Sunday, August 13, 2017

The gig needs an art director


It's just hours before Parekh & Singh's show at Khar's antiSOCIAL and the live music venue is already buzzing with activity. But there's more going on than just sound and mic checks.

The show's creative director Kshitij Kankaria, 26, is a little worried about how bright the lights are. Will the branding interfere with the view of the stage, he's wondering. Even as he coordinates the light, he makes a quick call to check the band's white suits status (on the way from Marine Drive). He wants to know if Nischay Parekh and Jivraj Singh have got themselves clicked in head-to-toe Gucci before they get on stage.

It's all about evolving their now-trademark style, they say.

Last year, Parekh & Singh (Nischay on vocals, guitar and synths and Jivraj on drums and electronics) re-released their 2013 album, Ocean (under the label Peacefrog) with an eye-catching video for the single I Love You Baby, I Love You Doll. It was like stepping into a Wes Anderson movie shot in a dreamy Kolkata mansion, with the boys sporting well-fitting retro suits made by local legend, Barkat Ali & Brothers. Since then, the video has got 935,575 hits and it's made them an indie name to reckon with — all for a four-year-old album released in 2013 that didn't get the right attention.

Spud in the Box's album launch brought their album artwork alive
Spud in the Box's album launch brought their album artwork alive

With the aesthetic being an integral to their success, set design has become a vital part of the duo's country-wide tour — even if it means changing the way a venue looks.

Thus, on stage is a tapestry of geometric prints, a neon cactus, bright dressing-room lights, a vintage TV and a digital indicator that spells out lyrics of their songs. On one side of the stage is a Victorian statue — reminding us of the Status of Liberty — and a flickering LED light over the bar which says 'I love you baby, I love you doll'. "We wanted to create a sense of space and time — you may be in antiSOCIAL, but you are entering a new dimension once you're in," explains Singh of the setting that might just make you believe you are in the video.

Many indie musicians are now creating an ambience and a mood for their gigs. Harpist Nush Lewis who played in the city two weeks ago, laid out large cushions as seating on the ground, and had candles light up the stairs while cozy lamps created a living room ambience on stage. One member in the audience even remarked how the venue had transformed from a gig spot to a "date space". Mumbai band Spud In the Box's album launch had antiSOCIAL turn into a live installation art gallery of sorts. Another popular live music venue, Bandra's Bonobo, saw artists Aditi Dot and Tejas Menon perform surrounded by fairy lights, bathed in neon hues. It's no longer just about listening to music, but about seeing it and feeling it too.

Nush Lewis's show was all about creating a cozy feel
Nush Lewis's show was all about creating a cozy feel

"This tour is the first time we are exploring this medium. We opened the door to Kshitij and we didn't even use references. It was just words like 'magic' and 'childlike' [that he worked with]. Each song too has a certain purpose in the set," says Parekh. "It's based on feelings and the time of the day," says Singh, and Kankaria expands, "Their videos are all about the day — this is what it would be like if their songs were sung at night. There are all kinds of lights —red, blue — that reflect off their white suits. I worked with their mood board — which has elements of child-like wonder and nostalgia."

For Spud in the Box's album launch, the idea was to take artwork from the album and bring it to life in an audio/visual way. Freelance photographer Parizad D, who had also worked with the band for their album, had ensured that each song had a visual describing it. "And, when we performed live, we wanted to tell the same story. The main theme was one of duality — this Jekyl and Hyde quality we all have inside us," says Rohan Rajadhyaksha (keyboard/vocals). To make that theme come true, visual artist Ayesha Kapadia worked with Parizad and Sumer Mehta (The Harbour Press), to create a space that was unique.

They turned the tiny room near the staircase of antiSOCIAL into a light box, and had a real dancer (the ambiguous protagonist of the album) work his body behind a façade of fabric. "When the first song started, people gasped. And that was priceless," says Rajadhyaksha. "Later, the dancer walked amongst the crowd. He was angry and ugly.

It brought out the duality perfectly." Kapadia, who also worked on Parekh & Singh's videos, says that a lot of detail went into the set. "It was all a bit eerie. We had music sheets hanging from the roof, and hands coming out of the jaalis."

Lewis went less theatrical for her performance, but the vibe was in place. For her, it was all about creating comfort. The feedback she got proved that her idea was a good one. "People loved that we put candles, flowers, bean bags, bar stools and tables around. It felt like my home. I love dim settings with candles, it creates a warm and cozy feeling." She does want to continue doing this for all her shows, though. "But i venues are cool with you moving things around and give you all the freedom to decorate, I would love to."

In the end, be it neon lights, a walking/scowling protagonist or just pretty candles, the aim of the night is, as Parekh puts it, "to provide a context to the music.

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