Just over a decade ago, Pokhara’s underground scene was pulsating with bands from different sub-genres of metal music wreaking havoc in the otherwise placid city of lakes. With local concerts happening at all possible venues—from party palaces to community halls for the dearth of mega-bars and pubs of today—unnerving sounds from bands like “Anamesis”, “Vivex,” “Kaal”, “Chihan”, “Narsmahaar”, “Psychotic Nerves” and a few others reverberated in the pristine mountains around the valley. And for bands from Kathmandu, Pokhara was always a home away from home. The small but dedicated group of Pokhareli fans were the real heroes because of their warm hospitality and exemplary love for music.
But the scene seems to have changed entirely in just a few years. The growing invasion of bars and pubs and ever-expanding tourist hotspots have musicians from Pokhara now playing covers for money instead of making original music. Young musicians learn popular Nepali, English and sometimes Hindi numbers to play in the Lakeside area, which has musically become nothing but a facsimile of Thamel.
The underground scene is brutal. There is no money to be made. Instead, there is heavy judgement and constant scrutiny of fellow musicians and audience. Despite the difficulties and vanishing identity, a handful of metal bands in Pokhara are still barely hoisting the underground flag their predecessors proudly flew. “Born In Silence” is one of them. A band with nu-metal origins, “Born In Silence” was formed in 2011 when the Pokhara underground scene had already started to fade. After multiple line-up changes, which resulted in different creative inputs and musical influences from each passing member, the band’s sound has evolved to what band members now call “a fusion between different sub-genres of metal.” The current band members, aged 24-28, are some of the few active musicians in the ‘Pokhara Underground’; and despite the lack of opportunities and dwindling audience numbers, they have managed to create new music and plan to release an album by this November.
The founding members of BIS are Pradip Gurung (Guddu) on vocals, and Sujan Thapa and Nikhil Gurung on guitars. Since 2016 they have been joined by Bishal Pertel on drums and Ashim Gurung on bass. The band that started by covering music of international artists now has its own set-list and as it grows in confidence that comes with experience, the band has also recently experimented with DIY face masks to give its members different on-stage personas.
“It’s really sad that we don’t get to perform much these days though,” says Guddu, the front-man, as his band members nod in agreement. “We used to have underground concerts like once a month. But these days we hardly have a concert in 3 to 4 months.” The musical preference of the audience has changed too, the musicians say, but the biggest problem that has affected almost all underground bands is human migration.
“You see, we’ve had so many bands that either disbanded or became completely obscure when some band members went abroad,” says Guddu. “And we’re not even sure we won’t meet the same fate ourselves.”
The problem with the Pokhara Underground, it seems, is lack of continuity, and the BIS confirm it. “Pokhara is full of incomplete bands now because some members have migrated abroad and the remaining ones have lost interest in music,” adds Nikhil, the guitarist. The band members of BIS themselves are not sure how long they can continue with the band amid pressure from their families to go abroad for livelihood.
But until they’re forced by circumstances to forfeit the underground scene altogether, the BIS band members are committed to wringing all their endearments and frustrations into their music. Along with the launch of their album in November, the band is slated to perform at the 8th edition of the Silence Festival—one of the biggest metal concerts not only in the country but in the whole of South Asia. With American thrash metal heavyweights “Testament” headlining the Kathmandu festival, BIS are optimistic that the opening slot at the festival will give them the much-needed exposure and inspire other upcoming bands.