Sunday, February 24, 2013

Les Misérables

movie review: in the picture

Les Misérables ***1/2

Starring: Hugh Jackman, Russell Crowe, Anne Hathaway, Amanda Seyfried, Eddie Redmayne, Helena Bonham Carter, Sacha Baron Cohen, and Samantha Barks
Directed by Tom Hooper
Tagline: Fight. Dream. Hope. Love.

The global and timeless appeal of Victor Hugo's 1862 opus Les Misérables becomes apparent if you look at the number of adaptations the mammoth tome has yielded over the years. One of the most notable of these adaptations is Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's 1980 musical, the success of which can easily be gauged by the fact that it still continues to grace stages around the world. Now, after three decades of attempts, the long-running musical has finally been brought to the big screen in the form of Tom Hooper's film Les Misérables.

With a poignant story and a hugely successful musical at its backbone, the film certainly has the material to promise a stirring piece of cinema, but have the filmmakers managed to make good use of this potential?
Sung all the way through like an opera, the movie takes us to 19th century France as Jean Valjean (Hugh Jackman) is released from prison after serving a 19-year-long sentence for stealing a loaf of bread and trying to run. Unable to find work because of his criminal record, Valjean violates his parole, assumes a new identity, and becomes a successful man, but the uncompromising inspector Javert (Russell Crowe) remains in his pursuit. A turn of events lead Valjean to adopt Cosette (played by Isabelle Allen as a child and Amanda Seyfried as an adult), the daughter of factory worker turned prostitute Fantine (Anne Hathaway).

The film then does a nine year time jump, as little street urchin Gavroche (Daniel Huttlestone) guides us to the 1832 Paris student uprising led by the rousing Enjolras (Aaron Tveit). Student rebel Marius (Eddie Redmayne) becomes the subject of Cosette's affections, while the aching Éponine (Samantha Barks) unrequitedly pines for him.

Les Misérables is mostly well cast, with almost all the actors giving strong performances in their respective roles. Hugh Jackman carries the entire movie on his strong shoulders and mostly does it well, making good use of his musical theatre experience. Anne Hathaway's portrayal of the doomed Fantine and her moving rendition of 'I Dreamed a Dream' have quite rightly made her a shoo-in for the Best Supporting Actress honors this award season. Samantha Barks, who reprises the part of Éponine having earlier performed the role at the West End, gives a standout performance. The rebels, led by the gorgeous Aaron Tveit, are all suitably rousing, and young Daniel Huttlestone impresses whenever he is on screen.

Russell Crowe, however, seems a little out of place and is the most obvious chink in the movie's casting armor. He has the screen presence - as an actor, he might have been perfect for the role; as a singer, not so much. Make him act and sing at the same time and you get a performance that is awkward and stiff. And while there isn't anything wrong with Helena Bonham Carter and Sacha Baron Cohen's take on Éponine's parents, the crafty innkeepers who happen to have the waif Cosette in their care, but it isn't particularly exciting to see them take on oddball personas yet again, although they do their best to provide the film's requisite comic relief.

Perhaps a weakness of the movie lies in the character development (or lack thereof) of the ingénue Cosette towards the second half of the film. Amanda Seyfried simply gets overshadowed by the big performances that are going on around her, and the role isn't as strong or compelling as one would've hoped for a character that is so central to the entire movie. The Cosette and Marius relationship just might be the least engaging part of the film instead of the pivotal string that is supposed to tie the whole thing together, maybe because a degree of detail and nuance has been stripped from the story in its book to musical to film transition.

Much has been made of director Tom Hooper's decision to have the actors sing live (instead of recording the songs separately), and for the most part, it pays off. The singing might not be perfect, but the imperfections mostly help, not impede the emotional resonance of the songs. Other directorial decisions have varying results. The director's fondness for the shaky camera helps portray the chaos of the era, and his tendency to fixate on the close-ups of actors as they belt out the big numbers helps to relay the emotional intensity, but the same effects on repeat soon become tiring and monotonous.

So then why is Les Mis still a triumph? Because it evokes emotion. Its stirring performances and ability to reach its audience makes you overlook its flaws. The strength of a work must surely be based on how strong an effect it has on the viewers, and this film certainly knows how to reel the viewers in and make an emotional connection with the audience. The despair of the world portrayed in the film is consistently palpable, making the movie touching and even heart wrenching in places. And despite its two and a half hour run time, the developments are absorbing and the proceedings remain engaging.

Overall, Les Misérables is a powerful movie, but one you should watch with a box of tissue papers close at hand. Sometimes the movie works because of Tom Hooper, at other times in spite of him, but eventually it's the film's talented cast that pulls you into its harsh world and its moving story that leaves a strong impact.

– Sameen Amer 

Instep, The News on Sunday - 24th February, 2013

Lifehouse grows up with Almería

album review

Good at making pop songs, and with their instrumental abilities proven, the band sets off in a more exciting direction

Band: Lifehouse
Album: Almería

After making it big with their debut album No Name Face (2000), Lifehouse have maintained a steady presence in the industry, releasing a number of subsequent albums and pleasing their steadfast fans with their melodic modern rock anthems. To others though, the band might feel unexciting and one dimensional, stuck making the same songs over and over, unwilling or unable to take risks and produce something different. Their latest album, Almería, just might be the group's response to those detractors.

There is no doubt about the fact that Lifehouse can make good pop songs, and tracks like 'Hanging by a Moment' emphatically attest to their musical abilities. But while they have made competent pop rock albums, their output hasn't always been as memorable as one would've hoped. With the new album, Lifehouse have taken a step towards showing their maturity and have tried a slightly different approach. There isn't a completely radical change, but overall you can notice a significant difference in sound as compared to their previous records.

With producer Jude Cole once again joining the group in the studio, Lifehouse have employed a more diverse sonic canvas for their sixth studio release. Vocalist Jason Wade continues to dole out relatable, introspective reflections over the course of the album's ten tracks, and vocally seems perhaps a tad more upbeat than he has been on earlier tunes.

Almería's cover gives a hint of the flavour that inspires some of its content - a tinge of country western vibes can be occasionally heard on some of the tracks, most notably on the catchy album opener 'Gotta Be Tonight', which is laced with western sounds. Similarly, the standout 'Right Back Home' which features Peter Frampton and Charles Jones, makes good use of both its collaborators and its southern rock feel.

Elsewhere, 'Nobody Listen' displays the strength of the band's instrumental abilities and Jason Wade's vocals, creating a pulsing song that is hard to resist. On other tracks, things still reside on the more subdued side of pop rock, and songs like the first single 'Between the Raindrops', a duet with pop singer Natasha Bedingfield, and the soothing, piano led album closer 'Aftermath', still hold the radio friendly appeal of their earlier material.

It's when they venture out of their comfort zone that the result is more exciting, which is what makes Almería one of their most interesting records in years. The band's evolution is obvious on songs like 'Right Back Home', and may even expand their appeal. That said, if you are a fan of their previous albums and were happy with the sound they had latched on to, then you won't necessarily like the change; you might find the expansion of their musical palette refreshing or you might find it less immediate than their earlier releases - it depends solely on your preferences. But from a neutral standpoint, something like this is a lot more interesting than, say, its predecessor Smoke & Mirrors (2010). For the most part, the experimentation attempted on Almería is effective and a step in the right direction. The change might not be drastic, but it is still appreciable, and it nicely complements their established persona. Overall, Almería is a promising set that is at its best when it's trying something different, and it shows that Lifehouse are not only willing to venture onto a more expansive musical landscape but also know how to pull it off.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 24th February, 2013

Friday, February 22, 2013

My Teen Years - Urwa Tul Wusqua


Star and date of birth
Cancer, 2nd July 1991.

The best thing about being a teenager
Carelessness. That was the time when I couldn’t care less about the practicalities of life; all I wanted to do was have fun and enjoy myself to the fullest – and I am glad I did. That was the time I shall always cherish.

I was glued to the T.V. for
Pop music.

My favourite movie was
Titanic, a movie I could watch over and over and never get tired of it. I even learned its dialogues and played Rose’s part the best.

My favourite actor was
Kate Winslet.

My favourite book was
I used to read all sorts of literature from, Paulo Coelho’s philosophical Alchemist to Judith McNaught and Danielle Steel’s captivating stories. However, I never liked science fiction much. Success literature on the other hand was a phase too; whenever I would want to feel inspired I’d refer to Stephen Covey.

My room was full of
Colours, lights, and lamps.

My room walls carried the posters of
Pop singers like Nicole, J. Lo, Enrique, etcetera.

My closet was full of
Stuff that I don’t like much now! My fashion sense has gotten a lot better now.

My friends were
Evil masterminds.

My first crush/My first date
My fair share of craziness and embarrassments.

What hurt me the most
Disappointing my mom.

My dream was to become
A lawyer.

I wish I had known then
That time never waits for you.

Relations with siblings
The best relationship ever. No matter how much my young siblings bug and badger me, they are the apples of my eye.

Relations with parents
My parents are like my everyday journal – I have to feed everything into them or wouldn’t be able to sleep in peace.

My school was
An awesome hangout. From hiding from the discipline in charge in the restrooms while bunking to the hushed whispering in the examination halls, every bit of it is precious for me.

Ragging at college/university
I was never the victim, always the hunter.

I couldn’t stand
My class teacher – a grumpier version of Mrs. Tingle.

My favourite hangout was
The school’s rooftop.

My favourite superhero was

My favourite sport was

My favourite pastime was
Bunking classes with friends, water fighting, gossiping in hushed voices at four in the morning, playing Crazy Taxi on Facebook, and spending time with my best friends.


Us Magazine, The News - 22nd February, 2013

Thursday, February 21, 2013

“The experience has been great so far” - Junaid Khan

interview: catching up

Former Call vocalist Junaid Khan talks about his solo musical efforts and small screen career

Singer and actor Junaid Khan has recently released his long awaited new single ‘Keh Do’, and has also appeared in a number of television serials. We got a chance to ask Junaid about his new music and upcoming acting projects. Here's what he had to say…

Instep Today: Your new song and video 'Keh Do' have finally been released after months of delay. Why was the release postponed after you initially announced the track in August last year?
Junaid Khan:
Well, I had to reshoot the video due to certain reasons, hence the delay. Plus I believed the message that I wanted to convey through 'Keh Do' would have a better impact if I release it around Valentine's. So I guess everything happens for a reason.

Instep Today: What was the inspiration behind the song?
What I have observed living all these years is that in our everyday life we hold so many grudges for people around us due to reasons which sometimes we aren't even sure of, and because of those reasons we hold back our expressions of affection towards them. These people can be our parents, siblings, other relatives, friends, work colleagues. We do love them, but due to those reasons we don't tell them that we actually do care for them. Only when those people aren't around us do we realize that we should have expressed (our feelings) and then those thoughts become regrets. My message through 'Keh Do' is to express to our dear ones now when you have them around you; tell them you love them and care for them and will support them despite any misunderstandings. We should learn to forgive and forget and keep smiling and keep making efforts to make others smile, even our worst enemies. These thoughts inspired me to bring 'Keh Do' to people.

Instep Today: Are you satisfied with how the 'Keh Do' video turned out?
I guess that is up to the people to decide if the video is able to communicate the concept behind the song effectively. If you ask me, I am satisfied with how I wanted to communicate the concept, though of course any message can be communicated in a better way, or maybe I am just a bit critical about my own work.

Instep Today: Your solo work so far has been markedly different from your work will Call. Is there a reason you have started your solo career with more mellow tracks?
There is no specific reason. I have transferred my thoughts into various tracks that I haven't yet released but have created during the past year, out of which majorly are hard rock numbers, but it is by chance that both the songs that I have released so far - 'So Close So Distant' and 'Keh Do' - are mellow ballads. Even at the time with Call when Jilawatan was released, 'Sab Bhula Kai' and 'Bichar Kai Bhee' were released one after the other, both being mellow tracks. But one thing is for sure - I will announce very soon the release of my next track which is purely a hard rock track.

Instep Today: Could you please tell us about the next (hard rock) track?
I will announce the name and will release teasers for the track really soon. There are certain messages that are well let out when communicated aggressively. This track is going to be the depiction of my aggression and is something purely for the fans who follow rock.

Instep Today: Is your debut solo album also in the works? How soon will it be released?
Yes, I have written all the tracks and am working with producer Sami Khan and tracking them these days. I will announce the album release date really soon too, once I am done tracking.

Instep Today: Do you have any plans for live shows soon?
Yes, I am going to be performing live with my band really soon in Pakistan and also abroad. Details will be given on my social pages.

Instep Today: You have made your mark as an actor during the last year. How has your acting experience been so far?
The experience has been great so far. I am lucky enough to be able to work with professionals from whom I have been able to learn a lot. Last year, I was nominated in the Best Actor category at the Lux Style Awards. This year, I have been nominated for the same by a channel. Hence the journey has been great so far.

Instep Today: What do you say in response to the criticism that your roles and acting have been too similar in various dramas?
Well, my first two plays Dil Ki Lagi and Kabhi Na Kabhi were sitcoms in which the role was quite friendly; those were release around two years back. In the recent years at Hum, my first play was Mujhey Roothney Na Dena in which I played a very compromising friend and husband too, and hence the role was different as well. Just by chance, Mata-e-Jaan, Yahan Piyar Nahin He, and Madiha Maliha were released consecutively and were hits, hence the label of me doing similar roles. My next two projects Ek Maamooli Si Larki and Qadoorat have me in quite friendly roles. Another one, Un Suni, is probably the most difficult character that I have done so far.

Instep Today: What can you tell us about your next serial/drama Qadoorat?
Qadoorat is set for release on the 27th on Hum TV. The name Qadoorat means “jealousy” and is about a character played by Sanam Saeed depicting what a human being is capable of doing while carrying the sentiment of jealousy. The cast has Momal Sheikh, Deepak Parwani, and Angeline Malik alongside me.

Instep Today: Can you please tell us about Un Suni and your character in it?
Un Suni is being produced by actor Sajid Hassan for AKM Productions. The character that I am playing in it has been the most challenging for me. The character has various moods and shades, the type of character I loved doing the most. The network hasn’t announced a release date for its airing. The cast has me, Mehwish Hayat, ZQ, and Sajid Hassan himself in the lead roles.

Instep Today: Are there any other (music or acting) projects that you are currently working on? What can we expect from you in the coming weeks?
Yes, on the music front a few rock tracks and the album are underway, and on the acting front there are a few more scripts that I am going through to finalize.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep Today, The News - 21st February, 2013

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Opposites attract

album review

Biffy Clyro’s sixth album, Opposites, features the same familiar vibe which has made the band so popular

Band: Biffy Clyro
Album: Opposites

Since starting out as a prog-flavoured post-hardcore outfit, Scottish trio Biffy Clyro have polished their sound and created a brand of melodic rock that has brought them mainstream success. Their standout fourth album Puzzle (2007) may have disappointed some of the fans of their earlier albums, but it also helped the band capture a bigger audience with more straightforward tunes and less experimentation than their previous efforts, a trend that further continued on its follow up Only Revolutions (2009).

The band now returns with their sixth studio record, Opposites, a double album that sees the group put together twenty well-constructed tracks, split evenly into two parts: the grim first disc The Sand at the Core of Our Bones and the somewhat more hopeful second disc The Land at the End of Our Toes. Adorned with Storm Thorgerson's striking cover art (a depiction of the world's oldest living tree), the new set is helmed by Garth Richardson, who also produced Biffy Clyro's last two albums, and, quite understandably, continues down the same road that was taken by its most recent predecessors.

On Opposites, the group offers another set of sleek, polished arena anthems without completely losing their idiosyncratic touches, although they do primarily stick to the sound that has made them big over the last few years. The instrumentation is tight and well executed. Simon Neil has a fascinating way of expressing his emotions and feelings, and it is always interesting to ponder his words and unravel his thoughts, and the songs on Opposites are no exception.

The Sand at the Core of Our Bones opens with the dynamic 'Different People' which builds to an anthemic chorus (as do many tracks on offer here), and then gives way to the brilliant first single 'Black Chandelier', the catchy 'Sounds like Balloons', 'Biblical' and 'A Girl and His Cat', the Foo Fighters-esque 'Little Hospitals', and the moody 'The Fog' which haunts with its beautiful melody. The Land at the End of Our Toes, the half of the album that is probably easier to gravitate towards, hosts 'Pocket', which is perhaps the brightest melody on the set, and the bagpipes on 'Stingin' Belle' and the mariachi band on 'Spanish Radio' provide those quirky touches that keep the proceedings from becoming monotonous. And by the time 'Picture a Knife Fight' closes the album, you might want to join the throngs to get in line for tickets for Biffy's next live show.

Opposites isn't exactly a very adventurous record, and despite being a double album, it generally keeps things short and swift, with most of the songs clocking in at less than four minutes apiece. Despite its twenty tracks, the album does not feel overlong or excessively bloated, and once you give it a few listens and the character of each song becomes more apparent, you will get a chance to appreciate each track that is a part of the set. This isn't the record for those who wanted Biffy Clyro to go back to the music of their first three releases were hoping for. It will, instead, sit better with those who fell for the group when Puzzle came out. Overall, Opposites is a cohesive, well constructed record, that displays the abilities of a skilled band that may have smoothed its edges but hasn't lost its emotiveness and emotional resonance.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 17th February, 2013

Friday, February 15, 2013

“Pay attention, you might learn something!”

on campus: teachers' trials     

Things that teachers want to say to their students

Are you stuck under a huge pile of homework and assignments and wondering what you ever did to deserve this? Exhausted by the endless stream of quizzes and exams that just don’t seem to give you a break? And upset with your teachers for subjecting you to this kind of torture? Then your teachers have a message for you: they’re only trying to do what they feel is best for you, and that’s what’s required of them as part of their job. They do, however, feel that their intentions might not be getting through to their students. So we asked teachers - including a secondary school teacher, college and university instructors, and a highly experienced and qualified retired school principal who has also lectured extensively at university - what they’d want to communicate to their students if they could openly speak to them. Here’s what they had to say...

Shockingly, the first and foremost thing that teachers want to tell their students - and in fact do tell their students, repeatedly! - is to study. That’s more than a little obvious, you’d think, but then how would you explain why so often students come unprepared to class? Your instructors have been assigned the task to impart education and pass on their knowledge to you so that you can live up to your potential. And they’d appreciate it if you let them! There isn’t much they can do without your cooperation, so if you actually study what and when you’re meant to, you’ll be making things easier for both yourself and your teachers.

“Don’t leave things to the last minute”
If you leave things to the last minute, it will show in your output. An assignment hurriedly put together at the eleventh hour will be rushed, poorly researched, and badly done, with glaring careless mistakes all over the place. And the person who will have to mark your work will know the difference. Also, if you leave studying for a test to the last minute, it will make you more flustered which will in turn decrease your retention. And staying up all night to cram before an exam is very likely to adversely impact your performance. So do yourself a favour, and don’t leave your work or preparation to the last moment.

“Answer the question, for God’s sake, answer the question!”
Anyone who has ever had to mark assignments or exams will attest to the fact that a very common mistake students make is that instead of answering the question that they are being asked, they answer the question that they *think* they are being asked, and those two questions don’t always align. Often students fail to get the major point of the query. For example, “John Howard was the second longest serving Prime Minister in Australia. The longest serving was also a Liberal member, Robert Menzies. What is it about the Liberal Party that gives them so much stability?” That’s the question, and it requires a discussion about the Liberal Party. Some students will end up talking about John Howard or Robert Menzies, but that’s not what they are being asked. The distinction might be subtle, so read the question and think about it before you start composing your answer. It’s easy to miss the point or go off track, so trying to figure out what the question actually requires will help you immensely.

“There’s more to writing an assignment than Ctrl+C and Ctrl+V”
The main reason teachers give you assignments and assessments is because they HAVE to - it’s a requirement; they have to be able to prove that they have taught something and you have learned something. So they teach, and then they assess. If you copy stuff from somebody else, they don’t know if you have learned anything. By plagiarising, you’re sabotaging your own learning process AND showing disrespect towards your instructors. And it’s insulting to suggest that you think you can dupe your teachers. So if you think that all you need to do is find what somebody else has done and copy it into your own assignment, then your teachers emphatically disagree with you. Some colleges and universities take very strict action against students who plagiarise (including awarding a straight F to students caught cheating), so it is better for you from both a learning and penalty perspective if you do your own work.

“This assessment was not set as a personal insult to you”
As soon as the professor announces that there will be a quiz or an assignment, it usually results in a collective groan from the class. So your teachers want to assure you that they do not set your assessments to make your life hell. You think writing one is hard; think about how many your teacher has to read and mark while working out nice ways to point out your mistakes and help you improve. Assessments are part of the school work, and they’re meant to help you learn and help the teacher figure out how well they’re doing their job. Use them as a tool for learning and improvement.

“Ask for help”
A number of teachers that I spoke to felt that some of their students hesitate to ask for help, and that they could benefit from speaking up when they have a problem. And you should ask for assistance sooner rather than later if you don’t understand things, because if you ask sooner, your teacher can spend time with you, help you out, or set you off in the right direction to get the help you need, and they might even get a warm fuzzy thinking that you are actually starting your work on time. If you wait till the last minute, your instructor will be frazzled, frustrated, and annoyed, and if most of your classmates end up doing the same thing, the teacher is not going to be most helpful. Plus it will suggest a lack of concern on your part. Your teachers are there to help you learn; they *want* to help you learn. So just ask them!

“Try to have fun”
It’s no secret that you do better when you’re happy. If you’re lucky enough to study things you enjoy, then it will be easier and more fulfilling for you, but if you don’t have that option, try to think of a way to make what you’re studying interesting. Yes it’s important to respect your teachers, pay attention to what they say, and be punctual, but you must also try to enjoy the process of learning and even take breaks sometimes. Don’t see this study stuff as torture. It’s something you have to do, but it will end one day, and hopefully you’ll come out a stronger, more knowledgeable, and more empathetic person at the end of the process. And remember that even though your school work is important, the world will not explode if you don’t get an A+ every single time. Don’t be daunted by the learning process. Relax, do your best, and try to have fun.

- S.A.

 Us Magazine, The News - 15th February, 2013

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Andholan will be heavier and darker

interview: beat box

The MHB frontman talks about intensifying his band’s groove for the cult following they got with Sampooran

Since the group's inception over a decade ago, the Mekaal Hasan Band have established themselves as one of the predominant presences in sufi rock with their contemporary fusion of eastern and western sounds. They have released two studio albums, performed in various countries, and amassed a considerable fan following, impressing listeners and critics alike. In a chat with Instep, Mekaal Hasan talks about the band's long awaited third album, their upcoming single, and touring plans.

New material

Instep: We've been waiting to hear new music from the Mekaal Hasan Band for quite some time now. How soon can we expect any new releases from you guys?
Mekaal Hasan:
We are working on a single which will precede the album.

Instep: Tell us about the single
It's a folk song. It's different from what we've done before. It's basically a tribute to Tufail Niazi.

Instep: Your third album was slated to be released over a year ago. Why the delay?
The record itself was tracked a while back, so the bulk of it was written and recorded a few years ago actually. The severe lack of shows in the country has meant taking on work which can pay the bills which means completing the record gets pushed back. However, having said that, I think this year will see the release of Andholan, possibly in the winters.

Instep: How is work on the album coming along?
As I mentioned, most of the tracking has been done. Some overdubs for guitars remain and so do some bass tracks, but most of the other material has been recorded.

Instep: Tell us about the material that you have worked on so far
It'll be a more epic sounding record, as in, it will have some of the moodiness of Sampooran but also will be a heavier and darker record.

Instep: What is the group's lineup for the third album?
Javed Bashir on vocals, Papu on flute, Amir Azhar on bass, and Gumby on drums (he tracked them quite a few years ago). Live, Kami Paul or Fahad Khan will be playing for most of the time.

Instep: The band is a collection of so much musical talent and a fusion of different styles. How do you find the perfect balance in sound that makes use of everyone's individual talents? Is it challenging, or does it come easily/ naturally?
Depends on the song and arrangements. In the band, it's always a case of what do we choose to play rather than 'can we play this?'. The musicians are top notch, so executing parts is not the issue; it's balancing the range of playing to accommodate the songs.


Instep: You've toured Indian recently. How did that go?
India has always been an amazing country to play in. It's perfectly suited to accept the music the band plays since the musical base is the same for both the countries and the language too is in common.

Instep: Have you had any shows in Pakistan recently? How do you feel about the situation of concerts and live performances in Pakistan? And what can be done to make it better?
It's been very lean in Pakistan for us and many other artists. The way to make it better is for the live circuit to be revived by putting in corporate and sponsor money to rebuild the circuit. Right now, security is often cited as a reason for no shows, but I feel that if political parties can successfully hold huge rallies without any security issues, then it's just a matter of there being no interest from the government and the corporate sector to let people enjoy music and art. The entire attitude is dismal, and we are fast losing our best artists and years.

Instep: Do you have any more live dates coming up in the next few weeks, here or abroad?
We are scheduled to play in India in February. It's a very exciting project where we basically will be writing fresh music around the kalams of Amir Khusrau.

Other projects and future plans

Instep: Have you been working on any individual/ production projects recently?
Yes, there's a couple of new things I'm involved with right now which should be out soon enough; possibly in this year.

Instep: What can we expect from the Mekaal Hasan Band in the coming months?
Well, there's the single to look forward to and the record a few more months down the line. Also we'll be releasing lots of live as well as acoustic content through the Facebook page - that should be cool. With the band's touring on the increase, I hope we will be playing a lot more in Pakistan as well.    

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 10th February, 2013

Sunday, February 03, 2013

Inessential but fun

album review

¡Tré! finds Green Day expending less energy on punk attitude and putting more focus on pop melody

Band: Green Day
Album: ¡Tré!

2012 was a busy year for Green Day. Even though their touring plans were postponed due to Billie Joe Armstrong's stint in rehab, the group still released three albums within the span of a few months towards the end of the year (albeit at a slightly modified schedule). The rambunctious first disc, ¡Uno!, saw them return to their pop rock roots, providing a set of catchy ditties likely to please fans of their '90s output. The second album, ¡Dos!, flirted with garage rock and offered a more commercial take on their Foxboro Hot Tubs persona. The band now winds up the trilogy with its final instalment, ¡Tré!, which ties the first two discs together.

A nod to drummer Tré Cool's name, ¡Tré! finds Green Day expending less energy on punk attitude and putting more focus on pop melody. Comprising of a dozen songs, the album sees the band once again work with producer Rob Cavallo and offers immediate hooks wrapped around up-tempo tunes.

From the soul tinged opener 'Brutal Love' to the sappy piano ballad closer 'The Forgotten' (which also found home on The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn - Part 2 soundtrack) and everything in between, there is no shortage of straightforward, enjoyable pop tunes on the set. 'X-Kid' stands out for its feel of urgency, 'Missing You' is by the numbers but competent, and the mid tempo balladry of 'Drama Queen' is charming although a bit listless. And while 'Dirty Rotten Bastards' and '99 Revolutions' sound like outtakes from American Idiot or 21st Century Breakdown, the dodgy experiments of the first two sets in the form of 'Kill the DJ' and 'Nightlife' have largely been shunned in favour of mainstream, radio friendly pop rock tracks.

¡Tré! is a set of songs that are likely to connect instantly with newer/younger fans, although long term fans may find the output too poppy and commercial. Nothing here is likely to surprise you. The lyrics won't win the band any songwriting awards, and the album also falls prey to the critique that has surfaced repeatedly for the rest of the trilogy: repetitiveness and rehashing. A casual listener may find these songs too similar and struggle to tell them apart on first listen. Detractors will still think the band has about two and a half songs and just keeps rereleasing them. But Green Day fans who appreciate the group's pop sensibilities will be able to embrace these tracks, and listeners who like simple pop rock will enjoy the set.

As for the trilogy on the whole, ¡Uno!, ¡Dos!, ¡Tré! was an enjoyable project, although there was nothing exceptional about it. Overall, it wasn't an elaborate, high concept trilogy, just some solid pop tunes put together. Nothing really stood out, and some of the tunes seemed recycled. “I took a wrong turn in growing up and it's freaking me out,” Billie Joe sings on 'Sex, Drugs & Violence', and the trilogy seems like a musical manifestation of that sentiment. With the back to basics vibe they employed, we didn't get to see a new or different side of Green Day; the side we did see, however, was competent and pleasant, but not necessarily imaginative and creative. Was it essential? No. But it certainly was fun.

- By Sameen Amer

Instep, The News on Sunday - 3rd February, 2013

Friday, February 01, 2013

The musical odyssey continues...

cover story

Musicians discuss the state of the Pakistani music industry in 2012 and reveal what they have planned for 2013

It was the best of times. It was the worst of times. It was the averagest of times.
It just depends on who you ask.
So we cast a wide net and queried a number of musicians from a variety of backgrounds about the Pakistani music scene. We asked them to share what they thought about the Pakistani music industry in 2012, the highs and lows of their own careers last year, and what they plan to do this year. Here’s what they had to say:

Faakhir Mehmood
- Pakistani music industry in 2012: Electronic media (TV and radio) generally drives and dictates the music scene anywhere in the world, and it seems that the Pakistani electronic media has pledged to complete the “demolition job” of our music industry by violating PEMRA laws and exceeding their prescribed quota of airing international content. In any developing country, local industry is protected and hence promoted by preferring it over foreign content; however it’s the other way round in our country. Pakistani content is actually getting completely lost amidst these hugely budgeted Indian film songs which are capturing 95 percent of Pakistani airwaves. Yes, the Indian production, masala, sensual actresses, sensational sets, and choreography is a spectacle; however we must support our fledgling industry that has already been hit hard by meagre resources, rampant piracy, as well as digital downloads. Look at the way the Indians had a complete ban for several decades on imported cars and thousands of other goods just in a bid to let their own industries flourish.
- Favourite release of 2012: ‘Saaein’ was my personal favourite song this year.
- My Career: My own career Masha’Allah took off in 2011 with the release of my long awaited album Jee Chaahay after my long sabbatical, and I’ve been extremely busy ever since with live gigs and projects locally and internationally. Touchwood, there haven’t been any low points and I’ve capped the year with a big live concert on New Year’s Eve at PC Hotel Bhurban.

Daniel Arthur Panjwaneey (//orangenoise)
- Pakistani music industry in 2012: It was wonderful. The indie scene has gotten bigger and better and continues to grow; it’s being recognised internationally as well. Electronic music has been making a very visible mark too.
- Favourite releases: There’s so many to list down, but here are a few that have been favourites:
  • Dynoman - Naubahar
  • Poor Rich Boy - Old Money EP
  • Basheer and the Pied Pipers - Basheer
  • Asfandyar Khan - Elsewhere
  • Dreadnaught - Coincidences and Illusions EP
Singles from the entire Forever South roster, Sikandar Ka Mandar, Mooroo, and Sibti have been wonderful to hear, too.
- What I liked and disliked the most about the Pakistani music scene: The one thing I liked the most about the music scene in 2012 is the fact that audiences and artists both have been receptive and open to new sounds and new music constantly dabbling in experimentation; it’s a breath of fresh air. Didn’t dislike anything except for the fact that there aren’t ‘enough’ live shows happening.
- My career: It’s been wonderful, I’ve found absolute joy in everything that’s been done in 2012 when it comes to music. No regrets or complaints! The highlights were making it to Uth Records season 2; releasing our full length album - A Journey to the Heart of Matter; getting reviewed by Rolling Stone India; and performing a cross-collaborative show between the members of Sikandar ka Mandar, Basheer and the Pied Pipers, and Natasha Humera Ejaz to end the year. Lows, none.
- Plans for 2013: More shows, more music and videos to be released, and hopefully a few performances outside Karachi too. Let’s just leave this to fate. :)

Momina Mustehsan
- Pakistani music industry in 2012: It was pretty good for artists until a ban was imposed on YouTube. I feel that was a major setback as we got to see a lot of talent emerge and witnessed many people rise to fame through YouTube since our music channels no longer do justice in promoting new talent. YouTube was an open and fair platform for everyone and we don’t have that anymore. So it’s almost like going back a few years in terms of progress. I understand that it was banned due to a video made by an insensitive person, which was rightly condemned by our nation, but the ban was a protest and should have been lifted after a certain period of time. Although horrible, but that was one out of the millions of videos on YouTube that are helpful in so many ways that include education, religion, cooking, arts and craft, and so much more. It’s like throwing away a whole encyclopaedia because of one objectionable article.
- Favourite release: ‘Jaag’ by Jarar Malik.
- What I liked and disliked the most about the Pakistani music scene: A lot of things. Fewer concerts, small amount of album releases because of record label monopoly, and music channels hardly playing any new content or shows (but that has been the case since before 2012 as well), among many other issues, the biggest being the ban on YouTube.
- My career: I never intended on making a career out of music. I’ve always had a passion for music and it has remained only a hobby, with me putting out covers of songs that I liked on the web occasionally, and that’s about it. However, I got involved in a pretty big project in 2012 and that’s probably how I earned my recognition. So for me, 2012 was when, willingly or unwillingly, I was introduced into the music industry. The highlight was, of course, the only formal release I lent my vocals to: ‘Pi Jaun’ by Farhan Saeed.
- Plans for 2013: I’ll be starting the last year for my engineering degree and I’m planning on taking my MCATs for medical school in 2013 as well. As for music, I have nothing planned out. Let’s see where 2013 takes me. :)

Junaid Khan 
- Pakistani music industry in 2012: The Pakistani music scene is struggling like the past year due to the same reason of foreign content infusion into the industry. Though numerous brands like Coke, Ufone, Pepsi, and Nescafe are helping out in promoting local music, but still it isn’t enough.
- New releases: Quite a few artists made their way through even in such circumstances. Though our leading artists - Atif Aslam, Ali Zafar, and Rahat Fateh Ali Khan - still did quite a few projects in Bollywood this year, but other than that, names like QB, Symt, and Qayaas came on the front due to Coke Studio. I like the fact that artists are not losing hope and are continuously working even in such conditions which is very much required so that the industry doesn’t die completely.
- Plans for 2013: ‘Keh Do’ will finally be released Insha’Allah soon. I held on to it due to some reasons but now I’m finally releasing it. Other than ‘Keh Do’, I am planning to release more videos and eventually my solo album as well this year.

Adnan Dhool (Soch)
- Pakistani music industry in 2012: Pakistan has forever produced highly talented musicians and artists, who have without a doubt been recognised globally. But sadly considering the current scenario of Pakistan, the music scene too has gone downhill. Many prominent artists have frequently been picked up for sponsored or international projects, but that has only done wonders for each of them individually and these have so far not been constructive enough for Pakistan’s music scene as an entity.
- Favourite releases: My favourite new songs were ‘Ishq Awalla’ by Meesha Shafi and Chakwal Group from Coke Studio, ‘Pi Jaun’ by Farhan Saeed featuring Momina Mustehsan, and ‘Geet’ by Asrar. And I liked the work by Rahat Fateh Ali Khan, Mustafa Zahid, and Farhan Saeed.
- What I liked and disliked the most about the Pakistani music scene: Nescafe Basement is undeniably a commendable initiative by Xulfi and has been a breeze of fresh air for the Pakistani music scene this year. Contrariwise, the nationwide ban imposed on YouTube has been a setback for the Pakistani artists. YouTube had made it very easy for everyone to either release their music videos or share and reveal their musical output with just about everybody. Also, all the internal chaos is virtually putting a halt to concerts and public performances.
- My career: Rabi [Ahmed] and I, in collaboration with our manager, Murtaza Niaz, established our own production house, PMR Studio Works. We are busy these days with some productions, all lined up to be released soon. Nescafe Basement was definitely the best bit of 2012 and we are so very glad to be a part of it. Apart from this, our shoot by UK based video director Adnan Qazi for our pop rock song ‘Hamesha’; the selection of our song ‘Khabar’ for the OST of an upcoming Pakistani movie (due to be released in 2013); and, after a long wait of two years, our most awaited video ‘Bandeya’ which has been released worldwide by Indya Records on this New Year’s Eve. All these happenings have absolutely made 2012 worthwhile.
- Plans for 2013: The release of my band Soch’s album with lots of concerts, public performances, and video releases, of course!

- S.A.

Us Magazine, The News - 1st February, 2013