From the moment you hit play, all that you knew about rock fades into oblivion. The intro's distortion track, as rhythmic as it gets, is suddenly offset only fifteen seconds into its duration by a mellow uneven melody track that doesn’t even make sense. And then all of a sudden, both tracks are playing together – about as incompatible as Justin Bieber and The Beatles.
As you might have guessed by now, this is not your conventional music where rhythm is god and everything is based on a structure. This is math rock. It is defined by its abnormal time signatures and complex rhythm.
Imagine this: one, two, three, four; one, two, three, four – this is a regular 4/4 time signature every mainstream artist from Lil Wayne to Aerosmith would use for their songs. But in math rock, the beats would go – one, two, three, four, five, six, seven; one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight – the time signature is irregular.
Say goodbye to the conventional, symmetrical, mechanical, and rhythmic stuff your ears are so well attuned to. This is a 7/8 signature – apparently irregular, asymmetrical, and even offbeat. But it isn’t. A listen or two later, the quirk sets in and you are suddenly swaying with the guitar riff. The world of math rock is exactly like that. In fact, it is so uneven and rhythmically complex, that it feels mathematical in nature, and the Bengaluru based Stuck in November is perhaps the only Indian band making music along these lines. (Seriously, if there are others, please stand up!)
Internationally, however, math rock is better recognised. It originated in the 1980s out of progressive rock, which itself is defined by long-winding instrumentation and a perpetual sense of ‘progression’. Music critics consider a Canadian punk rock group Nomeansno as a pioneer of the genre. They would make music in the most irregular and complex structures imaginable, resulting in savoury outcomes. Massacre and Black Flag were two other bands that contributed significantly to the development of the genre in the 80s.
Punk Rock group NOMEANSNO Image: Mika Hiironniemi from Tampere, Finland (Flickr) via Wikimedia Commons
By the 90s, Math Rock was a known genre and many new bands were popping up. In Europe, bands such as Kebong (Poland), The Redneck Manifesto (Ireland), and Uzeda (Italy) were some. In the United States, bands were mostly from San Diego (Upsilon Acrux, Drive like Jehu, No Knife) and Northern California (The well-known Game Theory and The Loud Family). As far as contemporary math rock is concerned, bands such as Slint, Chavez, and Shellac, which were formed in the 1990s, continue to tour and release albums today. The newest crop of bands, such as Battles and Tall Ships, continue to enjoy renewed listener interest.
Here in India, however, math rock is fresh as a cucumber. Yet, in its realm, Stuck in November is possibly a solitary equation. Based in Bengaluru, the band has been around since at least 2010, and according to its guitarist Nihal, initially played post rock and then took a two-year hiatus. “We came back to jam, and when we did, we had a very different musical style. In this manner, it developed into math rock”. Upon being asked about the reasons behind choosing the genre, he says, “For us it’s always the music first and it’s only later you look at the genre. It sounds better – a 4/4 time signature has been done to death. People look at math rock and find it unique, they find it cool”. They band released their first EP in 2012 entitled 'The Sky is watching', a six track album. Recently, they finished recording their first live EP and would be (hopefully) releasing it by the end of the month. “It’s a live one because we both enjoy playing the music live and feel it’s better recorded this way – like it should be.”
Math rock is just as eccentric as it sounds - It’s a bit like a mathematician dabbling with musical chords, strings, and notations and coming up with something genius. The results are phenomenally varied and unique. In India, where artists and bands are constantly experimenting and innovating, math rock is an exciting world worth entering.