Festival Review: Vh1 Supersonic 2017
Eric Prydz’s jaw-dropping debut, Macklemore’s underwhelming offerings, and why the festival exceeded all expectations despite venue change
Despite as many as three other much-talked about music festivals taking place over the same weekend of February 10th-12th (Control Alt Delete 10 and Mahindra Blues Festival in Mumbai and Into the Void at the Rann of Kutch), Vh1 Supersonic managed to clock in a whopping footfall of about 41,000 over three days. This record of sorts could be credited to two main reasons: Swedish producer Eric Prydz and American hip-hop artist Macklemore both making their India debuts there, and the festival’s relocation from Candolim in Goa to Laxmi Lawns in Pune, thus eliminating the annual clash with competitor, Sunburn. Add to that a behind the scenes team working with the sheer willpower to succeed, and you have yourself one of the best produced festivals we’ve attended in the past year.
With a theme that channeled a carnival-esque return to childhood, Vh1 Supersonic’s organizers splashed Pune’s Laxmi Lawns with color and light, eager to make up for the absence of beach vibes. Beautiful women clad in feathers and flowing costumes breezed through the grounds, keeping the crowd enthralled with dance routines, hoola-hoop tricks and performances with fire. The festival’s ‘Super Flea’ market featured almost 30 different food and merchandise stalls, multi-colored teepees and several art installations. A section named the ‘Brew Garden’ served as the adult version of a play park, complete with LED swings, see-saw sets, ball pits and trampolines. All of it made it rather hard to believe that Vh1 Supersonic had been forced to shift base just a few months ago.
Pay it forward
This year, Vh1 Supersonic introduced cashless mode of payment—something that festivals of this scale often struggle with—and executed it flawlessly. Each entry wristband carried a microchip that recorded transactions, avoiding the hassles of juggling the many challenges of India’s current cash crunch. Purchases were smooth and top-up opportunities presented themselves all throughout the grounds and even online.
The festival also gained points for featuring special areas for the differently abled (such as raised platforms for watching the show, bars, restrooms and payment counters) and women-only bars. With no room to for mistakes or compromise, security was heavy and included x-ray baggage scans, thorough pat-downs and confiscation of anything edible, flammable or otherwise suspicious-looking. (Although we support the endeavor to create a safe environment, taking away our stick of lip balm was pretty harsh, Supersonic.) A fire truck, two ambulances and first-aid tents remained on standby at all times while on-ground staff lent a helpful hand whenever required (no major injuries or deaths reported were this year).
Setting the stage
VH1 Supersonic gave its pet theme ‘Steam Punk’ a miss this year, opting instead for what seemed like ‘Tropical Jungle’ décor. We wonder if the 2016 edition of Tomorrowland, Belgium was the inspiration. The main stage, Sonic Realm, was conceptualized by set designer Shyam Bhatia and featured an abundance of artificial plants and flowers. Amidst this flora played the festival headliners- Prydz, Macklemore and Russian-German electronic producer Zedd (who played quite the smashing set at the 2015 edition too).
Dutch techno brand Awakenings’ stage Spectrum was possibly our favorite in terms of design; massive LED-wrapped columns flanked either side of the console, allowing artists to use out-of-the-box visuals to accompany their performances.
The Labortoire stage, like always, was the smallest and least fussy about design. Its curated roster included some of the more hard-hitting acts at the festival, like London-based producer Nerm, Mumbai trap DJ Sickflip and South African trance producer Protoculture.
Show and tell
We arrived at the festival just in time to catch New Delhi-based DJ Zaeden’s lively show at Spectrum. While we did love the young producer’s mix of rapper Post Malone’s “White Iverson” and American producer Ookay’s “Thief,” we were hoping to see a few more original compositions instead of the usual tracks that make rounds on most EDM set lists. German producer Thomas Gold was a breath of fresh air with his upbeat brand of prog house. His standout numbers included the 2016 tracks “Saints & Sinners” and “Believe,” as well as a slow-jam remix of Zara Larsson’s “Never Forget You.”
Mumbai-based electronica veteran Pearl’s signature minimal tech dug deep into the world of trance and brought out a glimpse of Goa’s underground music scene at Sonic Realm. Dutch producer Quintino also made an impression with his darker brand of techno, our favorite offering from his set list was the crisp remix of Eurythmics’ “Sweet Dreams.” London-based DJ Barely Legal impressed us with the hip-hop and Nineties R&B in her set at Labortoire, but it was a pity to see a turnout of barely a hundred due to clashes with other artists’ sets.
As soon as 8.30PM approached, audiences swarmed to Sonic Realm, eager to grab a spot and finally witness Prydz’s Asia debut. Following a decent build-up with title track from his 2016 album Opus, Prydz began a vicious and hair-raising set. His exploration of power-packed, Eighties-esque synth on tracks like “Generate” and “Liberate” set him apart from any other act at Supersonic, as did the stupendous light and visual effects that accompanied his performance. The ascent to each crescendo had us at the edges of our seats while the beat drops were effortless and dark, drawing heavily from retro-futurism. Prydz played for a generous two hours, ending bang at 10.30 PM.
We came in early on Day 2 and got to experience much more of the carnival at the venue. Bengaluru-based Vachan Chinnapa’s cheerful set highlighted Supersonic’s general feel-good atmosphere and was followed by some old school hip-hop courtesy Mumbai’s DJ Uri. Los Angeles-based producer Eagles and Butterflies, who played soon after at Spectrum, seemed poker-faced and unenthusiastic during his unremarkable set which turned a majority of the crowd away. We left with them, deciding to head instead for Paul Thomas and Aneesh Gera’s booming performance at Labortoire.
For those searching for a brief respite from EDM, Day 2 also saw chill island vibes thanks to 10,000 Lions Sound System. The Goa-based reggae act were stationed at the Lion’s Den, a small tent which drew plenty of barefoot, dreadlocked concert-goers who seemed content swaying to Caribbean beats at one spot. We also managed to catch South African trance producer Nate Raubenheimer aka Protoculture’s impressive show at Labortoire right before heading to Sonic Realm for the main act of the night: Macklemore.
Going by the online hype around his India debut, we were expecting a massive turnout. But Macklemore failed to ensure a full house; while the crowds were large towards the front of the stage, they got scantier around the middle. The VIP sections too seemed deserted and the lack of response from the audience was rather embarrassing. This was especially evident when the rapper attempted to prompt the crowd into singing the chorus of his 2012 hit “Same Love,” and met with a sea of disinterested revelers. Could the real Macklemore fans please stand up? And the emoji-postin gushers on social media move to the side?
As expected, the more popular tracks like the viral “Thrift Shop” and “Can’t Hold Us” saw much more enthusiastic reactions while his brazen performance of the vicious “FDT (Fuck Donald Trump) Part 2” received roars of approval. Seattle producer and multi-instrumentalist, Josh Karp aka Budo was one of the show’s biggest highlights, jumping from one instrument to another as tracks changed. American vocalist Eric Nally stole the evening with his surprise appearance and hyperactive antics during “Downtown,” the final track of the night.
The final day of Vh1 Supersonic started off on a relaxed note. We spent an hour lounging around in the grass in front of Sonic Realm while South African producer Candice Redding took the console, getting the crowd in the mood with an infectiously upbeat set that included Clean Bandit’s “Rather Be” and Rae Sremmurd’s “Black Beatles.” We also managed to check out audio-visual duo BLOT! and New Delhi producer Kohra’s dreamy, futuristic collaborative techno at Spectrum. London-based producer Nerm drew a massive crowd at Labortoire with his trademark drum ‘n’ bass, his remix of Sam Smith and Disclosure’s “Latch” particularly standing out.
After catching brief moments of Dutch DJ Joris Voorn’s set and 18-year-old British producer Curbi’s thrilling India debut, we settled in at Sonic Realm for Mumbai EDM act Lost Stories. For an act that played disastrous remixes of Green Day’s “Boulevard of Broken Dreams,” Nirvana’s “Smells Like Teen Spirit” and Bon Jovi’s “It’s My Life,” Lost Stories (not) surprisingly won over the crowd with hilarious banter, fireworks and a generous helping of Coldplay. Only in India does familiarity not breed contempt.
When 8.30PM finally rolled around, an army of fans armed with LED lights and signboards gathered in front of Sonic Realm, spawning collective struggles to capture Zedd on camera as he appeared in a burst of rainbow colors. Perched on a massive balcony-console erected several feet above the ground, the young producer performed several of his most famous tracks including 2015’s “Beautiful Now,” the Selena Gomez collaboration “I Want You To Know” and the Grammy Award-winning “Clarity.” The visual effects bordered on 3D at certain points, perfectly in sync with every beat but also seizure-inducingly bright. The only points of annoyance were overplayed tracks like Calvin Harris’ “How Deep Is Your Love” and the infernal “Closer” by the Chainsmokers in his set list, but they served their purpose of placing the crowd right in the palm of Zedd’s hand. The show finally came to an end with the now-mandatory ‘flashlights up’ moment, an enthusiastic wave of India’s flag and a blinding display of color, confetti and fireworks to the 2012 track “Spectrum.”
While we eventually did tire of hearing the endless loop of “Put your hands up, put your fucking hands up,” from almost every DJ, it was commendable how many sub-genres of electronic music Vh1 Supersonic managed to include– especially rarely heard underground movements. With impeccable punctuality, seamless management, lack of major medical incidents and a surprising absence of political interference, it would appear that Vh1 Supersonic is gearing up to crown itself India’s biggest music festival.