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Groove games
Lychee Lassi performs at Tantra. Picture by Rashbehari Das

Stretching the rhythm rims with the force of improvisation at every new gig is their cadence credo. ‘Live ill-ectronic jamband’ is just one way in which people have tried to describe Lychee Lassi, the four-piece experimental band that started playing on the Berlin underground circuit in 1998.

“Yes, we are electronica — minus the keyboards and the laptop,” smiles drummer Roy. “There’s nothing digital in our music, it’s all analog and rhythm-based improvisation. By varying the density of the grooves, we try to achieve different textures.”

Lychee Lassi, having played all over Germany, Switzerland, Italy and the UK at clubs, open-airs, “nerdy digital arts festivals and even at truly crusty neo-hippie raves”, performed in Calcutta as one of its five Indian stops. The Friday show at Tantra was presented by The Goethe Institut and The Park.

Why Lychee Lassi' “We just picked up the name from the menu of an Indian restaurant in Berlin. There was a nice ring to it and yes, it tasted delicious. That’s about it; there’s nothing Indian about our music. At least not yet,” stresses bassist Beat, who has a penchant for Sufi music and ragas and is pretty much the world music guy in the band.

With influences ranging from Kid Koala to Miles Davis and Beastie Boys to Led Zeppelin, the Lychee Lassi sound is a melting pot of hip-hop, reggae, funk, jazz, house, electronica and more.

“When we started back in 1999, we played virtually everything — bossa nova, jazz, comedy… just for the fun of it. Now, we’ve got rid of the funny stuff and become much more focused and don’t veer into too many different directions,” points out Berger, the guitarist, who draws heavily from Hendrix and Zappa.

DJ Illvibe, who brings a very special dimension to the band with his pyrotechnics on the turntable, agrees: “Yes, it’s always very tempting to move into the comedy scene with the twangs on the turntable. But, these days, more so after Roy joined the band, we are consciously steering clear of the comic corners.”

Roy, for his part, feels privileged to be based in Berlin and being able to play at the numerous hip clubs in the German capital. “Berlin is a great city to try out new things. It’s not always consumer-oriented and gives us the leverage we need to express ourselves,” says the drummer who idolises Tony Williams and John Bonham and also Keith Carlock among the contemporary crop.

“Although live gigs are our lifeblood and we are forever looking to break into new frontiers, we could go back to the studios sometime soon to stitch together a more eclectic offering,” says Beat. The band has two studio albums to its credit — Kap Horn and Out Now.

At the Tantra show, even with a rather confused Friday night crowd looking on, the foursome belted out an atmospheric set. Nu Soul from the group’s published live set and Octagon from Out Now underlined the free-float fibre of Lychee Lassi. A blend of Roy’s bobbing, tight grooves, Beat’s melodic, line-oriented bass playing and Berger’s funky minimalism formed the backdrop of DJ Illvibe’s jaw-dropping turntable skills. By the end of the evening, there was little doubt that the reticent DJ really mans the lead instrument in the band, cutting across grooves, adding to them, layering vocal or instrumental samples — all in perfect sync to forge the unique Lychee Lassi sound. Live drum-n-bass enthusiasts would have discovered shades of Roni Size’s Reprazent and nods towards drum-n-bass guru Jo Jo Mayer’s project Nerve in the band’s groove-heavy music.

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