How a delayed soundcheck led to a metal gig in a lecture hall, and IIT Jodhpur students being suspended for a month.
Rabbi Shergill is responsible for the suspension of students who form the core organising committee of Ignus, IIT Jodhpur’s annual cultural festival. Okay fine, that charge may be slightly biased against Mr Shergill, who is probably entirely unaware that an extended soundcheck on Sunday put into motion a series of events that led to one of the kvltest gigs I have ever attended, and said suspension. Here’s what happened.
IIT Jodhpur, one of the eight new IITs established a few years ago, hosts, like pretty much every engineering college in the country, an annual cultural festival that sees a plethora of “techno-cultural” events on its premises and the participation of students from colleges around the country. Ignus 2013 also saw IIT Jodhpur’s first battle-of-the-bands competition, and two “pro-shows” – one featuring pop-rock biggies Agnee, and the other featuring Rabbi Shergill. The battle-of-the-bands competition, titled ‘Clash of the Bands’, saw 18 bands from in and around Jodhpur battle it out over three days for a cash prize of Rs 40,000. The first two days were the elimination rounds, narrowing the 18 prospectives to a final five. I was invited to Jodhpur to judge the finals of the competition and decided to take Randolph Correia (aka Func, of Shaa’ir + Func and Pentagram) along for an interview that you can read on NH7 soon.
So it’s the Sunday of the finale, and the competition, which is supposed to start at 5pm, has already been delayed by an hour. Turns out, Rabbi Shergill’s crew have extended their soundcheck on the main stage where the Clash of the Bands is also supposed to take place. Now, where we are is at IIT Jodhpur’s transit campus; the main campus of MBM Engineering College which has been converted for use by the IIT, and which is a makeshift arrangement till the institute’s own, 900-acre campus gets ready for use (“they” say the campus will be ready by 2015, but none of the students were buying it). In terms of size, this is a pretty tiny IIT, about as big as one of the bigger hostels in IIT Bombay. Students live at a transit residential campus, which is about 14 kilometers away. Several restrictions are enforced on students with respect to timings (all girls have to leave the campus by 8.30pm and boys by 10pm), and these are relaxed slightly during Ignus. So when Mr Shergill’s soundcheck went on past 6.30pm, alternative options for the Clash of the Bands were considered. What if the bands performed only one song for the finals? Perhaps an alternate stage could quickly be constructed for the competition? As daylight began waning, the students decided that the best option was to set up the competition in one of the campus’ hi-tech lecture halls.
30 minutes later, the ingenius organising committee of Ignus had set up a drumkit, on-stage monitors, a sound console, a PA and a table for judges inside a room that otherwise hosts lectures in mechanical engineering.
In many ways, even though the Clash of the Bands was being held in a lecture hall, this was a classic engineering college rock comp (I’ve described many of the quintessential features of these competitions in my last Sunday Guardian column). The bands were fresh-faced, mostly metchullers from areas like Ajmer and Jaipur, the sound guy’s PA was being used for something other than a shaadi for the first time, and the students were all too happy to mosh in their place of learning. By the time the competition started though, it was already 8.30pm.
The irony of holding the competition in a classroom wasn’t lost on the first band, who were called BDSM (or Buffalo Dung Soup Makers), and whose set included a cover of that classic anti-learning anthem ‘Another Brick In The Wall’. As you can imagine, it sounded clangy as hell. You can watch crappy cellphone footage of that performance below.
BDSM were followed by a metal act from Jaipur called Hairat, who appeared on stage with full black metal facepaint, and even had a few fans in the audience sharing their enthusiasm for corpse cosmetics. They opened their set with a cover of Satyricon’s ‘As The Pentagram Burns’ (Randolph seemed pleased), prompting the first moshpit of the evening which started first in a corner of the room and then, as they dove into Sepultura’s ‘Roots Bloody Roots’, took up most of the front of stage area. Yup, engineering kids moshing to black metal in an IIT classroom. Yes, there is video.
Hairat seemed to have a sizeable fan base present in the lecture hall, who left pretty much immediately after the band got off stage to make way for the eventual winners of the competition, Delhi metal act Chronic Legion. Chronic Legion played that classic brand of big-breakdown metal that always works at these competitions, and were the tightest band of the evening. When the vocalist of the band asked the disinterested sound guy to increase his levels on the PA, he was told, “Aap ki aavaaz hi aisi hain toh kya karoon.” By this time, the green and red mats that the students had laid down on the floor of the lecture hall were bunched up in a corner on account of the angular, super-friendly moshing. ”This is the closest to B69 we can get in Jodhpur,” said the emcee. The students, for whom a rock show like this, in fact any rock show in their city, is a rarity, seemed to be having a ball despite the atrocious sound.
“Kam ho yaar tum, magar kaafi ho,” said the vocalist of the penultimate band, Pirates of Soul, referring to the dwindling numbers in the audience, and the camaraderie of the students who put this competition together. The band’s set comprised a sketchy cover of Wolfmother’s ‘Joker And The Thief’ (the lyrics to the second verse of which were replaced with Hindi lyrics written by the band) and a metchul rendition of ‘Choli Ke Peeche’. The final act for the evening, Jaipur’s Fragile Silence, kicked off their set at around 9.45pm and about 10 minutes into their “goth-progressive” set, I see a heated argument taking place outside the classroom. A few seconds later, a short man in a white, short–sleeved checked shirt and jeans walks in looking pretty enraged. There are students all around him trying to calm him down but their efforts seems to be failing. Some frantic arm-waving later, he walks up to me and says, “You are the judge of this event, please stop it immediately!” Goth metal continues in the background with a group of kids still rocking out at the front of the stage.
This is angering the man further.
“Sir, this band has come all the way from Jaipur (it’s a 13-hour drive from Jaipur to Jodhpur) to play this competition. I think we should let them finish their set,” I say to him, with a bunch of students behind him indicating to me via stealthy hand signals that there’s no point arguing.
He walks away even more red-faced towards the emcee and starts yelling at him. I am then told that he is the faculty coordinator for the event and that he’s usually like this. Randolph is of the opinion that the dude doesn’t like having fun, and more specifically, young people having fun. It is a sentiment echoed by some of the surrounding students. Fragile Silence continue their set’s last song as the faculty coordinator tries his best to stop the gig mid-way. He is unsuccessful however and the band valiantly finish their set to applause from the 30 or so students still left in the lecture hall. The man begins the shouting match but the battle is over, and rock ‘n’ roll has won.
We are hurried out of the classroom as a hasty cleanup job begins. All the bands we meet outside are chuffed that they got to play their sets, and the organisers are ecstatic that their college festival successfully hosted its first battle-of-the-bands competition. We head out for dinner to a nearby restaurant called Rocktails where we meet some of the organisers. “All the core committee members have been suspended for one month,” says one of the students. He seems totally unfazed by what would otherwise be a pretty worrying statement. I ask if there’s anything we can do to reverse that decision. “It’s okay,” he says, “We usually bunk classes. Now we can do it officially.” So yeah, screw Rabbi Shergill.