Suits are a real pain in the ass. They’re uncomfortable by design; they cost a bomb; and if the fitting isn’t just right, they make you look — depending on shape — like a scarecrow or an overgrown simian. Parekh & Singh, a poppy little duo from Kolkata starring singer/multi-instrumentalist Nischay Parekh and savant percussionist Jivraj Singh, wears only suits, usually of the extra-saturation-and-glare variety. They sleep in suits too from what I hear.
The two shot to (indie) fame last year in October, after a video for their song ‘I Love You Baby, I Love You Doll’ released. Drawing heavily from filmmaker Wes Anderson’s visual vocabulary — of kooky, exaggerated realism, fantastical set design, obsessive symmetry, and shimmering hues — the video caught the fancy of the urban youth for its schmoozy aesthetic; it has close to a million views at the time of writing. The protagonists of the video, Parekh and Singh, are dressed in tailored sea-blue and jazzy yellow suits, being appropriately weird.
The love-song vibe and the accessibility/sing-alongability of the major-key vocal melodies worked well with the bright-sunshine arrangement of the video. It led to these guys becoming overnight stars, three years in the making (Ocean, the album the song belongs to, was originally released in 2013 as a solo release by Parekh with Singh as a collaborator, and was received well; a record deal led to them re-releasing the album under the repackaged band identity last year). They got heavy media attention, both in the mainstream (The Guardian, for instance) and in all those well-intentioned indie blogs no one actually reads. (A similarly styled video of another song, ‘Ghost’, appeared a couple of months ago; the same director, Misha Ghose, dresses them up in magenta suits this time.)
Drawing heavily from filmmaker Wes Anderson’s visual vocabulary — of exaggerated realism, obsessive symmetry, and shimmering hues — the video caught the fancy of the urban youth for its schmoozy aesthetic.
They went on a tour of Great Britain, where the ‘brown guys not playing curry sitars and Shah-Rukh-Khan-drums’ worked in their favour (as did their music, to be fair), and they’ve been gigging in India actively. Next, they’re slated to play in Delhi, at the Electric Room, which has been receiving both praise and heavy criticism of late. True to form, there’s a minor storm around this gig too, as they won’t be letting in anyone under the age of 25 — Parekh, 24, will be the notable exception.
Parekh & Singh’s music has an upfront earnestness that makes it easy to absorb. The sound, ‘dream pop’ if you will, is centred around simple, smart melodies and a deference to the song. Both members possess plenty of ‘chops’, but they tend to hold back in service of songwriting. It often threatens to tread extra-cheese zones — Parekh’s retro insistence on enunciation seeming to be a sincere response to the ironic mumblings of plenty of modern singers — yet mostly stopping just short thanks to the pleasant hooks. But what is most interesting here is the suits. The whimsy. The videos. The colours. The visual gymnastics. The oddness. The Aesthetic.
There’s a fine line between aesthetic and gimmick. Things get even more complicated when you bring in the marketing angle. Does Raghu Dixit wear costumes to assist the music, or does he do it for eyeballs? Or because it sells? Not being a fan, I think it’s a mix of the latter two. Look at Kolkata’s Ganesh Talkies, a band that dresses in kitschy, glitter-heavy attire, which seems to be in perfect sync with the kind of music they play — a steroid-heavy concoction of ’80s Bollywood motifs, modern pop and rock ‘n’ roll. The Ska Vengers are another example, with their insistence on wearing three-piece suits and bowler hats (or whatever). Nirvana, even at their peak, dressed like a bunch of guys who couldn’t afford tomorrow’s lunch. Would Kiss be Kiss without Gene Simmons’ tongue? And then there’s the fab four, also known as the Oneders — of That Thing You Do! fame — whose classic suits and boyish katora-cut hair inspired a host of impersonators, including the Beatles.
The music itself is ideally front-and-centre, but the frills around it — the album art, the visuals, the live performance, the interviews, an interpretation of the artists’ personality — allow us to relate to the people making the music; this, in some small way, helps a listener feel less alone. It lets us feel that someone else gets it too, and they’re using that private information to make art for us. Like, would I want to get a beer with them? The intimacy is amplified with the smallest things — in this case, that the artists remind me of a filmmaker I love. I’m automatically more inclined to pay attention to the songs a little more.
It’s an abstract thing, this whole aesthetic business. If I like a band, I’ll call it an aesthetic; if I don’t, I’ll call it a gimmick. If I really hate said band, I’ll call it ‘marketing and promotions’. Regardless though, it’s great if it’s making people curious enough to show up. Of course, it’s just as likely to attract a crowd just there to scope the scene, the Johnny-come-latelies, the friends-of-friends-of-friends, the Instagram phonies. But that’s how it starts, doesn’t it? In the internet age, of stunted attention spans, it takes on a greater degree of importance. In these times, where just getting an audience to sit through a song without switching over to Sarahah is a task, that’s a win.
This story was contributed by Akhil Sood, an arts and culture writer living in New Delhi.
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