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The Great Indian Festival Season

The next five months will be India’s most hectic gig season ever with more than 30 major concerts on the anvil

Sharin Bhatti Oct 31, 2012

Photo: Bobin James/Khachaak.com

When popular electronica act Swedish House Mafia announced their decision to part ways earlier this year, fans around the world demanded a farewell tour. So the DJ supergroup that includes Axwell, Steve Angello and Sebastian Ingrosso will embark on a global, 30- city One Last Tour starting later this month. Besides the likes of Copenhagen, Amsterdam, Stockholm and Chicago, it will also include two Indian cities ”“ Mumbai and Delhi, where they will perform on November 17th and 18th respectively. For the dance music act, which polled at number 10 by DJ Mag’s Top 100 DJ List in 2011, this country has been a favorite hunting ground. Axwell headlined Sunburn for three years in 2007, 2010 and 2011. Says Nikhil Chinapa, whose dance music promotion company Submerge, is organizing Swedish House Mafia’s India gigs. “Axwell has been coming to India regularly, and every time his tour managers have written back saying how they loved the Indian crowd. We [Indians] dance, we party, we jump, we create a big noise and that for a DJ is a dream whereas, crowds in Europe and the Americas just sway to the music.” 

Swedish House Mafia is just one of the many international acts that will be part of what is turning out to be the busiest season for rock and electronic music in the country ever. Apart from solo concerts and tours, at last count there were as many as 14 festivals in the works. Says Chinapa, “Over the years, the numbers in terms of crowd attendance has been multiplying and that is why music festivals and concerts in India are doing well. And that is why some of the biggest acts in the world want to come here.” 

Photo: Rajiv Shyamdundar

While artists like Guns ”˜N’ Roses, Karnivool, Norah Jones, Swedish House Mafia will be here on multi-city tours, others like Above & Beyond, Wolf, Gojira, Testament, Periphery, Das Racist and David Guetta will perform at events and festivals ranging from Mahindra Blues Festival, Bacardi NH7 Weekender, Sunburn, Live From The Console, Indian Metal Fest, Harley Rock Riders among others. Earlier this month Megadeth performed at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender in Delhi and Children of Bodom headlined the Kingfisher The Great Indian Octoberfest in Bengaluru. American thrash metallers Slayer performed at the Rock ”˜N India in Bengaluru. Veteran rocker Santana headlined F1 Rocks in Delhi and a second Rock ”˜N India in Bengaluru. Enrique Iglesias and Sean Paul, both, finished multi-city tours of India last week.

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The increase in the number of festivals is also a result of the growing spending power of Indian audiences. Says Chinapa, “We didn’t have people who were ”˜experience junkies,’ who want to spend their money experiencing crazier ways to party. Now if I bring down the likes of Avicii for a concert, there is a guarantee that lots of people will attend,” says Chinapa. Shailendra Singh, Joint Managing Director of Mumbai-based Percept Ltd, the owners of Sunburn, which is into its sixth year, agrees that the Indian audience is finally looking at music festivals as an experience rather than just as a music concert: “The kind of ambience that we create in terms of things like flea-markets, adventure sports, bars and eating places etc. This is what gets people to pay hefty ticket prices to experience Sunburn.” Festival curators play a big role in enhancing the concert experience too. Explains Singh, “Imagine a Raghu Dixit performs on the same stage as an Imogen Heap. Or Dualist Inquiry performs alongside Fat Boy Slim and David Guetta. You’re not just pushing talent, but you’re also giving people in the audience that experience of seeing their idols on the same stage with emerging artists. They share the same sound and the experience becomes grander.” 

About 25,000 people attended Bacardi NH7 Weekender over three days last year in Pune. Vijay Nair, CEO of Only Much Louder 

Photo: Prarthana Singh

that organizes the Bacardi NH7 Weekender and Eristoff Invasion Festival expects the figure to go up to about 30,000 in Pune this year, with another 20,000 expected to attend the smaller two-day NH7 festivals in Bengaluru and Delhi. The numbers though impressive by Indian standards, are still very small compared to marquee music festivals around the world. The reasons are not far to seek. The Indian music festival scene is in its early stages. Another important reason is that most rock fans, particularly those in the older age group, are still reluctant to join the party because of the usual hassles ”“ problems with transport, security, accommodation, parking etc ”“ the ongoing bane of concert organizers in India. Something the likes of Nair and Singh will have to work on as part of the new festival `experience’ they are seeking to create. 

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The preponderance of metal and electronica acts in the lineup of festivals is a clear indication of the kind of music the regulars prefer. Says Arjun Sankalia, director international repertoire and special products, Sony Music India, “EDM and metal are language agnostic and hence are very popular in India. That is the reason for the hyper energy one sees at the festival. Which is why when F1 Rocks came to India, they got Metallica, not a rock band.” 

Even what is billed as a small and ”˜intimate’ fest, the three-day Live From the Console festival to be held in south Goa this December will feature American electro rockers AWOLNATION as one of the headliners. “This is a small festival for a small crowd,” says Owen Roncon of Oranjuice, that is organizing the festival, “and our emphasis has been on getting relatively unknown acts to India. AWOLNATION is part of that effort. We also have Julian Marley who will play reggae and Cults from New York.” Companies sponsoring the festivals have gained massive goodwill. Adds Manish Seth, director, marketing and sales at Bacardi India that sponsors NH7 Weekender and Eristoff Invasion Festival, “With each of the music festivals and concerts we promote, people come from all walks of life. From a brand’s perspective, that mix in cultural demographic works really well for us.” 

(The story originally appeared in the October issue of ROLLING STONE India and at the time of going to press, we received news that the Lost Festival would be held in October. The festival has since been rescheduled and new dates are yet to be announced. )



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