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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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Singh with members of EDM supergroup Swedish House Mafia

Singh with members of EDM supergroup Swedish House Mafia.

The continuing success of electronica acts across the country has left concert organizers of other music genres wondering why they are not able to draw similar crowds, especially considering that, collectively speaking, there are probably more people listening to rock and metal at home than EDM. One reason could be Singh’s theory of the popularity of music sans lyrics in a multilingual country. It is an explanation echoed by Vijay Nair of Only Much Louder, the organizers of the popular Weekender festival, “EDM is easily accessible because it’s beat-based music. Unlike a concept album that is common in rock and pop, EDM is not very complicated. At this point, there are more kids consuming electronica than any other genre.”

The other important reason is that the economics of organizing rock festivals in India make it unaffordable to bring down big international rock acts to the country unlike in the case of EDM. Besides, EDM fans tend to be financially much better off and are prepared to pay much higher price for their concert tickets than rock fans. At the recent Hardwell concert in Mumbai, the lowest priced tickets were available at Rs 4,250 and were sold out in a matter of days. Early bird tickets to the Sunburn festival in Goa priced at Rs 5,980 were sold out in 20 minutes of the announcement in September this year. In comparison, the two-day Mahindra Blues Festival in Mumbai in February costs Rs 3,500, and the three-day multi-genre Weekender festival in Pune this month was priced at Rs 3,750. While Sunburn is expected to attract over a lakh people, Mahindra Blues gets about 4,000 and Weekender around 10,000. Arjun Vagale, co-founder of Jalebee Cartel, one of the biggest electronica acts in India, told us in an interview previously, “The rock scene started with practically no money. All the biggest festivals were held at schools and colleges with absolutely no sponsors. EDM started differently”” in night clubs which had sponsorship deals with alcohol brands. Rock was always indie in spirit in India and later, it just became difficult to get returns.”

Then there is the huge cost of bringing down big international rock acts to the country as compared to an equally renowned DJ. Not only do rock stars charge more money, the cost of safely flying down a sizeable load of equipment and the huge entourage of assistants and engineers they travel with, more than doubles the cost. OML’s Nair who has had the experience of bringing down both David Guetta and Norah Jones to India in recent times explains the difference, “With say a David Guetta travelling, it’s about five to six people (including crew) travelling with him, while with a Norah Jones it is 14-15 people travelling. Production cost wise, bands will always be more than an electronica artist. Even the rest of the production”” which the sound, lights etc ”“is always more expensive for an entire setup of a band.” The only way to cover this cost is to price the ticket at a level that would make it beyond the reach of most young people who tend to make up the biggest audience at any concert.

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Mooz Entertainment, the Delhi-based concert organizer discovered this the hard way when it brought down acts like Korn and Guns N’ Roses last year. Though a reasonably large crowd turned up for the GN’R concerts, the numbers were apparently not large enough to cover the cost. “The turnout is absolutely not enough to bring an artist of that caliber here. You need a minimum of 25,000 people to turn up for a concert like GN’R for it to make money,” says Nair, “The numbers in India are just about enough to make an electronica gig successful.”

Earlier this year, Singh had a similar experience when Percept had to cancel its widely publicized FLY Festival, a two-day multi-city metal and rock extravaganza, featuring heavy hitters such as Limp Bizkit, Deep Purple, Anthrax, Mastodon, The Wailers, KT Tunstall and Robby Krieger and the late Ray Manzarek of The Doors. “I followed the philosophy of dance music into live music and I got fucked,” says Singh, “We tried to bring back the live music fest with FLY. We invested $ 2 million and it all went down the drain. We had a phenomenal lineup, but the issue was that we had just three weeks to promote the festival and sell 15,000 tickets. I didn’t understand it. For dance music, it’s a no brainer”” I launch David Guetta and I can sell the tickets in 15 days. It doesn’t work this way in live music [rock/metal] and that’s completely my fault cause I didn’t do the research.”

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That is one of the reasons why Bengaluru-based DNA Networks, which has previously brought biggies such as Iron Maiden, Aerosmith, Metallica, Rolling Stones and Bryan Adams to India, is now shifting attention to EDM. “For today’s market, I would say ticket sales for EDM with big names should be about 10,000 to 15,000 while for a rock event it should be between 15,000 to 20,000,” says DNA’s managing director Venkat Vardhan. In August, Vardhan’s company launched Sound Awake, an EDM festival featuring headliners such as Yves Larock. In December, the second edition of this festival will see American DJ Steve Aoki headline in Bengaluru. “The response in terms of turnout for the August edition was overwhelming and we are expecting a higher turnout this time around,” adds Vardhan. Aoki will play another set in Mumbai the next day to signal the launch of the Enchanted Valley Festival.

Newer players such as Enchanted Valley Carnival’s (EVC) organizer Shoven Shah have joined the EDM bandwagon to cash in on the genre’s popularity, though Shah maintains that their festival lineup in the future could lean towards rock or pop, depending on what’s the rage. Adds EVC’s Shah, “We are not doing an electronic music festival, though we have a lot of electronica artists coming. At the moment, it [EDM] is what the people listen to and what the youth relates to. But at the same time we have artists from other genres. Electronica is big right now, but we plan to be fluid in our approach of what genres we will offer every year.”

Singh meanwhile says that he has big ideas for the future ”” a collaboration with Amsterdam Dance Event, the launch of Sunburn radio channel hosted by dance music producer Anish Sood and even Sunburn TV. And in his effort to tap into the young, he is drawing up a Sunburn campus tour across 30 campuses in the country including the likes of IIM-A and BITS Pilani. “The campus tour is fully paid for by Sunburn and the entry is free,” he says, “We want to do this because we don’t want to deprive these youngsters who can’t attend expensive festivals yet. We want to give them the experience”¦” Marketing wise it makes eminent sense. After all these students will be the next generation of Sunburn fans.

This article appeared in the October 2013 issue of ROLLING STONE India.

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