09 Dec, 2021

Man versus machine or is man and machine the same? That’s the question one had when seeing Nadir Shahzad Khan (frontman for the Karachi-based popular indie rock outfit Sikandar Ka Mandar) in the music video for his latest solo track, 'Atomy Event', which came out last week.

His head is replaced by an old-school cathode ray television box which he taps to change the film. The visuals in the television are all from days gone by in Pakistan. He’s wearing the box everywhere — in abandoned buildings, in overgrown fields, and in front of a green screen for animations to be played in the video.

“The TV I used in the music video was an old Sony 21 [inches] I found in Raja Bazar,” Nadir Shahzad wrote on Instagram. “I emptied out the CRT, made a hole in the base and added a green chart paper in the front for chroma. The TV was around five-six kilograms in weight. Wearing it for five hours straight definitely gave me back pain, that too for about a week.”

In 'Atomy Event', Nadir Shahzad Khan wants to show that before helping others, we need to learn to love ourselves

“Thematically, the music video is a take on mental illness as a national problem,” writes Nadir Shahzad in the description of the song. “It speaks about the apathy of our nation and those in power. The archival shots taken from when Pakistan was still an infant nation reflect hope, signs of progress and new beginnings. But in the end, it’s the man-made apocalypse that won.”

The song, 'Atomy Event' is an alternative rock number in which Nadir sings softly in that ‘radio voice’ — where the vocals are manipulated in audio-editing software to give it that vintage, old walkie-talkie, listening-over-the-radio effect. The music is the usual grungy alternative rock fare.

The one thing that stands out is the subtle, skilful rabab-playing by Irfan Ali Taj, which has been incorporated in a way that sounds very Western, and not like a typical rabab inclusion in a song. Other than this, the instrumentation in and the production of the song is by Nadir Shahzad who has also directed, edited and worked on the graphics in the music video.

“The song is about learning to love and take better care of one self in order to love someone else,” he continues. “It reflects upon mental illness and how it can create a wedge between our relationships if not given the proper care and discipline.”

As far as coming up with a music videos and/or songs that try to provide some kind of social commentary, 'Atomy Event' is in line with the other work previously released by Sikandar Ka Mandar and Nadir Shahzad Khan, such as in their previous releases, 'Jo Bhi', 'Baaghi', 'Shehri' and 'Chand Si Banu'.

I just wish it were a little less… predictable and a little more surprising. A lot of good, hard effort has been put into this production and it’s good to listen to in the moment, but it’s just not as memorable. And I desperately want it to be.

Originally published in Dawn, ICON, December 5th, 2021