussy bouts of the ‘flu, this one: here was a bone-crushing, mouth-fouling attack of misery which came upon me quite suddenly and then simply refused to leave. Fevers are spiteful acts of god which suck the joy out of everything; and yet this pair had been on my wishlist for some time: could I go or couldn’t I? So I reached for the fires & emergencies handbook – ever a man’s friend in need – flipped it open, and jabbed at it with a questioning finger. “Do not take shelter in the toilets.” Fair enough, I suppose: a little obscure, tho’. Flip again, jab again. “Crawl if needed.” Right, that’s pretty unequivocal. So, the next thing I know, I’ve brushed my teeth and faced the worst of the rush hour, and I’m propped up against a pillar, shaky but eager to watch a group who’ve raised hell, done centrespreads and been axed on grounds of edginess; who now have their first record out and are taking it around the cities, hoping for things to click.
Here’s an exercise in mixed signals: Sky Rabbit – in some incarnation – were called Medusa. That’s pretty bad: only students and the terminally dull do Greek names. “Sky Rabbit”, on the other hand, brims with sunny, druggy cool. The boys look scruffy, as if they’ve just fallen out of bed, so you wonder if their guitars will even be in tune: they are, and, what’s more, the rumpled get-up works perfectly – they’re a joy to watch once they get going. The schtick is simple and brilliant: tightly clenched Factory Records-like grooves slapped over recorded dance-floor bleeps, a combination that’s as exciting as it is, in these parts, uncommon. The songwriting is, in contrast, not there.