making heavy metal even heavier : the underdogs known as underside
To do our shoot, we had rented the studio of Feature Studios, a humble place over at Pulchowk with all the essentials. And it just happened to be right above a Thakali place. So, after we were done and happy with a couple of hours of a laborious shoot, we go down for a quick bite. Avishek had been away during the Dashain holidays, was jet lagged, and just dying for a homely meal. And Nishant had developed an appetite for the Nepali flavor.
We all take up a long table and as we settle, Bikrant begins to discuss about the new flyer design. Subodh, the Band Manager, rolls out two posters, both intricately detailed, highlighting the band’s motif perfectly. But Bikrant frowns over both, seeing more room for improvement. He makes a mental note, rolls them up, puts them away, and asks us what we’d like.
We had met and interviewed Bikrant and Dr.Pandu before Dashain during the Oktoberfest over at Calm, Tangal, but both them and us had felt that there was something lacking. And when we did sit down with everyone after the shoot, we realized what that lacking was: the band is just not the band when it’s not the whole band.
`Now, that statement above is not just a play of words. It holds a great amount of meaning to the band, or should we say at this point, the family. See, Underside is not just a musical act or a group of performers, they are a
brotherhood. Having being dubbed as the biggest rock formation to come out of Nepal after Mt. Everest, almost everyone knows who Underside is in our present day context. Even if they don’t know the songs or the members, they know the name. And having that level of recognition is something that’s admirable, desirable, and above all, refreshing to us Nepalese.
I say refreshing because the way we consume music is very orthodox. It’s not common here in Kathmandu, but most people outside our valley listen to Lok Dohori, which is for a fact the majority of our population. And despite us having heavy Western influences, high school bands play no further than Killing in the Name of, bar bands tend to do crowd pleasers like Despacito, and other bands fizzle out after a couple of years of pub gigs. A name that does world tours is something that’s pleasantly foreign to our news feeds. And more often than none, that name is Underside. On the off chance that you’re not familiar to Underside, they’re a band that was formed back in 2010.
The synopsis of their story is separate things and fate just happened to bring them together, and thus, they all clicked with each other. Sure, two of the core members have gone off on their own personal pursuits and their shoes have been filled by the current new line up, but the thing that had bond them together from day one continues to live on. And when we asked them what that element is, they said that it’s their collective passion for music. A generic answer to a generic question, sure, but let’s not let the commonality trivialize the sentiments behind it for passion is what drives us humans to do what we love after all. And to a group of musicians, it is obvious that they harbor a passion for music. But the hard part is actually sticking to it.
“Guess we’re just at that point in our lives where it’s hard to function without music. It’s become a force that dictates and motivates us. And the realization of this monster that we’ve created, it just makes us work harder and smarter for the goal we all are running towards.”
And when we asked them what that goal is, they simply said that it’s to be big.
Here, I’d like to bring up a movie reference from Bohemian Rhapsody. The members of the sensational Queen are at that point where Freddie Mercury (asplayed by Rami Malek) is tired of going on tours and making albums back to back. He just wants to go on a break and do a solo project. Brian May (as played by Gwilym Lee) interjects him by saying that going on tours and making albums is what bands do.
And as blunt as it may be, that is pretty much what And bands really do. But the difference between the outfits that are well known and those that are just known around the neighborhood is on the choices they make. Now, in the general public eye, Underside is already big. Colossal even. But despite having a fixed dictionary meaning, words often betray them and hold a different meaning for different people. So what does ‘big’ really mean to Underside?
Does it mean having two albums that is globally acclaimed? Does it mean going on world tours and selling out each and every venue? Does it mean putting together the biggest metal concerts in the country, the Silence Festival? Does it mean announcing your merchandise today and following it up with another announcement the next week saying that only a few pieces remain? Or does it mean being voted to be better than giants like Wrust, Sepultura, and even Rammstein?
“We are still in our infancy right now. We won’t say that we’re big, but we also feel that there are better gigs to do, greater mosh pits to create, and bigger achievements to bag. However, that does not discount the things we’ve already done. All the fame and regard we have today is because of our supporters. All the venues we fill up abroad are all our own Nepalese fans that love us and have to come to see us.” And no doubt, we really do love Underside. However, that love and fondness has evolved to be a sort of a pressure for the band. And interestingly enough, part of the reason why they have sustained so long is due to that very pressure.
Much like how perfect couples seem to be never getting into fights but internally they want to stab each
other sometimes, Underside has its fair share of feuds. They have their own problems and differed opinions,
all they do end up in arguments. But at the end of the a musical force. And so they set aside their qualms and continuebeing that force.
“Whenever we put out something, it sets out a massive pandemonium. We are astonished by how viral they go. And that is a lot of pressure. All of that expectation from the people that love us needs to be met, and we can only do that by staying together. That’s how we have been able to keep pushing the glass ceiling of the industry.”
Now, if it were something like sports or real estate, we could blame corruption for the primitive state of our Nepalese music industry. But the culprit here is the band wagoning nature of producers and the publishers. Homogeneous and generic songs of love and lost, and the sexually provocative videos that complement them has cheapened the industry, making it hard for artists who don’t want to do that. Experimentation is not appreciated and anything apart from Lok is coldly welcomed. Sure, some songs have broken through this filter and have done well for themselves, but they are of the minority.
“We did try to do something for our industry. But we just realized that we need to be a bit selfish. We’ve just stopped giving a shit about the Nepalese music industry. But that does not mean that we’ve stopped caring about the Nepalese audience. Like we said, what we are and will be is all because of them. Without the Underside family, there’d be no Underside.”
And so when one does get to know the band more, they get to know that there are more people behind the band. There’s Subodh Dahal the Band Manager, Dipit Raz the Photographer, and Flower Power the much loved (and much missed) General Manager. Then, there are countless supporters who host them and organize gigs for them all over the globe.
All of them started out as fan, then became friends, and went on to break the barrier of a working relationship and hence become a part of the family. And to Underside, that sense of family is essential. This is exactly why Underside is more than just a band, they are an experience. Fueled and motivated by that same strong notion of kinship, they start their show with an explosive “Welcome to the Underside” because they are in fact inviting the audience to join them. They do this for they strongly believe that a show is not just a group of people playing in front of another group of people. It is a unity of likeminded people enjoying themselves. And that is what life is all about. To enjoy and to impart that joy onto others.
WORDS BY NIRVEEK PPJ SHAH | PHOTOS BY GAURAV XHOMPATE SUNUWAR | STUDIO COURTESY: FEATURE STUDIOS, KUPONDOLE | CONCERT PHOTOS BY DIPIT RAZ