In Delhi, the sabziwala hollers through neighbourhoods every morning and rock pigeons beat a tattoo on the backs of air conditioners. Roads thrum with a medley of engine sounds and late nights are filled with howls of street dogs. Delhi’s alt-rock band, Menwhopause, has spliced the din of Delhi with music to weave stories about the city in their third and latest offering, Neon Delhi.
“The cityscape has changed, people have changed, the politics has changed, the drugs on the streets have changed. It’s become a ‘neon’ city, in a way. This album is a reaction to that,” says guitarist Anup Kutty. “We are the generation that still remembers 1984. Our bassist Randeep (Singh) vividly remembers the days he spent with his uncles during the riots. In the song On a boat, the protagonist is 25-year-old Sahaj Umang Singh Bhatia, who threw a glass at Jagdeesh Tytler at a wedding. The guy spent a night in jail and, the next day, was in the papers. He started getting offers from political parties. He wasn’t even born when the riots happened yet it enraged him. In the video, there is a blink-and-miss shot of a building with ‘built in 1984’ engraved on it. The city hasn’t forgotten its history. If you look for signs, you will find them,” he adds.
The eight-track album is peppered with collaborations, with American jazz pianist Grant Richards (Unsure), Jeet Thayil (Still dirty streets), with whom Kutty has a side project called Still Dirty, Aditya Parihar aka Faadu rapper (On a boat), Sumer Khan (Piper Khan), an 85-year-old algoza (twin flute) player, who guards a ghost town called Kuldara in Rajasthan, and the kamancha trio, GFD. “The song, Ship of fools traces its origins to another song, called Train, composed by the legendary kamancha player, Sakar Khan. This is about the first train that rolled into Jaisalmer. It’s a rhythm section that emulates the sound of an approaching train. It’s punk but in a super folk way. We wanted to collaborate with him but he passed away. His son worked on the song with us,” says Kutty.
The collaborations, as well as the exit of guitarist IP Singh, suggest that the band no longer perceives itself solely as a four-member unit. “As a rule, you should always have a better musician than yourself in the room. In some way, that was our philosophy.
You meet all these amazing musicians so you want to make more music with them,” he adds.
After the release of their 2006 album Home, Menwhopause was invited to perform at the SXSW festival in Texas. At the time, they were the only Indian band to be solicited by the festival organisers. Their tour was sponsored by the Indian Council for Cultural Relations, making them the first rock band to be supported by the Indian government. Today, the 16- year-old band is the only Indian band that has performed at the festival twice; the second time was earlier this year. But, why do they rarely perform in the city? “Where are the venues? The whole scene seems to be dead,” says Kutty. Clearly, the neon city is also colourless in many ways.
The album can be bought on menwhopause.xyz, digital downloads are available on Bandcamp, iTunes, Amazon, and can be streamed on Spotify and Tidal.