Lifafa
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Lifafa

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The Peter Cat’s out of the bag, and he’s even named himself after one. Lifafa is the new moniker of Peter Cat Recording Co frontman Suryakant Sawhney’s solo project as an electronic artist. “The word sounds nice. It was either that or bulbul,” he told us. Sawhney’s nine-track compilation, Lifafa I, is an amalgamation of sounds he recorded – of wind chimes in the monsoon, some glitchy computer generated music, bits from old Bollywood songs and his own slow droning voice. It’s available online for a “name your price” download.

Sawhney decided to try his hand at the genre because of the devilishly hot Delhi summer season. “Nobody wants to sit on their ass and record in the summer after turning the AC and fan off,” he said. “[With] electronic [music] you just turn the AC on, turn your speakers on, and you don’t have to worry about shit.” Aside from avoiding the customary sweatfests that come with rock band recordings, Sawhney hopes to extend his group’s gypsypsychedelic- rock gigs with a closing set of his own music instead of “any old DJ playing ‘Gangnam Style’”.

Certain that he wants to steer clear of psy sounds (the genre, not the K-pop artist) like those of Infected Mushroom and Skazi, Sawhney incorporates experiments with volume in this album, and even throws in some hip hop along with what he calls “chudail-step”, in tracks like “Whistling”. “I want to take compact disco sounds and make them bigger,” said Sawhney when asked how he would personally describe this endeavour. He drew inspiration from “different” electronica melodies, such as the tunes of UK artist Burial and Washed Out from Georgia, USA.

While Sawhney seeks financial sustainability from this project in the future; for now, he’s preparing for his first performance behind a console along with trip hop duo Sulk Station at their album launch this fortnight. It is difficult to tell how the partying multitudes will respond to Lifafa’s atmospheric tracks, but Sawhney doesn’t seem particularly bothered, even though he doesn’t see himself as “the popular guy”. “Club crowds have the attention span of a goldfish, if you introduce a new sound and it works for them, they’ll completely abandon all their values,” he said. - TimeOut Delhi


It's summer. Those merry days of endless gigging are long gone. It's that time of the year when bands start getting a bit worried. Money's drying faster than you can write a melody. It's time for plan-B — find an alternate source of income. The occasional radio jingle, a corporate AV film, music lessons… "How about busking?" I ask Suryakant Sawhney, frontman of Delhi-based Peter Cat Recording Co as I get an afternoon beer with him while he designs a logo for some extra cash. "You think there's money to be made there?"

Having recently made a breakthrough in the Indian indie scene with a brilliant debut album Sinema, 25-year-old Suryakant had honed his performance skills by busking regularly in San Francisco where he spent some years studying filmmaking. "It teaches you the essentials of being a good performer." On a good day, he made about $20 — enough for a couple of decent meals. Could he do the same back home in Delhi? There was only one way to find out.

It's a Saturday evening in Nehru Place, Delhi's electronic hub. We decide on a strategic spot outside Sona Sweet Shop where there is enough space for a small gathering without becoming a nuisance to the street peddlers around. The guitar emerges from its case like a rifle ready for battle. The limp case is left open for donations and Suryakant launches into his first song about a clown living on the 22nd floor.

The crowd warms up almost immediately. Most of them are working class heroes trudging back home to a vacant Sunday waiting for someone to break their comfortable monotony. It's confusing for them though. Why is he singing on the street? He doesn't look like a beggar. Is he crazy?

The first sign of money comes from a lad who drops a couple of coins into the bag and sits next to Suryakant through an entire song. The gig lasts about five songs. A sock-seller offers a cup of tea. Someone offers a joint. We've made less than 100 rupees and a few fans.

Khan Market has the usual Saturday crowd — tourists, families and compulsive shoppers. We set shop outside Dayal Opticals. There's a blind man in a corner collecting donations for his school. He looks like he's had a bad day so far. We offer to help raise the money and split it with him. He's happy with the deal.

Suryakant sits on the pavement and launches into a song that warns you about a girl who's done a hundred men. No one's interested. Ladies with their grocery bags scurry like busy ants. Suryakant decides to make it clear that this is serious business. "Show some money, you rich Delhi b*******!" he yells. It works and the guitar case starts swelling with crisp currency notes. The gig is a success and we leave the money for the blind man taking just enough for a couple of beers. "You think we can beat the Khan Market performance?" I ask Suryakant as we hang on to our hard-earned beer.

This time we station ourselves outside the Barista coffee shop in the posh Defense Colony market. Except for some street kids, no one stops for a listen. I hear a young man with his shirt neatly tucked into his denims say of the performer, he is "just showing off". It's an empty gig.

On the way home, Suryakant says he had a good time and for the couple of hours he put in, he made more money than he would have otherwise. It's more than the $20 he used to make in San Francisco and it's definitely something he could do on a day when there was no other way to make money to pay for his rent, phone bill and the occasional beer. Sit on the pavement in Khan Market and sing about clowns in tall buildings and wanton women.

In the West, there are innumerable stories of bands being discovered while busking. Tracy Chapman is a classic example having been spotted at Harvard Square by a guy whose father owned a record label. There's another great story about the members of the German experimental rock band, Can, losing their original vocalist Malcolm Mooney on the day of a gig and hastily hiring Kenji Suzuki, who was found busking outside a café in Munich just hours before the show. Suzuki, a Japanese drifter, went on to record legendary albums like Tago Mago and Ege Bamyasi with the band.

Unfortunately, Suryakant may never land himself a big record deal or be spotted by a great producer by busking in Delhi streets.

But at least he will get through the tough summer. - Indian Express


Someone called Lifafa was playing tonight at Cocaine, a new club in the Capital… the event had provided us with the perfect arsenal to crack endless jokes. The field was quickly to the punchline, “The question is – Cocaine ke andar Lifafa hai ya phir Lifafa ke andar Cocaine?” (Is the Lifafa (plastic bag) in the Cocaine or is the Cocaine in the Lifafa). Of course some of were even moving onto the prospect of opening another club Blow to complete the paradigm.

Introductions are in order. Lifafa is the electronic solo project of Delhi alt rockers Peter Cat Recording Co frontman Suryaknt Sawhney and this was his debut gig and album launch of “Lifafa I.” His act was opened by Bengaluru electronic act Sulk Station.

Sawhney looked like his familiar self. Unkempt and not giving a fuck. Maybe not giving a fuck about what anyone else thinks. Giving a fuck about what matters is an admirable quality, not found in abundance, but appreciated in abundance owing to its rarity. Sawhney has that enviable trait of knowing what to give a fuck about. The music he makes. Which is exactly why others give a fuck about him too.

Peter Cat Recording Co. has been around for a while during which they have gigged actively in dimly lit nightspots as well as blindingly bright festivals. A time long enough for them to have released a couple of albums and captured the imagination of an audience gifted with perception. Enough time for each one of them to gradually start side projects, because giving the garb of legit to anything has its own rite of passage. Not that the PCRC boys would have given a fuck. Sawhney had been dabbling in stuff beyond PCRC, having been heard (and seen ) collaborating with B.L.O.T. By now, he had given enough of a fuck to start his own. Lifafa. It is likely, and rumored, that the rest of the band might give a fuck enough to start their own too.

Just a night earlier, PCRC had released the video for Love Demons at Blue Frog. The online release of the video had prompted adulatory action from their small group of perceptive fans, with one particularly perceptive fan asking, “Do you adore Lynch?” It’s easy to make these references to anything that falls beyond the boundaries of perception but seemingly contains the strength of immense mind-bending creative value. What is difficult and more absurd to imagine in such creative endeavors is what Douglas Adams made the mice do to the humans. The latter analogy might fit better in the case of PCRC.

Following the music video release, PCRC had been working out the logistics of airing the video on TV stations, including the mandatory clearance from the Censor board. What they hadn’t expected was something that caught them completely off guard.

“We need to get some clearance for ethical treatment of animals during the video.”

If there was something like a WTF expression mixed with a smile that teetered between weariness and contentment, you could see that on Sawhney’s face now. Weariness at facing red tape after the contentment of having successfully made something with strong creative potential. The video was out anyway now, and the band would have to work ways to get it to air on TV. Although the bigger chapter that was unfurling in his life that time was the almost simultaneous debut album release of his side project Lifafa. The next few weeks didn’t look like they would slow down on the excitement quotient either.

“We are off to the Kumbh Mela in a couple of days. Our friends Nigambodh are releasing an album there.”

The association with Nigambodh has been since their early days, which makes it a compelling reason for PCRC to accompany friends who plan to release their EP at the Mahakumbh. “They have a very pahadi sound, but I’ve always felt that they have the kind of sound that has the potential to shake up things in the indie music scene.” Whether Nigambodh manage to do that is yet to be seen, but the way in which they are going about their release in a fashion which couldn’t become more organic makes them attention worthy. There aren’t any bands out there who are sitting on ghats and playing acoustic sets to make their music reach out beyond the limited audience at pubs and music festivals, are there?

Varied descriptions have been applied to Lifafa by “critics”. Someone called it “stoner electronica” and someone else described it as “a solo dance music project” (“I’d love to see someone dance to the music tonight, man”, was his retort when asked about the dance-ability quotient). The influence of PCRC’s trademark sound is the most visible across Lifafa. “There’s a lot of old Hindi disco”, says Sawhney, which is what can be found amply between sounds present at bustling railway stations to deserted stretches of the road at night. Actually you find a lot of old Hindi B-grade kitsch horror movies, of the sort that might accompany the walk of the undead towards the unaware nubile victim taking the mandatory late night shower. Listening to the recor - PopSplat


Peter Cat Recording Co have a longstanding history of not giving a fuck. The New Delhi hemp jazz outfit is perhaps the most experimental band in the country, but they do what they do so well, they get away with it. In tradition with the Peter Cat way of doing what everyone least expects you to, frontman Suryakanth Sawhney recently unveiled a solo electronic project titled Lifafa. I called him up to investigate:

What is Lifafa?
I’ve done a bunch of shit last year and then just decided to select some of the stuff I liked and that’s it, really. There’s no…, it’s not a concept album or anything like that.

Where were these tracks produced?
All over the place I guess; home, some one tour, some outside, some in cafes. There’s no strict regiment. At this point I was so inexperienced… It was more of a learning album, it was not like… I’ve listened to so little electronic in my life, I could literally just give you like five, six artists and that’s all I’ve listened to while making this album. It just happened to mix up with a lot of other stuff I was listening to; other types of music, classical music, shit like that. I guess I just wanted to see what I could make out of it.

And it’s really hot in Delhi so I guess I should have made angrier music… Thing is electronic music is really easy to make in Delhi. When it gets hot, you can turn the AC on and you can just fucking sit down on the computer and work on music, you can’t record anything in summer in Delhi. You’re gonna be drenched in sweat in fifteen seconds.

While composing, is there any non-musical influence that permeates into your work?
Yeah, that happens plenty of times. I watch a movie, I hear maybe ten seconds of something interesting and I’ll feel like making a track.
Can you give me an example?

I was watching Agneepath and I just stopped the movie ten minutes in because I heard a cool piece of music and I just started working on something. It’s kind of.. There’s no strict methodology to doing any of this. It’s a lot of trial and error. I do electronic music because you can translate what’s in your head much easier.

Do you have a plan for Lifafa?
All these songs, I guess, kind of… I just needed to get these out of my system because I’m still looking for some sort of direction in my electronic music. A lot of it hardly sounds like… they don’t have any cohesion, it’s just a lot of messing around in different genres so at this point, I don’t know in which direction I am headed but I’m definitely not just gonna fuck around or sidetrack it. I want to take it live at least so whatever I make should have the fucking ability to be played live.

Have you conceptualized a rough live set-up for Lifafa?
I do have a rough set-up in mind. It may or may not include a… I think it will include a computer. I like this very simple method of having a drum machine and a synth, I guess a two piece, maximum. And my idea is to figure out how to do it alone, basically, that’ll be really fun for me. I just don’t want to be on stage rolling a joint while music’s playing. I’m still figuring out duties in this. It’s such a bizarre thing to do, goddamn electronic music, figuring out how not to look like an idiot.

Did you consider DJing?
Actually I did, but the problem is I don’t listen to enough music. I don’t sit my ass down and go, ‘I’m gonna find 100,000 progressive house artists’ or shit like that. I just don’t. I don’t give a fuck. I listen to maybe like, ten people in a year and I usually try and keep them far from the type of music I make just so I don’t end up mixing up much but… I can’t DJ for the simple reason that I don’t have enough of a… I don’t give a fuck. I guess there’s a lot of effort being a DJ in its own way. I just don’t know if I want to spend my time going through the Internet looking for more music ‘cause that eats up a lot of time.

Did anything in particular spark the conception of Lifafa?
Most of the time people make the music… I think because mostly they just want to hear whatever they’ve made in terms of… I go to a club and I don’t like what’s played in most clubs… That kind of would influence me to make club music, which I’d like to listen to. So at the very least, I could go to a fucking club, put this music on, listen to it, enjoy myself and… I guess in Lifafa, although let’s see. In Lifafa it was both… There was a lot of stuff I liked from before and I was trying to mix that up with stuff I like now and stuff, which I might like in the future. I don’t know. It was interesting. It was a technique-forming album, you know what I mean? I needed to figure this shit out, because I’ve only recorded live music all my life.

Will Lifafa ever have anything to do with Peter Cat?
I think Lifafa will eventually be a part of a long Peter Cat evening, you know what I mean? Starting at… What I really fucking hate is playing a nice one-hour, two-hour set and then a goddamn DJ comes and everyone’s just dancing and enjoying the fuck out - Wild City


Discography

"Lifafa I", Self Released, 2013

Photos

Bio

Lifafa is the stage name of Suryakant Sawhney, an artist currently based out of New Delhi, India. Since 2010, he has produced and performed with his breed of psychedelic gypsy music with his ensemble, the Peter Cat Recording Co. While that had been a fruitful experience in itself, many of his own private ideas and visions of radical/eternal musical soundscapes have been left wandering around in his head unresolved. Producing music electronically allowed him the freedom to finally do so. 2013 saw him release a mixtape of these preparations entitled Lifafa I.

The word 'Lifafa' roughly translates to an envelope in Urdu. Within his own envelope, he plans to explore the boundaries of his musical creations ranging from bottling the altered sounds of nature and history, to firmly imbibing and occasionally rallying against the environment of dance music around him.

Growing up on a ship circa 1987, then Cyprus, Dubai and finally in Delhi, Suryakant's musical ideas remained firmly separated from a base of sorts. With his background, the artistic cultures of the west and east could easily converge into something less defined. Living in San Francisco for three years finally let him mix and interact with artists radical, conservative, and some who just never cared.

Watching a healthy mix of European, Indian and American films and finally experiencing much of what they offer musically, he was able to slowly draw from those wells casting away what he didn't like and thus attempting to make music consisting of only those musical ideas he loves.

That experiment is an ongoing one.