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Festival Review: Despite Headliner Cancellations, Magnetic Fields 2018 Offered the Promised ‘Vibes’

With eight big and small stages, and multiple brand collabs, this ‘underground’ desert party is getting bigger by the year

Rolling Stone India
Rolling Stone India Dec 21, 2018

American electronica artist Chrome Sparks performing to a full Budx South stage at Magnetic Fields 2018. Photo: Rebecca Conway

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That Magnetic Fields prides itself on offering an immersive experience is well-known among music festival junkies in India. In fact, the fluid, loosely structured nature of the three-day palace party might even count as its biggest USP–you only are informed of the schedule when you arrive (which, mind you, is not even revealed on the festival’s social media handles). And unless you carry the information booklet on you, which has the day-wise time table and artist details or are a super fan, it’s unlikely you can tell a friend which DJ’s set you just happened to enjoy at XYZ stage. Or which act is next up. Magnetic Fields doesn’t want you to follow schedules or signboards. The unspoken rule is that the music should guide you home. Which is the reason why when the news arrived of the cancellations of three big acts””Kamaal Williams, Nabihah Iqbal and Denis Sulta””it was only the music journalists on festival review duty that grumbled. The 4000-odd people came there for the vibes, which the festival offered in abundance.

There’s no denying that Magnetic Fields is probably India’s most beautiful destination music festival with some of the most diverse experiences on the bill. The allure of the majestic 17th-century Alsisar Mahal playing a sort of anachronistic host to futuristic sounds is unparalleled. Not to mention camping in the desert. Adding to the onstage gigs, this year saw stargazing get-togethers, VR showcases, aromatherapy sessions, treasure hunt, yoga retreat, among other things. And even if all of this came with a huge price tag (festival packages range between ₹12,000 to ₹92,000), it didn’t stop the festival from being sold-out. Here are 7 big moments that stood out for us.

1. Musical and Gender Diversity FTW: Stellar sets by Kristy Harper, Carista, Cora Novoa and Nino Brown

It’s no secret that women artists are underrepresented in music festivals across the world, creating not just lopsided playing fields for musicians but also skewing audience perspectives. But kudos to Magnetic Fields for programming some of the most exciting women artists on its lineup this year! If the Spanish composer/producer Cora Novoa brought a mind-blowing technical finesse to her headlining techno/tech house set at the Budx South Stage on day one, at the Budx Yard, Indo-Canadian DJ Nino Brown was at her whimsical best, playing a genre-agnostic set that can be best described as ”˜fun.’ UK-based Kristy Harper’s heady infusion of jazz, afro drums, Latin music and Motown kept revelers on their feet at the Jameson Underground on day one and the following noon at the Renault Desert Oasis stage. Dutch producer Carista played two power-packed sets ”“ one at Budx Yard and another during the all-night part on the final day.

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2. Peter Cat Recording Co.’s Dreamy Double Set

Who knew when we entered the Peacock Club stage on day two that we’d be entering a make-believe world! It won’t be an overstatement to say that between 2am-4am on December 15th, we weren’t the only people who were transported to a dream-like trance by New Delhi psychedelic/jazz/gypsy band Peter Cat Recording Co. (PCRC) who presented their show, ”˜The Last Night on Earth.’ (The band had performed the same set between 11pm and 1am too). Dressed in white cotton and woolens, the musicians gripped us hypnotically as they went about performing their impeccable set on the ritzy red-velvet draped stage, swapping, instruments every now and then, not uttering a single word to each other or to the audience. Vocalist-guitarist Suryakant Sawhney crooned effortlessly  ”“ à la the legendary Tony Bennett ”“ while  multi-instrumentalist Kartik Pillai and Rohit Gupta showcased some pleasing horn parts. PCRC’s song list included material off this year’s Portrait of a Time: 2010-2016, their early favorite “Clown On The 22nd” and more.

Peter Cat Recording Company at the Peacock Club. Photo: Polina Schapova

3. Submarine In Space’s Spellbinding Performance

On day one, New Delhi instrumental group Submarine In Space offered us a sonic jumpstart of blues and psychedelic rock before we dove deep into the electronic sea. The band presented material from their debut release Wavelengths and also an unreleased ballad titled “Always.” Guitarist Abhishek Mittal’s soaring wails were complemented by keyboardist Raaed Ehsan Azim’s lush parts, even as bassist Madhur Chaudhary and drummer Vaibhav Ahuja both held some super tight grooves.

4. Pardafash’s Poorly Curated Sundowner

It takes a special kind of talent to combine a political message in music and present a rousing set. Unfortunately Bengaluru-based electronica artist Pardafash’s (Sandhya Visvanathan) sundowner set at the JioSaavn stage was a letdown. Although she had some cool beats in her locker (“The Need Of The Hour”), her dull, uninspiring spoken word bits dragged on for way too long, leaving a lot of us scratching our heads as to why a set of this sort would be performed at a sundowner, where all everybody wanted was to grab a beer and soak in the gorgeous view of Alsisar village.

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5. When Tajdar Junaid Served Nostalgia

Kolkata-bred musician Tajdar Junaid delivered one of the best sets at the festival at the Budx South Stage. It was immersive, euphoric and delicate””pretty much everything you expect from a Junaid gig. Accompanied by Mumbai musicians — keyboardist Rohan Rajadhyaksha, drummer Jehangir Jehangir and bassist Nathan Thomas, the multi-instrumentalist took us on a nostalgic trip with songs like the folksy “First Year” and the symphonic “Dastaan.” Filling in last minute for Kamaal Williams, Junaid not only managed to put together an excellent band but also played his tightest set ever. The title track from his 2013 album What Colour Is Your Raindrop and the gypsy sing-a-long “Though I Know” got many of us smiling in silent elation.

Natural Selection featuring Sahil Vasudeva (piano) and Gaurav Malaker aka BLOT. Photo: Abhishek Shukla

6. Classical Music Meets Electronica with Natural Selection

Day two saw the Budx South Stage packed with attendees eager to check out the collaborative project Natural Selection comprising New Delhi producer BLOT and classical pianist Sahil Vasudeva. The performance was specially curated for Magnetic Fields 2018 and it didn’t disappoint. BLOT triggered analogue bass lines and synths while Vasudeva strung together beautifully arranged piano motifs that sat together superbly. The only negative from this performance was that at times Vasudeva’s piano parts would get drowned out by all the electronica music, but overall it was a well put together set.

7. Magnetic Words of Wisdom

During the afternoon the Peacock Club stage was used for Magnetic Words, a platform for some of India’s top journalists, performers, artists and activists to share their worlds with attendees through talks, spoken word and videos. The lineup included the likes of comedian Aadar Malik, photographer and filmmaker Avanti Rai, YouTube star Amandeep Singh and more. We attended Mumbai-based writer Mayank Tewari’s showcase of Magnetic Words wherein he talked about the war within love and creation; how love is at the heart of the creative process and how resistance prevents us from accessing it.

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