Disco Puppet Paints A Surreal Self-Portrait On 'Aranyer Dinratri'
14 October 2019
Back when Shoumik Biswas was a very young boy, his parents used to fight often. The reason was mostly because his mother found it difficult to understand finance-related subjects like taxes and handling bank accounts; also because his father wasn't very patient in his (relative) youth. His father's temper scared him, so one day, he picked up a brick and carried it to his father's room to threaten him. “Tui Eto Bodhmaash Keno Reh? (Why are you so naughty, huh?)” young Shoumik demanded to know. At the sight of a child carrying a brick to threaten his father, the adults began to laugh, but Shoumik was very confused.
A couple of decades later, that cheeky anecdote has translated into one of the tracks (no points for guessing which one) on his third and latest album as Disco Puppet, 'Aranyer Dinratri', out now via Consolidate.
You're probably wondering and, yes, the title of the album was inspired by Satyajit Ray's 1970 film by the same name. Biswas first saw the film in 2016, when he moved back to Bangalore after a three-month stint in Delhi. “I was working at The Humming Tree then, and not in a good place. That's when I watched the film, and it kind of got me out of that space,” he told me, as I interviewed him shortly before his show in Gurgaon on October 11, as part of his album launch tour. Finding a window into his own existential angst – and by default himself and his art – after watching the film and exploring more of Ray's work, Biswas (as he wrote on his album description), “began to understand his attraction to seemingly insignificant details of daily life, the way people interact and the longing for human contact”. With a new-found awareness of such intricacies of existence, he started to create 'Aranyer Dinratri'.
Image: Ali Bharmal
“It was the everyday-ness of the film, really, that stayed with me. No big events. Just four friends go on a trip. Meet some other people. Have conversations. And then they part ways. The beauty is in the detail of the scenes and the conversation,” he explained. “The film itself didn't influence the album. It was more the idea of the film. It sort of just made me want to create something simple, a flowing sort of narrative thing, about nothing in particular. Well, at least not thought out. Like, I didn't know what I was going to write about till I wrote it.”
If you think about it, there is a sort of simplicity in 'Aranyer Dinratri' that gradually reveals itself after a few listens. It may be difficult to fathom through the extravagant, intricate layers of samples, 808s, and sound collages that construct the album. The simplicity doesn't lie in the production – which is anything but simple – but in the honesty of the album, which is devoid of any delusions, grandeur or pretence. You can feel it in Biswas' innate persona that envelops the record, in the rawness of his voice, in the vulnerability he displayed during his theatrical performance of the album, and even in his responses to this interview. With Biswas, and with Disco Puppet, what you see is what you get.
With his previous album 'Princess This', which channeled classic coming-of-age themes like break ups and adulting, Biswas was focused more on the technological aspects of production. Having recently discovered the fruits of autotune and saturated 808s back then, he wanted to explore their possibilities in a way they hadn't been explored before – which essentially is the 'Princess This' sound. On 'Aranyer Dinratri', however, (which, interestingly, was written a year and a half before 'Princess This') it's the story and the narrative that take centre stage; any sonic explorations of technology are merely tools he uses to tell his story. “It feels like a different animal from my other work,” Biswas half-joked.
Image: Ali Bharmal
'Aranyer Dinratri' loosely translates to 'Days and nights in the forest'. Thought the LP isn't necessarily a literal allusion to forests, you can liken them to the topography of Biswas' existential crises. Presented in a stream of consciousness format, the tracks in the LP flow into one another seamlessly, with no beginning and no end. It's almost as if they had always existed, and were simply plucked out by Biswas from his consciousness, and collated into an individual package. “I started to create this narrative piece that just morphed from one thing to another. I wrote about my childhood, about not knowing how to move forward, and then finally figured out how to move forward – all in real time as I progressed through the album. [The album is] a journey of self-discovery and awareness and the first time I started to think about what home means to me,” he told me.
Perhaps now, when you listen to the album, its kaleidoscopic nature will make more sense to you. At first glance, it can seem a tad discordant and amorphous. You may even go so far as to say it seems a little all over the place (which, honestly, would be the truest representation of the consciousness of most of us humans). But if you even just sit down once and listen to the album – even if with only half a mind, or as you do chores – you'd sense the clarity and purity that hides beneath the surface. Though it was technically written before his previous LP, 'Aranyer Dinratri' to me sounds like Disco Puppet's most mature work thus far, and the most humble. It's laden with engaging, unconventional percussion and beats, layers of samples, tape machine artefacts and saturated 808s, and with fifty shades of Biswas' signature auto-tuned vocals. Each track brings new elements to the fore, taking listeners through a whole maze of moods and emotional landscapes – but Biswas is a dependable guide, so even though it may feel like you're getting lost or disappearing, trust him to eventually help you find your way back.
Some of Biswas' most remarkable work can be found in this album – it's littered with special moments, like the nostalgic outro on album closer '1041' featuring Devasheesh Sharma, the intricate chime section on 'Heart of Gold', the introspective lushness in the melodies of 'Guess I'll Die', or the abstract unease and eeriness of 'Fever Dream'. Biswas had mentioned in an interview that he saw the album as scoring a film, “a film that is my thoughts. Running seamlessly. Just pure unadulterated, unedited thought”. That, perhaps, is what owes to the cinematic quality of this sonic collage, most resplendent on my favourite moment on the album – the transition from 'Somnifer' to 'Overflow'.
Image: Focus Sports
A mellow, ambient piece full of samples from Ray's films, the comforting, atmospheric character of 'Somnifer' draws you into a warm embrace, entrancing you. In the same interview with Indulge Express, Biswas explained that in his head, he had displaced the entire scene from the film and put it in this new landscape (which he imagined being in Odisha for some reason). “I tried to create a peaceful dream from which I would jump awake,” he said. And so he jolts awake on 'Overflow', spiralling back into reality with unabashed abrasion and sub-heavy hip-hop beats.
Both thematically and sonically, 'Overflow' easily makes it as the most powerful, exploratory piece on the record. The single track amalgamates all of Disco Puppet's influences and musical leanings, posing as a singular, powerful magnum opus of his journey as an artist. He told Indulgent Express: “It's a song in which I have that still half asleep conversation with myself about where my life is going and whether everything I do has to hold meaning and is that even in the capacity of a single person to wonder. Why do I feel nothing all of a sudden, what is the point, really, even, anymore, can I just not be. But alas, I continue to be.” Even without his explanation of the same, you can sense this existential angst, this particular train of thoughts in the constantly shifting dynamics of the song. By listening to the meandering landscape of the track, you're directly engaging in a one-sided dialogue with Disco Puppet. In just about 7 minutes, Disco Puppet lays himself bare, vulnerable, letting us into the bleakest corners of his mind to explore his inner workings – the uncertainty, unpredictability, the anxiety and desperation, as he frantically searches for himself and for any meaning or reasons for his existence. Disco Puppet, is overflowing.
Image: Ali Bharmal
If there were still any doubts or questions you had about Disco Puppet or 'Aranyer Dinratri', they all came clear in his multidisciplinary shows on his album launch tour with Red Bull Music. Presented as a theatrical performance complete with sets, visuals, light design and a movement artist, with this set of performances, Disco Puppet tried to break out of the mould of an electronic music gig.
He'd told me before I saw the show for myself Friday night that the set is basically an upgraded version of his living room from back in 2016; the narrative of the show, meanwhile, is the story of what happened while he made the album. He didn't want to give much way, but did promise that “it will be weird. Not too weird. But kind of weird”, and that “the audience can expect to be entertained/annoyed, and generally a little bit confused (but in a fun way, not like when a text conversation is going really well and you are left on read)”. He ended our interview by surreptitiously telling me: “To truly understand the extent of my suffering, come to my show.”
Though news of the theatrical performance came as a pleasant surprise to his fans, Biswas had admittedly been thinking about incorporating performance for a while, and was simply waiting for the right opportunity. Since the album was written like a story and envisioned as the soundtrack to a film, it just made simple sense to take it beyond the realm of a typical live performance and turn it into an experiential, theatrical show. Plus, Biswas was bored of simply going to clubs and standing behind a laptop and twiddling knobs, and figured that his audience might feel the same. “I'm very aware that my music isn't straight up dancey and enjoyable in a club environment. So I wanted to give it another dimension. A story to follow, something to engage with,” he told me.
Image: Ali Bharmal
Engaging, it turns out, was just the tip of the iceberg that was Disco Puppet's show. It might be more appropriate to call the show a surreal self-portrait of the artist, or a bizarre collection of his dreams, nightmares, frustration, and his memories. For musicians, and any artists for that matter, it takes a certain level of vulnerability to be able to create art and release it to the world. You're opening yourself and your creative expression up to criticism from the public eye. It takes a lot more courage to be vulnerable like that in physical form, in real life, yet Disco Puppet executes his act with complete confidence – even though his on-stage persona was charmingly awkward, right from the cropped yellow sweatshirt and baggy pants he wore, to the deliberate uncertainty and frustration he effused on stage. I completely bought every moment on the show, whether he was lying on a couch on stage, running frantically around Piano Man chasing a man in a bird costume (played by Aditya Bharadwaj), snatching and downing drinks from audience members, or ruthlessly beating the shit out of the bird (“What I can say is that the bird is very annoying and I am tired of its shit”). Because annoying or not, melodramatic or not, even the absurdity of the show seemed to come from a place of honesty and genuine emotion. At no point did it all seem like a gimmick or a crowd-pleaser; rather, it gave the air of being the desperate expression of a pained, exasperated artist, who also happens to not really give a fuck. In that show, I could see Biswas as a young boy, holding a brick and threatening his father, angrily proclaiming “Tui Eto Bodhmaash Keno Reh? (Why are you so naughty, huh?)”
I could go into detail and elaborate on how the bird was a metaphor for his existential angst, for his nightmares, his doubt, his anger, his misgivings, insecurity, and so on, but the whole point of such a performance is to leave the audience to feel what they feel, and to react to the performance in real-time. Any preconceived notions would only interfere with your own experience and reactions to show. So, as Disco Puppet said, to truly understand the extent of his suffering, go to his show.
Words: Satvika Kundu
Thumbnail + Banner Image: Ali Bharmal; All images have been taken from Disco Puppet's album launch tour with Red Bull Music