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Shailendra Singh: ‘We’re the Shah Rukh Khan of Dance Music Festivals’

Percept high command and Sunburn founder says he isn’t splitting with brother and business partner Harindra; Sunburn will continue to reign despite moving to Goa

Riddhi Chakraborty Nov 14, 2016
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Shailendra Singh with American producer Seth Troxler.

It was clear that the moment India’s biggest electronic music festival Sunburn announced its shift in location from its iconic home in Goa to Kesnand in Pune, there would be consequences. While the reasons for the shift revolve around Goa’s government and tourism board changing their stance on fests in general, Sunburn’s management has not been spared from rampant criticism on social media. On the one hand, fans are complaining about missing out on the end-of-the-year tropical getaway the monolithic fest provides and are declaring their refusal to attend. On the other, rumors have been rife that Shailendra Singh, Jt. Managing Director of Percept Ltd, who organize Sunburn, is parting ways with brother and business partner, Harindra: a move that could twist Sunburn’s fate. Ask Singh about such speculation and he clarifies, “People talk. But currently on record we’re both owners of Percept Ltd and we exist together.”

While Sunburn was not the only festival hit with Goa’s recent change in stance around music festivals – VH1 Supersonic moved to Pune too - it’s been the drawing the most flak. “We’re the Shah Rukh Khan of dance music festivals so we get the maximum amount of questioning and criticism, but fair enough,” says Singh. “If you’re at the top, people are going to look at you first.” 

He adds that Percept is determined to make the festival work despite all the hate. “We’re trying something and we hope for some love and support,” he explains. “We could have shut it down this year and said ”˜Fuck it, we’ll do it when we get permissions in Goa.’ It’s an easy way out. But then the momentum is gone.”

In an exclusive interview with ROLLING STONE India, Singh talks about Sunburn’s tumultuous relationship with its fans, why he feels no other dance music festival poses a threat to them and his professional ties with his brother.

There have been rumors recently about friction between you and your brother and talks that it might affect Percept Ltd. Is that true?

I mean it’s a conversation that has been on for many years but as on date, we are together. He owns 50 percent of Percept, I own 50 percent… We’ve been partners for 30 years and three decades of partnership will have its own issues you know? People talk. But currently on record we’re both owners of Percept Ltd and we exist together.

"I think in my career of three decades, this (Sunburn) is the most rewarding and exhilarating experience," says Singh.

“I think in my career of three decades, this (Sunburn) is the most rewarding and exhilarating experience,” says Singh.

Tell us about how you’re feeling now that you’re completing 10 years of Sunburn, about the journey to this point?

I think in my career of three decades, this is the most rewarding and exhilarating experience. Sunburn is something that has so much love in terms of the music and the fans. It was the most exciting and rewarding feeling in my whole life. I actually celebrated the tenth year last year in Goa because I believe in celebrating when the year begins, not when it ends. 

Let’s talk about the biggest thing; the change in location. Why did you choose Pune as the new venue?

The strategic locations available to us leaving aside Goa were very few. But till very late the decision was in the hands of the government and we had to wait to know what the outcome was going to be. When things got really complex initially in early 2016, we heard the election days were in January and then it moved to March, so there was a lot of fluctuating in the local elections”¦Nobody knew what was happening in the state and it took a long time for us to be told if [having Sunburn in Goa] was a possibility or not. I think we were as blinded as the fans– which is quite evident with everybody moving out of Goa also, not just us. Logistically, Pune is a ‘value for money’ city. It’s close to Mumbai; the infrastructure is brilliantly connected for transportation. I would say the dance music fans are divided 40 percent here [Mumbai] and 60 percent the rest of the country, so Maharashtra became an important state in terms of the number of fans already engaged with Sunburn and would like to come again. Pune gave us the landscape in terms of the outdoor life. Bombay is a concrete jungle so it could have been a little difficult to create a festival vibe.

Do you think Sunburn will lose appeal because of the lack of the beach/holiday/Goa vibe?

Of course we’ll miss the beach; we’ll miss the whole Goa vibe. When we moved from Candolim everyone came shitting on me saying ”˜Oh God you’re going to a mountain, we’ll die!’ Nobody died, man. We killed it. This is not by wish, but Sunburn”¦ We are like the Ganges. We are going to flow. You build a dam, we’ll overflow the dam. You build a bridge, we’ll flow below it. You break us into fields, we’ll break away, but we will go ahead and join again. The rules will change, the politicians will change, the management will change, but we will never give up the lifestyle of dance music.

The reaction of fans on social media about Sunburn’s move has been pretty unpleasant so far. How do you respond to collective fury like that?

I think the proof is in the pudding. If you do good work, you create a good festival you create a good experience, the fans will always come back. It is the job of the consumer to react and it is the job of the promoter to act. This is our beautiful relationship, like husband and wife; do what you like, your wife will never be happy with you but ultimately she still loves you. We fight, but we love each other unconditionally. Like the lineup this year”¦ Last year we went big, but there’s a lot of love in the lineup this time. 

How would you describe the vibe of Sunburn Hills?

It’s wildlife, it’s mountains, it’s green, and it’s different. We’re trying something and we hope for some love and support. We could have shut it down this year and said ”˜Fuck it, we’ll do it when we get permissions in Goa. It’s an easy way out. But then the momentum is gone. I hope the fans support our adventurous move because it was beyond our control; I mean get real, who wants to leave Goa? 

Do you think you will be able to take Sunburn back to Goa in the future? Or do you want to take it somewhere else entirely?

Listen, here is the truth: Nobody knows this, but the first holiday of my life was in Goa, the first advertising campaign I shot was in Goa, my first feature film that I shot Pyaar Mein Kabhi Kabhi (1999) was in Goa, my honeymoon was in Goa. My favorite destination in the entire world is Goa.  Goa is my life. I’ve been partying in Goa in the jungles since I was young; we used to rob truck batteries and put up trance consoles and party with candles and anda pao. There was no address to the parties; you would follow the sound to the parties. I’m a hardcore Goa fan. Fuck Ibiza, Goa has something in the air. It invites you. So 100 percent I would go back to Goa whenever I can, whenever the law permits. 

(From left) Singh with Dutch DJ Martin Garrix and Norwegian producer Kygo in 2015.

(From left) Singh with Dutch DJ Martin Garrix and Norwegian producer Kygo in 2015.

How do you feel about the other festivals that are making an entry into India? 

Sunburn is 82 percent of the market share of ticket sales so I don’t know how to react [to the question.] I feel I’m Shah Rukh Khan and you’re talking about Chunkey Pandey. Let Chunkey Pandey give me 500 crore films and then we’ll talk. Every year I bring you the top ten artists and the biggest festivals and you still ask me about competition.

But do you see anyone who could potentially challenge that?

For me the future is the only play and I will keep working hard. I run really hard and strong and I’ll never stop someone else from running. So if somebody can run faster than me, do it. I don’t see anybody close to my shoulder right now, but somebody can, who knows? But right now we are Bhaag Milkha Bhaag; Bhaag Sunburn Bhaag. [laughs]

Where do you see Sunburn going in the next 10 years?

I’ll be dead honest with you. There could be some news in the next month or so which could excite people or disturb people”¦ I don’t know. It’s something that’s going to happen that’s very emotional. Sometimes when you build something so spectacular, you have to deconstruct and reconstruct to take it to a higher level. I believe the next ten years we’ll have to reinvent the wheel. India is scared of reinvention and invention. We are not the land of invention, we’re the land of traders, but I believe we created Sunburn together, all of us. To sustain the momentum of Sunburn, it needs to be recreated in 2017.

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