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Sheer astonishment is the sentiment that comes to mind when you hear the F16s. How can an Indian band based in Chennai sound so Rock, from the vocals to the guitaring and keys to the lyrics.

Incredibly, they won the 2013 Jack Daniel’s Annual Rock Award for Best Emerging Act. Incredibly, they were winners in the Converse Road to Rubber Tracks contest which had them recording two numbers in Brooklyn, New York.

And incredibly, again, they are not musically trained. “None of us have any musical education whatsoever we sort of just picked up our instruments and found each other,” says Josh who does the vocals and guitars.

The band already has a seven track album called Kaleidoscope out. Their new album is in stealth mode, will have ten tracks, and is to be launched in September this year.

The F16s go by their first or nicknames; the others in the band are Vikram- the drummer, Shank on bass, Harshan on keys, and Abhinav aka Booby (“he was tubby as a child”) on the guitar. When asked how it all started, Josh says, “Chennai is a small city so everybody knows everybody, Vikram, Booby and I went to the same college and Shank and Harshan were mutual friends so we’d hang out with each other often. We decided to meet up one summer and just grab our gear and write some music.”

In 2014, Converse, the sports gear and apparel company, held a contest spanning different regions worldwide that would grant the winners studio time at the Rubber Tracks Studio in Brooklyn. The F16s were growing tired of competitions, this seemed like a “what’s-the-worst-that-could-happen” scenario. They got shortlisted, played the finals, won the contest. Late 2014, at the Brooklyn studio, they recorded two singles: “Blackboard” and “Jacuzzi.” When asked if it was tough deciding on which tracks Josh remembers, “We honestly didn’t give that a lot of thought, apart from the occasional back and forth at practice. The two songs we decided to go with were confirmed right outside the walls of the Rubber Tracks Studio. Those two songs seemed to fit perfectly with the space, the studio, the recording process. ”

The new album promises to be dissimilar to the previous releases and talks to universal themes such as romance, morality, selfishness and contempt. Josh describes further, “With a city like Chennai, melancholia comes easy but in spurts which can be easily heard through the record. I think with this album we find our selves forcefully complexed.”

A great example of this are the lyrics to “Digital Dead,” an upcoming track:

Digital men with a digital smile,
Since I’ve been running in a
circle …    
Cause I’ve been waiting a while
Who do they want us to be?

Try again, But dont start as yet.

No sudden moves, just sudden death.

So what comes first, the lyrics or the tune? “It almost always starts with a hook that would click this little knob in our brains that would trigger something that feels like we always knew what to play. We start with a tune and then I sort of spread/spill lyrics over it, cause I want the music to carry the lyrics and not the other way around,” opines Josh.

The Brooklyn-studio-recorded songs have a passive aggressive feel, conveying a rebellion by wholly embracing the “melancholia.” “Blackboard” begins on the upbeat, superb guitaring and keys introducing us to the lyrics which say, “… jumping to the river, but the river wouldn’t carry you on….looking to the mirror but the mirror wasn’t looking at you.” The music lifts you up to counter the lyrics, which are brutally honest. “Jacuzzi” on the other hand, has suspenseful music in tune with the lyrics that start off  “As I’m walking on broken glass…”

If living in Chennai and living off of its vibe has literally driven the F16s to music, then their New York experience will prove to be one of the defining moments of their musical caliber. As Josh says, “New York is the originator, the place where innovations in musical styles begin.”

Check out the F16s on their facebook page online. Kaleidoscope is avalailable on iTunes. (Warning: Some numbers have explicit content.)

Priya Das is an enthusiastic follower of world music and avidly tracks intersecting points between folk, classical, jazz and other genres.

Vandana Kumar

Vandana Kumar is a publishing executive with a 35-year track record in the industry. She leads the India Currents Foundation as President and CEO. As a new immigrant, she co-founded India Currents magazine...