Pepsi Pakistan’s biggest musical platform, Pepsi Battle of the Bands, launched its fourth season with the inaugural episode showcasing talent auditions. While the battleground is being set up, the bands had to face their first obstacle in what will surely be a tough and long battle to the top.

The first episode began with our new host Hina Altaf who took us down memory lane and gave us a recap of the previous seasons’ best moments. Season two and three winners Kashmir and Bayaan, respectively, talked about their life-changing Battle of the Bands journeys and how the prestigious platform not only gave them a boost in their career trajectory, but has also resulted in more independent bands creating and releasing original music, causing a positive ripple effect in the Pakistani music industry.

The jury, comprising of Fawad Khan, Strings and Meesha Shafi, shared how being part of the previous two seasons was exciting for them and what they expect from the upcoming bands this season. The episode also featured some of the finest performances in the audition round. The first performance was by a band called ‘Neon’ who performed an original ‘Muscle Car’. The band’s name is derived from the Green word which means ‘new’, and that’s exactly what they intended to do with their music, that is introduce a new genre ‘neo rock’ to Pakistani audiences. With a funky lineup, catchy lyrics and energetic instrumentations, the neo-rock band impressed the jury. Under neon and blue lights, Neon’s sound even screamed ‘neon’, according to the judges who shortlisted them for the great battle.

The next band Starzone didn’t descend from a far-away constellation, but they did take the Pepsi Battle of the Bands platform to outer space with their original ‘Chalo Chalein’. Comprising of five members, two of which were Canadians who came to Pakistan with the sole intention of participating in and winning the show, the band featured a female vocalist who quit her job in the banking sector for the competition. She claimed to have an unparalleled groove in her voice, a rare-heard quality in local vocalists. With the aforementioned groove fused with their melancholic feel, Starzone gave a simple yet beautiful performance which emotionally resonated with the judges, thus locking their place in the shortlist.

Auj the band had been struggling for a decade and even had to sell their equipment in the past to record a song. They finally got their much-earned spotlight in Pepsi Battle of the Bands season four. Their head-banging performance on their original called ‘Lafz’ received a standing ovation from the judges who praised the band’s strong musical identity and direction and shortlisted them.

As the episode continued, certain bands did not meet the judges’ expectations and were sent home to improve their craft. With the bar of the competition set too high, thanks to previous seasons, the stakes are even higher this time around. And in came the band Skehlaaj which proved they were up to the challenge.

The ultra-fun and pun-loving band, whose name is a wordplay on ‘is ka ilaaj’, consisted of a bunch of experimental metal-heads. Performing an original ‘Dam-e-Dastageer’, they impressed the jury with their roaring, hardcore performance full of strong vocals and comedic lyrical content. One more name added in the judges’ shortlist. Next, we said hello to old friends, the band Aarish from season three who returned to participate this year again. Since last year, they had followed the jury’s suggestions, worked on their sound and came back determined to win it all. Presenting their original ‘Aarzu’, they made a strong comeback and rose to the high bar set in the Pepsi battlefield. The jury complimented on their mellow and heartfelt vocals and mature composition and arrangement. While the band also received a few pointers to work on, they made the shortlist. Mousiqa performed a funky pop cover of ‘Bindi’ by Noor Jehan, which made the judges want to groove. The band called Jhoot covered Gardish by Karavan and offered a gripping performance. Both Mousiqa and Jhoot made it in the shortlist.

Seismic Tremors gave the last performance of the episode and sent literal seismic tremors across the stage. They incorporated eastern classical as well as their secret weapon ‘rap’ in an extraordinary cover of ‘Sanwal Morr Moharran’ by Ustad Salamat Ali Khan. Never has Pepsi Battle of the Bands stage seen a band which offered such a wide array of genres in one act. Seismic Tremors brought their A-game and put everyone on notice with their incredibly powerful performance. The jury appreciated their intelligent choice of song, the theatrics and a unique collective identity and shortlisted them.

Auditions are set to continue in the next episode of Pepsi Battle of the Bands season four, which will air next week. As we steadily approach the main competition, the judges are definitely going to have a hard time picking the cream of the crop among such talented acts. As Sherlock Holmes would say, “The game is afoot!”