Should you attend NH7 Weekender this year?
Short answer: yes with a ‘but’; long answer: maybe not with an ‘if’.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s talk about what’s been lined up by one of the India’s foremost music festivals, the Bacardi NH7 Weekender. In an ever-shifting model, it’s safe to say that the festival has been experimenting, and that involves hits and misses.
Where, in 2015, they might have had people in Kolkata grumbling about a lack of international headliners, they would announce that they’ve outgrown the venue that played host to the massive three-day Pune edition.
In its seventh outing, the most noticeable changes included a scale-up for the Shillong edition, which recently concluded last month, with organiser Only Much Louder (OML)’s founder Vijay Nair announcing that they’d sold more tickets than Delhi, Bengaluru and Kolkata (put together) did last year.
It seems like a gamble that’s paid off, then, for OML. But what of grumbling fans? What of their newest edition in Hyderabad (possibly courtesy of some generous luring from the Telangana government) that took place over 5-6 November? What was set to be a new adventure in a new city turns was downscaled — with one stage worth of artists, 10 in all — being cut from the original line-up. Surprisingly, these were the indie bands like Bengaluru post-rock act Until We Last and dream pop/alt rock act Black Letters that rarely get a chance to perform on a big stage, to an audience as numerous as the ones you’ll find at any Weekender. The list also included bands like Bengaluru psychedelic act Parvaaz and future garage forerunner Sandunes.
The brand that the festival has built saw them through in Hyderabad — just as it has drawn significant crowds at their #BacardiHouseParty one-day ‘express’ editions in towns ranging from Mysore, Pondicherry and, much to the city’s disappointment, Kolkata. With the festival expanded to reach the North East and Kolkata pulling in less-than-desirable turnout in their previous edition, there were three major cities cut out of Weekender’s multi-stage, happy-vibes experience.
Fans will continue to lament surely, first when there’s no good bands in their cities, to when Weekender completely gives their city a miss. This year’s line-up of international and Indian bands reiterates that OML likes bankable artists the most — and right now, it doesn’t matter if they’re indie or not.
For the last three years or so, there’s been a certain stagnation setting in with the choice of artists in Weekender’s line-ups. Sure, they’re signed to OML so they need to rep their own artists — and there’s no denying the party-starting abilities of the likes of Nucleya, The F16s, The Ganesh Talkies or Dualist Inquiry, but the festival curators have barely looked beyond a certain spectrum. Yet, somehow, playing Weekender is still a big deal to emerging artists. There’s still the lure of a big stage and a large audience that rumpus-kicking bands and quiet singer-songwriters alike are chasing, which Weekender offers.
Apart from the Shillong edition, there’s only one ‘heavy’ band in Hyderabad (Mumbai metallers Bhayanak Maut) and Pune (Skyharbor) each. Nair has said previously that metal just doesn’t bring in the numbers, so it looks like right now, OML is focussed on convincing their sponsors and investors that they’re going to see a lot more profits.
Where does that leave Weekender’s indie allegiances? It’s very much present, but a line-up comprising Shankar Mahadevan, AR Rahman-founded group NAFS and cover artist Hriday Gattani kind of gives a good indication of what future editions of the festivals will look like — they’re expanding well into the mainstream lot.
International headliners this year too, make the entire package of Weekender feel a little underwhelming compared to as recent as three years ago. Sure, progressive rock artist Steven Wilson and hip hop veteran DJ Premier are bound to get a lot of thumbs up for their one-of-a-kind live experiences, but what of placing the delicate, silence-demanding performance of Swedish singer-songwriter Jose Gonzalez? Can’t argue with the inclusion of UK rockers Dinosaur Pile-Up, though. Like American rock band Mutemath, it looks like Weekender has taken quite a liking for the band and don’t mind them having them over to join them in their exploration of new cities (DPU will perform in Hyderabad) together.
Anyone who is disappointed by looking at the same old names on the Weekender line-up for a few years may question what it takes for a festival like this to stay true to its roots over the years. The metalheads are always tough to please, but you’re looking at the model for future editions of the festival: Like it or not, attend it or not.
Editor's note: A version of this column appeared on Firstpost on 12 November 2016