We’ve suffered, we’ve fought, we’ve lost many along way, be it known or unknown to us. All of us who have survived this almost-apocalypse are floating in gratefulness and partial disbelief that we are back to doing what we do and know best – touring! And boy has it hit me hard! Let me give you a glimpse of how the #tourlife treated me getting back on the road the last 2 months as a touring sound engineer.
It all started back in mid-October, travelling with my fellow Manchester United bro-in-arms and lady-killing heart-throbbing singer-songwriter Anuv Jain, who kicked off his 10-city tour – ‘Dastakein’ on a dry and warm day in the pink city (don’t know why they call it that, it’s all brown) of Jaipur. Already knowing what to expect, since I’ve worked with Anuv before, his fan following is a whole other level of dedicated, and a sold out first show with fans screaming each and every word of each and every song just felt freshly euphoric, even though it’s like a been-there-done-that scenario.
That moment had been buffering slowly for at least 18 months! You know the mix is accurate when you see members of the audience in tears or hugging each other intimately. Or maybe that’s just the effect Anuv has on his fans, or both! We were surrounded by bouncers on exiting the venue from the service exit, as covertly as possible. From there on, it was 2 or 3 gigs of the tour every weekend. Two of the most notable shows of the tour for me were the Bangalore show which was a beautiful setting in front of at least 1000 people at the UB City Amphitheatre and the last show of the tour I did in Pune at One Lounge. That Represent AAA lanyard is a memento I’m going to treasure forever.
Anuv Jain’s Dastakein tour AAA lanyard
Just the day before the aforementioned last gig I did with Anuv Jain on November 12, I was at Hyderabad on November 11 for a club gig with the twinning sisters Sukriti Kakar and Prakriti Kakar, and was reminded of the harsh reality that not every soundcheck is meant to go smoothly. This is part and parcel of the job. There’s going to be that one day where things are just not going to go your way, no matter how correctly you have done your work. Probably my longest soundcheck in forever, a 7-hour ordeal, most of which just involved me troubleshooting and gradually losing my patience towards the end of it.
Their drummer Joshua Vaz was my partner-in-frustration right from the start, since he diligently came in to ensure that he gets his setup done without wasting a single second of our allotted soundcheck time. But, I honestly feel like the urgency of people from Bombay doesn’t translate properly when we are working in other states. But, all is well that ends well! The Kakar twins were extremely happy with their in-ear monitor mix and post-show told me that they didn’t feel like it was my first gig with them. And it shall not be the last!
Mixing Sukriti and Prakriti Kakar at Prism, Hyderabad
Moving on to the 13th of November, my first of 3 back-to-back shows mixing Sachet-Parampara (SP), the talented music director duo and couple, who’ve called me towards the start of November and booked me for at least 22 shows stretching from November through January, on a single phone call. The first run of shows being in Ahmedabad, then Kolkata on the fourteenth, and a (so-called) “farm” in Chattarpur, Delhi on the fifteenth. For all the weddings I’ve missed and slyly escaped, I got my just rewards. Yet, of course, not all were weddings. Some of them also have experienced uncles and aunties celebrating their anniversaries and renewing vows and what not.
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I’m going to sound a little self-indulgent here and say that if you have been following my posts on Instagram, I’ve been loathing “event managers” and “event organisers” , if that’s even what they call themselves! Of the multitude of gigs I have done this season, I would give a couple of event companies the benefit of the doubt for being only half to one hour late in their overall functioning of things. The others that are clouded with just doubt are the ones that come and rush me to wrap up soundcheck in less than half the time that’s mentioned on my rider.
In fact, the second gig I did with SP (14th Nov., ’21) was a miserable clusterfuck! The band had initially planned to travel the previous night because it was supposed to be morning show. But, the prior gig in Ahmedabad made that impossible. So, with no time to freshen up, we planned that we’d head straight from the airport to the stage for soundcheck. By this time, both SP’s artist managers have been up to the neck with calls from the client saying that the setup is ready and we should start right now. As per the timeline communicated to us by the “event manager”, we barely had about 20-25mins of our soundcheck time remaining.
BUT WAIT A MINUTE! The venue was in tatters. The stage had just been handed over to the sound vendor, who just started setting up our equipment and at the same time had to setup and commence with the orchestra-type wedding band who was playing before us. But, you ask, why then is the client barking at our managers? The “event manager” kept telling the clueless client that the venue is ready, and the artist is running late.
This level of diplomacy needs to be applied in our regional relationships in this South Asian continent (if you know what I mean). And the same guy has the audacity to tell me that I have 5 minutes to conduct my soundcheck and then we HAVE to start. Which is when I lost it! I had to call out his stupidity and inefficiency, and ask him which logic-less planet he was from! Eventually line check took me just 12 minutes (inclusive of troubleshooting), and we started the show on the go! It was really exciting, but nail-bitingly tense for the moments before the show started. All the stress was worth it when after the show Sachet came and asked me, “How did you do pull that off?!”
The plug-and-play Sachet-Parampara show in Kolkata
I finally got to visit Goa somewhere in the middle, for a gig with another smashing singer – Dev Negi, on November 19, just 2 days before my birthday. So I adjusted my return ticket to Mumbai on the twenty-fourth, giving me a 4-day break from anything and everything to do with anything and everything. From there, out and out, my next run of gigs was a 5-day 5-gig stretch with SP. This time, for the first gig in Taj Falaknuma Palace Hotel’s lawns in Hyderabad, shoddy event management was served with a wee bit of classism as seasoning. Do all the Taj managerial staff at the palatial hotels get trained in elitist classism? This is a genuine question. I experienced the same sort of attitude recently at the Umaid Bhavan Palace Hotel in Jodhpur as well. It seems as if during the lockdown the bigots have become bigger bigots.
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The Umaid Bhavan Palace gig in Jodhpur was the last of a consecutive 9-gig run from December 4-13, with a 1-day travel break on the 8th for a long road journey from Lucknow airport to Khajuraho for a gig there on the 9th, followed by an immediate dash back to Lucknow airport overnight with the help of some miraculous drivers for a 9am flight to Kolkata. This is the first time I have ever done 9 gigs back-to-back, and IT IS NOT EASY. I finally understand the plight of Incubus’ technicians who hobbled on stage at VH1 Supersonic for a late night setup, them having done a 23-hour flight from wherever to Mumbai and then a road trip to Pune. Gig after gig after gig after gig x 9!
The view from the console area in Jodhpur using my favourite console – Avid S6L 24D
There are times when everything is sorted as per specification by some amazing technicians and engineers who work with sound vendors like SNL Professional (Mumbai), Friends of Shiva (Kolkata), Durgesh Sound (Indore) and more, where I don’t have to troubleshoot and waste my time doing the sound team’s job, so I can focus on making my artist sound great. And there are times when everything that can go wrong will go wrong on the same goddamned day!
Yes, it was tiresome and stressful, but the truth is, it completely compensates and relieves the mind after a horrible one-and-a-half year of literal silence and the depression of losing one’s career, which was so hard to build. A couple of times I found myself lost on consoles that I have used at least 200 times before. One can only be grateful that gigs are back with a bang, and I hope they don’t stop anytime soon. Meanwhile, I still have to figure out a work life + #tourlife balance! Working on that right now. See you at soundcheck!
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