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Eurodance flashbacks: If you like to party, get on and move your body
BHANUJ KAPPAL  16th May 2015

Vengaboys perform at Phoenix Marketcity Kurla, Mumbai.

It was at a traffic signal on the Western Express highway, as we battled our way through the commuter rush to get to Kurla's Phoenix Marketcity mall, that I started to have second thoughts about attending the Vengaboys show. Fatboy Slim was playing over the car stereo, and failing spectacularly to invoke the sense of '90s nostalgia we were all banking on to get us through this. It felt like we'd already squeezed all the fun that could be had out of the event long before the performance. We'd cracked all the jokes that we could think of, we'd proclaimed our ironic (and in some cases not-so-ironic) excitement all over social media and I'd even gone on an ill-advised time travel trip through the worst of the Eurodance epidemic on YouTube. Watching the actual performance, I was starting to feel, would be something of an anti-climax.

I frantically messaged the PR representative to find out if the gig had alcohol, always my Plan B in such situations. Her reassurance that beer would be available made me feel a little better. If I wasn't going to be entertained, at least I would be drunk. After a couple of pints of ale at the nearest pub to fortify my nerves, I made my way towards the first floor courtyard where the show would take place. I was a music writer after all, and curiosity had won over good sense.

In my defense, I was intrigued by the fact that people would still pay to watch an act like the Vengaboys. I'd always thought their popularity was a result of the optimistic and party-happy atmosphere of the late '90s, when the U.S. economy was booming and the U.K. was enjoying the initial hopeful days of Tony Blair and New Labour. That sort of boom time always brings out the worst tendencies in pop music. Add in the fact that mainstream audiences had had enough of the apocalyptic gloom and self-pity of the grunge movement and you could almost understand, if not excuse, the fact that millions of people actually went out and bought Vengaboys records. They were on the rebound and couldn't be held responsible for their bad decisions. Thankfully, like most rebound relationships, they came to their senses pretty quickly and once the dot-com bubble burst in 2001, the party bubble followed suit. The Vengaboys broke up in 2002 and were quickly dumped into the dustbin of obscurity. So why, in 2015, where none of these conditions apply, were they selling out a show in Mumbai? Admittedly it was a mall show in a decidedly unfashionable suburb, but still. I just had to go and find out.

I'm not sure what I was expecting when I walked in, but it definitely wasn't the weird retro wonderland I found myself in. As I looked at the mob of high school kids — jocks in skin tight shirts with their excited girlfriends with hippie flower headbands, many of them already buzzing on the warm Kingfisher being served to anyone who could reach the bar — I felt older than I have ever felt at a gig. A couple of eighth graders in school uniform were finishing their homework on a table next to the stage where the opening band (whose name I didn't catch) belted out Bryan Adams and Pink Floyd covers. Scattered amongst the crowd were families, Catholic uncles sipping on beer as their wives and kids made do with Sprite. There were also some metalheads and indie hipsters, looking sheepish every time they saw someone familiar and calculating how much damage being spotted at a Vengaboys gig would do to their street cred. "Let's never talk about this again," one indie scene veteran shouted at me as he passed by. I even spotted the Royal Challenger's Bangalore cheerleader squad in the crowd, looking as flabbergasted as I felt. It was as if a high school dance and a Goan flea market had suddenly been teleported to the mall's courtyard. The Vengabus, it seemed, had not just lost its way but driven off the map. This was a long way from playing to millions at Ibiza. I found myself actually feeling bad for the band, but thankfully that only lasted till they started their first song.

It was as if a high school dance and a Goan flea market had suddenly been teleported to the mall’s courtyard. The Vengabus, it seemed, had not just lost its way but driven off the map. This was a long way from playing to millions at Ibiza. I found myself actually feeling bad for the band, but thankfully that only lasted till they started their first song.

I spent most of the set camping out in front of the bar, hoping enough beer would make this all seem normal. The rest of the crowd didn't seem to care that the group was lip-syncing (badly, I might add) their way through their songs. The courtyard was overflowing with the roar of teenage (and pre-teen) voices and young boys and girls danced in circles near the back. When they played Brazil, the entire crowd jumped as if some primal reflex had bypassed their front brain, displaying more energy than the disinterested Vengaboys. By the time they got to a particularly awful cover of I Like To Move It by Reel 2 Real, I realised that the crowd wouldn't have cared if the group had just put on a CD and left the stage. This wasn't about the performance, this was about the Party (with a capital P), a much weirder, less glammed up version of that idealised state of mindless fun that EDM peddles to slightly older, hipper crowds. Soon after this epiphany, their set ended and I joined the exodus out of the mall, feeling more than a little bit relieved to be back in the real world.

I've been to shows where people have broken bones in the moshpit, seen metalheads at Download wearing so much metal I was surprised they didn't cut themselves when they moved and watched ravers on drugs dance as if they were fighting the universe single-handedly. But none of that compares to the weirdness of the Vengabus experience. Do me a favour. The next time any of you see me getting excited about a Eurodance show, hit me on the back of the head and lock me up in a room till it's over, will you?

 
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