Festival Review: Bacardi NH7 Weekender, Pune
The sixth edition of the music festival might have drawn flak for its not-so-indie lineup but it managed to pull in quite a happy crowd all the same
If the sight of flower crowns and crop tops was not enough indication that Bacardi NH7 Weekender was back in town, the unusually high level of security surrounding the sprawling venue of Laxmi Lawns was a clear sign that the festival had returned for its sixth edition with a bigger lineup, a bigger audience, and bigger expectations. And a bigger bummer too, albeit only for drinkers; one wasn’t allowed to carry drinks to any of the five stage areas. It was ironic how despite this restriction, the festival ensured that its signature ”˜mug’ was marketed well; call it mob mentality, middle-class hypocrisy or just plain stupidity, nowhere outside of this festival would twenty-somethings be caught dead with a bunch of low-grade [and subaltern] aluminum mugs clanking against each, hung from backpacks. But hey, that’s what festivals are meant for right ”“ unleashing your true inner selves? Never mind how homogeneous these true inner selves are, behaviorally and sartorially. Oh well.
Day one: Hip-hop , jazz and post-rock perfection
Day one may have started off on a shaky note with Chennai-based electronica/experimental act Sapta canceling their set [they were held back due to the recent floods in the city], but quickly got back on track with stellar performances by Kochi-based project The Baiju Dharmajan Syndicate and electronic duo Perfect Timing. Dharmajan, a Carnatic guitarist and former member of Kochi rock veterans Motherjane, held the growing crowd in rapture with his steady fretwork at the Bacardi Arena. On the other hand, newly formed collaborative project Â Perfect Timing [comprising Jivraj Singh and Sandunes] started their own dance party at the Breezer Beat Camp.
In stark contrast to the thumping beats of the dance-party duo was Delhi-based singer/songwriter Prateek Kuhad’s laid-back acoustic jam that included crowd favorites like “Oh Love” and “Holding On.” Like always, his tinkering acoustic riffs and lovelorn lyrics won over weak-kneed fangirls. Kuhad’s set was a pleasant change in pace compared to the tizzying improv that Mumbai-based Dhruv Voyage’s performance held in store. Dhruv Ghanekar and co. churned out boldly experimental jazz/rock/funk masterpieces with tracks like “Dhima,” “Bare Bare” and the title track “Voyage” off their 2015 album.
Mumbai-based rock band Blakc [who recently released their single “Choices”] were quite the highlight at the Moto Spotlight stage as they matched the audience’s enthusiasm with their riff-heavy, new material.
However, nothing might have quite matched up to the ambient wizardry that Scottish post-rockers Mogwai crafted during their 90-minute headlining performance. With top-notch sound and stunning light effects, the four-member band created a soundscape that was a trip all in its own, ending the first day of the festival on a high.
Day two: Reliving the classics
At first glance, a 21-year-old, stage-awkward girl might not make for a promising opening act, but it only took the 12 bars to realize the powerhouse that the Surat-based blues guitarist Aayushi Karnik is. Along with her bassist Legsang Sherpa and drummer Sudhakar Prabhu, Karnik played her chops like a pro instrumentalist.
On the other hand, veteran supergroup Arka [comprising old-timers like percussionist Selva Ganesh, drummer Gino Banks, singer Karthik, bassist Mishko M’ba] brought their seasoned talent and decades of experience to the Dewarist stage soon after. Although their eclectic world music may not have won over the younger audience [who were instead spotted grooving to Mumbai-based rock band Spud In The Box over at the Bacardi Arena], the all-star jam weaved their fusion magic for the modest crowd present.
Folk rock heavyweights and Weekender regulars, The Raghu Dixit Project returned to play the Bacardi Arena, a fitting stage for Dixit’s stadium-sized tunes. Having watched the act year after year after year, everyone knew the drill: as much as Raghu loves to sing, he ensures [boy, he really does] that the crowd sings along too. The Bengaluru rockers kicked off their set with new material that drew upon their folksy roots and catchy riffs, but by crowd demand, circled back to older tracks like “Mysore Se Aayi” and the seminal “Hey Bhagwan.”
Simultaneously, the other half of the festival crowd was singing along to some of some of 2015’s biggest international pop hits, courtesy of Mark Ronson. The American producer took on an all-star playlist that included the likes of Rihanna’s awfully infectious “Bitch Better Have My Money,” an up-tempo remix of Adele’s “Rolling in the Deep” and his own collaborative claim to fame with Bruno Mars’ “Uptown Funk.”
Closer to home, New Delhi-based artist Udyan Sagar aka Nucleya””who has catapulted to local stardom since the release of his much-talked about album Bass Rani””was stiff competition to Ronson’s party plan. Kitschy, Bollywood-inspired visuals, and Ganpati-style beats dominated the Breezer Beat Camp as he took to the console to play his hour-long set.
And whoever wasn’t shaking a leg to Nucleya’s “Mumbai Dance” seemed to be belting out the high notes along with singer Vishal Dadlani, whose tribute to sufi legend Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan inspired equal parts nostalgia and stellar musicianship. With an all-star troupe of musicians and singers recreating the Pakistani musician’s classics, the Ustad tribute made for a perfect end to the day.
Day three: Revisiting roots and RahmanÂ Headlining Act
Day three kicked off with Delhi cabaret band Peter Cat Recording Co. and Mumbai-based rock band Duncun Rufus, both of whom got their audience waltzing in spite of the hot afternoon sun, with their quaint, reverb-laden tunes.
Adjacent to the Dewarists stage, singer songwriter Alisha Pais took the Jack and Jones All Starr Jam stage to perform a relaxed set of originals. However, her set was marred by bad sound. What looked promising on stage ”“ she was accompanied by a saxophonist, ukulele player, keyboardist and even had rapper Manmeet Kaur and fellow Stage contestant Anushka Shahaney as guests– wasn’tÂ equally appealing to the ears.
Shillong-based blues outfit Soulmate followed soon after, and yet again proved why they continue to be the forerunners of blues in the country. They were joined by three musicians from their hometown who added a traditional touch to an unplugged rendition of “Set Me Free”. Tipriti’s soaring vocals, clubbed with Rudy’s exhilarating guitar licks kept the crowd swaying throughout their fifty-minute set.
Kolkata-based rockers Fossils and Bengaluru pop/funk outfit Peepal Tree quickly followed suit as they went back to their musical roots for their respective sets. While Fossils performed their catchy Bengali tunes, Peepal Tree brought the funk on songs like “Roshan-E-Kafile” and “Nayi Khushi.” Both acts remained one of the biggest rock crowd-pullers of the third day, apart from Rahman himself.
Simultaneously back at the Breezer Beat Camp, English music producer SBTRKT took the console. With glitchy, colorful visuals adding to the trance-like performance, SBTRKT””donning his signature mask””more than built up the adrenaline for his fellow electronica mastermind Flying Lotus. By now, the word going around was that the Bacardi Arena was already full capacity, with more than 10,000 festival goers and Bollywood enthusiasts gathering for Rahman’s set.
It’s no surprise, then, that when American music producer Flying Lotus kicked off his set, the Breezer Beat Camp was less than raving with intoxicated dancebugs. Nonetheless, a faceless FlyLo churned out breakdown after bass drop, dizzying verse after verse and even occasional Hitchcock-style violins during his headlining performance. Concealed by a screen that blasted flashing visuals, laser lights and kaleidoscopic colors, FlyLo dashed back and forth between hip-hop, dubstep, pop, electronica throughout his 90-minute set.
And while FlyLo kept his audience on their feet, maestro A.R Rahman””perhaps the most anticipated act of the evening””did not fail to deliver his own share of Bollywood hits. The celebrated music producer took stage to a roaring audience that only grew in size as he proceeded through his set of iconic classics, ranging from the 1998 classic “Dil Se” to newer, more belligerent material from Imtiaz Ali-directed film Rockstar. Although a fair assumption was that Rahman and co. would close the night””and the festival””with his anthemic “Maa Tujhe Salaam,” the band capped off their headlining set with “Nadan Parindey.” A small disappointment for many true-blue Rahman fans, perhaps, but overlooked by most in the light of yet another successful Weekender.
All photos by Himanshu Rohilla, Parizad D, Naman Saraiya and Maanas Singh.