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Why College Festivals are Still a Big Draw for Rock Bands

With the college festival season kicking off this month, we find why campuses still offer the best performance stages across the country

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Jessica Kilbane Aug 11, 2014
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Parikrama. Photo: Akshayraj Uchil

Parikrama. Photo: Akshayraj Uchil

In the winter of 2011, Chennai-based band 83 Miles Per Hour took stage to perform a tight 30-minute rock ’n roll set at Bengaluru’s National Law School. Says drummer Peter Joshua, “Down south, we’ve had to break through to Rajnikanth fans with our music. There are a lot of kids who listen to Bollywood or Tamil music.” The Chennai band was competing at the Strawberry Fields college fest alongside acts such as Bengaluru stoner/doom metal band Bevar Sea, Chennai-based rock band The Captains of Hook and death metal band Rudra from Singapore. At the end of the set, Joshua’s myth about a South Indian audience had been busted. He says, “We had guys walk up to us and say, ”˜Rock n roll is really something.’ The show really pro­vided a platform for my band.”

Campus festivals have been pivotal to the formation of rock bands and their surviv­al during the Nineties, when Independence Rock was the biggest event on the gig cal­endar and when the idea of a music festival was entirely implausible for both bands and their audience. Almost two decades on, cam­pus festivals continue to hold a significant place in an Indian band’s career graph. Says Yohan Marshall, vocalist of Mumbai-based jam band The Family Cheese, “If you want people to know you in a city, the best thing to do is to play a college festival.”

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Students who are introduced to new music at these festivals often get so hooked that they continue to attend as many gigs the band plays long after they’ve graduat­ed. Says Amit Kilam, drummer for Delhi-based folk rock band Indian Ocean, “For a long time in India, college festivals were the only place where bands could play ”” and as artists, you love to play and perform live as much as possible.” Marshall, who believes that the college festival circuit should be looked at as an entirely separate tour route, agrees. He adds, “You may start off as a com­peting band, but the next year, you might be called to perform as the headlining act. It’s a way to organically build relationships with audiences.”

For more seasoned performers, these fes­tivals are a way to plug into the high-spirit­ed, almost catatonic energy that can only be found at college events. Says Shashvat Tripa­thi, an organizer at Birla Institute of Tech­nology and Science’s Oasis festival in Pilani, “College festivals are all about culture and the most proofed form of expressing culture has always been music. Music is art, it’s impor­tant.” Every performance at a college festival ensures that the band’s fanbase swells. Says Kilam, “Even in Mumbai and Delhi colleges, there are people who come to a concert [at a college festival] having heard your name, but not your music. In Kanpur and Lucknow, peo­ple have almost no idea who you are. But the audience is great, the atmosphere is great and the kids come out wanting to listen to music.”

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Several bands who cut their teeth at col­lege festivals have chosen to move on from the circuit, but for many others, the lure of a good audience is enough to keep them coming back. Artists such as Thermal and A Quar­ter, Junkyard Groove, Soulmate, Parikrama and The Raghu Dixit Project play anywhere close to 10 to 50 college festivals per year. Says Subir Malik of Parikrama, “Given a chance, we’d do every show in a college. College shows keep us young, their energies are so vibrant. It’s always great fun to meet them and learn from them, their passion is miles ahead of any other concert.”

College Fests

This article appeared in the August 2014 issue of ROLLING STONE India.

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