Cover Picture by Nidhi Lodaya
QLA, 2019. A crowd of familiar faces – a mixture of NCR’s liberal arts college contingent and prominent faces from DU’s art circles. The usual conversation seems to be abuzz in the air: “Bhai, magical performers, I’m watching for the third time”, “Matlab they really speak truth to power yaar”, “I’m just here for the vibes bro”. Everyone hurries to get their overpriced choice of sponsored Bira bottles before the act arrives. The curtains unfurl, revealing a lit up Qutub Minar and, more importantly, five men dressed head to toe in white. At their centre, the oxymoronically unassuming and eye catching Suryakant Sawhney.
‘Lifafa’, as his personal electronic project and wackily cryptic personal Instagram is titled, is an enigma. Just one cursory glance at the Peter Cat Recording Co frontman and you can see that he embodies a caricatured image of an independent artist – lanky, unkempt, and seemingly always with a glass of alcohol in hand and nicotine device in mouth. Two years ago, both of the projects Suryakant was in – Bismillah and Jaago – were widely acclaimed as the pinnacle of the independent scene by critics and audiences alike. Since then, fans have been desperate to catch even a snippet of the provocatively titled “Superpower 2020”.
Personally, Lifafa’s music occupies a very special place in my life. More than just being the soundtrack to my years in college, he made me fall back in love with electronic music. Jaago was unlike anything I’d ever heard before. That iconic harmonium of the titular track, the frantic back and forth stereophonic jumping in Chaku Chidiya, the serene tapping beat of Candy, and, of course, the unforgettable drop in Nikamma all remain firmly imprinted in my mind. Undoubtedly then, my expectations for his sophomore album were immense. What I was treated with was a project that was ambitious yet grounded, diverse yet cohesive, frenetic yet serene, and transportive altogether.
Lifafa, and PCRC by extension, have never been one to shy away from political messaging. But never before has the stance been made so explicit. From the cover art to the album title to the track names, the entire project is outwardly satiric of a faltering government’s broken promises. In the note attached to the project, Lifafa states: “We live in one of the greatest experiments ever run in the history of humanity. Never has so much been compressed into so little and forced to endure. Where time moves us, it’s impossible to know, but for now, we are a part of it and this album is not about a country but that experiment called India and all of its people”. An ode? A denunciation? Perhaps somewhere in between.
As is to be expected, the production on this album is simply sublime. Each song is markedly different from its predecessor; while in totality the full piece sounds wildly different from the feel of Jaago. I could wax lyrical about the entire album but let me set aside a few words for each track. ‘Wahin ka Wahin’ is an immediate crowd pleaser. It’s the perfect opener – uplifting, groovy, and damn near impossible not to replay. The follow up ‘Laash’ was released as a single a couple of months ago but finds itself remastered beautifully in the album version. An almost popish ballad, Laash immediately mellows the listening experience down from the mountain top boombox blasting energy that its predecessor demands.
‘Mann ki Baat’ might just be another kind of special. I’ll let you infer the meaning you see from “इन कानो को तेरी तरफ मोड़ दिया/मन की बात, बन के आग, फैली यहाँ”. There’s a strange ominousness that prevails throughout its runtime, concluding in the defiant cry to reiterate that the revolution be long lived. ‘Bewafa Hai Ghadi’ brings back that harmonium that was so essential to Jaago but strips down the backing instruments almost entirely. An almost spoken word performance, it might be the most minimalist track he’s put out yet.
And then comes Iradon. For years, Lifafa stans have left countless comments on each video, post, and clip they can find begging him to release this track. With a few clips found online in select live performances, even the unmastered and low quality renditions of this track made fans fall in love. Despite being over seven minutes long, Iradon feels too short. Its made for the for the pre-game, for the party, for the after party, a song that can crescendo any occasion. The only disappointment is we might not find ourselves in a situation to best enjoy it for a while.
The sombre follow up ‘Acche Din’ is uniquely mesmerising, almost trance inducing. After a near two minute intro, Lifafa sings better than he ever has: “माँगा था मैने प्यार लेकिन खो दिया है, ये लो अच्छे दिन”. As the song peaks, it begins to slowly break down almost as though its tearing itself apart. It starts to crumble in a disorganised fashion with seemingly random guitar strumming while behind it all lies a repeating static that beeps to nothing when the rest fades away. Once the silence hits, the madness starts. While most fans would have already heard Mandir when it was earlier released, that frantic opening beat never fails to jerk you up. The opening salvo feels like an onslaught. A wildly uncomfortable high pitched note is followed by thunderous percussion that slowly relents to allow you some respite. The thirteen minute magnum opus isn’t for everyone, but its an experience worth going on the ride for. The video makes it all the more entertaining.
Above all, do not waste this album’s magic without a good quality headset or speaker. It deserves every minute of your attention.
Superpower 2020 is majestic in ambition and impeccable in delivery. I moaned for days, weeks, months on end about its delay, but if this is what it took to craft this aural experience, it was an unequivocal success. It’s rare that I find an album that I know will stay with me for years after hearing it. That distinct sense of timelessness I often reserve for the childhood records, the tracks that played during life changing moments, the ones that defined my generation – I found it once again. I can’t wait to hear it alongside friends, inside a club, or, better yet, in a Lifafa set.
For the next 3 weeks, high-quality versions of the record will be available for sale only on Bandcamp and Instamojo with 50% of all sales donated to various organisations helping in the battle against Covid.