Festival Review: Vh1 Supersonic, Goa 2015
Top global DJs appeased audiences with entertaining sets even as festival-goers soaked in more than just music at the four-day beach festival in Candolim
North Goa in the final week of December is not a pretty sight. Its popular beaches are mostly overcrowded and the narrow roads leading to them remain jammed for hours on end. Music lovers who make a pilgrimage to either of the two massive electronic music festivals that have been taking place there on clashing dates since 2013 [Sunburn Goa and Vh1 Supersonic Goa] tend to be either die-hard fans of the artists on the roster or tourists hell-bent on a ‘Goa-in-December experience’. It is the healthy [read safe] mixture of both such groups that is the first thing that strikes you about Vh1 Supersonic. For every compulsive selfie-clicking couple at this beach party held on the ivory sands of Candolim, there is a bass-loving beach bum bobbing his head away by force of habit. What does that mean for a large-scale music festival that is only three years old? It means that it has done its job ridiculously well.
The security blanket
Apart from the four security gateways – two ticket/wristband checks, one frisk search and one bag check – the festival had widespread on-ground monitoring by uniformed security people [from a private security agency as well as local state police] walking through crowds, walkie-talkie in hand. Not to mention the groups of cops from the local police station who were entrusted with the job of fining smoking offenders. If you were caught smoking anywhere in the festival premises apart from the designated smoking areas, you had to pay a fine of Rs 200, no questions entertained. Thank you, Vh1 Supersonic. So extensive was this security cover and well-lit the entire beach that a friend even remarked in jest whether it went against music festival ‘vibe’! Knowing India and Indian revelers, it was just what we needed.
The festival stuck to last year’s theme of ‘Steam Punk’, which was best reflected on the flagship Iron Heart stage. The magnificent stage design by a team led by VJ KayCee was a labyrinth of cogs, wheels, pistons and exhaust fans bracketed on one side by a giant glowing face and one the other, a wind-mill. We’d have liked this attention to detail on the other two stages as well — Laboratoire and Spectrum — which seemed just ordinary in comparison to the grandeur of Iron Heart.
Music might be the mainstay of any festival but it’s the facilities on ground that separate a great event from a good one. It was heartwarming to see the free drinking water stations around the festival this year. During the four days of the festival, Goa had witnessed unusually high temperature for December, so free hydration was a consolation. Some of the brand activations were quite nice too. While main sponsor Jim Beam had erected the facade of a stillhouse in the porch of which you could chill, the Ozone dome attracted festival-goers with its trippy film-watching experience on a 270-degree-wide screen. At the Hungama arena, revelers battled it out with each with lightsabers. Just like Bacardi Enchanted Valley Carnival, the festival too introduced cashless transaction by means of a chip attached to the wristband.
The food-court and flea market were not bad either although the latter lacked seating this year; the previous edition had some cool picnic benches that you could plonk your bum on. Should medical emergencies occur, the organizers had also installed two mobile ICUs at the venue. After last year’s mishap when a festival-goer died due to an alleged drug overdose, the organizers ensured this year that they were at least equipped enough to handle any contingencies.
The four days featured closed to 80 acts across electronic music genres and sub genres. The attendees kept swelling by each passing day, starting with 10,000-12,000 on day one. The headlining acts of each day played to the gallery and performed entertaining sets. On day one, UK duo Disclosure worked the crowd at the Iron Heart stage with a mix of unruly house and sweet synth pop. Back at the Laboratoire stage, London-based dubstep producer, label owner and founder of DMZ Club Nights, Mala, along with MC Pokes managed to get a dense party going. The number of people at this stage was a fraction of the crowd at the main stage but the party here was definitely more intense. At the Spectrum stage, Swedish techno DJ Adam Beyer was another favourite. In fact, at one point during Disclosure’s set, the crowds seemed to magnetically veer towards Spectrum.
One of the high points of day two was when Russian-German electronic music icon Zedd dropped his biggest hit “Clarity”. This familiar tune sent the thousands gathered at the stage into a tizzy as they sang along to it. It’s a pity that some of their unfamiliar but equally amazing tracks didn’t meet with the same sort of reception with the Indian crowds who known to be obsessed with commercial, popular tracks. It was most evident on the finale set when Swedish house producer Axwell introduced the opening music to “Don’t You Worry Child” [Swedish House Mafia; 2013]. Another hit that got everyone roaring at his set was “Sun is Shining” [Axwell & Ingrosso]. One of our favorite acts on the Iron Heart stage was the Dutch trance/electro house duo W&W on day three. The two ensured that there were no dull moments throughout their 90-minute set. And like Tiesto at BEVC, the duo remixed Adele’s “Hello” much to the crowd’s delight.
While Iron Heart featured the biggest names on the circuit, Laboratoire and Spectrum brought on board artists that had strong and loyal following. A shout-out to Belgian drum ‘n’ bass producers NetSky and Alix Perez and Dutch techno/house genius Joris Voorn for their stellar sets. We had a good time.
Vh1 Supersonic seems to have raised the benchmark for festival organization in India. With a bit of fine-tuning and possibly an expansion – in the number of stages as well as in the size of the venue so that it is able to grip revelers from day till dusk with enough engaging activities – it could just become the electronic music mecca in India.