PHILOSO­PHERS OF POP

India Today - - INSIDE - —Palash Kr­ishna Mehro­tra

A MADBOY/MINK song is a car driv­ing at a hun­dred and ten. It drives off a cliff, but in­stead of panic, you feel a sense of joy. The car plunges forty feet into theo­cean. It sinks to the floor. You gaze at the ma­rine life. The car comes up for breath, turns into a boat and gets you to shore, where it turns into a chop­per that takes you into the sky and gives you a bird’s eye view of the ter­rain—bleak as a desert, lush like a coastal vil­lage.

Madboy/Mink—with a new al­bum slated for re­lease next month—is Saba Azad and Imaad Shah: lovers, mu­si­cians, ur­ban bards. In five years, they have es­tab­lished them­selves as a force to reckon with on the in­die scene. Not just that, Madboy/ Mink has de­fined cool for, and be­come the voice of, a gen­er­a­tion un­der 30.

Imaad starred in the cult col­lege film Dil Dosti Etc, Saba in the YRF web se­ries Ladies Room that blew the lid off In­dian con­ser­vatism. Last year, Imaad di­rected and Saba acted in the mu­si­cal Three­penny Opera, which opened to rave re­views.

Right from the be­gin­ning, M/M chose to work with a pop aes­thetic that com­bines swing, disco, soul and funk, with the oc­ca­sional pound­ing co­bra­head guitar riff. Each sen­su­ous song is care­fully con­structed, dance­able yet con­ceal­ing bit­ing lyrics within its folds. Each song is a small cake with fine­crushed glass for ic­ing. When they play live, they own the club. Their trade­mark vo­cal har­mon­is­ing is un­fail­ingly se­duc­tive.

The M/M sound marks the evo­lu­tion of an im­por­tant strand of In­dian moder­nity. “I draw on the tra­di­tion of In­dian disco a lot,” says Imaad and cites Asha Puthli as a ma­jor in­flu­ence. Puthli’s jour­ney be­gan when John Ham­mond of Columbia Records read her pro­file by Ved Me­hta in the New Yorker.

The sun­ni­ness of M/M’s mu­sic has al­ways cloaked the ra­zor­sharp naked­ness of the lyrics. The be­gin­nings—‘All Ball’ (2014)—though were speck­less: “So lis­ten up all you pet house cats,/ Mar­jorie, Ste­wart and Cum­ber­bach -/You be warned and be warned good/ Them the cats are in your hood!” ‘Taste Your Kiss’ has the line: “Ni­cholas Ray show us the way/ Girls and boys come out to play”, a ref­er­ence to Rebel With­out a Cause, the film about the con­fu­sions of sub­ur­ban teenagers.

On their sec­ond EP, ‘Union Farm’ (2015), M/M is talk­ing pol­i­tics in Saba’s ver­sa­tile voice: “Rus­sia’s in the base­ment/ China’s eat­ing ham/ The queen is bomb­ing the world with Un­cle Sam/ Dig­ging for oil while they’re play­ing ping pong/ Clay ain’t got no quar­rel with them good ol’ Viet Kong.” (‘Fire in the Street’) There are un­abashed ref­er­ences to the drugs in club cul­ture: “I don’t know where ev­ery­one goes/ They’re sit­ting in the cor­ner/ Putting pow­ders up their nose/ I don’t care how you slice the pie/ Just leave me on the floor to die.” ‘Sharaabi’ is in Hindi. Saba says, “In the song, an in­no­cent drunk turns around and asks the world that’s judg­ing her, are you any bet­ter?”: “Tumhara kaam kya hai? /Adha-pauna, chandi-sona? Ladna, karna, darna, sadna/ Yaaaaaaaa mur­der.../ Banta hai tu bada nawaabi!/ You are the orig­i­nal sharaabi.” ‘Mousy Girl’ is about a mys­te­ri­ous Left­lean­ing girl in a beret, far from a shrink­ing violet: “Her cup of cof­fee’s big­ger than your amuse­ment parks/ She’s gonna sit in the cor­ner/ And keep read­ing Marx.” Which brings us to the new EP, out this year: Per­sons Elas­tic Su­pe­rior Fan­tas­tic. The swing el­e­ment is gone. It’s a slowed down dreamy­ad­dled­slick­disco sound marked by a nag­ging Philip Glasslike tex­tur­is­ing. Saba tells me about the mo­ment the idea for the song ‘Min­i­mum’ came to her: “It was when the world tilted to­wards the Right. When Trump was elected pres­i­dent and the me­dia’s in­ter­est in what Me­la­nia was wear­ing, if she was the next Jackie.”

Saba sings about the red her­ring of ide­ol­ogy in a coun­try with high un­em­ploy­ment— In­dia, and the hypocrisy of the fash­ion in­dus­try that re­lies on sweat shops: “We got no jobs/ We got no money/ We got no bat­ter­ies that work/ Fas­cist in the fash­ion age/ Aren’t we beau­ti­ful/ Liv­ing on min­i­mum wage/ In the time of mein Führer.” ‘Plas­tic Elas­tic’ marks a col­lab­o­ra­tion be­tween M/M and their friend, Karan Joseph, a pian­ist who fell to his death from a Mum­bai high­rise. ‘Laika’ re­flects on the cru­elty of send­ing a dog up into space. “Laika you cos­mic dog/ Thank you for paving the way for us in space.”

M/M has toured re­lent­lessly, tak­ing their mu­sic to venues in Europe and to places be­yond the big ci­ties—Kan­pur, Silchar, Bhopal and Su­rat. Shah says, “No mat­ter where you go, peo­ple re­spond to the mu­sic in the same way, be it Prague or In­dore.”

The sun­ni­ness of M/M’s mu­sic cloaks the ra­zor-sharp naked­ness of the lyrics

MANDAR DEODHAR

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