Festival Review: Bacardi NH7 Weekender, Delhi
A great new location, amazing food court and remarkable local and international acts made the festival a truly happy experience as promised
An impromptu party was going down in the vast parking lot, post the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Dwarka. A car stereo was blasting some happy nu-disco, cigarettes were being smoked and stories exchanged. One of the tales concerned the trippy, lit-up, colorful umbrellas spotted in the middle of the crowd during the Scottish post-rock phenomenon Mogwai’s set. Serendipitously, we spotted those umbrellas bobbing in the general direction of the ongoing revelry, held aloft Mary Poppins-style by a group and were promptly asked for [translation: someone screamed, “Give us your umbrellas]. Almost belligerently, one of the Poppins’ crew shouted, “No” which probably meant this was going to escalate into a regular Delhi testosterone fuelled fight. But then, the unexpected occurred. The same man, who looked like he was going to punch a hole in the car, followed up with a beaming, “But you can have some more friends.” Only at NH7 Weekender ”¦ still the happiest festival in town.
New location with great connectivity
The Weekender was familiar yet foreign territory this year because a change in venue took it to Dwarka, as opposed to Greater Noida. Location is always important while charting new ground ”” 15 acres, to be specific ”” so it was with a sense of curiosity that we set off on day one. Straight off the bat, apart from the music, NH7 is a brand that endures because it’s obvious that Vijay Nair and his team actually listen to feedback post every edition. This was evident in the organisation that forms the very backbone of this festival. Let’s get to transport first: the ground was right next to the Dwarka metro station with shuttles ferrying busloads of people back and forth to various points across the city. Stations of taxi aggregator Ola at the festival ensured people would never be cab-less. This, paired with the massive parking lot with cordoned off lanes ensured painless entrances and exits. Why is this important? If you’ve ever been stuck in post-festival traffic and chaos, the answer is self explanatory. The Greater Noida site always felt a little too far away and too large. Dwarka, with its five stages, ample signage, bells and whistles, was just right.
Another extremely important element, especially in Delhi, is security. We spotted a SWAT van and tons of policeman outside the festival and not in a threatening way [the amount of smiling selfies we’ve seen taken with the cops at the festival is ample evidence]. There was also a large cadre of female police patrolling the festival, which was extremely heartening. Security, suited up with red ties, were polite, helpful and omnipresent as well. Again, why is this salient point? Because Delhi, sadly, is known for some pretty nasty behaviour. Yet, this came across as a wholly safe zone, which is probably why we also spotted a large number of families with children, complete with noise-cancelling baby monitors. In another move, which we particularly applaud, NH7 made sure there was disability access in the form of special tracks for wheelchairs, plenty of volunteers to help out, appropriate bathrooms and special viewing platforms.
PiÃ±a coladas at the foodcourt!
We could go on about how tight the administration was, and the fact that there was a special piÃ±a colada stand in the middle of the large food bazaar [the sheer variety of grub available deserves its own award]. Have you ever seen people dancing with bright yellow pineapple drink holders being used as maracas? It’s a hoot.
The festival also upped the ante with a lineup that felt like the strongest one yet. Five stages dotted the area, in a sort of hourglass; The Dewarists and Jack & Jones All Star Jam at right angles at the start, the Breezer Beat Camp in the middle, and the Bacardi Arena and Moto Spotlight facing each other at the other end. It’s hard to review all the acts because till cloning becomes commonplace, being everywhere all at once is impossible, clearly. More importantly, as fans, diving in just for the music is imperative. Day one had some fantastic headliners ”” AR Rahman and Mark Ronson, no less. But, let’s not ignore the rest of the incredible programming. World music courtesy Maati Baani was high on the list and they didn’t disappoint. We overheard a few people saying Nirali Kartik went a bit off-key towards the end of the performance, but what we heard made us want to take our lighters out in silent appreciation anyway. The Kiwi atmospheric indie band, The Map Room played as the sun was setting and they were the surprise of the day. The visuals ”” vintage hot air balloons and such ”” matched the soaring vocals and Coldplay-ish vibe of the band.
Over at the Bacardi Beat Camp, the Reggae Rajahs and Nucleya were laying the foundation for Ronson admirably. We were a bit schizophrenic at this point, running between the booming basslines that Nucleya’s so known for, and Noori, the pioneering Pakistani rock band, where Ali Noor’s vocal prowess is unmatched, live. We also battled the scrum at The Raghu Dixit Project at the Bacardi Arena. Could they be the most seasoned performers of the lot? We think so. But then, Ronson was calling, and off we ran to be greeted by ”¦ Punjabi MC! Ronson’s DJ set was filled with major hip-hop cuts, both current and from the 90’s, and he is the consummate pro. The roar when he played “Uptown Funk” was deafening and he also gave an unexpected shout-out to Nucleya, who was watching, beaming from the pit. “I’m going to light a cigarette because this right here is better than sex,” he said on the mike and it looked like every single person in that packed arena agreed.
We managed to catch Dr. L. Subramanium’s performance towards the end, because it felt like an affront not to pay homage. He was on stage, playing alongside his son and daughter, with a full band: the violin maestro’s talent is awe-inspiring. And then it was time for Mr. Rahman. Dressed in a shiny black Michael Jackson jacket, Rahman’s sweetly humble and almost shy on stage ”” “”¦ generations change and I thank you all for supporting me from the beginning.” He also brought on some talent from his college of music: singers [who nailed a particularly inspired rendition of “Wat Wat Wat” from the movie Tamasha] and the 18-year-old bass prodigy Mohini Dey. We also spotted Hriday Gattani on stage, who played a set the next day. The whole performance was filled with Rahman’s hits, and the most effective was an extended version of “Dil Se”, which the entire audience ”” thousands strong ”” sang in unison, adrenaline and emotion coursing through the air.
Day two was another throw-down. Mogwai, Flying Lotus, SBTRKT, Rodrigo y Gabriela, Hidden Orchestra ”” where did one even begin? At one of the plentiful bars, with some fortifying alcohol, to jump into the fray at the Welsh indie rockers, Peasant’s King rousing sunset set. With three drum kits on stage, the band powered through their tracks, of which we say, listen to “Promised Land” [they handed out CD’s of their album David to the crowd after.] Gattani’s soulful, intimate set was like a balm afterwards, providing an adequate foil to what came next: us running between Soulmate [Tipriti Kharbangar was a goddess, as usual] and a mind-bending performance by Hidden Orchestra. The visuals were particularly compelling here, beat-sensitive to the orchestra’s symphonic electronic sounds. Hidden Orchestra is the solo studio project of Joe Acheson, who also performs with Poppy AckroydÂ ”” an amazing violinist and piano player ”” and other musicians, and together, they created some of the most relevant music we’ve heard in a while. Whoever’s stage we visited after was packed to the rafters, from the crazy, crowd-pumping pop-rock favorites Ankur & The Ghalat Family, to the solid mass of people at Rodrigo y Gabriela, who invited also fans on stage to join the fun. It’s hard not to be mesmerised by the speed at which the two play the guitar, especially when they swell into dramatic nuevo flamenco.
Nearby, SBTRKT, sheathed in the mask he always wears on stage, hit a driving set that capped off with our favourite “New York, New Dorp”, while giving shout-outs to Flying Lotus who came on next. He started out with some comic relief because the sound wasn’t coming through, and his running, humorous commentary till it had the crowd in splits. FlyLo performed behind a translucent screen and the combination of the musician and the projected visuals was riveting. Scratching, glitchy, experimental, hip-hop layered and then stripped down ”¦ his set was an odyssey, down-tempo yet busy. May we add, he also threw in some verses from “Kaliyon Ka Chaman”, and no, we’re not making that up. Unfortunately, his set overlapped with post-rock heroes, Mogwai, who we caught the tail end of, right after a bit of the Aussie folk duo, The Pierce Brothers ”” we lost track of time at FlyLo.
The Nusrat tribute
The big night ended with a tribute to Nusrat Fateh Ali Khan, curated by El Capitan, Vishal Dadlani. Picture this: Dadlani on stage with a crew of all-star singers and musicians including Neeti Mohan, Richa Sharma, Raghu Dixit, Harshdeep Kaur,Â Isheeta Chakravarty, Shahid Mallya, Abhijit Nalani,Â Jai Row Kavi, Yohan Pais, Warren Mendosa, Bryden Lewis and Parth Chandiramani. There was a lot of blood and sweat put into this performance and it was worth it because what we saw was almost historic. Timing, drama, seamless production: it had everything. Was there sound spillage from the stages through the festival? Were there some sound and technical snags? Yes, there were. In the end, did it matter? Not one bit. Because ultimately, everyone’s happy.