Festival Review: Bacardi NH7 Weekender, Hyderabad
Canceled acts, tepid audience and dismal footfall marked the inaugural edition in the city
By now, Bacardi NH7 Weekender has become a big enough brand not just for indie bands to covet, but also for state governments to woo. That’s probably part of the reason the annual music festival moved out of Bengaluru as its south Indian destination, setting up in the newly formed state of Telangana.
But the inaugural Hyderabad edition of Weekender was not without problems – due to rumored space constraints, the festival caught the fans unawares by cutting down an entire stage, canceling performances by 10 artists across two days. This, without any formal announcement from Weekender; information instead came through bands at the receiving end, such as post-rock act Until We Last, dream pop/rock band Black Letters, New Delhi experimental electronica artist Komorebi and more.
The Breezer Vivid Village’s bass lines and beats often bled into the Dewarists stage’s quiet folk and alt rock of New Delhi singer-songwriter Prateek Kuhad (who still powered through early evening set comprising new material like “Cold” and “Closer” on day one) and even Bengaluru folk rockers Swarathma, who took a leap of faith by performing only new songs such as the hilarious “Sweater Pehno” and socially-conscious sing-along numbers such as “Asmaan Ki Dukaan” on day two.
It was the first time in a long time we saw bands like Mumbai metallers Bhayanak Maut and New Delhi ska/reggae act The Ska Vengers play just a half-hour set, almost being under-utilized by the festival. But in their defence, the festival probably reserved the best and longer slots for the bands they knew would sell most tickets – from the sublime folk performances of Indian Ocean and The Raghu Dixit Project to, well, desi bass producer Nucleya (who was introduced by Weekender founder Vijay Nair as “a guy who is already a legend”) and a festival closing set by Bollywood actor-singer Farhan Akhtar’s band, Farhan Live.
Even organizers Only Much Louder’s own roster of bands had it tough in a new city – unlike their inaugural edition in Shillong, there wasn’t much of international star power a la thrash metallers Megadeth that would draw crowds to the GMR Arena close to the city airport, on the outer limits of the city. Yes, the commute was probably long, which explained why people did begin to leave by 9:30 PM, even as Nucleya pumped up tracks off his new album Raja Baja and remixes like last year’s top hip-hop hit, “Meri Gully Mein” by rappers Divine and Naezy. Kolkata dance rockers The Ganesh Talkies were off to a shaky start, but regained momentum just in time, while Chennai’s The F16s jammed with garage rockers Skrat’s guitarist Sriram T.T., who was taking over the riffs for frontman Josh Fernandez on account of his fractured fingers.
Over at the Breezer Vivid Village, electronica’s sharpest minds such as Mumbai producers Sid Vashi and Nicholson played to a few, but ensured it was an immersive set. Nicholson premiered a new cover in his set, an unexpected, otherworldly version of Australian artist Gotye’s “Heart’s A Mess.” Beyond the likes of sure-fire performances by someone like Dualist Inquiry, there were a few experiments set in motion by electronic music producers. Nu-disco duo Madboy/Mink, for example, added drummer Jehangir Jehangir, trombone player Rahul Joshua Thomas and trumpeter Meera Fernandes to become even louder and dancier. Guitarist-producer Randolph Correia roped in drummer Varoon Aiyer and keyboardist Manavon Massar to test material that sounds pretty close to his electro-rock band Pentagram minus vocals.
The dependable lot who delivered on day one included a trademark jump-around set by Skrat and the overall volume went up a few notches when UK alt rock band Dinosaur Pile-Up took to the stage to an intro of Queens of the Stone Age’s “You Think I Ain’t Worth A Dollar, But I Feel Like A Millionaire.” Frontman Matt Bigland wasn’t much on words (apart from the encouraging “Hey!” between songs), preferring to plough into gigantically fuzzy riffs on songs like “Red and Purple,” “White T-shirt and Jeans” and “Nature Nurture” as part of a 40-minute set.
Day two drew a slightly larger crowd, at least early enough to catch the hit-or-miss performance by UK act Alluri, who started off with hook-city garage rock but then turned towards a melancholic sound, using Nick Cave and Lou Reed-esque vocal melodies to sing about London and then also a song in Telugu, which drew a few laughs before eventual applause. Equally lukewarm was the DJ set by London indie rock band Django Django’s drummer David Maclean, although spinning hip-hop evergreens, was fraught with technical issues.
You could tell some people came specifically for Bhayanak Maut, who even started a moshpit, but everyone was mostly there for Farhan Akhtar – the mark of Weekender fully metamorphosing into a something-for-everyone mainstream festival, even as indie diehards may complain. With over a thousand coming in on each day, Weekender doesn’t exactly have bragging rights, but they can say they tested the waters in a new city with relative success.