The Karachi Tripping Point
It’s the trippiest music that I have heard in the past six months and it comes from Karachi. Yes. That’s right. Karachi, Pakistan. It’s a band called Basheer & The Pied Pipers and they make a top notch variety of original experimental rock music. The band was formed by two medical students—Saad Munzar and Salman Younas Khan—and their debut album, Basheer, is available for free download. It’s a gem of a find.
I’m no longer surprised at the strange ways in which one can discover new bands. I learnt about Karachi’s Basheer & The Pied Piper while listening to an excellent (if a bit verbose) podcast from Song By Toad, a music blog based in Scotland. On a recent episode of the podcast (it’s called a Toadcast, by the way), the playlist included Circling Nowhere, a track off Basheer & The Pied Pipers’ debut album. It’s the kind of track that makes you instantly take note of the band. It’s got a post-rock, ethereal ambience that reminded me of the Icelandic post-rock band, Sigur Ros. But Basheer & The Pied Pipers are not a rip-off of that band. Their music is very original. Many of their tracks are primarily instrumental but there are vocals on a few too with lyrics in English and the duo—essentially a bassist-cum-guitarist and a drummer—appear to draw upon a host of influences.
After listening to Circling Nowhere I couldn’t wait to try more of the Karachi band. That’s when I discovered Basheer, their debut album, which you can download on bandcamp.com. The tracks on Basheer (there are 10) sparkle with originality: very melodic and yet improvisational and sometimes quite hypnotic. Basheer & The Pied Pipers love jamming but their music doesn’t become self-indulgent. In fact, their debut album can become quite endearing. I put it on repeat after I first heard it. When I tried learning more about them on the Internet I was rather surprised to find very little. Dawn, the leading Pakistani newspaper, had an article about their origins and the debut album but not much else. The band, says Munzar who plays the guitar and bass (drummer Khan also plays synthesizers), is influenced among others by Radiohead, Sigur Ros (that often shows in their music), Mos Def and Massive Attack. But their music is nowhere close to being a clone of what these leading bands do.
Also, the band has tried to steer clear of doing the usual east-west fusion sort of rubbish that many “new age” bands from the sub-continent fall prey to. Flutes and eastern percussion instruments do sometimes stray into their music but they’ve abstained from doing ‘it’s-ethnic-therefore-it’s-exotic’ kind of compositions. Good, because, frankly, I find that sort of stuff boring. Before this year’s release of the debut full-length, Basheer & The Pied Piper had Paperclouds, an EP out. That too is available easily on the net. What isn’t, however, is more details about the band. Karachi and Lahore have a vibrant underground music scene and while this side of the border is familiar with the Sufi rock band, Junoon (I’m sure there are fans of that band teeming out there but I’m not one), there are many more hidden gems that are worth discovering. It’s not easy to find them but there are ways to do so.
One such is Uth Records, a youth based music show on TV whose website says that it “provides talented young musicians a professional music platform for their original work to be seen and heard across Pakistan, irrespective of age, gender, language and background”. That’s where I discovered another interesting Pakistani band. Also from Karachi, //orangenoise is not an ambient, experimental rock band like Basheer & The Pied Pipers but a full-blown metal-inspired hard rock outfit. They too have a bandcamp.com page where some of their albums, an EP, a single and remixes, can be downloaded. Worth a try.
Chan Marshall, better known by her stage name, Cat Power, is a gifted American singer-songwriter but her career graph has been erratic, marked by hiatuses and struggles with various problems. But her discography is studded with great work. In 2000, she released The Covers Record, her fifth album, which almost entirely comprised covers of songs including, notably, a powerful and almost unrecognisable version of the Rolling Stones’ Satisfaction. Then, there was The Greatest (2006) followed by another covers album, Jukebox (2008). Now, after a four-year gap, she’s released Sun, her first original after The Greatest. On Sun, Cat Power abandons her earlier sparse minimalism and embraces more instruments, notably a synth as well as AutoTune. A good album to rediscover the complicated artist or, if you haven’t heard her, to introduce yourself.