In smoke-filled rooms, notepads filled with hastily written lyrics and chords, and amidst a cacophony of self-taught guitar (acoustic or electric) notes and the reverberations of drums, boys (who are now men) gave middle-class artistic expression a whole new name at a time when the country's music 'scene' was stuck - inert in an incubation period. Not yet ripe, it bubbled with promise and a desperate urge to spew forth.
Raw and 'underground', the musicians jammed, occasionally performing atop school and college roofs - cradling big dreams in their dark eyes, singing grunge from nicotine tongues... they were spirits of rebellion and middle-class angst. Those were the early 90s.
One 'underground' band (Co-Ven) at the time made a significant impact within Lahore's musical circles and remained well-known among serious music listeners. But like all other bands at the time, they dispersed - where some went abroad and others began 9-5 jobs. Family pressure (due to a career in music being an absolute no-no) mounted. It was best to disband, change one's priorities and get stiff-necked and upright in the white-collared way of life.
But Co-Ven (standing for 'Company Of Vicious Earth Navigators') now re-emerges at a time when music in Pakistan is at its ripest - so ripe that a career in it doesn't seem so bad after all.
Sheathed in a hard, new-age, macabre-funk cover, Co-ven's two CD's - "volume I & II" (consisting of five songs each) - lie in wait to be flipped into the nearest stereo player.
And even though the album cover features a sexy, grisly witch-like silhouette of a woman with butcher knives (yikes!), I wouldn't look too much into it. Random creative expression probably - I highly doubt the boys of Co-Ven are mad little warlocks running around with pots full of potions and spells!
However, even though the album's artwork remains unique, the listener will find it wearisome if he/she tries to read the lyrics. This is mainly because the complicated font and styling make it highly tricky to casually skim over.
Featuring Hamza Jafri on vocals, Sikander Mufti on drums, Sameer Ahmed on bass guitar, and Omran (Mauj) Shafique on lead guitar - Co-Ven's sound is undoubtedly melancholic grunge, yet pinched in spots by light drum notes and guitar chords that seem to make it sound more controlled, and gentle.
For instance, "Seven Years", Volume I's opening track, follows along the lines of playful grunge - teased by acoustic guitaring. "We are better not because we have more money/ But because we know better/ Born in the comfort of white shelters/ Our arrival brought food to the helpers", sings Hamza in "Third World Celebrity". With a strong command over his vocal deliverance, Hamza sounds a lot like Chris Cornell, infact at times the similarity is pretty startling. His tone is light, edgy and lazy, not overbearing - and he sings with a relaxed, non-disillusioned, and unhurried ease that goes with the band's music genre. "You and me/ We'll be celebrities/ And fly on wings designed by Armani", is the best part of the number ("Third World Celebrity") - that mocks the pillaging of the rich in a debauched, starving homeland. Who said middle-class angst was dead?
Slothfully upbeat, "Sailing Fast" is one of the album's frontrunners. The video's concept too is extremely distinctive as it parallels a modern, urban tune to stark rustic visuals of the band's members in dhotis, tilling fields as they get their hands dirty beneath an intense, bucolic sun.
"Volume II" begins with "Boundaries Broken" and then follows pursuit with "Demolition Job" - heavier, grungier tracks that strip away all restrictive inhibitions that "Volume I" seemed to carry with it.
Infact, "Volume II" sounds darker and more melancholic somehow, the lyrics sound charred, insightful and almost disappointed... as if the composer(s) lacked a certain degree of faith and belief in people, at the time of the composition. This is evident when the light tempo of "Volume I" dips far down into the second volume's last two songs; "Headless" and "Guard up". Slow, mellow and passive-aggressive, the songs have to grow onto the listener to be enjoyed.
Co-Ven's reunion almost feels 'relieved' in a way. This is apparent in their overall 'sound' - perhaps the pull to reignite what was once lost/dissolved, was too strong to walk away from.
The urge to put back the shards of a long-forgotten musical past culminates now into a two-volume CD, music videos, gigs and interviews. The boys of Co-Ven sit within a self-carved middle-class, yet capitalist niche - just like the Pathan twosome, Sajid and Zeeshan. There is a similarity between the two bands.
For one, both have purely English albums, and two, each has a sound which therein leads itself into a genre that is totally alien to the local music scene. But 'alien' is good as it breeds creative diversity into the country's rehashed musical genres of pop, rock and bhangra.
Co-Ven's two-volume CD compilation is an interesting album and the words that can best describe it would perhaps be: white-collar-Volkswagen-summer-grunge. So go on then, lend them your ears!Sonya Rehman