A Brief History and The Coming Future Of Music Festivals in India
In the past decade or so, music festivals and concerts in India have garnered immense support from both international and home grown artists, which in turn has led to a meteoric growth in the sheer production and execution of these events.
Slowly but steadily the country has become a hub for some of the biggest music gigs in the world, from hosting acclaimed international artists to organising exclusive, undergrounds gigs at famous joints and clubs in cities all over the country. However owing to the Covid-19 pandemic, the once tightly packed crowds and mosh pits of our favourite artist's concerts seem to have become a distant reality.
Taking a brief glimpse back in time to truly understand the impact of the music scene in the country, it is evident that we have come a long way in building the recognition and global awareness people now have when it comes to India and its budding music scene.
In the 60s, the entire world was under the spell of beat music and rock concerts. The Beatles were at their peak and every band wanted to mirror them on stage to receive the widespread acclaim, fame and fan response the legendary band would get. It was also during this time that India hosted one of its first-ever music festival's “Sneha Yatra”. Also known as the Indian "Woodstock", Sneha Yatra was held in 1971 at Malavi, Maharashtra. Featuring beat-rock-acid bands like Atomic Forest, Twilight Zone, and Country Funk Revivals along with solo artists like Ajit Singh and Remo Fernandez the festival also displayed classical music acts, poetry discussions and more.
Sneha Yatra at the time attracted a crowd of more than 4000 people from all over the country and it was pretty much the genesis of music festivals in India.
Soon after, the country witnessed its first ever brand sponsored concert - Simla Beat Contest. Sponsored by ITC (Indian Tobacco Company), the Simla Beat Contest saw bands from all over the country participate, in order to win a chance of getting their music recorded and compiled into two albums - Simla Beats 70 and 71.
It was also around this time that bands started playing gigs at 5 star hotels and iconic pubs and club venues. Along with these, places like Mumbai’s Rang Bhavan became quintessential for rock music.
A step up from Simla Beat Contest was The Great Indian Rock. Hosted by famous music publication house at the time Rock Street Journal, Great Indian Rock gave bands the opportunity to tour and perform in various cities like Bombay, Bangalore, Pune, Shillong and Kolkata.
Rock Street Journal also promoted bands to write their own songs and in an effort to to do so called for entries of original tracks, selecting the best and releasing them under the banner of The Great Indian Rock Volume 1 in 1995. Every part of the country was brewing something of its own when it came to music and artists were excited to present what they had created.
As time passed, the Trap and EDM genre gained major traction, and several music events held in Goa on the beach came up, combining loud music, lots of colours, and well, the consumption of some questionable substances.
In 2003 Nikhil Chinapa, DJ Pearl, and Hermit Sethi formed Submerge, an organization focused on hosting electronic music events. Submerge later became one of the biggest stakeholders in the Indian music festival scene. In partnership with media company Percept, Submerge launched Sunburn Goa, which is now Asia’s largest EDM based gathering.
Sunburn had a great start with a line up that boasted some of the biggest Djs from all over the world, resulting in culminating a highly loyal fan base over the years. The event's success was one of the driving forces behind brands and platforms beginning to realise the true potential and value music festivals held. Big names like Harley Davidson and Mahindra stepped into the scene with the Harley Rock Riders and Mahindra Blues Festivals, and with properties like Sula, Nashik springing up as well, suddenly there were hundreds of places where bands and artists could go and perform in front of a decent audience.
However, while a festival like Sunburn was satisfying people’s EDM/techno needs, Bacardi NH7 Weekender was catering to all the other ones. Launched In 2010 in Pune by OML, NH7 quickly became one of the most loved music festivals of the country. With lineups displaying an array of genres from Classical, Indie, Rock and even Heavy Metal - featuring some of the biggest names in the music industry from India and abroad - NH7 became a force to be reckoned with, becoming bigger and better each year.
Big players like Viacom18 and VH1 launched VH1 Supersonic in Goa with the first-ever event garnering a footfall of more than 25k. Since the launch, Supersonic as an event has grown exponentially and has bought home some of the biggest international performers like Marshmello, Major Lazer, Incubus, Macklemore, Jaden Smith, Bonobo and more.
Other festivals like Magnetic Fields held in Alsisar, Rajasthan span over 3 days and host a delectable combination of local as well as international artists, attracting crowds from all over the world. Along with having a unique location - the Alsisar Mahal - the festival also has some truly exquisite art showcases behind the palace walls as well. The festival also aims to be environmentally responsible and has, in the past, collaborated with an independent sustainability consultant so as to help reduce the waste generated during the festival week.
One such festival with an intrinsically unique concept is Echoes of Earth - also known as India's greenest music festival - that hosts an arsenal of various national and international artists, along with thousands of music fanatics who gather in lush green forests to celebrate mother earth. Additionally, the festival makes use of recycled and up-cycled media to construct their 4 unique stages.
Another one-off is Ctrl Alt Delete, a crowd-funded festival that is organised in different camping locations of the country. All the funding contributions go towards setting up the stages, making the show happen and paying the artists.
With hopes of 2020 following in the previous years' footsteps and being a big year when it came to music festivals, all hopes and plans were unfortunately cut short with the Covid-19 Pandemic putting an instant and indefinite stop to all public gatherings and events. As a result, artists and organisations started looking into new and safer ways of interacting with their fans and the one viable solution that popped up was online concerts.
Online and live music streaming has been a thing for quite a while. In fact some people prefer online concerts to physical ones because of the saved time and energy and the added benefit of enjoying music from the comfort of their own home. Apart from that, online concerts and festivals are also much more affordable than their physical counterparts.
Of course, as is with anything, there are a few trade-offs as well. For starters the quality of the music will be only as good as your home speaker, and the atmosphere and sheer energy that resonates with navigating through crowds from stage to stage, is lost in a two dimensional screen. Additional challenges can also appear in the form of faulty or slow internet connection, causing constant buffering and lag, eventually dimming the overall experience altogether.
However, with dire and necessary changes it is imperative for one to adapt and stay on top of the game. As the live events stopped, several ticketing platforms lost business as well. To combat this loss, Paytm Insider introduced an entire section of online events that ranged from stand up shows to live music performances. One such event was rapper Prabhdeep’s live show held in October this year. The hour and a half long show saw the artist performing his music along with mock-style skits of interviews he took of himself as different characters and received quite a response from fans who purchased tickets to see the online show.
On the other hand, Bacardi NH7 Weekender too decided to go online for this years edition. The festival line-up for the year included genres like Indie and Folk-Rock, Hindustani Classical and Dance music with artists and bands like Gas, Lucky Ali, The Lumineers, Prateek Kuhad and more.
Although there is a very low possibility of online festivals taking over physical concerts, the future of certain gigs, festivals and shows has opened up to a whole new level and tier of possibilities and options. Online events have the capability of morphing into a whole new business sector altogether, acting as preliminary fillers in between the bigger physical events that can be used to promote on a budget and connect with fans far and wide.
However, when a few months into the pandemic lockdown restrictions eased abroad, what transpired in the entertainment industry gave us another solution that seems to be the step ahead for physical concerts and events keeping in mind the primary rule of today: social distancing. Back in August, the UK held the world’s first social-distancing concert that hosted over 2,500 people separated into groups of five, placed on fenced metal platforms separated by a distance of 2 meters. Although, realistically an event of this magnitude is only possible with the availability of the space, infrastructure and well executed logistics.
Certain "Covid-era" gigs have also started coming up in India with several restaurants, pubs and bars - such as antiSocial Mumbai - keeping in mind the social distancing rules and organising performances at half capacity. While these concerts are not entirely safe they are the closest any of us will get to the iconic sweaty and loud music festival experience, for the next couple of months at the very least. One can only wait and see what new concepts come up and further revolutionise the live gig and music festival experience from hereon.