Festival Report: Orange Festival of Adventure and Music, Dambuk, Arunachal Pradesh
Master shredder Yngwie Malmsteen led the charge of blazing rock among indie bands, making the four-day event scale up like never before
There are some things typical of music festivals in the North-East. For starters, the time spent traveling is as overwhelming as the view that greets you when you finally get there.
In the case of the Orange Festival of Adventure and Music, there was a wide open sky above the venue in the village of Dambuk, while the artist village/campsite was overlooking hills and the Dibang river, its currents strong enough to be the best soundtrack to quiet time.
Come 5 pm, it was time to head to the festival grounds, which was lined with stalls serving local food, the potent rice beer and knickknacks in one corner. At the center stood the huge stage setup.
Again, similar to its state counterpart, the Ziro Festival of Music, Orange had an insanely good light setup that made every act glow, at least visually. Shillong-based sound engineer Julius Basaiawmoit and his team did their best to give every one of the 18 artists the best shine possible, with mixed results.
The festival kicked off with singer-songwriters like Antoine and Scott Moses Murray – both expats based in New Delhi. Acoustic music seems something of a tradition now at the festival, considering previous editions featured everyone from Uday Benegal (from veteran rock act Indus Creed) to American singer-songwriter Joseph Arthur.
The lineup also included New Delhi-based, Arunachal singer Boby Techi and her backing band on day two, injecting soul into the early evening that already looked (and felt) like midnight. Also on day two, a fresh approach to the set came from Mumbai-based Shubhangi Joshi, turning to jazz, soul and folk with her collective. Unfortunately, at her debut performance in the North-East, she faced a sour experience courtesy a (probably) drunk catcalling heckler. Post the minutes-long exchange between the two, Joshi was back to playing her set, jumping from neo-soul band Hiatus Kaiyote’s “Nakamarra” to her own calming albeit reconstructed tunes such as “Talking Away the Night” and “Ode to the Moon.”
The previous day, vocalist-bassist Randeep Singh of New Delhi rockers Menwhopause, was met with calls for (musician Rabbi Shergill’s) “Bulla Ki Jaana” and asked to sing a Punjabi song. In jest, he said into the mic, “Yeh paaji toh English main hi gayega.” The band is currently on a North-East tour promoting their upcoming album Neon Delhi and they didn’t mind presenting this weird mix of songs that veered into darker, unpredictably psychedelic spaces, like “On a Boat” and their voice-sampling closer “Maybe, Who Knows.” Joined by keyboardist Shiv Ahuja, drummer Bhanu Thakur and guitarist Anup Kutty, Menwhopause were also handling artists and stage production duties at Orange.
Later in the day, the sonic mood at the festival shifted from singer-songwriter to all-out rock – from the fresh, instrumental math rock of Shillong band Skylevel and the flying funk rock of GingerFeet, who ran through favorites such as “Fake You,” “Empty Spaces” and “Make Your Stand.”
Fresh rock from the block
While day one was free entry for locals, the rest of the days were ticketed, so it was no surprise to see attendance dip on day two, although even the performances left us wanting more. While Gangtok rockers Arogya faced severe sound issues, making their performance lukewarm at best, newly formed rap rock quartet The Con Artist – featuring prolific drummer Teji Toko, Aizawl rockers Boomarang’s guitarist Booma Hangsing and rapper Deka freestyling – were a bit hit-and-miss, again owing to technical issues.
Thankfully, things ended on a much more energetic—and faultless–note with performances by pop rock act The Baby Boomers from Bhutan and the crowd-pleasing indie rock of New Delhi-based act Frisky Pints, playing songs off their recently released EP Feeling Frisky.
Yngwie Malmsteen’s note-worthy set
Day three, of course, belonged to the headliner – Eighties guitar virtuoso Yngwie Malmsteen. And we mean that literally, because the guitarist threw enough of his star power attitude to send organizers into a tizzy, asking them not to even touch his massive stage setup of 34 amps + cabinets. He’d asked for many more amplifiers on stage, but the Miami-based shredder was just about satisfied, or at may be didn’t want to make his long journey deep into the North-East go to waste.
Malmsteen delivered a 150-minute set, going from “Arpeggios from Hell” to the shattering “Black Star” and “Far Beyond the Sun.” Not really saying anything specific to being in India, Malmsteen preferred to stick to his antics, breaking a string in violent fashion, swinging his guitar around, and without a doubt, reaching out to play probably a thousand notes a minute. Even his band went on standby during the set, as they stood and watched Malmsteen pick into his neoclassical phrases. About a thousand people, including Arunachal Pradesh Chief Minister Pema Khandu, later gave mixed responses – from those who were bored after 20 minutes to those who said he should have played at least three hours, considering the guitarist had traveled very far and people had paid Rs 2,000 for a day ticket.
Longer delays, shorter sets
On the last day, with all the 4×4 rally riders leaving, bands like Mumbai party punk band The Lightyears Explode, New Delhi indie rockers Yesterdrive and Kolkata rockers The Ganesh Talkies were playing to lesser numbers. On-ground delays also led to short 30-minute sets. The Lightyears Explode got to open their innings in the North-East with their performance, while the region’s regulars, The Ganesh Talkies, tackled every delay in travel and stage time like veteran used-to-it pros.
Master blasters and the riff raff
Local rock band Tani, which had come together just a few days ago, didn’t look a least bit nooby on stage; guitarist Getem Apang even laid out a great solo every now and then. Nagaland pop rockers The Tune-Up Channel brought Daft Punk-esque anthemic pop rock, while New Delhi-based synth rock band Joker’s Whoop were an annoying mess of mangled accents, boy band-style synchronized stage moves and had way too much bubblegum in their brand of indie synth-led tunes.
The one band that did stand out, understandably, were death metallers Sacred Secrecy, whose powerful three-piece act actually had many locals loving it, even if they didn’t understand a word that vocalist Tana Doni was growling as he windmilled his hair. More than their music, their energy was applauded, which goes to show just how appreciative of music the Arunchalese are–be it drunk uncles, unassuming aunties who ran tea stalls or the hardcore headbangers.
One of the best sets also belonged to Yesterdrive, who ran through new material such as “Dread,” “Control” and “OK Hope” as well as dance-rock driven songs like “Sweet Green Emotion” and “Hold On,” off their 2014 self-titled release. Vocalist-guitarist Molee Lollen might have constantly apologized for having a bad voice, but for most in the audience, Yesterdrive sounded pitch-perfect.
At the Orange Festival of Adventure and Music, the music and adventure were not really integrated. Sure, there was music for rally riders and car fanatics to enjoy, but for the music fans, the offers of ziplining and other activities seemed to be not very well advertised. If they were taking place in and around the festival grounds, perhaps that would have been all the promotion it needed. It didn’t help that the current cash crunch meant that festival-goers couldn’t really dish out any notes for the activities, with phone network being spotty enough for no e-wallets or card machines to function.
Malmsteen, of course, will be a story that everyone at Dambuk will narrate plenty of times over, for its sheer entertainment value before, during and after the show.
But what it did establish was the fact that any Indian festival have the power to bring a headliner down for an exclusive show, almost as though throwing a challenge to festival-goers to trek to new grounds, push themselves towards a new experience.
Photos: Nabam Tadi