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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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Chinapa added, hinting on his upcoming festival with Viacom Live in Goa this year, “However Pearl and I will still be on a beach in Goa in December and will still be working with Submerge – a company that’s pioneered dance music in India since 2003”¦ Finally when all this blows over, it won’t matter who did what, where and when… who’s logo was on stage or who brought Tiesto, SHM, David Guetta or eventually Deadmau5 to India. What will matter is the music and that’s something we at Submerge will never forget.” Singh’s own response is rather diplomatic: “We have grown out of our relationship with Nikhil Chinapa because our vision for Sunburn did not match with his and we also felt that he was wearing way too many hats. This is a very serious business for us and we need hundred percent dedicated resources to run it. Nikhil is blessed by the lord ’cause he’s a VJ, actor, DJ and more.”

Avicii performs in India in December as part of the Sunburn Arena Tour.

Avicii performs in India in December as part of the Sunburn Arena Tour.

Whether Sunburn festival will continue to draw the same crowds without Chinapa remains to be seen, but there is no doubt that he created what is India’s biggest non-Bollywood music festival with Singh. Despite the fact that it was not financially successful in the early years, the programming focused on high quality EDM. This was all the more remarkable in a country where there is always the temptation to add Bollywood in the mix when organizing a big budget event. Though Singh flexed his social muscle to ensure that the festival was well attended by the Page Three crowd, he was particular about keeping the music clean. “I’m very strict about protecting the original DNA of Sunburn. We are committed to keeping the sanctity of dance music and I don’t think we need the influence of Bollywood in dance music. We get a lot of pressure from Bollywood ’cause they like to come to Sunburn but we treat them like normal people and make them buy tickets,” he says.

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The world’s biggest DJs were enticed to come to India to play for Sunburn bringing the festival international recognition in 2009, with CNN.com naming Sunburn among the top 12 music festivals in the world, comparing it to the likes of Glastonbury and Lollapalooza. Axwell, John 00 Fleming, Carl Cox, Armin Van Buuren, Tiesto, David Guetta, Skazi, Swedish House Mafia, Roger Sanchez, Norman Doray, Paul Van Dyk, Above and Beyond, Pete Tong, Skazi, Funk Agenda ”“ the lineup of heavyweight stars who graced Sunburn are among the best in the world making it comparable to any big EDM festival in the world.

One major outcome of this was that, unlike in the case of rock, jazz or metal music, India became firmly established on the EDM international circuit, a must-visit on the itinerary of any touring superstar DJ. Last year, for example, Swedish House Mafia on their farewell tour, traveled to India twice just because their Mumbai concert had to be cancelled the first time because of Bal Thackeray’s death.

More recently, Singh has engineered a new strategy for Axwell’s tour in India as part of Sunburn Goa this December. The Swedish DJ, best known as being part of SHM, has been signed on as the brand ambassador for one of India’s biggest bike brand. The company recently signed on as a sponsor for the dance music festival and their latest brand exercise hopes to turn the SHM member, who headliners Sunburn 2013, into a household name in the buildup to the festival. This year, Singh also hopes to draw a larger audience to the Sunburn festival in Goa ”“ the number would be in the region of 150,000. EDM finding favor in India has helped elevate Singh into the big league of men and women who run the global dance music scene. He was recently listed among the 50 most powerful people in the international EDM industry by the industry bible, Inthemix. And this month, Singh will share stage with the legendary American boxing and music promoter Shelly Finkel to address the ADE (Amsterdam Dance Event) conference, which is the TED-talk of the electronic music business: “ADE happened because of a very exciting meeting over wine, beer and bitterballen [a Dutch meat-based savory]. A meeting that was supposed to last for nine minutes, lasted for four hours ”“with the top dog of the festival, Richard Zijlma [GM, ADE]. I was just so proud and excited to meet him. They were kind enough, by the end of it, to make me part of the ADE family for this year’s conference. I am super excited as coincidentally, it happens to be on my birthday, Oct 16.” he says.

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Sunburn’s other big contribution has been legitimizing EDM in India in a manner that it has now become the most popular music genre in the country, outside of Bollywood. This season, for example will see a plethora of EDM events and festivals across the country. Sunburn alone will have 42 concerts going all the way upto March. Others include DNA Entertainment’s Sound Awake on December 1st, the Enchanted Valley Carnival (EVC), a tented music festival that brings EDM and adventure sports together at Aamby Valley outside Mumbai from December 6th to 8th, the Kolkata edition of Bacardi NH7 Weekender (the festival features two EDM stages) on December 15th and 16th. Star DJs outside of Sunburn’s 100 strong line-up who will be playing in India at other festivals include Steve Aoki, Chicane, Cosmic Gate, Emma Hewitt, Dash Berlin, Aly & Fila and Above & Beyond.

Singh says, “Until now the season for us used to be October to March. Now, my new season begins from April 1st, so it’s a 12 month season. The goalpost’s changed now since there are more indoor venues and newer markets in untapped regions like the east and south of India.” This year, Sunburn, will travel to Chandigarh, Nagpur, Kolkata and Pune to test the popularity of EDM in newer cities. Last year he even took his festival to Sri Lanka and Dubai.

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