Rocking back to the '90s

Published: 27 December, 2019 07:00 IST | Shunashir Sen | Mumbai

Two of indie music's biggest names form a new act that promises to bring back the joy of a genuine live set

Randolph Correia
Randolph Correia

Trying to imagine now what the '90s were like, it doesn't quite seem like a black-and-white era. But the colour picture that comes to mind is definitely low definition. TV sets were still these bulky boxes, not sleek flat ones fixed on a wall. Sachin Tendulkar was the blue-eyed boy of the Indian team, while Virat Kohli was a child playing tennis-ball cricket in his shorts. And take-no-prisoners rock and roll was the true sound of the underground, unlike trap, techno or whatever other electronic genre that people these days are lapping up. The indie scene was certainly still in a nascent phase. But it had the vitality of youth that was largely unsullied by corporate interests, with two bands leading the way towards the end of the decade — Zero and Pentagram. They were the ones who gave a generation of Indian musicians the belief that, yes, we can make a career out of independent western music. There's no need to turn towards Bollywood. It can take a hike.

Things have come a long way since then, of course. Indie artistes can make for big business in India these days. But the headliner at a typical festival would be a big-ticket DJ, and not a true-blue live act. That's exactly what two members of Zero and Pentagram — Sidd Coutto and Randolph Correia — are out to change with a new act, which ironically is called Laptop. Why ironic? Because the idea is to largely shun gadgets, and thrash out music on just Correia's guitar and Coutto's drum kit to re-introduce the verve and energy of genuine live music, something that seems to have taken a back seat these days. The duo were mainstays of the music scene in Mumbai in the '90s. Now, they are out to show 21st century kids how things were done.

Sidd Coutto

But to add to the irony, Correia, 43, tells us that the seeds of the band were laid on a wholly present-day platform — Facebook. He says, "I remember posting a random update around three years ago that said 'Squid Coutto', as just a funny thing. There were some 900 comments after that. People just went nuts. And I think that brought about a special connection because Sidd and I started hanging out a lot more as friends. We always knew that we have the same sensibilities, right from the Zero and Pentagram days. But this post brought about a closeness from being able to celebrate friendship outside of just music, and the ideas started really flowing after that."

So they eventually booked a studio for a day in August last year. The intention wasn't to play premeditated music. It was also to improvise on the spot and see what they could come up with. Coutto, 40, describes the day to us. "It was like a picnic. We played, we chilled and we did what rock musicians do when taking a break — drank some beer and came back. It was a straight-up case of putting the iPhone on record and banging out songs all day long."

The result was a set of about nine tracks that they were happy about. These songs might ultimately be embellished with modern gadgets. But their backbone comes from the analogue act of strumming a guitar and beating a drum kit black and blue. There are of course other acts that follow the same process (more power to them). But they have largely been relegated to the shadows, with electronic music grabbing the spotlight.

Laptop, like we said, aims to alter that equation. Coutto and Correia let the tracks that they had cooked up in the studio simmer for a while. But they have now readied a spanking single called Granted that serves the dual purpose of harking back to a bygone era even as it embodies a contemporary sound. They are also planning an EP or an album, and are all set to play their first live gig at AntiSocial on January 15. Just think about that venue for a second to understand the zeitgeist of our times. Of the 13 gigs that have taken place there this month, only two have featured any live musicians. Who would have thought of such a situation in the '90s? Correia tells us that back then, anything electronic was labelled as techno, a term most people didn't even understand.

Instead — in an era when accessing music wasn't a click away like it is now — people would go the extra mile to lay their hands on a Zero or Pentagram record. And that, really, is just the sort of dedication towards live music that Laptop hopes to bring about.

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