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Livewire 2011: Semifinals and more

National level battle of the bands – including exclusive interviews with each qualifying band! But beware! Surprises and strange activities afoot!

The Setting

The Livewire semifinals, held within a week of their zonal eliminations, were supposed to feature the top 4 qualifiers from 4 zones – North, East, West and South. We were already there to witness the West Zone eliminations, which were held at Hard Rock Café earlier, so we knew what to expect from the 5 bands that qualified then (2 bands tied in 4th place). We were looking forward to meeting the other worthy contenders from the other corners of India, but we were in for the first of many surprises:

  • There was only 1 band present to represent the North – Grammy Winning Effort (the others had, supposedly cancelled at the last minute).
  • 6 bands from the West Zone – we knew of the 5 who qualified, but now, The Hoodwink Circle were also participating in the semifinals.
  • Only 3 bands from the South made it. That brought the total to 14 bands

The Circumstances

Well, we were certainly looking forward to a good show, with all these enthusiastic musicians aiming to enthrall the audience. Livewire was scheduled to begin in full swing just after noon, with about 3 hours for each band to conduct their sound checks prior to playing. Unfortunately, not each band made it to the IIT campus then – in all practicality, it didn’t make sense for a band slated to play at 6:30 pm to check in at 9:30 am for a sound check – but this, in our opinion, definitely hampered their performance, and thus their chances to bring out their best. Why?

  • Mood-Indigo’s hired sound technician was extremely irritable and impatient with the younger, inexperienced bands, and he wasn’t being very professional or cooperative.
  •  While the seasoned bands, who brought in their own technicians and roadies, didn’t have much of a problem, the bands whom we witnessed going through the sound-checks in the morning certainly sounded a lot better than their counterparts who didn’t.
  • There were numerous occasions where fuses were blown, during sound checks and a few during some bands’ live performances. Time was certainly not on the bands’ side, since they had 25 minutes in which to set up all their equipment and play out their set.

Well, in our world, no competition is without its set of hurdles, often favoring some over the others, and this seemed to have set some bands back. Whether this was done on purpose or not is a question that will get compounded further, but for now, lets move on.

The Judges

The judges’ panel that day consisted of 4 veteran musicians from Mumbai’s own musical stronghold:

  • Reinhardt Dias, guitarist for Blakc (as well as brand manager for Gibson Guitars in India, through Furtados Music).
  • Roop Thomas, bassist for Blakc, sporting his signature dreads and orange sneakers
  • Claver Menezes, guitarist for Zedde (whom Score recently met, at Hard Rock Café, Bangalore)
  • Shawn Pereira, guitarist and vocalist for Blakc

And now, to meet the bands, in their order of playing

1) Jeepers Creepers (East Zone)

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They opened the scene by playing some heavily British / Indie influenced music. Being the first band, they were beset with numerous sound and technical issues, leading to midway pauses and re-runs, but they did play a pretty good cover of an Arctic Monkeys song. For an as-of-yet young band, they seemed to know how to balance their sound, especially by making the lead and rhythm guitars stand out. The vocalist may have been a bit nervous, but he seemed to gain more confidence toward the latter part of their performance.

2) Grimmortal (West Zone)

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Another very young band, which we had the pleasure to watch during the West Zone elims, they pulled off an even better performance in the open-air setting of Livewire’s semifinals, playing more or less the same set from before. Once again, we saw them play their brand of death-core metal, complete with similar moves from last time. Guitarist Vivek was even better this time around with his brutal sounding riffs.

3) Highway 2 Heaven (West Zone)

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Their mellower songs were by far their strongest pieces, since the vocalist’s voice and stage presence were more suited to the calm but feel-good songs, such as ‘Beautiful Day’, especially since the more energetic songs came across as a bit contrived. Nonetheless, there were some very good harmonies between the rhythm and lead guitars. The rhythm guitar’s volume was a bit too low, and seemed to be overwhelmed by the bass. Overall, a much better performance than in their zonals.

4) Evil Conscience (East Zone)

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Though generally melodic, their dynamics seemed to be off, especially as they tried to fuse in very diverse sounds – Metalcore / Death / Djent. Either they were also having sound issues, or their guitar patches were off; the distortion seemed over the top. The vocalist’s pig squeals and growls were noteworthy.

5) Final Surrender (South Zone)

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A band with obvious Metalcore influences, they were definitely one of the few bands where most members had a good stage presence – the bassist and the lead guitarist were seen to slip and slide on the floor, purposely or otherwise. Terrific drumming and brilliant lead guitaring on the whole. Perhaps one down side was that the rhythm guitarist wasn’t fully audible, and that made them sound a little raw.

6) Modern Mafia (West Zone)

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Finally, a band that wanted to make their fans have a little fun – they even brought in their own mascot / tambourinist – Pavlo – to entertain the crowd. They performed a similar set as they did during their zonals, only, this time, they sounded even tighter and coherent as a band, with a definite Indie-esque sound, especially on the drums. The guitarists knew how to control their tones and displayed their skills with ambient bluesy interludes. Bonus points for taking themselves seriously – dressing up and cracking mafia jokes. Hats off (pun intended) to Varun Das, for being a good frontman.

7) The Hoodwink Circle (West Zone)

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The only properly adult band – the band that almost didn’t make it – was here to win back their audience with a vengeance. Great stage presence, overwhelming technical proficiency on the guitars – Sanju with the very same Zack Wylde Epiphone – snappy bass lines and overall, probably the most polished performance that evening. Then again, they were all professional musicians.

8) Burnout Syndrome (East Zone)

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Most of the band members looked like they could use a little pep talk – their stage presence seemed forced at best. Even though they played a decent cover of ‘Threat Signal’, their transitions from distortion and clean were quite uneven, which seemed to be breaking up their core dynamics as well.  They definitely show some promise though, with more practice and better coordination.

9) Turnkey (East Zone)

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Playing a relatively unique mix of Rap / Groove Metal, this band seemed to draw definite influences from Hip Hop and Nu Metal of the late 90s / early 2000s, especially considering their raw, noisier sound. The vocalist’s stage presence was a bit of a joke, but to boot, the band did have some good original songs. That day, their music just didn’t come together as expected, but with some refinement, they were bound to sound even better.

10) Existence Failed (West Zone)

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Yet another extremely young band – with ages ranging between 16 – 19 – this band showcased a really good performance. It was evident that they had been practicing a lot since their zonals, since they captured the Djent sounds successfully this time. Their overall sound was quite well arranged this time, with audible vocals, overlapping an interesting mix of 8 and 7 string guitars, a 5 string Ibanez bass (as per the trend seen earlier). For such a young band, this is certainly a very good start. Additionally, the nomenclature has more to do with their metaphysical beliefs rather than the usual ‘metalic angst’.

11) Verses (South Zone)

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Clad in leather, in their own words, they looked like a bunch of Telugu filmstars, parading around the stage. One of the few bands with good harmony between dual vocalists – one clean, one gutteral. Their music seemed to be a mix of glam and death, especially the way the keyboards were arranged. The keyboardist’s role seemed to be supportive mostly, but there were a couple of instances where he showcased some good solos. The lead guitarist, with his colorful Ibanez, and the animated drummer, were brilliant.

12) Spud In The Box (West Zone)

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A brilliant young band, full of innovative tweens, with diverse influences ranging from Radiohead to Kishore Kumar and everything in between, they had 7 members on the stage, using multiple guitars, keyboards, and drums. As a result, they lost quite some time in performing soundchecks for everyone, but when they played, despite technical issues, their simple melodies still yielded a very coherent sound, polished with the tasteful use of effects and complemented with dual vocals.

13) Grammy Winning Effort (North Zone)

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Wielding dual Gibson Les Pauls, this band brought forward their northern machismo with considerable force.  Playing their music in a hardcore-punk influenced style, they incorporated simple infectious grooves with intricate drumming and put out a very energetic stage presence.  It was good to see something different from the usual blend of metal / djent towards the end.

14) Blues Conscience (South Zone)

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This band, though not one to compete regularly, had come to ‘lay down the cool.’  Their songs were smooth, driven by the guitarist’s artful usage of deluxe reverberations on his Fender Stratocaster, churning out a very appropriately bluesy tone. Unfortunately, the drummer’s snare broke in the beginning, which affected their sound, but they continued fervently throughout their set. The bassist and the vocalist had the perfect voice for their brand of music.

The Results

There was quite a lot of activity within the crowd, after the last band finished performing, and people were seen discussing with each other over their preferences. The judges, however, sat back with an air of calm confidence; they seemed to have decided their winner even before the last couple of bands had finished playing, since the results were announced within minutes of the last band’s performance – they were still unpacking their gear, while the announcement was being made. Talk about respect (or a lack thereof?). And the results:

#3: Turnkey

#2: Verses

#1: The Hoodwink Circle

While a lot of people within the audience applauded, quite a few were left confused and baffled as to why some of the other bands didn’t win. It was extremely unusual to see that the band that technically didn’t make it past the zonals actually came in first place during the semi-finals. No doubt that they had won on the basis of pulling of a great show, but it was strange to see that numerous others, who sounded equally good, if not better than their counterparts in some people’s opinions, didn’t even get a mention.

Nonetheless, the three winners from this day were to compete on the final stage the following day, opening for Karnivool.

The Finals:

During the finals, The Hoodwink Circle, the first band to perform, was beset with logistical and technical difficulties. It turned out that during Karnivool’s pre-gig sound checks, they had reserved for themselves most of the channels available, and the Mood Indigo’s own sound engineer was… well, being himself (like the day before). This greatly affected the band and their overall sound, and but they continued to play regardless of these difficulties. Verses followed them, and filled with a renewed sense of vigour of having come so far in the competition, pulled off an epic performance, sounding even better than the day before (the lead guitarist continued to impress). Turkney followed soon after, successfully engaging the audience in a general round of headbanging.

This time, it was difficult to determine who the actual judges were, since the judges table was practically taken over by various musicians from many of India’s bigger bands, all eager to watch younger bands as well as Karnivool perform on the main stage; at one point it looked like every single one of Furtados’ brand managers and other employees were collectively making a decision over the finals. After much ado, it was announced that Verses from Bangalore, was the winner. Verses would thus be representing India at the Global Battle of the Bands in Romania in June, this year. May the force be with them.

Photo Credits: Anushya Badrinath

A/V Credits:  Rajat Mehtani

Technical input: Siddharth Raghunandan

Special thanks: EVERYONE at Mood Indigo

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