Review: Escape Festival, Naukuchiatal
The three-day lake side music festival had a dramatic start but ended on a high note with The Ska Vengers
In its sixth edition, Escape Festival continued to draw loyalists. Its sprawling venue in Naukuchiatal, close to the well-known hill station Nainital, overlooking the Naukuchiatal lake has a view to kill for and the weather, of course, was enough to silence cynics. Audience profile? Anybody who hoped to slow down time.
Soul Garden, the festival main stage, was the only active stage on the first day with just four acts on the lineup. An excellent sound set-up (Anupam Roy, the sound engineer, was to be thanked) ensured that Delhi Roots, a three-member reggae band from the capital, got the audience going with covers like “King of Bongo” by Mano Negra and “Stickabush” by De La Soul. With a misty dusk setting behind mountains, the reggae band opened Escape 2013.
Next up was Delhi-based singer/songwriter Atul Ahuja, whose performance made it evident that covers hit the spot. Covers of tracks such as The Beatles “Come Together” combinedÂ with stage theatrics courtesy The Ska Vengers keyboardistÂ Stefan Kaye, who joined Ahuja on keys, had the crowd singing along. Ahuja’s set also included a tribute to The Doors’ keyboardist Ray Manzarek with the track “Roadhouse Blues.” Drummer Nikhil Vasudevan, also of The Ska Vengers, stepped up on stage to lend a hand to his bandmate and Ahuja.Â
But nothing like good ’ol originals to raise the bar.Â Bengaluru rockers, Thermal and a Quarter, delivered a flawless set (as usual), playing their debut show at Escape with their new bassist Leslie Charles. The band performed set favorites such as “Always On”, “Who Do We Have Sex With” as well as “Fly,” which they dedicated to Amit Saigal. Delhi rockers, Faridkot, who were the closing act for the night, played songs from their debut album, Ek. The party, however, was far from over. Campers carried forward the celebrations, blasting music on their portable speakers until dawn.
Beat The Retreat
All wasn’t kosher on day 2 as the other stages opened up. Festival goers realized that walking from the main stage to the EDM stage that was named Magic Forest turned out to be quite the trek. The math to get the distance between stages right (stages located closeby lead to the sound seeping in) at multi-stage festivals has riddled festival organizers for a while now. But this was the least of the worries faced by the organizers that day.
A police raid for suspected drug use led to the early shutdown of the Magic Forest stage at about 10.30 pm. As a result, electronica acts such as UK’s wAgAwAgA and Delhi’s buffaPirate aka Prakhet Sunder, who were slated to close day 2, were accommodated for an early set (read scorching afternoon heat) on Sunday and Bengaluru DJ Vachan Chinnappa’s set was cut short midway. “It is disappointing when something like this happens. It was the first time I was playing in North India,” said Chinnappa.While organizers worked hard to put things on track, the festival had witnessed a fair share of drama on Saturday night. Said festival director Lalrinawma Tochhawng, “It’s just sad. The cops just want to shake us down for money, and end up interrupting the festival.”
The second day also turned the spotlight on upcoming acts with the Square Root Sessions featuring acts such as the two-member alt rock
band Pilgrim Tree House from Kolkata, Delhi’s Prateek Kuhad Collective and rock band Gravy Train. Prateek Kuhad, who is currently planning a new Hindi EP, showcased some of his new material. Gravy Train, which arrived fresh after performing at the Mussorie Music Festival, were a surprise for the crowd at Escape considering the band had just been formed six months ago. The band’s lead vocalist, Tanya Nambiar, indicated that the band now had enough original compositions and were planning to record an album upon their return to the capital.
The Magic Forest (EDM) stage, opened up on day 2, but took a while to gather momentum. FuzzCulture, the Delhi-based electronica act, finally got the audience up on their feet, before bass-loving producers Tarqeeb (Ashish Jose) and Ez Riser (Sohail Arora) got the party going. The stage was shut down by cops within minutes into Vachan Chinnappa’s set, leaving both EDM artists and the audience on a massive downer.
Back at The Soul Garden, however, Kolkata rockers Skinny Alley, carried the festival forward, by delivering a tight set. Skinny Alley, are regulars at Escape, performing at all the six editions until date (Escape was held twice in 2010).Â The Kolkata-based band played original compositions including “Escape the Roar” and “Fence” for their hour-long set drawing one of the biggest crowds that the festival saw.
The Slow Descent
A sizeable section of the audience headed back on the final day of the fest to get a start on their week. As a result, upcoming artists like the Gurgaon alt rock band, No Thoroughfare and Delhi-based Run! It’s the Kid played to a reallyÂ small group of Escape enthusiasts.
However, the last three acts on the bill”” Blackstratblues, Tough On Tobacco and The Ska Vengers made the wait worth their while for those who decided/could afford to stay back. Frontman Warren Mendonsa performed songs from Blackstratblues’ new album and later joined Sidd Coutto’s band Tough on Tobacco on bass. The onstage collaboration even yielded an impromptu Motown composition for which Coutto found a subject (including “blowjobs,” “life sucks,” “holidays”) from his audience. Ajit Kumar, a festival attendee from Delhi and a software engineer by profession said after the performance, “That’s what I came here for.”
The Ska Vengers, it would be fair to say, were one of the most anticipated acts of Escape Festival. To their credit, the performance did justice to the build-up. Delhi Sultanate and Miss Samara C on lead vocals had the crowd cheering for an hour as the band played songs from their upcoming album and finished off with their new composition, “Belly Scar.” The Magic Forest stage stayed open until 4 in the morning, which more than made up for the fracas on the previous day, for a crowd that just didn’t want the party in the hills to end.
More photos from Escape Festival 2013Â
Photos: Kuntal MukherjeeÂ