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Festival Report: Bacardi NH7 Weekender, Pune 2017

Farewells, comebacks and reunions marked the eighth edition of one of the most-attended music festivals in the country

Anurag Tagat Dec 20, 2017

Steve Vai serenaded Pune with a sublime repeat of his set at the Meghalaya edition. Photo: Prashin Jagger

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A tantalizing lineup and a new, spacious venue weren’t the only indications that Bacardi NH7 Weekender has grown by leaps and bounds in the past eight years. Brand activations were at an all-time high at this year’s edition, taking over huge spaces at the venue (Google Pixel arena, Camp Tinder with its own mini stage, among others) and screaming out for selfies and Insta stories.

You could say this year the festival served as a template in experiential marketing at music events, and going by the general enthusiasm among the crowd, it did its job well.  But if you were there just for the music and would shudder at the idea of being seated by Camp Tinder (watching a singer-songwriter cover John Mayer or Guns N’ Roses), Weekender had a packed schedule on all three days.

Day one

The first day kicked off with New Delhi domination from instrumental rock band Zokova, post-hardcore act May Island and rockers Kraken (who ran out of time and had to unceremoniously finish their set with just the stage monitors on). Of course, bands had their own marketing tactics put into play ”“ not just standees of Kraken’s album LUSH but also Aswekeepsearching and Zygnema flags distributed to fans for waving throughout their respective sets.

A full-fledged set from Aswekeepsearching included drummer-percussionist Sambit Chatterjee on tabla and percussion as well as violinist Ajay Jayanthi, both contributors on their new album Zia.

If you caught your breath between all the double-bass drumming and breakdowns and made your way to any of the other stages that day, there was the angsty tunes of Bengaluru singer-songwriter Mahesh Raghunandan (accompanied by guitarist Ramanan Chandramouli) and, over at the Dewarists Stage, a very un-festival-esque set by Carnatic vocalist T.M. Krishna. The Magsaysay award-winning activist/musician was at his self-indulgent best, certainly oblivious to all the heavy music around him.

American mathcore outfit The Dillinger Escape Plan jumped, lunged and raced across their hour-long India debut. Photo: Maanas Singh

By the time his set was done, American mathcore outfit The Dillinger Escape Plan began wrecking things. On the 100-feet wide Bacardi Arena, the band jumped, lunged and raced across their hour-long India debut. From the punishing opener “Prancer” to the utter chaos of songs like “Sugar Coated Sour” and “Panasonic Youth,” Dillinger’s guitarist Ben Weinman kept jumping off any height he could find, not in the least bothered by irregular guitar malfunctions. Certainly, anyone who would have wandered in during catchier songs like “One of Us is the Killer” would soon be amazed (or put off, pretty much) by the fury of songs such as “Limerent Death” and their damaging set closer “43% Burnt.”

Dillinger’s set also included “Setting Fire to Sleeping Giants,” which was once among Scribe’s unparalleled choice of covers. Now reunited with frontman Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy, the band ”“ decked in graduation gowns ”“ stuck to their favorite party-starters through the years. From “Ate a Banana” to “Cops Cops (Cops Cops)” and everything in between, Krishnamoorthy’s every wish was being granted considering it was a comeback show ”“ from concentric circle pits to an all-girl moshpit for “Street Archana vs Vice Varsha.” This was the comeback Indian metal was waiting for, and Scribe didn’t disappoint.

From the comeback we turned straight to the farewell, with as much fanfare as possible for Dutch prog metal forerunners Textures. Their two-hour setlist sounded flawless, and though the Dutchmen were more exuberant than emotional on stage, songs like “Messengers” and “Singularity” ”“ plus a drawn-out acoustic-turned-metal version of their song “Awake” ”“ was everything that gave fans a headrush.

Dutch prog metal band Textures played their farewell set in Pune. Photo: Maanas Singh

Day two

By the second day, band activation was full-blown ”“ with opening act and Pune favorites Easy Wanderlings handing out T-shirts, posters and having people wrapped around in cloth banners for their easy-going set at the Dewarists stage, promoting their album As Written in the Stars.

Newer artists such as Easy Wanderlings and acoustic artist Bhrigu Sahni made the most of a huge Dewarists stage, with mixed results, while three-member Canadian rockers Bad Pop were at their jovial best, rocking out as they huddled as close together as possible on the Bacardi Arena. It was a bit early in the day for the booming bass music of New Delhi producer MojoJojo ”“ when even the Breezer Vivid stage was hosting hit-or-miss comedy acts until 6 pm.

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The artists who did perfectly fit the stage they played on included New Delhi-based arena-rock band The Local Train, who drew over 3,000 fans for their early evening set of new material as well as hits such as “Aaoge Tum Kabhi.” Similarly, Mumbai-based electronica outfit Ape Echoes brought their jazzy sound to the Breezer Vivid stage delivering sublime, melodic and masterful musicianship. Back at the Bacardi House Party stage, French electro-rock band Colt Silvers were delivering a power-packed set to the festival attendees. Vocalist Tristan Lepagney even dived into the crowd during the band’s best-known track “As We Walk,” which is one way for a new band to gain instant fans.

Guitarist Warren Mendonsa from Mumbai instrumental rock group Blackstratblues. Photo: Prashin Jagger

The energy changed when Blackstratblues took to the Bacardi Arena right then, playing an “All-star” set which was not exactly too star-studded. And it didn’t need to be, because guitarist Warren Mendonsa alone can add that shine that few guitarists in the country can ”“ although we did get to see Pentagram guitarist Randolph Correia slam out a rare but epic solo.

For those who were in need for some hip-hop and dance music, the Insider.In Other Stage was the place to be. Mumbai-based reggae/hip-hoppers Bombay Bassment brought the house down with their high-energy showmanship and tight set. MC/rapper Bob Omulo was at his frontman best; jumping up and down the stage, interacting with the crowd as well as giving his bandmates shoutouts in between songs. More cerebral dance music, however, played out with live sets from producers such as Sid Vashi and Kumail at the Breezer Vivid stage

While Chennai rockers Skrat kept the crowd on their toes (one way to do that, frontman Sriram T.T. has learned, is to keep repeating “Jump! Jump! Jump!”), The Ram Sampath Experience was a hard-hitting mixed bag that kept audiences guessing ”“ picking from his Coke Studio compositions to a hard rock “Ai Giri Nandini” and a surprise cover of Linkin Park’s “One Step Closer” as a tribute to late singer Chester Bennington.

Steve Vai serenaded Pune with a sublime repeat of his set at the Meghalaya edition, pulling up audio-visual collaborations with fellow virtuoso guitarists such as Joe Satriani, John Petrucci and Brian May. But the one that won over the audience was his real-world onstage jam with one of the country’s best-known bassists, Mohini Dey. And when he brought out “For the Love of God,” diehards couldn’t help but sing out loud the melodies, as annoying as this was for some of us who just wanted to hear a guitar.

Day three

The Bacardi NH7 Weekender hip-hop collective at the Breezer Vivid Stage. Photo: Prashin Jagger

A mix of slow and energetic acts took to the stage on the final day, but it felt like a tug of war for attention and attendance between hip-hop acts such as Prabh Deep, Mumbai’s NH7 Hip-Hop Collective (featuring Bombay Bassment’s Bob Omulo, rap group Swadesi, rapper Enkore and more), Divine (with an expected appearance from Raja Kumari and a more surprising one by Scribe’s Krishnamoorthy) at the Breezer Vivid stage and rock and fusion acts on other stages. While Prabh Deep busted out tunes from his recently released album Class-Sikh to fewer than expected, artists such as Rajasthani folk veteran Mame Khan ran way over his time to have his sound cut off. It was an odd sight to see people clapping along to Khan even as New Delhi band The Ska Vengers had amped up proceedings on the Insider.in Other Stage. With the Dewarists stage running late by about 20 minutes, this made for even more overlapping sets.

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Topping our highlights were veteran American punk rock drummer Marky Ramone (from the Ramones) sprinting through punk tracks one after the other, opening strongest with “Blitzkrieg Bop” but also including sped-up punk versions of Motorhead’s “R.A.M.O.N.E.S,” Louis Armstrong’s “What A Wonderful World” and The Trashmen’s “Surfin’ Bird.” It was a total antithesis to the slowburn, star-gazing sad rock of Cigarettes After Sex, who were one of the big draws of the festival. Songs like “Sunsetz,” “Nothing’s Gonna Hurt You Baby” and “Affection” were as much make-out music as it was a tearjerker for the front rows. Like Dillinger, it may not be music you can ”˜get’, but it’s certainly drawing a crowd of diehards.

Happy festival attendees at Bacardi NH7 Weekender. Photo: Prashin Jagger

Considering comedy is all-time high in India currently, most of the standup sets at the Breezer Vivid stage drew huge crowds, especially the ones featuring big names. It’s intriguing how the recent comedy boom has turned many performers into ”˜stars’ in a way indie music never witnessed for its homegrown heroes. And while comedy does enjoy a wider appeal than indie music, the latter can learn a thing or two from the former in brand positioning and packaging. It was both amusing and heartening to see a serpentine queue of enthusiastic fans waiting patiently outside an enclosed stall for a meet-and-greet with the popular comic Biswa Kalyan Rath. We wonder how a similar activity with a big-name indie musician would go!

Another highlight at the festival was the buzzing boxout.fm activation with its own mini stage where would intermittently grow into a thick party. We caught DJ Uri’s groovy set which saw a bunch of musicians who’d finished playing their sets for the day shaking a leg.

Over at the Dewarists stage, Bollywood director and music composer Vishal Bhardwaj made his way (somewhat nervously at first) through his set of career-spanning songs. Although the dense crowd relished the nostalgia served by Bhardwaj with “Paani Re Paani Re,” and “Jungle Jungle Baat Chali Hai,” the composer should have brought on stage other vocalists to do justice to songs such as the Satya dance anthem “Sapne Mein Milti Hai.”  Thankfully, as anticipated, wife and renowned vocalist Rekha Bhardwaj made an appearance and enthralled everyone with the crackling “Beedi.”

Preceding him, however, was one of the most powerful sets of the festival, from Indian-American drummer and singer Kiran Gandhi. She roped in Mumbai’s DJ Paper Queen, Chennai singer MADM and six-year-old b-girl Sonali from Dharavi’s Slumgods crew in what was an emphatic show of female power. While the drummer got emotional during her set, her confidence behind the mic and drumkit made for a spirited delivery of her message, “the future is female.”

A comeback set from Mumbai electro-rockers Pentagram was louder than any other artist at the festival. Photo: Prashin Jagger

With all that out of the way, all that was left was Indian rock’s fanboy moment ”“ a comeback set from Pentagram which was louder than the loudest band out there, with just four members. With the bass turned up to 11 (probably), the band ran through songs mostly off Bloodywood, indulging fans only with the truly popular early hits, opening with “Drive” and closing with “Voice” and their jumpiest song off Bloodywood, “Tomorrow’s Decided,” all while frontman Vishal Dadlani deflected issues with onstage sound and his self-admitted nervousness. Back at the Breezer Vivid stage, Mumbai rapper Divine and his Gully Gang played to a packed house.

While most people grimace at a lineup that still features several repetitions, they stay for the new discoveries, of which there are always plenty at Weekender. We can tell many went home with memories of those.

Inputs from David Britto and Nirmika Singh

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