Review | Kolkata’s Park Circus Is Dropping Beats to Existential Urban Truths

When listening to an album involuntarily makes your feet move, body groove and alarms senior citizens in the metro coach you’re in, you know you have a banger on your hands – well, plugged into your ears.

Yep, the eponymous debut album of Kolkata-based funkadelic hip-hop act Park Circus is definitely one for the ages.

Comprising rapper and lyricist BC Azad, bassist Joy Roy and music producer National Animal – with support from singer Rohini Bhose and DJ Vally – the band sets the bar high right from the very first song of the album.

The explosive and honest opener ‘700017’ – the pin code of the area Park Circus in Kolkata – is decked with echoing beats and odd sounds which blend with aesthetic electric guitar chords to form a soundscape that is fresh and dazzling.

The cover of Park Circus’ debut album.

The English and Hindi rapping is not quite in-your-face but is textured to highlight the words. Pronunciation is also used as a tool and you can see the band clearly had fun with it. And though it may give you a light and airy vibe, don’t be deceived – the lyrics host hard-hitting, profound truths, perfectly in sync with today’s reality.

Among other songs, ‘Millennial Whoop‘ addresses the unfunny curiosity people harbour for surnames like ‘Azad’ and employs trippy sounds and literal vocal whoops to deliver its angst.

The beauty of the album is in how it reflects urban life as it is, where the 21st century generation smokes weed, navigates modern relationships and tries to eke out an existence in the fast-paced rat race. It also paints a real picture of those who dare to pursue different dreams only to be met with discouragement.

The surprise package comes in the form of ‘This is Park Circus’.

Adamant, enterprising and vibrant, the song takes Indian society and its strange mechanisms apart. The opulent brass section lends a majestic vibe which perfectly complements the satirical undertone prevalent throughout the record.

Clocking in at 26 minutes, Park Circus also takes into account the city’s recent murky history, existential underpinnings and right-off-the-street knowledge to embellish its unapologetic, glocal identity.

Survival is a recurrent theme, as is the protagonist and his neighbourhood (yes, you guessed it right) Park Circus. You will be made familiar with the pains of a struggling artist as he gives his life’s blood, sweat and time to make a name and living for himself in a city with alarmingly scarce opportunities.

But these grimy aspects can easily be overlooked by those who get sucked in by the bass. And most will get pulled right in; a pure gravy train, the funk grooves are designed to provoke movement. This is why the album can cheerfully hold its head high above a large chunk of the hip-hop churned out in India.

The album shows that the band clearly gave equal thought to sound design and the lyrics; which is telling of the musical maturity and professionalism at work here. Of course, having the legendary Miti Adhikari produce the album cannot hurt.

Image courtesy: Park Circus

In relation to the entire record, the low points for me were ‘Blame the President’ and ‘Trouble’ – though it’s not like both don’t deliver hefty punches on their own. The former sums up the wrongs and inequalities in society and the eternal rich-poor gap, but there’s no fresh perspective as such. The latter is another run-of-the-mill boost-yourself-up song about going your own way and never giving up, but the music feels delivers the absolute opposite feeling.

Caught up in its own strange confusion, only ‘Ajeeb Ghazalein’ is the only one that completely missed the point for me.

But each listen of the album brings more understanding – as is true of any music – and the eight-track album leaves a great amount of serious food-for-thought material for you to chomp on. Most listeners will find it easy to relate as they are bound to find parallels with any urban millennial’s life.

The best thing about Park Circus is its inability to fit into pre-designated genre shelves. It keeps you guessing, perfectly in tune with its aura of edgy suspense.

The bilingual record needed only the inclusion of Bengali to capture Kolkata’s true cosmopolitan identity. Nevertheless, it loudly announces that a ‘dying city’ can still give other cities a run for their money in terms of the quality music it is capable of pumping out.

Shaswata Kundu Chaudhuri is a features journalist based in Kolkata with an unhealthy interest in music.

Featured image courtesy: Park Circus