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Sunburn and the Indian EDM Explosion

With the success of the Hardwell concert in Mumbai and Bengaluru last month, the EDM season has truly taken off, with Sunburn leading the way

Megha Mahindru Oct 22, 2013
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Electronica superstar Deadmau5 makes his India debut in March 2014. Photo: Courtesy of EMI Music

Electronica superstar Deadmau5 makes his India debut in March 2014. Photo: Courtesy of EMI Music

The Lower Parel headquarters of Percept Ltd, the advertising and entertainment conglomerate, the office of joint managing director Shailendra Singh, is unlike anything I have seen. Singh is the man behind Sunburn, India’s largest music festival, and the signs of excesses are everywhere. The office complex is expansive, and once I walk past the receptionist’s table, the space opens up to a full-fledged apartment with a bedroom, living area with a cabinet of trophies and even a stocked-up bar. The 47-year-old swears by “work hard, party harder and live hardest,” an ethic that finds mention in [email protected] Knows, his semi-autobiographical self-help book released earlier this year that he says was a bestseller. Adjoining Singh’s second floor office, there is even a full size artificial turf tennis court on the side terrace. Inside his work room, a wall featuring a collage of photos with politicians, actors, industrialists, cricketers and others hints at his social clout.

Singh shows no signs of anxiety about stories swirling around online and on social media claiming that Sunburn’s seventh edition in December this year has run into trouble in Goa with upset locals and an angry chief minister. But then, just a few days earlier, there were reports that even the Hardwell concert in Mumbai, organized by Sunburn, had run into trouble with local authorities in Mumbai. However, the gig featuring the world’s 6th ranking Dutch DJ went off without a hitch and was a huge success. Says Singh, “The challenges that we are discussing are a part and parcel of our society. You won’t believe it, but a huge amount of paperwork legalities, permissions and processes need to be followed by multiple departments to make such a big event happen in Goa.”

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These days, Singh is preoccupied with an even more exciting task. He is attempting to sign up the biggest international DJs to tour India over the next few months. EDM, unlike rock or metal, is a relatively profitable business in India and competition is heating up among organizers with the likes of Viacom 18 Live, the events division of one of the country’s biggest media houses, Viacom 18, jumping into the fray. Singh wants to make sure that the big artists are beyond the reach of the others, at least in the short run. Towards this end, he has turned Sunburn into a multi-city affair with mini-festivals and arena-sized concerts across the country throughout the year. The big names that he has signed up so far looks like the top cream of DJ Mag’s annual list of Top 100 international DJs: Avicii, Dash Berlin, Shogun, Lost Stories, Paul Van Dyk, Fedde Le Grand, Dimitri Vegas, Carl Cox, Afrojack, Axwell, Pete Tong, Markus Schulz and Armin van Buuren to name a few. But his biggest coup is in signing EDM superstar, and currently, by all counts, the world’s most popular DJ, Deadmau5 for his three-city India debut in March 2014. “Deadmau5 was a very awaited and exciting partnership for Sunburn. We are happy to be part of history when he goes live on 14th, 15th, 16th March 2014 in India. It will be beyond epic,” says an excited Singh.

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Beyond Epic? Well that’s the way Singh talks. As people who have known him would testify, he is a terrific salesman who has a way with words. The son of a sugar technologist from Kanpur, Singh was far from being an exceptional student. He was, however, every bit of the glib talker, who managed to become the school captain and sports captain by the time he finished school. He has written chapters on technology in his book, but admits that he isn’t even a smartphone user. Neither is he embarrassed to confess his Luddite status. “I don’t know how to use a computer. In fact, I’ve never sent an email on my own,” he says.

Singh, who decided to give up on his dream of becoming a cricketer to join his elder brother Harindra’s advertising business in 1987, claims to have organized over 5,000 events in areas ranging from sports and music to corporate promotions. But Sunburn is by far his biggest success to date. So it’s surprising when he says: “Sunburn only broke even in year five, so there’s a misconception that everybody feels we made a lot of money but we made money only last year. In fact, in year one (2007) it was our Metal Fest that made money, while Sunburn didn’t.” While the event was simply labeled Metal Fest, it was in fact a three-city tour of Brazilian metal band Sepultura to Shillong, Delhi and Bengaluru and with local band Brahma. It wasn’t a festival by any stretch.

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