Festival Report: GoMAD Festival 2018, Ooty
The two-day festival’s comeback edition fired up the crowd, but felt lukewarm for the most part
About six years ago, the cool and hilly verdant terrain of Ooty, Tamil Nadu became the home of multi-genre music festival GoMAD. You have to remember, it was originally called M.A.D. (Music and Dance) before it took on this iteration, with a competitor (almost) starting a rival festival called The Mad Earth Festival, all in Ooty.
It’s not difficult to see why the hillstation would be a good spot for a getaway weekend. The vast Fernhills Palace returned to host GoMAD on January 26th and 27th, its third edition now returning after its second edition in 2013. Amidst a lot of woods and two open grassy grounds, GoMAD brought together 24 artistes who ranged from rock to fusion to world music and more, with just a smidgen of dance.
In the time that GoMAD have been (presumably) plotting their return, the music festival circuit in India changed quite a bit. Other getaway/destination festivals such as Ragasthan and Ziro popped up, NH7 Weekender and Magnetic Fields grew exponentially. A good mark of those festivals, of course, was that they had their own identity and their own brand that people now follow keenly, waiting for the next set of international headliners or new underground discoveries.
For GoMAD, however, the lineup was pretty much a collection of regulars on the festival circuit – can’t-fail names such as psychedelic blues act Parvaaz, post-rock act Aswekeepsearching, folk-fusion/rock band Lagori, indie folk/acoustic act When Chai Met Toast, fusion collective Masala Coffee and Bengaluru club favorites such as pop-rock band Best Kept Secret, alt rock band Switcheroo and multi-lingual rock band Peepal Tree. Anyone who goes to the odd club show every other week would perhaps gloss over these names, and look for what’s different.
In the case of this festival, thankfully, a few names did thankfully standout. The lineup is nowhere nearly as diverse as the electronic, metal and rock they had billed in their 2012 and 2013 editions, but it was nonetheless artists with strong music. Artists such as the breezy pop rock singer Bjorn Surrao and his band, the folk-fusion friendly Anna RF from Israel, mesmerizing fusion between Indian classical and Slovenian guitarists as Aritmija and the wide-as-canyons rock of Madras Mail performed standout sets across two days at the Fernhills mainstage and the Wood’s Stage, which was accessible after a brief walk amidst the thickets.
The festival did feel like a worthy stage for artists like Surrao (playing laidback tunes from his new EP Stories From a Bottle), Vellore college band The Cheese Factory (presenting a rough-around-the-edges mix of Hindi and English alt rock) and Chennai band Wayside’s peppy, moody rock. These bands probably don’t have half as many chances to play a stage this big. Day one even featured a rare appearance from Blues Conscience, who stuck to high-energy electric covers of songs by Buddy Guy and J.J. Cale and a fun addition of “Janis Joplin.”
Highlights on day one included a one-man powerhouse set from New Delhi acoustic artist Dhruv Visvanath, who navigated through a few sound issues to perform material old and new, including the instrumental “Midnight” and the catchy “Botswana.” As the relatively unknown band Westblock celebrated the less often heard country blues at GoMAD’s Fernhills stage, New Delhi singer Tanya Nambiar and her band stuck to a somewhat standard funk, soul and rock set at the Wood’s stage.
Anna RF couldn’t go wrong with dancehall/reggae music, but with the festival starting a few hours late, any acts which weren’t intended to clash were playing simultaneously at both stages now. When Chai Met Toast brought a bit of brightness that gathered a crowd, but Aswekeepsearching, for all their emotive cinematic rock, probably played to their lowest turnout, not one bit deterred thankfully. The audience seemed to split by the time alt band Switcheroo brought the riffs at the Wood’s stage, while Lagori remained their adrenaline-fueled best.
The day closed with a choice between the perfectly arena-sized rock of Parvaaz and a somewhat oddly placed but totally brutal set from Thiruvananthapuram thrash metallers Chaos. Thankfully this time, the crowd was spread out to witness the fast and the mellow in equal measure.
With just four acts lined up at the Wood’s stage on day two, it’s safe to say the clashes were fewer. While there was a brief time dance troupe Attakkalari were adding a different hue to GoMAD, it felt more like a novelty addition when there was nothing else to complement it.
Points for the spooky art and graffiti that livened up the walk between the stages, though. At least on the art front, the festival entrusted a creative crew to spray-paint birds vividly, place gigantic spiders and hang origami birds from branches.
Day two’s biggest draws included the crowd-pleasing fusion of Masala Coffee, who reached for Punjabi, Malayalam and Hindi songs to have everyone impressed, Peepal Tree (who won the crowd over with their Rajinikanth tribute Tamil song “Magizhchi”) and of course, poet-rocker Suraj Mani and the Tattva Trip. The former Motherjane frontman played a bunch of new material outside of his 2012 album The Tattva Trip. While bassist Dinkar Nayak had to get his guitar replaced, guitarist Naveen Thomas was easily bringing the firepower with his solos and melodies on songs such as “Big Brother Knows.”
The biggest crowd-pleasers, however, were Manchester reggae/ska band Jeremiah Ferrari, returning to the festival for a wavy, fun set of tunes such as “Sign of the Times,” “Monkey Man,” “Shine” and a cover of Toots and the Maytals’ “54 46 Was My Number.” Despite the freezing temperature by 11:30 at night, the band had brought a certain warmth and mirth to the festival by closing time.
Despite the highs and lows, it’s sensible to ask if this was GoMAD’s return or just a sensible move to jump back on the festival wagon? Whichever it is for the organizers, we can do with a fresher lineup if and when GoMAD sets up its next edition.