Underside gears up for homecoming headliner at Rock Tandav

Underside prepares to headline Rock Tandav upon their homecoming.

Photo: Instagram/Underside

For the past few weeks, Underside, a metal band from Nepal has been practising regularly. It has been a while since the band graced the stage in Kathmandu. As the city prepares for the two-day event known as Rock Tandav, the band is ready to take the spotlight as the festival’s headliner, marking their home return after a four-year break.

“We are both excited and nervous. Can’t wait to be honest,” says Avishek KC, vocalist at Underside.

In November of last year, the band made their comeback performance after 2019 at Mahendra Independence Rock in India. However, their much-anticipated comeback show in Nepal was still pending.

Underside, the successful metal band from Nepal, returning to the scene has ignited excitement within the country’s metal community. The announcement of their comeback has brought joy to hundreds of fans who have eagerly awaited their live performances.

In 2020, the band had plans to release their album and embark on world tours, but the Covid pandemic thwarted their plans. Instead, Underside redirected their focus towards Metal For Nepal, a charity project aimed at supporting impoverished communities through various initiatives such as food distribution, community aid, and ensuring children’s access to education.

Despite their involvement in Metal For Nepal over the years, music has always remained a central part of the band’s identity.

“Besides Metal For Nepal, we were also making music, doing recordings and videos,” says Bikrant Shrestha, guitarist at Underside.

The band’s latest song Prey which was released in November 2023, is a part of their upcoming album slated to release within 2024. According to the band, this year there will be more songs, videos and tours. 

With the date for their comeback show drawing near, the band is also eager to see what kind of turnout they will have in the crowd.

“Many of our regular listeners have moved abroad. So I am curious about new crowds,” says Shrestha.  “We don’t even know who is following our music besides our regular listeners, many of whom are abroad.” 

Despite this, there is a palpable sense of excitement among the band members, as the prospect of an outdoor concert featuring multiple metal and rock bands after such a long time is adding to their anticipation.

“We make sure to do a good show, expecting a good crowd. Come and feel the space,” says KC.

Underside is known for their innovative approach to live performances, often incorporating unique elements such as body suspension and masked dancers (their own interpretation of Lakheys). Continuing this tradition, the band will showcase nearly six new songs from their upcoming albums at Rock Tandav. Additionally, the band has introduced a new member, although their identity remains undisclosed, adding another element of intrigue for the audience.

Beyond personal journey 

Photo: Pexels/ Prasun Sangroula

 As Underside prepares for the album, the band says that the songs will be different in many ways than their earlier songs. 

“Lyrically, we used to write more about inward journey, personal conflict and emotion. I think this time it is bigger than us. There is a message in every song, mostly about social political issues,” says KC.

Two songs from the album have already been released and both of them revolve around social-political issues. For instance, Gadhimai condemns the killing and abuse of animals in the name of god and Prey condemns the practice of witchcraft. 

In terms of sound as well, the band has gone beyond their regular style. They say they are trying to make their own identity through sound. And they band has done that by incorporating Nepali instruments like madal, dhime, sitar, sarangi and panche baja for the upcoming songs. 

“There is a lot more. Let’s not kill all the suspense,” says KC.

The band wants to stand out from the thousands of bands that exist in the world metal scene.  They believe experimenting with unique styles of sound and lyrics can help them attain their purpose. 

“Our country has a lot of unique instruments, so, why don’t we try them? ,” says Bikash Bhujel, guitarist of the band.  “When we go abroad with such a unique sound, we stand out from various other bands coming from different parts of the world.”  

The band says that it would not be favourable if people perceived their sound as similar to bands from other countries rather than recognizing their distinct identity. The band learned such things from their experience of travelling to various countries for shows. 

Feeling fatigued by the monotony of their sound, the band started experimenting. They openly acknowledge that their earlier sound lacked the distinctiveness they possess now.

“We all have been enjoying whatever we have been experimenting with,” says KC. 

Formed in 2011, Underside has been to local venues to big-shot festivals like Bloodstock Open Air Music Festival and Download Festival. What motivates the band for the progress is just their passion and dedication. 

“We have a thirst to gain ground. It’s really hard to always remain strong. But we manage to do it, our audiences have been a great source of inspiration,” says KC.  

Photo: Facebook/Underside

In Nepal’s metal scene, the spotlight often falls on the same longstanding bands that have been performing for years. Newcomers struggle to gain recognition and often fail to achieve anything significant. They seem as fleeting as mayflies in comparison to the established acts.

The guitarist of the band Shrestha blames the government for this.  He says due to the lack of opportunity and better earnings, many of the musicians have gone abroad.

“There are many musicians who went abroad for shows, but haven’t returned,” says Shrestha. “They have settled their life there as they saw no point in returning.”  

“Music is pursued purely out of passion; musicians must maintain proper jobs or businesses for sustainability,” he says

Furthermore, the dwindling charm of the metal scene is attributed to multiple factors, including the migration of audiences abroad. Although some DIY metal concerts continues to take place in the country, the overall scene has remained relatively stagnant.

Another contributing factor to the decline in the charm of metal music is the shifting taste among listeners. Nowadays, there is a preference for acoustic sounds over other genres, leading to a decline in the popularity of metal music. This is not just in Nepal but a world wide trend.

A decade or so ago, metal music was at its peak. Regular shows featuring a diverse array of metal songs from various bands were commonplace, fueling a movement for the advancement of the metal scene. Senior rock figures were often seen providing significant support, fostering the growth of the metal community.

“Metal bands were not supposed to be that big. Everyone was happy with the success,” says KC. 

“Metal music is still not a widely acceptable kind of music. And this has created additional challenges for the lately formed metal bands,” says KC.   

Possibilities of Silence Festival 

Underside Photo: Facebook/Underside
Photo: Facebook/Underside

Apart from making music, Underside also has its music festival called Silence Festival, the first metal music festival of Nepal, where local and international artists perform. The festival is still the most anticipated festival for metalheads. Started in 2011, the festival has not taken place since 2019, which was headlined by Testament

The main reason behind its halt, according to Shrestha, is financial issues.   

The major sponsors of the festival used to be alcohol brands, but after the government banned the sponsorship of alcohol in public shows, no other product or company was ready to sponsor the show, says Shrestha. Similarly, the unnecessary lobbying to authority to run a show is another thing that has discouraged the organisers.

“We do silence festivals for the betterment of the Nepali music community, ” says Shrestha. “We do not earn profit from it.”

He further says they have spent a lot for the festival, and now it is hard to afford the festival without the proper support of the government. 

“If the government collaborates with the festival, the festival will be massive,” says Shrestha.

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Prasun Sangroula is an Onlinekhabar correspondent, mainly covering arts, society and sports.

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