Five essential Nepali punk albums you should listen toPunk arrived late to Kathmandu, in the early to mid 90s, when dissatisfied, angst-filled young people could actually plug in an electric guitar, pound out the drums and scream into a microphone with little regard for pitch, melody or tone.
Ever since its beginnings on the mean streets of New York and London in the 70s, punk rock has always been an irreverent, take-no-prisoners genre of music. Led by staccato drums that pound out a no-frills rhythm, the punk ethos has been do-it-yourself, back-to-basics, emotion-driven and rage-channeling. In the beginning there were the reggae-influenced protest songs of The Clash and the indispensable 1-2-3-4 countdown of The Ramones and since then, the genre has metamorphosed with the times, producing countless variations.
Punk arrived late to Kathmandu, in the early to mid 90s, when dissatisfied, angst-filled young people could actually plug in an electric guitar, pound out the drums and scream into a microphone with little regard for pitch, melody or tone. For Kathmandu, punk was raw, it was unabashed and it was just beginning. Nepali punk saw its high point in the early to mid 2000s, when punk concerts proliferated across the capital, held in dingy little bars over crackling loudspeakers. Some played alongside metal bands, baring heckles from crowds that’d shown up to listen to booming bass, intricate guitars and growling vocals; what they got instead was a bunch of major chords played over disjointed drumming. Others played intimate shows for small audiences that attempted to mosh inside awkward bar spaces.
Out of this churning emerged a number of punk bands who’ve left their own mark on the Nepali musical landscape, whether insignificant or outsize. Punk rock has since died down in Kathmandu, with barely a band or two that identifies themselves as playing punk. The halcyon days of punk might have passed by the generation of today, but fear not, here’s a list of five essential Nepali punk rock albums any musical connoisseur should pick up.
1. Rai ko Ris – Himalayan Frostbite
Punk rock distilled down to its most basic DIY ethos, this album is a modern Nepali classic. Driven by the inexhaustible energy of Olivier Bertin on the drums, a rolling line-up of prolific guitarists and led by the indefatigable vocals and bass of the godmother of Nepali punk rock Sareena Rai, Rai ko Ris was the quintessential Nepali punk band. The band was at its height in the mid-2000s, playing secret shows in bars around Kathmandu, boycotting the police club venues where, in an ironic twist, metal bands denouncing god and country played. Rai ko Ris was one of the few Nepali punk bands that actually had an ethos—they were DIY, anarcho-feminists, anti-fascist, anti-monarchist, anti-nationalist. And although they’ve disbanded now, Sareena Rai continues to play with The Kathmandu Killers and is a fixture of the Nepali punk scene.
Released (possibly) in 2003, rough cassette tapes and hand-pressed CDs of Himalayan Frostbite circulated heavily among kids in the know. This was an album that introduced a generation to the life-force that was Sareena Rai, her rolling bass and her piercing vocals. It was unlike anything we’d ever heard before. With just five songs, Himalayan Frostbite is barely an album but it packs a wallop. With songs like Jaro Mahina Ayo and Nepal Bandh, this album sets a steady, pulsating pace that never quite lets up. But the songs also betray a burgeoning political consciousness that would permeate Rai ko Ris’ catalogue. Recorded in a one-room studio, this album is as rough today as it was then, but that means it never quite feels dated. As fresh today as it was 15 years ago, this album is indispensible.
2. Jhilke and the Rockers – Jhilke and the Rockers
In the early to mid-2000s, a bootleg recording of a song called Jhyap Jazz was circulating on CDs and hard drives, passed around by collectors and enthusiasts. Recorded by what is quite possibly Nepal’s first punk band, Jhyap Jazz was a reggae-ska-inspired punk song with a catchy sing-along chorus that went ‘mero yo baani malai nai man pardaina’. The recording quality was terrible and I never figured out whether it was in the original or the bootleg but every single recording I’ve heard seems to have the same tell-tale sound of a cassette button being pressed smack in the middle. It’s a recording even rougher than Rai ko Ris’ efforts, but it goes with their style.
Little is known about Jhilke and the Rockers, whose eponymous album was the only one they ever released. Produced in 1996 but only widely circulated in the 2000s through Rai ko Ris’ Infoshop, this album is as elusive as its makers. Its hand-drawn cassette cover has become a thing of legend and its band members are simply a list of first names—Saurav, Manish, Bijay M and Bijay B. With 16 songs, many of them barely a minute or two long, the album is a rough and tumble affair, with Jhyap Jazz as the stand-out track. It’s a wild ride from start to finish, complete with a recording of someone furiously vomiting after possibly smoking and drinking too much.
3. Inside 2 Stoopid Triangles – Chup Laga Timi
Ah, Inside 2 Stoopid Triangles, what can really be said about this band? From the very beginning, this band, by its own admission, wanted to piss people off. Frustrated with the preachy attitude of certain punk bands and their drummers, this ‘ramailo-core’ band took on everything and everyone, pissing people off wherever they went. Theirs was a mix of everything from ska to punk to reggae to hardcore, with Vishal on guitars, Anil on drums, Sushil on bass and everyone on vocals at one point or the other. They jumped around on stage, sometimes playing wildly off-tune just to annoy a crowd of metal purists. They cursed, had fun and basically attempted to turn punk from its serious, self-indulgent avatar to its cheeky, impudent self, where no one needed to take themselves too seriously.
Released possibly in 2003 (but who knows), Chup Laga Timi was the band’s second recording and it was an improvement upon their first one, Ke Bhako Timi. The songs were in the same eclectic style, but the second album gave us classics like Twaate Buda, which is still as fun as ever to holler at the top of your lungs, and rumour has it, is dedicated to a certain foreign drummer from a certain anarcho-punk band. The songs are short so you don’t get annoyed with them and they could definitely get annoying if they went on for too long. But then again, that’s probably what they wanted. This band didn’t give two-shits whether you liked them or hated them; they seemed content to play their music loud and have fun doing it. If this annoyed metalheads then so be it. Just give Fuck Off Metalheads a listen.
4. Tank Girl – Kids with Guns and Chocofun
Tank Girl, named after the seminal punk comic book by Jamie Hewlett of Gorillaz fame, was a short-lived side-project for Rai ko Ris, with Sareena Rai on bass and vocals, Olivier Bertin on drums and Sampreety Gurung on guitars and backing vocals. The band played few shows, one that I happened to catch and immediately loved their sound. Tank Girl, like Rai ko Ris, were anarcho-feminists and also very political. They sounded like Rai ko Ris, they played like Rai ko Ris, just tempered a little bit. Their riffs were catchier, their songs a little more pop-influenced and could be sung-along. They were innovative and interesting, although around for barely a year or two. They had this one album before Sareena Rai and Olivier moved back to Rai ko Ris and Sampreety too moved on. But I know I am not the only one hoping they all would get back together for one more gig.
On Kids with Guns and Chocofun, Tank Girl sing about feminism, racism, caste tensions and Prakash Ojha, along with one epic cover of X-Ray Spex’s I Live Off You and another sweet cover of Led Zeppelin’s Misty Mountain Hop. Songs like Bhalu, Nepali Girl and 70 Kilo are decidedly feminist while 81mm Shock and 15 Years are political in their outlook. But unlike Rai ko Ris, this album is more light-hearted and much more fun. It doesn’t take itself too seriously and has a rollicking good time. No wonder so many lament this band’s single album and wish they’d made more music.
5. Squirt Guns – Slide to Unlock
I’ve seen Squirt Guns live just once and they were impressive. They played a combination of what sounded like an amalgam of punk and progressive rock. I was told that their original sound was more punk, more hardcore and later evolved to mellower, progressive rock along the lines of bands like Toe. Their set was groovy, steady, rhythmic and energetic. However, I did identify with their harder sound a lot more, given that the progressive sound has been done to death and I find little interesting there.
This introduction brought me to their first album, Slide to Unlock, released in 2013. This was an album in the old-school punk vein, snarling guitars that often switched to a ska-based rhythm, rough scratchy vocals and an animated drum line. Just when I had thought all the punk bands had put on suits and gone to work for banks, here was a band that was keeping that spirit alive. This album bears listening to, simply for its aesthetic, one that I had thought long gone.