“Have you ever been to NH7?” asks Vijay Nair, the director of the music management company Only Much Louder (OML).
We are sitting in the company’s Lower Parel office. Situated in one of the many mills that dot the neighbourhood, the OML office is a sprawling space with exposed brick walls and high ceilings, along with a lot of natural light. Rows of young employees stare intently at their laptops with headphones dangling around their necks.
“Only the first year, after that it became kind of a circus.”
“That’s not an unfair comparison to make,” says Nair. “I’m guessing a lot of people were saying that after last year. But that’s something we’re trying to fix this year.”
The Bacardi NH7 Weekender, an annual three-day music festival, has quickly become the biggest event in the year of Indian music lovers. It’s adored not just for the eclectic mix of international musicians and talented unknowns, but for its impeccable organisation. Enthused attendees tend to return from the festival using the word ‘vibe’ a lot: NH7 is clean and well-organised. Queues move steadily, bands don’t start late and it’s a happy, but well-controlled environment.
But there’s going to be something different this year. It’s an announcement that the Weekender has been building up to steadily over the weeks, leaving enigmatic images (with accompanying text: 'Less is More') on their Facebook wall for fans to decode. “Just tell us already!” commented one, while others had to resort to ‘First World Problem’ GIFs to express their frustration.
So here’s the announcement. “This year, Bacardi NH7 Weekender will only allow 9,000 attendees,” says Nair. “It’s a massive scale-down. We’re cutting the festival down to half, basically.” Last year, NH7 had 15,000 people a day. “This year, we basically want to make the festival as good as it can be,” says Nair.
According to Nair, it wasn’t an easy decision to make. Many meetings, in the same conference room that the interview is happening, were held to debate the decision. “Scale was never something we chased,” explains Nair. “The main reasoning behind the decision was that we think we can make the festival an even more amazing experience.”
Before fans of the festival start screeching at the injustice, Nair has something to say: it’s for your own good.
“If the festival is too big, you won’t enjoy the music as much anymore,” says Nair. “I remember when I went to the Great Escape festival. I was standing in a crowd of almost a 1,000 people trying to watch Groove Armada. I eventually moved into a smaller show, with just around a 150 people. We were all standing in front of a stage, on top of which a boy and a girl played a church organ and sang. No one spoke for an hour and a half. It was an amazing experience – because of its small context. Those guys will attend this year, and I want NH7 attendees to have an equally amazing experience.”
Nair makes it clear that for him, and the OML team at large, their priorites are the music fan looking for new acts, as well as the die-hard NH7 attendee. Let’s put it this way – while all Bacardi NH7 Weekender attendees are equal, some are more equal than others.
“Say about half the people come for the music,” says Nair slowly. “The other half – they come because it’s a party. Maybe they’re around, Bacardi NH7 Weekender is something to do, they’re like chalo let’s see what’s going on. And that’s fine, it’s great. But we want to prioritise the people who come for the love of the music, and with passion for the festival. They should be having the best possible experience. It is, after all, the ‘happiest festival.’
Besides this, the Bacardi NH7 Weekender will be focusing on art this year as well. “Around six to seven artists have pitched to us this year, and we’ll bill some of them on the Bacardi NH7 Weekender posters as well,” says Nair. “It’s as much as part of the festival as the music. Last year we had a massive snake installation, and people went crazy clicking pictures of it.”
Nair speaks with admiration for the fans of the festival, and this year, those fans will be well-served. “If someone has attended the festival before – we have their email addresses on the website – the ticket prices will not go up for them. They can also get along nine friends for the same price.” OML is also offering a special price of Rs 6,000 for people who are attending Pune, Bangalore and Delhi. What about the Calcutta part of the festival? “You know what, if you’re dedicated enough to come to Calcutta as well, we’ll throw that in for free,” laughs Nair. Besides Nair's generosity, the cost of attending all four cities will be Rs 7,000.Two Weekenders will cost Rs4,500.
Nair admits after some prodding that financially, the decision isn’t the best one. “A festival usually takes around five years to break even. We don’t mind if NH7 is a little smaller this year as long as we keep it sustainable,” says Nair. “I want to keep Bacardi NH7 Weekender running forever, literally. For now, smaller is better.”