Gig A Bite
No, you can’t miss gigs
Every festival goer has his own ritual. There are the beer bums who would spread out a blanket and happily stay put at one stage all day long and then there are festival gluts who draw up a schedule to catch as much new music as they can, even if it means stage hopping every hour. I fall into the second category and my frenzied approach to fests hasn’t changed in years.
It’s ironic then that the first-ever festival that I attended was the Big Chill in Goa in 2007. The Indian edition of the UK camping festival hasn’t been held again, but will always be ranked right up on my festival charts. I showed up at the site with no plan, little money and tons of headrush. The open air venue, Asvem Beach, was far, far away from the touristy din of Anjuna, Baga and the more popular beaches of North Goa. But it was peak summer in Goa and the idea of dancing on the beach under the sun seemed foolish. While suitably dressed tourists in bikinis and shorts lay sprawled perhaps nodding drowsily as they lay face down on straw mats, I couldn’t get why anyone would pass out with sand in their eyes when they could actually be listening to music.
I hadn’t heard most of the artists on the Big Chill line-up and remember being completely floored by two of them ”“ Brit electronica star Norman Jay and Bengaluru singer Raghu Dixit, who was making his festival debut back then. It was only recently that I spotted Raghu’s name on Cambridge Folk Festival’s programme. Raghu has turned into a favorite now on the UK festival circuit and I have turned into a festival glut since. For co-organizers Only Much Louder, the three-day festival was net practice for NH7 Weekender. Multiple stages, stunning site design, massively scaled up sound production and the challenge to create a festival that didn’t take away from the postcard perfect backdrop.
In 2008, c/o pop music festival in Cologne, one of Germany’s biggest electronica festivals, took my festival experience to a whole new level that’s yet to be surpassed. The entire city had been transformed into a festival site for c/o pop ”“ giant warehouses, gay bars, cruise liners and parks across the city hosted shows ”“ this meant hopping into the U-BAHN metros to catch gigs. This was music festival tourism at its best.
My festival highlights for 2008 also included the Hornbill Music Festival in Nagaland where I saw how some of the youngest and most talented rock and metal musicians in the country worked with limited resources and borrowed equipment. Some bands such as The Verbs, an enthusiastic bunch that loved rock n roll, are still around but one of my favorites from that year, a metal band named Diatribe have since split. Bands from Northeast India continue to tell us how tough it is to get by in the Northeast as a musician. I still remember Kohima alt rock band Original Fire Factor’s chubby-faced, dreadlocked lead vocalist Luitz Udir telling me how he’d have to sell a kidney to buy a new gear.
I traveled closer home in 2009 for the first edition of Baajaa Gaajaa in Pune. Influential Hindustani classical artists Shubha Mudgal and Aneesh Pradhan, who also co-founded Underscore Records, one of the earliest online music labels in India, had set up the festival to promote non-mainstream artists in the country. For me, the festival established that Pune has a wider, more discerning audience that knows its classical music and is more willing to give new bands a good listen before they dismissed them. Both Airport and Ankur Tewari, who had just begun gigging, found a rather appreciative audience, who cheered on to everything from originals and even an ad jingle for a light bulb at Baajaa Gaajaa.
If a festival manages to impress two years in a row, they’ve got to have hit gold. NH7 Weekender was a big happy bubble both in 2010 and 2011. Like anybody who attended the first year will tell you, 2010 was better than 2011 simply because it was smaller and the audience felt that the bands were putting up a private show. For one, I wasn’t plastered to the barricades to watch any of the shows, but by the second year, most of us learnt how to share the bubble. I’m still kicked about the fact I managed to convince a whole bunch of friends to show up at the fest last year and some were introduced to Delhi’s Advaita and were hooked enough to buy both their albums.
This year, I’ve already been to two fests including the M.A.D. festival in Ooty and returned convinced that M.A.D. would only get bigger if they held onto that spectacular site next to a pine forest. It’s a perfect getaway as most festivals should be. The Ladakh Confluence, Storm festival in Coorg, the Escape festival in Naukuchiatal and The Kasauli Rhythm and Blues Festival are the ones I wish I hadn’t missed. Like I said, I can’t get enough.
In September, I set out for the Ziro festival, a first of its kind in Arunachal Pradesh. I haven’t caught most of the local artists except the eccentric bluesman Lou Majaw and OFF. Ziro already has a good ring about it and I can’t wait to hop onto that flight.