Bangalore Open Air: The rise and acceptance of India’s longest running metal festival
Now in its sixth edition, day-long metal festival Bangalore Open Air was clearly styled on founder Salman U Syed’s love for one of Europe’s largest gatherings of the metal brotherhood — Germany’s Wacken Open Air. He even got support from the festival to bring down bands once in a while and send an Indian band to Wacken.
At a press conference in Bengaluru venue The Humming Tree, on Friday, 30 June, Salman — seated alongside chief sponsors Zippo and Casio India — joked to their headliner, American death metal veterans Nile, that he had visited Wacken a total of eight times. “I’ve been to Wacken more than Nile,” Salman said with a laugh, as Nile’s frontman Karl Sanders joined in the ribbing.
What started out in 2012 with about 700 people in attendance to a handful of bands including German thrash metal veterans Kreator, Bangalore Open Air has always been hosted to mixed reviews. Despite a heavy-hitter lineup in 2013 that comprised the likes of heavy metallers Iced Earth, Norwegian black metal virtuoso Ihsahn, Swedish melodic death metal band Dark Tranquillity and tech metallers Animals As Leaders, the audience grew frustrated about the cancelation of German thrash band Sodom, and other event-related faux pas.
Bangalore Open Air scaled down in 2014, hosting a somewhat intimate, intense gig featuring the likes Rotting Christ and German thrash metallers Destruction, among others. And in 2015, they hosted a formidable lineup that included grind/death metal pioneers Napalm Death, death metallers Inquisition and Belphegor. They faced a somewhat underwhelming turnout, but surprisingly, BOA has never showed signs of slowing down. Most metal festivals (and even a few bands) have come and gone in the span that BOA has survived. Salman said at the conference, “The vision is to have people from all over South East Asia come to Bangalore Open Air, to make it a must-attend event.”
Despite that good intention, what’s held the festival back is constant uncertainty. Nearly every year, there’s been at least one band — international or local — dropping off the lineup at the very last minute. If you thought Sodom in 2013 was a one-off, Salman has had to explain to fans each year, through some misfortune, how one of the booked bands won’t be making it and the show must go on. The carry-on spirit is definitely laudable when most Indian metal festivals (even rock and multi-genre ones, in fact) lose faith after the first edition, probably after looking at an Excel sheet that just isn’t making any numerical sense in terms of expenditure and revenue. But even then, when BOA announced just two days ago that their co-headliner — Swedish black metal band Marduk — were off the lineup for being “unprofessional”, it seemed like there was still fault to find with the organisers when clearly, the band was in the wrong.
Back at the press conference, with just Nile’s Sanders and guitarist Brian Kingsland repping as headliners, the band fielded questions about what they thought about metal in India with a long-term view. Sanders said, “The whole ball game has changed. This feels like we’re on the ground floor right now and we see it (metal scene) building (in India).”
One of the things that has helped the structure of a festival like BOA somewhat stable is sponsors and investors who have come back year on year, including Casio India, whose AGM Marketing Sachin Sharma mentioned that they share a “very symbiotic relationship” with the festival and saw the support continue for the coming years — a rarity for anything metal-related in the country. Salman, of course, turned to ask if the continued support also meant a chance to scale up and bring down metal’s biggest names like Metallica, Iron Maiden or Judas Priest. Casio’s rep was quick to say, “It totally depends on you.”
In the middle of it all, Nile sat a bit bemused by the whole ordeal, where organisers and bands have to sit at the same table and pose for photos with products, a deal like few others in the world. Despite Marduk’s cancellation, BOA also includes Swiss thrash metal veterans Coroner, prog/thrash band Galaxy Crusher, Bengaluru’s very own old school metallers Kryptos and heavy metallers Speedtrip. They’ve had to face angry comments and a few ticket refunds/resellers since then, but the gathering at BOA will be — for lack of a better word — the metal faithful.