10 Years of Happy? Bacardi NH7 Weekender Remains Uninterrupted
The Pune edition of the three-day music festival banked on more Indian artists than ever before and made some efforts to move past parent company Only Much Louder’s dented reputation
At the start of the decade, Mumbai event/artist management company Only Much Louder teamed up with beverage brand Bacardi to start NH7 Weekender, initiating a music festival culture for fans of independent and alternative artists – both Indian and international – where there was barely any before.
10 years, many memories and a few important #MeToo-related exposés later, one would have perhaps expected the biggest blowout yet for their Pune edition, which took place between November 29th and December 1st at Mahalakshmi Lawns (which was expectedly mixed up with Laxmi Lawns). But given the recent public image beating that Only Much Louder’s personalities have taken for accusations of sexual misconduct and sometimes enabling a sexist work environment, maybe the music festival was happy just rolling on. Were they indifferent to the past (even as more news of OML founder and former Weekender festival director Vijay Nair’s work with New Delhi’s Aam Aadmi Party came up)? Or were they all right to slap on a band-aid over what was at the least a stab wound?
At the festival, these were clearly questions that a very small minority perhaps grappled with. Artists, stand-up comics, management agencies, promoters, influencers and fans made their way on to the three-day festival. By the end of day one, tickets for the entire festival edition were announced to be sold out. We’d estimate the numbers anywhere between 20,000 to 30,000 coming in to catch acts across six stages for six hours of music and comedy.
While the 5 Star Ke Lolstars comedy stage was a separate area that drew a full crowd most times, the other visible installment was a booth that simply said, “Wanna Talk?” in a bid to encourage safe spaces and support for any and all festival-goers, with a bent towards the LGBTQIA+ community. Weekender also included a separate gender-fluid security check queue. In terms of advancing as an eco-sustainable music festival, reusable bottles were sold with plenty more water filling stations, in a bid to reduce waste generation, something they already partner with waste management company Skrap to enforce. As far as safety goes, security remained tight, with CCTV cameras placed at the left and right of the stage, to regularly scan the crowd.
Day one: An even flow of genres
A total capital takeover at the Casa Bacardi and Bacardi Arena stages took place in the first half of day one – featuring wavy yet meandering dream-pop from Dee En, while prog/jazz band Shorthand (joined by prolific drummer Suyash Gabriel) amped up proceedings with songs like “Midnight Traffic.” Over at The Doers Club stage, seasoned rockers Faridkot brought out dark prog vibes as well, while also dipping into favorites like “Laila” and “Subah.” Back at the Bacardi Arena, instrumental band Submarine In Space were delivering a stand-out performance that shifted moods and sounds with ace dexterity.
The easygoing vibes were also supplied by Mumbai’s Azamaan Hoyvoy at the Gaana stage and a perfect sundowner set by Bengaluru alternative act Black Letters, who had just released their sparkling, electronic-leaning album Still As You a few days prior. While Swarathma entertained at the Doers Club, their Bengaluru counterparts in psychedelic rock band Parvaaz also promoted their recently released album Kun, although they did have a few live mix issues to clear up before they got on their way through songs like “Marika” at the Casa Bacardi stage.
Their performance was preceded by Chennai/Los Angeles artist Sid Sriram, while not in the best form vocally, was certainly hellbent on raging through one of the most unconventional live sets we’ve seen – jumping from film songs like “Adiye” to lo-fi R&B/hip-hop from his album Entropy and earlier heart-wrenching compositions like “Brother.” While the Gaana stage closed with feel-good rock from Kerala band Cut A Vibe, electronic music fave and Pune artist Ritviz closed the Breezer Vivid stage, that blasted bass and low-end to a seismic amount.
Irish rock band Kodaline were competing for space with Ritviz, although they had no issues drawing a crowd with pop-informed rock songs like “Love Will Set You Free,” their cover of Kygo’s “Raging” and staples that set plenty of phone cameras in the air, including “High Hopes,” “ All I Want” and “Follow Your Fire.”
Day two: All things heavy
It was after at least four years that Bacardi NH7 Weekender was putting its faith back in metal in a big way, programming the most number of heavy acts in a day. While pop crooner Arunaja warmed up the Casa Bacardi stage with ballads and The Koniac Net more or less played it safe with easygoing indie material from their 2019 album They Finally Herd Us (only bringing the heavy for the last two songs) at the Bacardi Arena, things picked up around 4:30 pm when Mumbai thrash/death metallers Devoid played their first show in nearly four years.
Aided by guest spots from Aditya Barve (formerly of brutal death metallers Gutslit) and Sunneith Revankar (from Undying Inc. and The Silent Offensive), Devoid launched a great comeback, mobilizing the moshpits for the rest of the day. Nepal’s Underside proved they were one of the most important bands in South East Asia right by performing unflinchingly modern metal at the Bacardi Arena, including songs like “Disconnect,” “Sky Burial” and a cover of Slipknot’s “Surfacing.”
Gutslit were about to level up as well, even though their lineup had changed once again. With Venkatraman taking over from Prateek Rajagopal, the band became the most extreme band in recent years to raise hell at Weekender, their brand of brutal death metal heightened by not just Kaushal L.S. on vocals, but also a cameo from Barve on songs like “Eviscerating The Stillborn,” amidst party poppers, snow spray and toilet paper rolls flying around.
Also following a new iteration of sorts were Mumbai metallers Bhayanak Maut, debuting live with vocalist Aman Virdi (from Pune metallers Noiseware). It was business as usual for BM, who ran through songs like “All Glory to the Beard,” “Ranti Nasha,” “Pindakaas” and “Ungentle” with total intensity. London grime/punk trio Pengshui brought forth a barrage of bass and electro-punk for their international debut, which was something of a transitory slot before headliners, Swedish prog band Opeth closed day two.
Besides the heavy stuff, hip-hop titan J. Cole’s label Dreamville showcased rap acts like Cozz and Earthgang at the Breezer Vivid stage, which had a sizable number of people in disbelief, perhaps thinking that J. Cole himself was going to show up. Appear he did not, but Dreamville’s buoyant set perhaps sets the bar for a future performance. Afrobeat band Kokoroko brought the feel-good vibes at the Doers Club, but the big draw remained Opeth, arriving in India on the back of their latest album In Cauda Venenum. While it wasn’t the best sequenced setlist, fans were clearly overjoyed for the Swedish songs on their new record as well as can’t-fail early hits like the ballad “Hope Leaves” and the prog death-exploring “Deliverance.” Frontman Mikael Akerfeldt was at his comedic best between songs, playing up banter about Indian food and his bowel moments, completing 30 years as a band next year and how he doesn’t like hip-hop much, but he did have a rap project with fellow Swedes Katatonia frontman Jonas Renkse.
Day three: The party rolls on
With most of the heavy music out of the way, the final day of Weekender opened with carefree and laidback sets from Mumbai band Water and Rum at the Gaana stage, plus New Delhi artist Ditty at the Doers Club and Chennai artist JBabe at the Casa Bacardi stage. Singer-producer duo Kavya x Chaz picked up the tempo over at the Bacardi Arena, but it was Bengaluru artist HanuMankind and his live band who impressed most with his indefatigable flow and songs off his upcoming EP Kalari. Mumbai crew Swadesi took over from thereon, also performing a live set of material from their upcoming album Chetavani. It was a mood-changer of sorts with their brand of socially-conscious, take-no-prisoners style of hip-hop, while New Delhi act Fopchu were joined by vocalist-guitarist Sanchal Malhar (from rock band Superfuzz) to bring the dance-y mood back at the Doers Club.
Between Israeli trio Garden City Movement, New Delhi’s hypnotic producer-singer Lifafa and seasoned DJ-producer BLOT!, there was nearly a club-vibe cutting through the festival, heavy on four-on-the-floor beats, sparkling synth and high energy buildups. This was juxtaposed with the well-crafted, somewhat low-key set from producer, pianist and keyboardist Sandunes, who performed her piano-centric set Hand of Thought, that leaned on electronic, classical and everything in between to a patient audience.
Attendees were certainly more hyped to catch fusion-leaning rock artists like Anand Bhaskar Collective and Job Kurian at the Gaana stage. It was a fitting segue for the veteran voice of A. Hariharan to take over at the Doers Club with his sublime repertoire of pop, film music playback and even devotional songs.
Over at the Breezer Vivid stage, live bands were the staple for rappers like Kaam Bhaari and Brodha V, who had everyone moving, followed by a more arena-size presentation of choreographed movements and confetti shots during hip-hop artist Raja Kumari’s closing set.
It was a one-man show for Nick Murphy fka Chet Faker at the Bacardi Arena, who came out with little announcement, clad in a yellow kurta, tikka on his forehead and a garland around his neck. It’s one of those things you might see with an airport greeting, but the platinum selling Aussie singer-songwriter was clearly in the process of becoming an Indophile. Running through a concise set of songs like “Gold,” “1998” and “Talk Is Cheap,” the one-man show only briefly broke into a duo thanks to tabla artist Dr. Aneesh Pradhan stepping in for an impromptu jam of sorts, one that cemented Murphy’s newfound love for India.
While there are several music festivals up and running successful, few have the legacy status that Bacardi NH7 Weekender has attained. A go-to destination of good times despite all the murkiness that has reportedly transpired behind the scenes, the popularity of the festival remains largely unhindered.