Strings have made a habit out of not performing the exact same studio version of their songs when performing live. As Bilal Maqsood told Instep on the set of Pepsi Battle of the Bands 4 in-between rehearsing for ‘Chal Para’, they like to mix things up sonically - particularly when they know they have a new generation of fans in the mix. They need to cater to the fans who have been following them since ‘Sar Kiye Ye Pahar’ but also those who have just discovered Strings. It is with this vision with which they performed ‘Chal Para’ in episode three and nailed a new song that echoed signature signs into something heavier but never veered towards the banality, elevating what was a decent but not a groundbreaking track into something else entirely. That is Strings for you.
Our story, however, begins with episode three – apart from the Strings performance – followed by the fourth one - in which 12 bands were whittled down to 8 and new format changes were introduced.
Unlike last year, this year 12 bands had been selected across two audition episodes. In the last episode, it was E Sharp, and Seismic Tremors who emerged as the best bands from the lot, in my opinion. Auj had the judges impressed as well. The big question is how many of those will get axed as the show progresses and which ones will survive?
In the third episode, co-host Ali Safina made his debut but not before the reminder by host Hina Altaf that this is the greatest battle of music. It’s unnecessary commentary; a better script is needed.
With a live audience in place, the pressure is harder but tedium at this stage of the competition is not welcome. And, as the format of the show had gone through some changes, it became more apparent as the top 12 bands were divided into 2 groups.
In episode 3, 6 bands had a chance to perform and the remaining 6 bands competed in episode 4.
And what was that format change?
As Meesha Shafi confessed, pitting bands against one-on-one is something they had never done before. To add fuel to fire, all bands had to perform original songs in these particular episode(s). 3 battles would take place and out of those, 3 acts would go to the next stage while the other 3 would go to the danger zone. E Sharp went up against Skhehlaj and won the day.
Similarly, Neon – whose ‘Muscle Car’ impressed the judges in the audition episodes - went up against Mousiqa with an original track called ‘Haddi Daal Do’ and made the cut because they were just better. In comparison, Mousiqa shone a little less. Between Starzone and Aarish, the latter prevailed over the former with a song called ‘Awaaz’ because their original was just better, particularly the lyrics. The winners were sent to the next round while the losing bands went to the danger zone.
E Sharp got a guitar signed by all the judges because of their song ‘Awami Mulazim’ and picked up the performer of the day award.
However, adding a twist to proceedings, the judges could select one band that they could send forward and that was (read: not surprisingly) Star Zone.
With two more eliminations on the cards, episode 4 was just as exciting, at least for those of us rooting for E Sharp and the partial rap group, Seismic Tremors. E Sharp made it through as the format changed and had a one-on-one that they nailed.
In episode four, the bands competing one-on-one included Auj versus Jhoot, Marjaan versus Black Hour and Seismic Tremors versus Uraan.
Auj’s ‘Lafz’ in the audition gave the judges goose bumps and made them emotional. In episode four, they performed an original called ‘O Jaana’ and were on another level after the softer ‘Lafz’. Jhoot played an original called ‘Sona Chandi’ but lost to Auj - which was obvious - that ultimately landed them in the danger zone.
In a similar vein, Marjaan performed better than Black Hour with a softer song called ‘Rang Jaa’ after the boisterous audition song, ‘Jhalleya’. Marjaan, like E Sharp, and Seismic Tremors has the potential to go all the way so Marjaan landing in the danger zone was the big surprise.
Black Hour with a song called ‘Aik Nayi Subah’ which to me seemed to put them out of their comfort zone, a sentiment not shared by Fawad Khan, Meesha Shafi, or Strings with Faisal Kapadia, who called their performance “amazing” and sent them forward.
In the one-on-one battle between Seismic Tremors versus Uraan, the former performed a song called ‘Dil Ki Baat’ and had me from the go, particularly when they started rapping. What a revelation. Seismic Tremors didn’t appeal to Faisal Kapadia, Bilal Maqsood, but Meesha Shafi found it exciting and Fawad Khan, had a mixed opinion.
Uraan just couldn’t create magic onstage on the lines of Seismic Tremors even though they had appealed to judges Faisal Kapadia, Bilal Maqsood, but not Fawad Khan with an original called ‘Gol’.
Sadly, Seismic Tremors didn’t make the cut. Meanwhile, the performer of the day award went to Auj.
Ultimately, from the danger zone, which featured Jhoot, Seismic Tremors and Marjaan, the latter made the cut.
It’s good to see the judges agreeing with one another and having dissenting opinions as well. Both provide strength to the show. Let’s see where we go from here.