How organizing a fest can be a staggering exercise and why venues are moving out of city limits
Last month, concertÂ goers in Delhi spent betweenÂ two to four hours toÂ get to Buddh International Circuit [BIC],Â the venue for the Delhi editionÂ of Bacardi NH7 Weekender. TheÂ venue is in fact located a good 60Â km from the capital city, in GreaterÂ Noida, Uttar Pradesh. The lack ofÂ signage, multiple entrances and intersectingÂ roads resulted in WeekenderÂ fans going around in circles.Â
Accessibility issues aside, OMLÂ CEO Vijay Nair and his team managedÂ to put together a glitch-freeÂ show and Nair is convinced thatÂ he’s found the perfect festival spaceÂ in BIC. Adds Nair, “In my entireÂ decade of working I haven’t seenÂ anything like Buddh with parkingÂ for over 20,000 vehicles and aÂ great private security system thatÂ leave us with fewer hassles to takeÂ care of.” Organizers such as NikhilÂ Chinapa, cofounder of Submerge,Â an electronica dance music eventsÂ company, also cites traffic managementÂ as a reason for hostingÂ shows away from the city. ChinapaÂ has chosen the Unitech GolfÂ Course in Noida for electronica supergroupÂ Swedish House Mafia’sÂ first show in the country.
Shifting out of metros alsoÂ means fewer permissions andÂ lower entertainment tax leviedÂ on ticket sales. But the basic problemÂ remains. “There are no concertÂ spaces in India. Our cities areÂ not planned with multipurposeÂ venues or arenas, like say a WembleyÂ Stadium, which you can useÂ for sports as well as concerts,” saysÂ Farhad Wadia, organizer of theÂ country’s longest running festival,Â Independence Rock, which is currentlyÂ in its 27th year. Delhi hasÂ sports venues such as the JawaharlalÂ Nehru Stadium that wasÂ revamped during the 2010 Commonwealth
Games, but most are unavailableÂ for festivals. KaramjeetÂ Singh, Senior Vice President ofÂ MOOZ Entertainment that plansÂ to bring Guns N’ Roses to IndiaÂ later this year says, “The JawaharlalÂ Nehru stadium was a greatÂ venue for Sting, Peter Gabriel orÂ Deep Purple, but current policiesÂ do not seem to allow for its usageÂ for non-sports events. This is theÂ case with most stadiums in Delhi.”
Once organizers book a venue,Â there is the hassle of obtaining atÂ least 15-30 licenses including permitsÂ from the State police, traffic,Â fire and No Objection CertificatesÂ from the Home Ministry. WhileÂ a daily rental for a venue can costÂ between Rs 10-30 lakh, the entireÂ production costs includingÂ stage, sound and lights adds up toÂ at least twice the amount. Add toÂ this the artists’ fee, costs of theirÂ travel, stay, marketing budgets andÂ entertainment tax.
Mumbai’s entertainment tax isÂ the highest at 25 per cent on everyÂ ticket sold, while organizers inÂ Delhi and Bengaluru have to shellÂ out 15 per cent and 10 per cent,Â respectively. “Organizers have toÂ cough up at least Rs 1 crore asÂ taxes even before they sell any tickets.Â Foreign bands charge in dollars,Â sponsors mark up their ticketÂ price and the public prefers freeÂ passes rather than buying tickets,”Â says Wadia.
Swedish House Mafia haveÂ booked shows in most countriesÂ this year [they have sold out allÂ three concerts in Stockholm, their
next tour stop after India] but ticketÂ sales are yet to gain momentumÂ in India [at the time of goingÂ to print]. “If fans aren’t ready toÂ pay, the scene will never flourish,”Â says Wadia. But with ticket pricesÂ shooting up ”“ once priced at aÂ modest Rs 900 [remember IronÂ Maiden in 2007?], tickets nowÂ cost between Rs 2,500 to 4,000 ”“Â concert goers have reason to complainÂ too. “Tickets are expensive.
Then there is airfare to Bengaluru,Â hotel cost and travel to the venue inÂ a city like Bengaluru where publicÂ transport is fucked up. I wouldÂ rather fly to another country,” saysÂ Anuradha Menon, a metal fanÂ from Mumbai.
Festivals like Storm in CoorgÂ and Ragasthan in JaisalmerÂ have attempted tented accommodation,Â but organizers point outÂ that unlike in the West, campingÂ culture is yet to take off in theÂ country. There’s scope for a three-dayÂ festival like the Bacardi NH7Â Weekender in Pune to turn intoÂ a tented festival, but Nair is convincedÂ that Indian concert-goersÂ cannot handle the not-so-prettyÂ side of it. In December 2010, theÂ festival made its debut at Pune’sÂ prime spot, Koregaon Park.Â “The first Weekender, we prettyÂ much took whatever venue we got,”Â says Nair. The next year, the festÂ moved to Magarpatta City on theÂ outskirts of Pune so more stagesÂ could be set up. Added Nair of theÂ venue in the festival promo video:Â “There are no neighbors so youÂ could be as loud as you want to.”Â This year, the festival shifts to theÂ tony residential colony, AmanoraÂ Park, a bigger venue that posesÂ fewer parking hassles.
In Delhi too, most big-ticketÂ concerts over the past two yearsÂ that have been promoted as DelhiÂ shows have in fact been held inÂ Gurgaon or Noida. This is oddÂ since Delhi has massive groundsÂ such as Pragati Maidan that areÂ finding no takers. Back in 1995,Â the Hamsadhwani Theatre at PragatiÂ Maidan hosted The Great IndianÂ Rock Festival giving bandsÂ such as Indian Ocean their biggestÂ platform. MOOZ Entertainment’sÂ Singh says he’s wary of organizingÂ shows at the “ill-organized” PragatiÂ Maidan and Talkatora StadiumÂ since they might be too small forÂ big ticket international acts.
In concert capital Bengaluru,Â organizers have had to look forÂ newer spaces after the State governmentÂ pulled the plug on musicÂ performances at Palace GroundsÂ in August. Bhartiya City ThanisandraÂ Road in Bengaluru, theÂ venue for the Santana and SlayerÂ concerts, is about 10 km fromÂ the center. Other venues such asÂ Clarks Exotica [where Wolf performs],Â Embassy InternationalÂ Riding School [Bacardi NH7Â Weekender] and NICE Grounds atÂ Dasanapura Hobli [Enrique Iglesias]Â are located more than 20 kmÂ away from the city.
The only exception in BengaluruÂ is Jayamahal Palace, a popularÂ wedding venue in the city, whereÂ Children of Bodom performed asÂ part of The Kingfisher Great IndianÂ October Fest. The concert, however,Â almost got canned, thanks toÂ unexpected showers. The band’sÂ drummer Jaska RaatikainenÂ posted after the show on Facebook:Â “”¦Well, the festival organiserÂ came up with the idea to have aÂ small tent for every band member.Â Sounds silly but it worked somehowÂ and we played the show.”
Until stadiums open up toÂ hosting concerts and designatedÂ multi-purpose entertainmentÂ areas are set up in major cities,Â the Indian concert organizerÂ may have to continue stretchingÂ his resources to pull off festivals.
This article was published in the November 2012 issue of Rolling Stone IndiaÂ