Disco Puppet, The Complications Of Human Interactions, & A Murder

Image credit: Ali Bharmal

Is Shoumik Biswas growing old? He’s definitely growing up, if his new Disco Puppet album, ‘Aranyer Dinratri’, is anything to go by. Disco Puppet’s past works have been defined by unpredictability, perhaps even a kind of designed recklessness. In his own words, his songs have always been “disconnected” from each other, serving largely as a “collection of things put together”. Here, Biswas ditches his yo-yo tendencies in service of a unified sonic narrative, a kind of sameness tying all the songs off ‘Aranyer Dinratri’ together. 

The 11 songs on the record reside in a mid-to down-tempo space, relying on hazy auto-tuned vocals playing around with colourful, choppy electronic soundscapes, building up a story that loosely reflects his state of mind at the time — somewhat melancholic, at times jaded. He worked on the record in 2016, before, in fact, the songs on ‘Princess This (his previous record from 2017) came into being. His life had been in a dreary loop at the time — he was coasting on autopilot — and ‘Aranyer Dinratri’ is a documentation of that journey, from uncertainty to a place of acceptance and positivity. “The narrative is: I have no fucking idea what’s happening right now. I was so out of inspiration then. Make music, go to work, come back, sleep, get up, make music. I didn’t notice at the time but my cycle had completely wiped me out.” As he continued to work on the songs, he felt more secure, more confident. “At the end of it, I was like, ‘I actually know how to do this!’ It became clearer to me.”

There’s perhaps a vaguely-concealed theme of ageing, maturity and personal growth, that underpins ‘Aranyer Dinratri’, released via Consolidate. In a past life, Biswas used to be the brash, violent-haired drummer-vocalist for experimental post-rock band Space Behind The Yellow Room. Branching out on his own, developing his skills as a composer, has, if not sobered him down, at least made him more circumspect. “The more you know about things, the more you do things on your own… I’ve stopped taking things for granted, and I have more understanding of how much work goes into all this. I’ve learnt how to speak to people, get things done; I’ve become more appreciative,” he says. 

Image credit: Ali Bharmal

His new record, too, displays a kind of frank self-awareness, about both his strengths and limitations as an artist. Instead of technological ‘wankery’ — testing the limits of his chops as an electronic producer like he has in the past — he goes for clarity of thought, with the songs written as one single piece broken down into parts. It’s a way of acceptance, of dealing with his imposter syndrome and coming to terms with his own voice as a creator; he’s looked inward to seek both comfort and conflict. The title comes from a Satyajit Ray film called Aranyer Din Ratri which helped him streamline the fundamental storyline pinning these songs: trivialities, “simple, everyday-life things, the complications of human interactions”. Lyrically, it’s an introspective and thoughtful collection of songs, as Biswas charts his life at the time chronologically. He moves from an aimless meandering disposition in the early songs — where he’d just wake up and sleepwalk through life, floating through conversations happening around him — to a more lucid state of being. He talks of vulnerability, of being stuck and feeling exposed, and brings in philosophical themes that affect him. “There’s this playful thing about ideas and how they’re hiding, just around the corner. It’s a very Bengali thing! I talk about things hiding around the corner, and sometimes they’re wrapped in, like, old presentation paper. So you find it, then you realise it’s shit.” There’s a lot of circular motion in the lyrical material here, a chasing-its-own tail spirit perhaps. 

‘Heart Of Gold’, though, is where things start to make sense. “That’s actually the song where I kind of figure out what’s happening. I know where I am. It’s a ‘Eureka!’ moment. Like, ‘Bro, I got this.’” 

Plenty of complicated inner battles make up ‘Aranyer Dinratri’, a central one being his uncertainty on politically inclined art. He tells me, “I’ve been struggling with how my art must say things and be politically driven, versus the question of ‘why must it?’ I’ve always been speaking about myself, without the struggles of how to speak about bigger things. I think I just don’t comprehend things that are bigger than me.”

It’s a messy question, this need to be overtly political in art in India today, given the country’s, um, fraught political climate. Biswas acknowledges that his reluctance, or even his inability, to go down that route stems from his own position in society growing up. “It doesn’t come to me naturally, probably because of my privilege. I feel like a dumbfuck when I try to speak about things that don’t affect me. Honestly, I fucking hate what’s happening, it makes no fucking sense, but also, I don’t know what I’m supposed to do about it, except make people aware.” 

But he also points out how he exists in a kind of bubble where everyone is recycling issues and saying the same things without actually making any difference. That he doesn’t quite have the audience or the backing or support to make a difference. “They’re all the same, just listening to our music on their hi-fi shit, none of them care. Until I reach an audience bigger than that, there’s no point writing about shit. I don’t see why my point is valid when everyone is saying the same thing; it’s not a new perspective.”

Image Credit: Ali Bharmal

Shoumik’s currently working on an album where, unlike anything else he’s done before, his voice and acoustic guitar take centre-stage. And he’s just completed a three-city tour — Mumbai, Gurgaon, Bengaluru — supporting the album, for which he devised an ambitious, elaborate theatrical performance art piece, collaborating with Aditya Bharadwaj. It’s the story of ‘Aranyer Dinratri’, narrated through the music as well as a stage play, where Biswas plays through his electronic gear and live drums, and then dives into the play being enacted. “The set replicates my living room from that time. Well, an obviously upgraded one, since I was living out of nothing — an empty room with a table.” A bird-like character, played by Bharadwaj, who plays the role, sort of, of off-duty inspiration, starts stealing his things. “Small things,” he says, “not my laptop but, like, my mug. Small things sometimes affect your life much more than bigger things. I’m all like, ‘Fuck my life, what’s happening,’ I’m drunk half the time, fully unaware, having a good time.” Eventually (since Biswas barely even notices the missing items) a realisation dawns on him in ‘Fever Dream’ and the exasperated bird starts returning the stolen things. While originally conceived as a performance with philosophical connotations and “very pseudo depth”, they ended up simplifying it and adding an absurdist, comical feel to it; Biswas cites the cat-and-mouse themes of old Looney Tunes cartoons as a reference point. “By the end of the show, it annoys the shit out of me ‘till I kill him. I have this thing which happens a lot, where I have an idea, and I’ll obsess over it so much that by the end of it, I want to get rid of it. I’ve killed my motivation. And so I kill him in the end.”

written by Akhil Sood

NEWS - 21. October 2019   CITY - Bangalore ARTIST - Disco Puppet

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