Get high to this: Atomic Forest’s Obsession ‘77
Western rock groups had been appropriating the sounds of traditional Indian music for years when a group of hard rock misfits going by the name Atomic Forest recorded Obsession ‘77.
Ten years earlier, The Beatles struck gold with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, following George Harrison’s trip to India where he studied sitar under Ravi Shankar. Harrison drew heavily from Indian classical music for the album, introducing western audiences to the sounds of the sitar and the tabla. It was lauded as a psychedelic masterpiece and, like other great rock albums of the time, it would in turn influence the burgeoning rock scenes across Asia.
Obsession ‘77 was ironically released in 1981, but the sound was nothing new. In 1970 and 1971, The Imperial Tobacco Company, an Indian cigarette manufacturer, hosted two successive music competitions to promote Simla, its menthol brand. Simla Beats, as the battle of the bands was known, simultaneously provided a platform to India’s garage scene and introduced a generation of South Asians to western rock covers.
Even with a rich history of Indian garage rock, Atomic Forest was arguably the only psychedelic rock band of the period to record a full album. Obsession ‘77 is a collection of the band’s recordings ranging from 1973 to 1977. Legend has it that the band, fronted by Madhukar Chandra Dhas, aka Madhoo (who once performed in Jesus Christ Superstar) , had a chance jam session with Led Zeppelin at a dive bar in Bombay called Slip Disc. They played Snehayatra Festival, “The Indian Woodstock,” and released what was eventually known as the quintessential Indian psych-rock album.
Obsession 77, which features a woman making out with a robot on its cover, became a near instant collectors item when Egon of Now-Again Records unearthed a copy on eBay in 2006. He later released a remastered Obsession ‘77 in 2012, breathing new life into this decades old raga rock masterpiece. The tracks are a gritty, fast-paced mix of American rock covers that employ traditional Indian instruments and techniques. If you thought Sgt. Pepper was a trip, get ready to have your mind properly blown.
The band’s second release, Disco Roar, is now available from Now-Again.