Festival Review: Vans New Wave Musicfest 2015
Although the artists that performed gave their best to the smattering of a crowd, the Bengaluru edition of the three-day indie festival needs to learn a few lessons if it plans to return next time
It’s a moment of collective epiphany for all of 10 people gathered at the Vans Indie Electro Stage to catch Imphal-bred Bengaluru-based rapper Young Dirrt when he freestyles with a smile, “I don’t care if this place [is] full or empty, it’s about what I want” on his song “What I Want.”
TenÂ was definitely not the lowest number. Double digits is probably the best that the second edition of the Vans New Wave Musicfest could do for their three-day showcase of new and established alternative music, held in Bengaluru over the long weekend of Christmas.
There’s nothing wrong with taking a risk over hosting a music festival in a metro city on Christmas, there seems to be little foresight from Mumbai-based organizers ennui.BOMB of the dangers involved and how to avoid them. For one, the festival wasn’t very much promoted in advance at all. Compare that to New Wave Musicfest 2014, which included months of promotion and a headline set by Japanese punk band Shonen Knife, that too in Goa, upending the notion that only electronic music has a home among sandy shores.
This year, it was a bewildering decision to host the first day at an indoor venue like The Humming Tree and then moving to two stages at adventure sports destination Play Arena and its adjoining Xtreme Sports Bar.
The Humming Tree drew in more than a hundred people to groove to Oceantied aka Ketan Bahirat [playing a heavier wave of electronic music rather than his usual ambient-influenced set] and get treated to improv spoken word collaborations by poet/vocalist/guitarist Jeet Thayil with electro rockers The Burning Deck or Ari Jayaprakash [from psychedelic/experimental group Kuru Circus] with Disco Puppet aka Shoumik Biswas. Then there was Mumbai electro rockers Laxmi Bomb’s dirty, pulsating beats, with frontman Keegan Pereira egging on the crowd like a maniac. But that was canceled out by South Korean electro act Love X Stereo’s singer Annie Ko’s soaring pop hooks and an enchanting secret acoustic set by Thailand shoegaze/punk band Yellow Fang.
On day two, Mumbai singer-songwriter Awkward Bong aka Ronit Sarkar had the unusual [or usual, if he’s seen it all before] honor of playing the first two sets at the festival ”“ he started off at the scheduled afternoon slot at 1:15 pm, but with a handful to perform to, he was stopped five songs in and started over at 4 pm at the Indie Electro Stage. When the Main Stage kicked off with the abrasive, couldn’t-care-less punk of Chennai-based The Broadway Addicts an hour later, they began vying for the attention of too few. It did look like a wicked alternative festival when skaters in the adjoining skate parks were showing off tricks to punk rock, but it was pretty plain to see there were more skaters than actual festival attendees.
With the acoustics and sound setup of the indoor Indie Electro Stage making for ear-splittingly loud [but remarkable] sets by local prog rockers Traces and Mumbai post-rockers A Mutual Question, it was home sweet home for punk hardcore band The Riot Peddlers, who even placed a mic in front of the audience for anyone who wanted to sing along to songs like “Sau Rupiya” and “Bollywood Songs” [for which bassist Animesh Das put on his best impression of playback singer Kumar Sanu].
While local bands such as alt rockers White Mug and prog/alt band D’s Kitchen kept their energy going regardless of crowd interaction at the indoor stage, Mumbai hip hop group ViceVersa made the adjoining skaters and everyone gathered at the Main Stage party down with big beats and three MCs rapping over loud bass. However rap trio Mumbai’s Finest, solo artists such as Big Deal and MC Kaur probably wished for a more interactive crowd to throw down their verses and feed off energy. Even then, day three’s opening acoustic set by Mumbai-based Shubhangi Joshi smooth vocals on songs like “Talking Away the Night” proved that artists will still give 100 percent, regardless of an empty room.
If rappers had a tough time on the final day, electronica artists such as mode.AKA, Aqua Dominatrix, Nicholson and Your Chin brought in the crowd that just wanted to move their feet. Owing to clashing stage schedules, Your Chin probably drew more than headliners Love X Stereo, who were playing with live drums this time.
The Main Stage headliners that were bankable, though, were thoroughly worth the somewhat exorbitantly priced Rs 1,200 day tickets and Rs 2,000 two-day weekend pass. On day two, Space Behind the Yellow Room escaped with a few snafus, while Yellow Fang plugged in for a loud, psychedelic set with stick-in-your-hand vocal melodies and a few punk elements on songs such as “Plunk” and “I Don’t Know.” Veterans Thermal and a Quarter, who were joined by guitarist Tony Das [from multi-lingual alt rockers Peepal Tree], elicited laughs for their sarcasm-fueled jibes at EDM [“MEDs”] and advertising [“Galaticqua”] from across the years.
On day three, ethno-electronic rockers Sapta turned up the bassquakes, something a bit too distracting to concentrate on material from this year’s album Intimate Comfort Unit. Bengaluru/Delhi lo-fi rockers Hoirong, who also had additional bass [but not that kind] from new recruit Avinash Manoli, sounded somewhat more conventional but also more reckless than ever. To juxtapose the noise, Bengaluru crowd-pullers, prog rock band Parvaaz weaved in mellow, raise-your-lighters anthems without a spot of problem.
Even Malaysian pop punk band An Honest Mistake, heavy with the breakdowns and college rock song structures reminiscent of early Fall Out Boy had the crowd going. Truly, the problem at Vans New Wave Musicfest 2015 was not the programming. It’s absolutely sound and even laudatory to give the best emerging artists such as alternative/jazz rockers Blushing Satellite, Mumbai rock band Unohu and even funk/blues group Phunkitchen a stage. But there’s something demotivating about it when they play amidst nothing close to a festival atmosphere, a scattered audience standing too far off almost all the time.
A cursory glance at social media looks like most artists were happy to be a part of the traveling festival, but it’s never a good sign when it fails to live up to its debut edition. If there is going to be a new city that Vans New Wave Musicfest will set up stage(s) in 2016, they better choose their dates right away, announce them, open ticket sales and back that up with a first wave of names. After all, every other new music festival in India seems to be organized that way.