The image is a familiar one. A musician sits alone on a darkened stage, a guitar and microphone as their lone companions. Bathed in the soft orange glow of a spotlight, they strum a single, resounding note. The echo reverberates through the room, sending chills down the spines of the expectant spectators. This was the vision that birthed The Barstool Project, Rolling Stone India’s latest event series.
With an aim to celebrate musicians, listeners, and their mutual appreciation of the artform, The Barstool Project is a live-gig series that commemorates music in its purest form. The artistes performing will present their sound in a never-before-heard manner, with raw, intimate versions of their sets, which will give them the chance to connect with their audience, and vice-versa.
On the bill for the first edition of The Barstool Project will be Arunachal-bred singer-songwriter, Taba Chake, indie-folk outfit, Ink of Bard, Mumbai rockers, Daira and hip-hop artist, Shah Rule. Each artiste will perform a 40-minute set, tailored for a relaxed, stripped-down performance.
Known for his unique style of fingering strings, singer-songwriter Taba Chake hails from a small town called Doimukh in Arunachal Pradesh. His musical style is heavily influenced by tribal folklore and elements of the natural world. Taba has been widely recognized for his songwriting, percussive performance and distinctive vocals, singing in the Hindi, English and Nyishi languages.
Ink of Bard is a three-piece band with a sound that draws from the realms of both blues and folk music. Vagabonds in their own right, Ink of Bard prides themselves on their ability to tell a story through their melodic harmonies and soulful lyrics.
Five-piece progressive alt-rockers, Daira, hail from the suburbs of Mumbai. Known for their high-energy, art-rock style and powerful vocals, Daira fuses a heavy contemporary sound with their own brand of desi humour, choosing to express themselves in a lyrical format comprising of both Hindi and Urdu.
Rapper and music producer Shah Rule derived his moniker from a combination of the names of actor Shah Rukh Khan and musician Ja Rule. True to his name, the multicultural rap-icon of Gully Gang fame was born in Hong Kong, educated in London and currently lives in Mumbai. Inspired by a plethora of hip-hop legends, Shah Rule’s sound blurs the lines between pop, hip-hop and RnB.
The Barstool Project is the brainchild of Rolling Stone India Brand Executive, Shariekh Farooqui, a man with a vision for the local music scene and a passion for the art that is born of it. It was this feeling of appreciation and pride that propelled Farooqui to pursue this unique form of storytelling for the first edition of the event series. We had the opportunity to speak with Shariekh in the days leading up to the debut of his project, here’s all he had to say about his unique vision.
Tell us a little bit about The Barstool Project. What inspired you to create this concept?
I’ve always been a music enthusiast, and watching the local scene flourish has been something of a passion of mine. I want to help artistes connect with their audiences. People today tend to limit artistes to just one genre, putting them in a box that is hard to escape from, but these artistes are capable of doing much more than they are credited with. A good example of this is Above & Beyond, who are labelled as trance artistes. They managed to break out of that mould by releasing an acoustic album and even performed live with a complete orchestra setup. They played with sounds by using household objects like broomsticks. I have always been really fascinated by the way artistes are able to manipulate sound to suit their style.
This is what inspired The Barstool Project- a platform for musicians to explore and play with their music, moving away from their defined sound and experiment with something new, something different, and showcase a different side of themselves. A lot of people in the industry are doing this too, but I think it’s important for the focus to be on the artiste. This city is littered with shows and gigs where people can dance and enjoy the music, but that demographic is skewed when it comes to large-scale, live, intimate shows, where the audience sits down before the stage and really listens to the performance, focusing their attention on the artiste and the instruments they are playing on.
The event bill boasts quite an eclectic mix of artists, could you tell us a little about them, and why you picked these voices for the debut edition of the Barstool Project?
Genres in the world today are fluid. Artistes play around with different genres and styles, making them harder to categorise. I’m not the biggest fan of the word ‘genre’, which in my opinion, limits artistes to certain categories. This is why an event like The Barstool Project has always been a source of fascination to me. Having on a band like Daira, with their powerful, heavy rock sound- coming on board to showcase a stripped-down version of their usual stuff, with more of a jazz influence, full of softer elements- it’s something new, something that they have created specifically for the style of the project.
Hip-hop has always melded with a lot of different genres, but the style of hip-hop that is most heard today is limited to DJs and the like. The origins of hip-hop lie with jazz- which is not something many people know about. I wanted to highlight this facet of the genre with Shah Rule, and show people that hip-hop and rap can be performed in a multitude of different ways.
Ink of Bard has a very unique sound. A three-person melodic harmony accompanied by a two-piece guitar- it’s a really interesting concept in itself. I’m excited to hear the way they layer the two instruments, and how their sound complements the vocal harmonies. They’re an Indie-Folk band that deserves attention for the things that they do, and I really wanted to support them. They are also coming out with a new EP, which I am really excited about.
Taba is a legend. He sings, he plays the guitar and plays around with percussive sound all on the same instrument. Doing just one of those things is hard, and the man is doing all three together in a live setting. He is definitely going to be one of the biggest folk-pop-stars to come out of this country.
Music is best heard live. When an artiste is playing live, it is not a perfect replication of their recorded sound- which adds a whole other level to the music. This is why live sound is so important, it is always different from one show to the next, and may never be heard or performed in the same way again. There were a lot of bands and artistes I wanted to have on board, but I found myself limited by time and other constraints. I believe a lot of local artistes deserve a platform like this one, and I intend to feature them all in the upcoming editions of The Barstool Project, so keep an eye out for the next one!
There has been a lull in the local music scene when it comes to innovation in gigs and music events, why do you think this is?
I think organisers have found comfort in the formula that sells, and I don’t blame them, why fix what isn’t broken? There’s always room for events of this style, which are important in their own right, but as human beings, I think we tend to grow tired of the same thing over and over again. There are many elements of the local music scene that people don’t focus on, and should! There are areas that haven’t been touched, styles that haven’t been explored. That’s what this event is about, letting an artiste connect with an audience in a way that shows who they are, what they do and how they go about doing it.
Firstly, the Indian audience needs to go for more paid gigs, as J Cole said in his song 1985, this is how artistes make their money. For local up-and-coming artistes, getting paid through royalties isn’t an option yet. When artistes don’t get a chance to perform, they have to abandon their passions, steer away from their art in exchange for jobs that pay enough for them to put food on the table. Most programmers tend to program artistes that have already made it, in order to get people to come to their shows- they need to put food on their tables too. The problem with this though is that famous artistes keep getting more famous, and the divide between successful artistes and the ones that are just coming up keeps growing larger. The music industry replicates life in this manner, and breaking into the major leagues gets tougher and tougher every day. Umang Mehta wrote a song called Opportunity Cost/Arranged Marriage Blues, which is all about being a musician and what the cost of following your passions is. To answer your question, the only tangible way to support your artistes is to go to their gigs, buy their merch and support their projects- a lot of artistes have turned to crowdfunding their projects like Sandunes did. If you want your artistes to keep making art, you have to support them and give them avenues to explore their creativity.
The first edition of The Barstool Project will take place on the 26th of September, at Mumbai venue Lilt at 7 pm. Register here!
All the images in this article are courtesy of Sanjana Suvarna.