Storytellers of a new generation
Alt-J Makes Hearts Skip A Beat In The Sizzling May Heat Cover Picture

Alt-J Makes Hearts Skip A Beat In The Sizzling May Heat

Alt J likes to keep its Facebook timeline clutter-free. Much like its music. No backstage selfies. No on-stage crowd-fies. No random ‘India pictures’ even. How misleading for a band that has been part of almost every conversation between indie music fans since they last came to India in February! And one that delivered one of the most kick-ass gigs by a global act the country saw this year. “It was awesome to visit India, we can't wait to come back. This time I'd like to try more food and also take more photos,” said vocalist and keyboard Gus Unger-Hamilton before the band set out on the tour for the Emerge Music Festival that concluded yesterday. We’ll wait for the photos to show up. Maybe in vain, for all you know.

Theirs has been definitely the quickest second tours any major international bands has played in India in the recent past. But on their last visit, the Grammy-Award nominated band caused a fair amount of heartbreak to their die-hard fans outside of the cities of Delhi and Bangalore. This time, they added Mumbai to the list.

Last night’s gig in Mumbai, at Byculla’s defunct mill-turned-gig venue, Richardson & Cruddas, will be remembered for two reasons: the near-perfect act by the four-member band, and not-so-perfect organisation that caused even those on the guest list to wait for a over an hour before they got entry to the concert. Not to mention the insufferable May heat amid which it took place. But clearly, that didn't stop people from packing themselves in like sardines as anticipation about the band taking the stage grew (read as soon as fair-skinned technicians started the final gear/soundcheck on the stage). And it wasn't just the teenage girls that were shrieking with excitement for what was to come, as is usually the case; a remarkably eager duo of 20-something boys in the crowd took it upon themselves to exchange shoulder-surfs with each other, much to the entertainment of their fellow audiences. But the band’s true test of followership was another twosome – comprising a bored short and a zealous tall girl who wore the English flag as capes and galloped in the empty spaces of the arena. I could well have been in an Enrique concert.

Alt J was originally named Daljit Dhaliwal, after the popular TV news presenter
Alt J was originally named Daljit Dhaliwal, after the popular TV news presenter

The first couple of songs by the band sent some hipsters into a sedative-induced spaced-outedness. By the time Alt J came to its hit ‘Something good’, the trance-y population around me had multiplied. And thanks to the passive inhalation of some extremely potent dopamine-releaser, I was becoming one of them too.

The band was formed after the members met at Leeds University, UK
The band was formed after the members met at Leeds University, UK

Alt J, comprising Hamilton and his three buddies –Joe Newman (lead vocals, guitar), Thom Green (drums) and Cameron Knight (guitar, bass, sampler) – was formed in 2007 in Leeds, England. Most fans considered the band’s 2012 debut album, An Awesome Wave featuring ‘Breezeblocks’ and ‘Matilda’ , to be better than its latest release, This Is All Yours (2014).


Lead vocalist and guitarist Joe Newman
Lead vocalist and guitarist Joe Newman
Photo source: Emerge Music Festival

At both their tours this year, the band played a mix of tracks from both albums. “We don't vary our live show much from place to place - we tend to get it perfected before a tour and not meddle with it,” says Hamilton. I ask him if the band is currently working on a new project, and he says, “We aim to finish this tour, take some time off and see what's next.”  

Drummer Thom Green's first drum kit had a saucepan instead of cymbals!
Drummer Thom Green's first drum kit had a saucepan instead of cymbals!

The next few weeks will see the band globetrotting like true rock stars. They have gigs lined up in Spain, Turkey, Iceland and Denmark. Hamilton says that concert in Australia, where they played earlier this year, was quite memorable. “I think coming to Australia for the first time was amazing. It was the furthest we'd ever been from home and we didn't know we were popular there,” he says.  Are fans in India different from the ones they perform for in other countries? “I don't know which country's fans are like India's, but we like them!” he adds. These guys sure do. Which band wouldn't absolutely adore a happy mass of people singing along even to their most uncatchy tracks? At their 75-min set at this gig, almost everyone around me softy lip-synced to almost all their songs. Their final song for the night, ‘Breezeblocks’, arguably their biggest and most popular hit, proved just why Alt J returned to India so soon. I was in a sea of a thousand voices – pitch-perfect and tone deaf – singing their own version of the song with the band backing them. I hoped for some breeze, but none came.

 

Words: NS
Photographs: Karan Khosla