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‘Boycotting Festival is Not Fair to Audience’: Most Artists on NH7 Lineup

Last week, Azadi Records, Disco Puppet pulled out of the event citing the allegations made against OML

Rolling Stone India
Rolling Stone India Dec 03, 2018

If OML is now on the brink of crumbling, what happens to the larger cultural climate it built, that everyone enjoyed all these years Photo: Kunal Kakodkar

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The past one month has opened a can of worms in what was considered one of India’s most successful, and celebrated, entertainment companies–Only Much Louder. An article in The Caravan, featuring accounts by former women employees, highlighted not just an inherent culture of misogyny in the firm but also the alleged apathy among its high command to end systemic harassment.

Despite being published during a period hailed as the second wave of #MeToo as experienced in India, the article (which was initially secured behind a subscription gateway before being available for free) failed to generate the outrage it ideally should have among artists, fans and media. The silence around the issue has been deafening, to say the least, and the alleged incidents have questioned the very foundation of millennial pop culture in the past decade built by a company that has so far as been lauded as cool, new-age and woke. Compared with the previous, widely shared media reports of sexual misconduct by people in positions of power in art and culture where the creative community expressed solidarity, it seemed like this particular story posed a dilemma for artists: does a public condemnation of OML mean they should boycott its flagship music festival Bacardi NH7 Weekender? And if OML is now on the brink of crumbling, what happens to the larger cultural climate it built, that everyone enjoyed all these years?

However, last week, the New Delhi independent label Azadi Records announced their withdrawal from the festival. As did Disco Puppet, the electronic avatar of Bengaluru drummer Shoumik Biswas.

Uday Kapur and Mo Joshi, co-founders at Azadi Records, say they felt a moral obligation to take a firm stand, and that playing the festival would have sent out a wrong message to people. Says Joshi, “It’s obviously one of the biggest festivals they have, a lot of brand partnerships and they’ve got some of the best artists – so it’s just a case of somebody being able to go, ‘You know what, that’s not right.’” Adds Kapur, “We’re glad the artists on our roster have bought into the ethos of why Azadi Records was started and aren’t afraid to voice their opinion, knowing well-enough what taking such stands might lead to.”

Asked him boycotting the festival serves a larger purpose at all, Joshi expressed his initial misgivings: “Overall, there’s been a mixed reaction in certain places. Obviously people were saying maybe we should have attended the festival and made statement on stage. I kind of disagree with that. Some of the artists also said why don’t we go over there and say something. You know, one thing is kind of being involved and taking the money but I disagree that that was the right thing to do, I’d rather to do it as amicably as possible rather than – not create enemies as such – but I think I would rather have it put out in advance than rather go on stage.”

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This past weekend, the New Delhi pop-rock band The Local Train replied to a fan’s query on Twitter by saying the following:

The Local Train might be one of the few acts that have publicly taken a stand against OML but they will be performing at the festival.

We asked a few other artists playing the Bacardi NH7 Weekender about their thoughts on boycotting the festival.

Udippan Sarmah. Photo: Maharshi Jesalpura

Uddipan Sarmah (guitarist, Asweekeepsearching): “If you ask us what we think, we have been working hard for this set with genuine interest and dedication from way before the article came out, almost a year now. This involved our sleepless nights, time, energy and even money. So we think that’s our first priority as individuals to deliver what we have been working really hard on. That’s our right and everyone should respect that and support us, if truly cared.

For us, we want to use the stage, the influences and the audience to spread a positive message of love and respect. The best medium we have is our music. we will use that gun. Weekender also runs on a force of women, the festival itself is head by a woman. Many are working really hard to make the festival happen and the festival can be used to invoke a positive change.”

Sanjeeta Bhattacharya Photo: Anshum Badoni

Sanjeeta Bhattacharya (singer-songwriter): “Whatever was written in the Caravan article is undoubtedly horrific and very scary. I do know some people who bought tickets to the Weekender and later sold them off for various reasons. Some of my female colleagues also received messages asking them to drop out of playing at the festival.

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However, let’s not forget the spirit and idea behind a music festival. Beyond the sponsorship, the moneymaking and the madness, it is also the coming together of ideas from around the country and the world– ideas that move us and bring us closer. We as musicians have the power to bring about change especially when we are together. Instead of dropping out of the festival we can also choose to stand in solidarity with those who have suffered violence and have not been delivered justice by being vocal about such instances in and condemning the perpetrators in their home ground, if need be. I think raising mutual awareness is most important and what could be a better platform to do so than a gathering of artists and patrons of art in one place. This will be my first time playing at the NH7 weekender and I am looking forward to experiencing what it was truly meant to stand for, ‘being the happiest music festival!'”

Radhika Vaz. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Radhika Vaz (comedian): “It’s a very personal decision [to pull out of festival] and I support it either way. Yes, I have to say that I am [conflicted about performing at NH7]. I hope that women speaking out is a start.”

Tanya Nambiar. Photo: Courtesy of the artist

Tanya Nambiar (singer-songwriter): “Action definitely needs to be taken against the accused. But a lot of fans have booked tickets and hotels for the festival. Pulling out last minute is not fair to the audience. The audience will get their ticket refund but what about their hotels and flights? That’s a cost they will have to bear. A lot of the audience is young folks.”

Shadow and Light. Photo: Ishani Das

Pavithra Chari (vocalist/songwriter, Shadow and Light): “As members of Shadow and Light we completely stand in solidarity and in support of the #MeToo movement and we firmly believe that the guilty must face severe consequences and must be punished for their actions. We respect the decision of all the artists in this regard. We are accountable, answerable and are bound by contractual obligations.”

Khalid Ahamed. Photo: Prashin Jagger

Khalid Ahamed (vocalist/guitarist, Parvaaz): “Well I am no one to judge what is fair or not fair it’s very personal view for each individual artist. I am not in a position to judge audience sentiment as I have never organised a festival.”

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