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
It was clear that the momentÂ India’s biggest electronic music festival Sunburn announcedÂ itsÂ shift in location fromÂ its iconic home in Goa toÂ KesnandÂ inÂ Pune, there would be consequences. While the reasons for theÂ shiftÂ revolve aroundÂ Goa’sÂ government andÂ tourism boardÂ 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 theÂ end-of-the-yearÂ tropicalÂ g
WhileÂ SunburnÂ was not the only festival hit with Goa’s recent change in stance around music festivalsÂ – VH1 Supersonic moved to Pune too -Â it’s been the drawing the most flak. “We’re the ShahÂ RukhÂ 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.”Â
He adds that Percept isÂ determined toÂ make the festival workÂ despite all the hate.Â “We’re trying something and we hope for some love and support,” heÂ 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, SinghÂ talks about Sunburn’s tumultuous relationship with its fans,Â 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 thatÂ it might affect Percept Ltd. IsÂ 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.
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, thisÂ isÂ 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 mostÂ excitingÂ 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.Â
Let’sÂ talk about the biggest thing; the change in location. Why did you chooseÂ PuneÂ 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 theÂ government and we had to waitÂ to know what the outcome was going to be. When things got really complex initially inÂ early 2016, we heard the election days were inÂ January andÂ thenÂ it moved to March, so there was a lot of fluctuating in the local elections”¦Nobody knew what was happening in the state andÂ it took a long time for us to be told if [having Sunburn in Goa] was a possibility or not. I think weÂ were as blinded as the fans– which is quite evident with everybody moving out of Goa also, not just us. Logistically,Â PuneÂ is a ‘value for money’ city. It’s close toÂ Mumbai;Â theÂ infrastructure is brilliantly connected for transportation. I would say the dance music fans are divided 40 percent hereÂ [Mumbai]Â 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.Â PuneÂ 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 theÂ beach;Â we’llÂ miss the whole Goa vibe. When weÂ moved fromÂ CandolimÂ everyone came shitting on me saying ”˜Oh God you’re going to a mountain, we’ll die!’ Nobody died, man.Â We killed it.Â 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 flowÂ 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 willÂ never give up the lifestyle of dance music.
The reaction of fans on social mediaÂ about Sunburn’s moveÂ has been pretty unpleasantÂ so far. How do you respond toÂ collective fury like that?
I think the proof is in the pudding. If you do good work, you create a good festival youÂ createÂ 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.Â Like the lineup this year”¦ Last year we went big, but there’s a lot of love in the lineup this time.Â
How would you describe the vibe of SunburnÂ Hills?
It’s wildlife,Â it’sÂ mountains, it’s green, and it’s different. We’re trying something and we hopeÂ for some love and support. We could have shut it down this year andÂ saidÂ ”˜Fuck it, we’ll do it when we get permissions inÂ Goa.’Â It’s an easy way out. But then the momentum is gone. I hope the fans support ourÂ adventurousÂ move because it was beyond our control; I mean get real, who wants to leave Goa?Â
DoÂ you think you willÂ be able toÂ take Sunburn backÂ to Goa in the future? Or do you want to take itÂ somewhere else entirely?
Listen, here is the truth:Â Nobody knows this, butÂ the first holiday of my life was in Goa,Â theÂ first advertising campaign I shot was in Goa, my first feature filmÂ that I shotÂ PyaarÂ MeinÂ KabhiÂ KabhiÂ (
How do you feel about the other festivals that areÂ making an entryÂ into India?Â
Sunburn is 82Â percentÂ of the market share of ticket sales so I don’t know how to react [toÂ the question.]Â I feel I’m ShahÂ RukhÂ Khan and you’re talking aboutÂ ChunkeyÂ Pandey. LetÂ ChunkeyÂ PandeyÂ give me 500Â croreÂ 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 doÂ youÂ seeÂ anyone who couldÂ potentiallyÂ challengeÂ 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’tÂ see anybody close to my shoulder right now, but somebody can, who knows? But right now we areÂ BhaagÂ MilkhaÂ Bhaag;Â BhaagÂ
Where do you see Sunburn going in the next 10 years?
I’ll be dead honest with you.Â 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.Â India is scared of reinvention and invention. We are not the land of invention, we’re the land of traders,Â butÂ IÂ believe we created Sunburn together, all of us. To sustain the momentum of Sunburn, it needs to be recreated in 2017.