The Harley Davidson Rock Concert
My relationship with music is a bit strange. Music is not my life, yet almost all my work is inspired by Led Zeppelin. Any music with texture and lyrics attracts me. Pink Floyd, Metallica, Megadeath, Judas Priest, Black Sabbath, Steely Dan, Bob Dylan, Neil Young are other favorites. Love songs, country music, hip hop are not for me.
I have attended a few musical gigs. Live Rock is a culture of exotic lights, thumping woofers,weed smoke, pumping arms, air guitaring, sweat, wet hair, goatees, pony tails, tattoos, sharp side burns,studs and big time head banging. Experience of the Mosh pit still eludes me. Shooting such an event has its own set of technical and aesthetic challenges. I have shot a few at the Hard Rock Cafe’ Delhi and enjoyed them immensely. On the 4th of December, I was invited to cover one such event for Harley Davidson India. It was their Rock Riders grand finale event at the Hamsadhwani open air theater of Pragati Maidan.
A lot of people need to thank Harley Davidson for giving them an opportunity to showcase their talent and ability. My personal thanks go to Sanjay Tripathi and his team, for being the most wonderful employers.
Sanjay and I go a long way back. Back till 1992. Both of us used to ride Yamaha Rx 100s then and about a year later switched to Yamaha RD 350s. There was a lot of difference in our bikes,his was a silver gray and mine was red but more importantly his bike was the smoothest 350 I’d ridden. Vibration free, it was a joy to pull her in second and third gear. Mine was as noisy as it could be. There was piston slap, big end vibration besides a loud exhaust note. Repeated ring and cylinder change didn’t make much of a difference. On top of that I tried every possible modification on that bike. Raising cylinder heights for altered port timings,piston porting, transfer porting and everything else possible ( including jetting) was attempted. While Sanjay just installed an Rx 135 CDI ignition, replacing the stock contact point system. To the best of my knowledge he was the first one to do that in Delhi. It became a veritable rocket ship! Just this performance modification was greater than the sum of all my efforts. I followed suite and reaped huge benefits. At 180 kph my bike’s speedometer needle would lose all control and swing like a distressed wiper blade . So there was no way of knowing whether I was going any faster. I couldn’t tell how fast Sanjay’s bike was, for soon we got out of touch. Busy with my life, I lost my bike to a judo champion of Haryana police and touch with my good friend.
When I did get in touch with him about 6 years ago, I was pleasantly surprised to know that he hadn’t abandoned his passion for bikes. He was working for Yamaha then. Well! he’s with Harley Davidson India now and is deeply involved in creating their brand image in India. During the process they are promoting a lot of talented artists in the country.
It was Sanjay’s team member Pallavi who confirmed my participation in the event as their official photographer. Though nothing legal as an agreement was exchanged between us, her calm and sweet voice over the phone was as safe as a house to trust. On my part I thought I would rather be over prepared than under. So I virtually carried everything I had to the venue. Another note of mention was the highly co-operative and helpful nature of the event organizers, The Rolling Stones magazine India. Both Rishu and Himanshu of Rolling Stones, though harried whilst dealing with uncooperative bureaucracy just said yes to my demands without flinching even once. Frankly I never had it so easy before.
My preparation for the event was influenced in part by the presence of my dear friend Gaurav Dwivedi, who had flown in from Mumbai to meet me just a day before. Gaurav is an actor and is experienced in facing lights, so he was entrusted to handle the off camera flash and the lugging of heavy elinchrome ranger battery pack and strobe. Later during the show, he took care of aiming the lone SB 900 towards the musicians while I moved around. Without Gaurav’s help, it wouldn’t have been so easy or effective. Thank you Gaurav, you are a true savior.I had another friend Sounak with me. Sounak is an architect and a very capable photographer. He was entrusted to shoot with freedom so we could enjoy his unique perspective.
So as part of my preparation, I was carrying three soft boxes. One for my elinchrome ranger, and two for my SB900. My camera was the D700 with a 24-70 f2.8 and my favorite 85mm f1.8. I had a total of 28 gb of memory in three CF cards. Plus there were a variety of light stands and a couple of umbrellas.
My plan was to put an SB 900 on a stand about four meters from the stage and approximately at an angle of 45 degrees from its center. The light was shot using a home made cardboard soft-box. The soft-box is strangely octagonal, pretty asymmetric and just slips on the head of the flash light without much fuss. With repeated use, it has become a little loose but fortunately did not fall off the flash. The flash was fired with an elinchrome skyport unit set in the high speed sync mode. It let me go right up-to 1/250th of a second in certain situations.
The plan worked well just that the angle of 45 degrees was reduced to around thirty, but was no big deal. The plan worked because the organizers were so co-operative.
We landed up early and were provided with a safe room to keep our equipment. Sound check for the bands was in progress. It was the first time I encountered their very technical and mysterious world. Wires ran like varicose veins from the back of the stage to its front . Big black boxes bristling with knobs and L.E.D s stood menacingly on the precious real estate.Two beautiful bikes parked on the stage lent some sense of grace to that madness. One was a big blue Ultra Classic Electra Glide and the other in black, a heritage soft-tail. Both epitome of luxury, power and style. Beyond the stage big piles of amplifiers controlled the myriad electric energy traversing those wires. Up away, well ensconced within the spectator stand was the brain, the medulla, where every wire ended. It was the control center of the whole show. Overwhelmed,I went about looking for cues and connections for a story.
I must congratulate the designer of the logo which you see behind. Its so cool. For long have I pondered over the association of skulls with rock music and ‘choppers’ ( including Harley Davidson Motorcycles).Even though I find the logo cool, I cannot fully understand the connection. Is it an expression of alter desire to embrace death in its beauty? I really don’t have a theory, though I’m looking for it. Or should I just let it be a mystery and enjoy the wonderful graphics as an unknown entity?
Rock music has often contradicted itself on the issue of violence and death. On the one hand is Ozzy singing ‘War pigs’ and ‘electric funeral’ , an expression against cold war and nuclear weapons. On the other his super cool ‘ Nativity in Black’ is enticing the innocent towards a dark side. There are enough examples to cite here, but it seams the coolest thing about rock music is its most controversial.
I love the analogies here. Black, rivets, guitar, wires, bike, denims. All the elements coming together to create an atmosphere which is sharp, expressive and stylish.
Harley Davidsons pride themselves on their peculiar exhaust notes ( that’s why they are called choppers. The note resembling the cutting sound of a helicopter’s blades). The guitarist is Anup Kutty of Menwhopause. He is tuning his guitar.
Then I met the lead singer of Indigo’s Children. A soft spoken man in his early twenties ( my guess). So soft spoken that after asking him his name twice, I couldn’t get it. I thought it would be rude to ask the third time so I pretended to understand.When I shook his hand, it was so frail that I thought I might crush his bones. It is amazing that such a tender man is expressing himself with rock music. In his voice check, he sang his own numbers and one cover. It was Black Sabbath’s ‘sweet-leaf’.
That’s him. I wonder how his frail fingers had plucked on the strings of the guitar. But he sang well and with passion and his band’s rendering of ‘sweat leaf’ was not bad. But a poor section of the crowd and a particularly persistent and irritating person got after the group like a pustule and booed them. It was sad. How can someone expect the best all the time? However these young musicians faced hostility bravely and calmly . I wish them all the best. To my great delight the master-of-ceremony, Jose’ came up with the most beautiful repartees to taunts and boos from the crowd.His presence of mind was impressive.
This is Jose’ wondering whether anyone who is a human being wasn’t a child once. It is in response to those who were shouting ” Rock music is not for children”.
Jose’ is an imposing figure. The coolest thing about his personality beside his quick wit and his hat was a belt that he was wearing. It had a diamante’ studded pistol for a buckle. Its barely visible in this photograph. I had switched off the flash here for his silhouette. The previous picture was lit with the flash.
Then was the turn of Menwhopause. I found their music very Sufi inspired. It has a smooth backdrop with sudden foudroyantic inspiration to move at greater speed. There was a real attempt to narrate with varied emotions. I liked the way Sarabjit, the lead vocalist would slip into a trance, go away to the back of the stage while the rest of the band upped the tempo and ascend into an animated rapture. This is one of my favorite moment of the whole event. The bassist going into the ‘zone’. I don’t remember the song, but it was beautiful. I enjoyed experiencing it.
And this is Sarabjit in his trance.
” All the freedom that you need”
“Is inside, is inside”
What is he smoking? I oftentimes wonder whether smoking represents a culture. Cigars are smoked and chomped by rich businessmen and big boys. Non filtered cigarettes by intellectuals, Gold Flake by those who prefer the hard life and Marlboros by the stylish. Since I don’t smoke, I don’t know much more than my passing observations. It could simply be a matter of taste.
I felt, beside the Sufi influence there was a bit of Led Zep infused in their rendition. Just the way things quietened briefly and then broke into a crescendo.
“Born again my little one”
“You’re squealing but I got a song for you”
That’s Anup of Menwhopause. I was particularly pleased with this image because my single SB 900, was able to light him from at least 6m, in the face of bright white lights shining from the background. Profits of doing photography in full manual mode. The flash was set to fire at half of its full power. I managed its exposure by working on the aperture. The ambient light was exposed by working the shutter. Sometimes I got it wrong, but mostly things went well for me.
Later we were taken through a roller coaster ride into a state which would be best described as mob orgasm.The culprits were Split, fabulous metal heads from Mumbai. But first a bit of going back to the build up.
I’ve included this image here just to change the tempo.I thought the row of lights reflecting on the curved surface of the Harley Davidson helmet looked like a roller coaster . How apt to describe our experience that evening.
I wish my writing achieve the eidetic perfection of A.S.Byatt. But then what is photography for? This out of focus image will give you a cue to our experience that evening.
After a very polished performance of Menwhopause, these guys descended on the stage like panthers. Garreth, the lead vocalist queried demotically, maybe sarcastically, to the Delhi crowd, ” Don’t you say Motherchod ( motherfucker), behenchod( sisterfucker) anymore?”. The crowd responded by echoing the two words promptly. Thereafter some serious headbanging began.
One of the briefs of my photographic assignment was to capture the mood of the crowd. Due to the nature of the music, the mood was not really elevated enough for a dramatic capture. Split changed it all.
Can you see the octagonal contraption on the right side of the frame? That is my flashlight. It didn’t fire this time as it had run out of battery. At half power it ate up four set of rechargeable cells.
This is just the beginning. We were all in for a treat later.
This is trance.This is meditation.This is true communion with God. And when your work or passion leads you to such a state, you are truly blessed. If you feel this is showmanship, you are unfortunate. This is Garreth, their lead vocalist. I was told that he is a music teacher.He must be difficult to comprehend for this cannot be taught. Either you have it or you don’t.
” I don’t need the bullshit that they sell.”
” I got my own heaven, I got my own hell”
This is Aviv, the mercurial and highly talented guitarist of the band. He set the stage on fire. Have a look.
Their music is like a powerful waterfall, rushing to meet its destiny. Raw, energetic but well within the confines of logic and composition. The lyrics are rebellious ( most rock music is ) and personal. They also did not lose the opportunity to say a few things about the Common Wealth Games, corruption and Suresh Kalmadi.
The crowd is singing with Garreth.
” In the name of the Father, in the name of the Son.”
” I’ll strike you down with my Holy Ghost machine gun”
Very powerful, very communicative. While Sarabjit was internal, spiritual, Garreth had virtually moved outside his body to take us along in his music. He demanded our participation and robbed us of our inhibitions.
There were quite a few photographers there. Young and old and most of them were dancing rather than shooting. I was shaking a leg as well! That’s why I don’t have a picture to corroborate.
I’ll let the photographs describe the mood.
These pictures have been spiced up using selective color balance to create a cross processed look. The bright light against which the picture is taken is the SB900 through the soft box. Pretty neat for a small light.
Face off! The event had many moments which were poignant.
I was happy to notice a Bruce Lee fan. The pile of helmets belong to GODS ( Group Of Delhi Super bikers ). Surely the parking lot was a highly exotic place to be in.
That’s how a human being expresses himself when he’s happy and has nothing to say. So he screams, shouts and gesticulates as the most intelligent primate on earth.
And this is when joy is a result of an expression. It has a language, a vocabulary, a grammar and a purpose.
Indus Creed was the group this crowd was waiting for. I’ve seen the award winning video of their number ‘ Pretty Child’, but beyond that, it was my first experience of their music and popularity. Fellow photographers and many in the crowd were singing along. Their personality and demeanor on the stage was mature, understated and sophisticated.
“Till we’re on top of the rock and we know just how to live it up”
The lead vocalist Uday Benegal, had a way with the crowd. His gestures were angular and his body language solid. His attire, his persona his attitude was a picture of confidence. Much like how Dhoni comes on the stage to bat. After the experience of raging wildfire with Split, it was time to hear thunderclouds and rainfall.
Indus creed is experienced and self assured. But Uday is a mystery man.
” Welcome to the slaughter brothers, right until we die”
His relationship with his music, his fellow musicians and the crowd was unique. It wasn’t controlled or contrived, yet looked polished and not so abandoned as the previous performance by Split.
” Stranded in a land where it never rains ”
“And the bottle feels like the Holy Grail”
There was color and chemistry between the musicians and it seemed that their music held them together for a larger purpose.
” You people don’t need a God, you need a laxative,
to reach your salvation.”
It was great to observe Uday interact with his music. I got some intense moments to capture.
“Pretty child they’re cheering away
as you ride through your kingdom of sand
you’re a hero today
you’re a magical mystery man.”
You know, this is truly living life, but for a rock musician, life is pretty tough in India. There are very few who understand the language and those who do constantly compare our musicians with those of the west. It must be far easier to be gay than go down this path. Long struggle to make ends meet. For their self belief and sheer bullheadedness, I salute them.
And for their efforts they do get accolades, especially from those who believe in a certain quality of sound and a certain quality of life. Harley Davidson is pretty consanguineous with that state of existence.
Indus Creed’s fan following surprised me. They were the real crowd pullers and whatever they sang, the crowd responded to positively. It was even more commendable as Split had left the crowd stunned a little while ago,but it seems their loyalty had not wavered.
Uday meanwhile continued to shine brightly on the stage.
These guys steered clear of entanglements and accidental disconnections of the wired stage miraculously. Comes with experience I guess. In my observation, Indus creed had very well defined spaces assigned to their musicians. Much like a football team. Only Uday moved about to cover the stage , the rest more or less stayed very much in their respective areas. It could be co incidental, but one thing was apparent, the presentation of their performance had very little drama. The light was restrained in both color and movement. The volume not as high as Split.
This is Mahesh of Indus Creed. I took this picture around 3.00pm. This was the time when these guys were doing their sound check. The picture was shot using the elinchrome ranger. It wasn’t at full power, but at around 600w/s, it had enough juice to overcome daylight. I shot it at f11. Mahesh looks super cool in his dark glasses. I liked his sartorial sense. The black shirt with vertical stripes and blue denims went very well together.
The show got extended twice. People wouldn’t let Indus Creed go. There was this one woman who kept saying “Uday we loooooooooove yooooooou”. She was in the V.I.P section so Uday could hear her clearly. He smiled more than once in response.
I had run out of all my memory when Sanjay’s team member Milind requested me for a group photograph. It was also the time when I was speaking to Aviv of Split. Aviv told me that they have struggled a lot to reach here, and I wanted to tell him to forget the struggle for they are going to be stars very soon.
This is Sanjay. I took this picture with an SB900, on camera right, gelled with a 1/4 CTO and attached to a soft box. I dragged the shutter considerably to include the pink of setting sun. As a bonus I got a generous dose of green, courtesy fluorescent lights on the street below.
This is Sanjay’s team.( From left) Kunal, Pallavi, Sanjay, Milind and Kanika. Sanjay is very proud of his team members. In many of our private conversations he has called them ‘ absolute gems.’ There was a peculiar problem in dealing with this photograph. The yellow spotlight on Sanjay and Pallavi blew out all detail it lit. No amount of local adjustment would help. Must be a peculiar wavelength to which the camera sensor is particularly sensitive to.
Wrapping up all the equipment and getting over the evening wasn’t so easy. Every molecule of our body was in a state of vibration. By ‘our’ I’m referring to Gaurav,Sounak and I. Each of us had something unique and interesting to share , and each was more eager to speak than listen. Gaurav being the most enterprising amongst us had made friends with the band members. He had anecdotes of happenings in the green room. Sounak meanwhile shared his experiences with the crowd and his unique technique of photography while I was blabbering away incoherently about so many things.
Then this man came across in the darkness and asked whether we needed any Pepsi. I replied without thinking ,” What are we going to do with Pepsi when our rum was over?” .
“I have beer”
” Which one?”
” I have cans”
They were virtually chilled cans of Kingfisher beer.
” How much?”
” Fifty each. Believe me, I swear, I am making only ten bucks a piece.”
” Give me three”.
” Believe me, I’m making only ten bucks a piece.”
We were so excited to get this beer at 11 pm and at the parking lot that Sounak gave him ten rupees more.
Later we saw the list price printed on the bottom of the can . It was fifty five rupees.
Such was our day. Full of good fortune…