Magnetic Fields 2018 offered more than just electronic music, though two star attractions were no-shows

Amit Gurbaxani

December 22, 2018 16:33:54 IST

We had heard much about Magnetic Fields, which is counted among the finest music festivals in the country, since its first edition in 2013. This year, when we got the opportunity to attend the event, which is held at a palace in Alsisar in Rajasthan, we decided it would be a good idea to bust a few myths about the fest. Here are five things we confirmed and five things we learned about over the last weekend:

Things we learned

The music never stops

Because it’s held inside a private property, Magnetic Fields is free from the restriction on the use of loudspeakers after 10 pm that plagues most other music festivals, which take place on large, open grounds. Performances start around noon and are held all night, ending at about 6.30 am. Even if you retire early, you’re likely to hear the music from your room or tent, so you sleep to the beats even if you’re not bopping to them. There’s officially a break between sunrise and noon, but we could hear soundchecks through the morning from our tent. (Or maybe it was just somebody blasting their own music, we didn’t leave the comfort of our bed to check.) The food stalls and bars are also open throughout, ceasing business only for a few hours in the morning.

It’s not only for electronic music fans

While Magnetic Fields has long been marketed as a celebration of cutting-edge electronic music, like most other Indian music festivals, it has diversified its line-up over the years. Among the highlights of the festival for us this year were hearing Bangalore-residing “dream-pop” ensemble Monsoon Search Party and Luxembourgian Afro-pop influenced post-rock group No Metal In This Battle for the first time. They both performed at the BUDx South Stage where failsafe singer-composer Tajdar Junaid, who lives in Mumbai, filled in for rising British-Pakistani electro-pop star Nabihah Iqbal, who couldn’t make it after her visa application was rejected.

Perhaps the strongest memory we’ll take back is of alternative rock band Peter Cat Recording Co.’s special two-hour performance at the pop-up, carnival tent-like The Peacock Club at which they premiered their new album and showed us that they’ve finally edited down their sound, which plays great on record but appears somewhat shambolic live, into something more cohesive. Their tight and arresting set was all the more impressive considering we caught the second of two identical gigs, which began at 2.30 am, comprised 21 songs and ran for two hours without a break.

Glimpses from the latest edition of Magnetic Fields. Facebook/@magneticfieldsfestival

Glimpses from the latest edition of Magnetic Fields. Facebook/@magneticfieldsfestival

There’s a wide range of dance music on offer

We’re among those who prefer electronic music that’s more dance-y than dark. Based on the large crowds we saw at the Red Bull North Stage, which hosts the harder sounding acts, we felt this might make us among the minority at Magnetic Fields, but there was plenty for us to move to each day. This included the Bollywood song and dialogue-sampling tunes of mysterious Delhi-based producer Babloo Babylon at the minimally lit Jameson Underground basement stage (which helped in maintaining his anonymity); the disco-house jams played by the equally amusingly monikered DJ Seinfeld from Sweden at the BUDx Yard; as well as the funk, disco and house selections of the UK’s Kristy Harper and the dancehall and hip-hop remixes of Canada’s Nino Brown, both of whom performed at the Renault Desert Oasis stage by the campsite.

This was also the venue of capital-headquartered reggae sound system Bass Foundation Roots’ massive five-hour set that drew a relatively smaller but visibly appreciative gathering, and that of the much talked about sunrise party on Monday morning, which we had to miss because our flight back was around the same time. Attendees saw dawn break to the sounds of British DJ duo Bicep whose floor-friendly secret set at the BUDx Yard on Saturday night was an encouraging sign of things to come. As for the few minutes we did spend at the Red Bull North stage, we found the revelry was enhanced considerably by the eye-catching visual projections on the palace walls.

The DJs are not above playing to the gallery

In almost every aspect, Magnetic Fields is the antithesis of Sunburn. There’s not an overtly commercial name in sight. Yet that doesn’t mean the DJs on the bill are above throwing in some universal favourites. Harper slipped in ‘Jimmy Jimmy’ from Disco Dancer (1982) into her set, Nino Brown and Monica Dogra included ‘Aap Jaisa Koi’ from Qurbani (1980) in their B2B session, Bass Foundation Roots Sound System threw in tracks by rappers Prabh Deep and Divine into the mix, and Canadian veteran Daphni played ‘Saat Samundar’ from Vishwatma (1992) during his Saturday night headlining slot at the Red Bull North Stage. Though it was done more subtly, we also heard a snatch of ‘Tamma Tamma Loge’ from Thanedaar (1990) at Mumbai-based producer Aqua Dominatrix’s audio-visual enhanced performance of his new dark techno EP Flesh at the BUDx South Stage.

After a point, the line-up doesn’t matter

Unlike most festivals, the organisers don’t put up the day-wise schedule on their website or social media pages ahead of or even during the event. The only place to find it is in the guidebook you can get at the reception area. When I asked why, the publicist told me that this is because Magnetic Fields is “a whole experience not dictated by schedules”. It’s a quizzical logic echoed by an attendee who I asked about the location of a stage who said that one shouldn’t bother with the time table and “go where you hear good music”. While this is a great sentiment, it somewhat defeats the purpose of marketing the festival based on its line-up, which is announced months in advance. This year, the star attractions included two genre-mashing British acts, Kamaal Williams and Nabihah Iqbal, both of who were no-shows. Williams cancelled at the last minute to the chagrin of the promoters and fans. But the disappointment was short lived, or at least didn’t seem to make much of an impact to the enjoyment of the proceedings, for we barely heard anybody crib.

The locals get involved

At most Indian music festivals, there’s a contrast in the demographic backgrounds of the attendees and those residing in the surrounding neighourhood. But it’s arguably sharper at Magnetic Fields than at city-based events such as Weekender, which has added Bollywood to its line-up in the last four years, and to an extent even at Sunburn, thanks to the growing popularity of electronic music of which they peddle the most commercial forms. The Prince of Alsisar appears to be aware of this, which is why this year he started a stage in the village where for a few hours on Saturday evening, the locals were treated to a performance by an array of Rajasthani folk music stars, including drummer Nathulal Solanki. This was not the only way the locals got involved with the festival. Some of them have been making the most of this annual influx of visitors by setting up the food stalls, which do brisk business through the course of the three-day shenanigans. (See things we confirmed)

Things we confirmed to be true or false

It’s got the nicest vibe

There is something magical about attending a festival in a palace. The venue is vast and you chance upon new areas and experiences as you explore the grounds and courtyards. Though each stage is sponsored by a brand, the presence of logos is minimal and tastefully restricted to the stages and bars. The aesthetic sensibility is extended to the lighting and visual backdrops, which are rich without being garish. Thanks to the large amount of space available and the general proclivity of people to saunter around during performances – you don’t need to “watch” a DJ the same way you do a band after all – the stages, the largest of which can accommodate up to 1,800 people, don’t feel claustrophobic even when packed. This is with the exception of the JioSaavn Sundowner, which is situated on a terrace and set up longitudinally. It got uncomfortably crowded during electronic music producer Sid Vashi’s set. For the most part though, there’s a relaxed, laid-back ambiance and perhaps because the festival is out of most college students’ budgets, we didn’t see anybody puke or passed out.

It’s a substance-fuelled modern-day equivalent of an old-school rave

This is perhaps the strongest rumour about Magnetic Fields and it’s easy to understand why. Indulging in 72 hours of constant partying, with only a short window for some R&R, might require some chemical assistance to get one through it all. While you see a fair amount of people wearing sunglasses at night (and not always in front of the stage to shield their eyes from the strobes), the festival has a ‘Zero tolerance to drugs’ policy. That said, from what we heard if not saw, it’s pretty much like every other music festival where a handful of merrymakers do manage to get contraband past the security guards who check wallets and cigarette packets. So it’s not like happy pills are being handed out like free M&Ms.

It’s super-expensive

This is obvious going just by the ticket prices. The festival pass itself was Rs 12,000 this year. As it takes places in a village, the only accommodation is on site, in a room inside the palace, sold at a royal Rs 46,000 per person, or in a tent on the adjacent campsite (though we did hear a few artists say there were staying at a hotel located a 40-minute drive away). A basic tent cost Rs 17,000 per person (which went down to Rs 13,450 if six people got one with three compartments) while the fancier Bedouin tents, which are en-suite, set you back Rs 24,500 for a two-person set-up and a little over Rs 19,000 for one that could accommodate three.

The combination of the pricing and the location of the festival results in it attracting a disproportionate number of a particular kind of “rich Delhi boy”, as a fellow journalist described them in a not-so-complimentary way. Indeed, on Friday night the ratio between men and women seemed surprisingly skewed though it normalised on Saturday. That Magnetic Fields is not a festival for those on a budget was again evident at the food and clothing stalls (a boutique brand was selling dresses for around Rs 50,000). The somewhat limited eating options included such popular Delhi establishments such as Elma’s and Fat Lulu’s and though most festival food is overpriced, we were taken aback to find a spot selling dal-chawal for Rs 350. Thankfully for freelancers like us, there was the khau gully in the lane between the campsite and the palace where enterprising locals had set up, as they do every year we were told, stalls peddling egg preparations, Maggi and chicken curry.

It’s hipster central

This is perhaps the second strongest association with the festival, and with good reason. The musical attractions included a pop-up jazz venue (the aforementioned Peacock Club) that also served as the site for Magnetic Words at which folks from creative industries gave informal TEDx-like talks about their lives and careers. Right outside was a bonfire-lit resting area run by the “emotional wellness partner” of the festival, the organisation Tatva. At the Magnetic Sanctuary, you could sign up for an aromatherapy consultation, acroyoga and sound healing sessions, and a three-hour slot marked simply as “quiet time”. Workshops included one where you could learn to make a suncatcher. But of course, there was a kombucha stall. Festival fashion, meanwhile, was a cornucopia of capes, feathered crowns and face paint. The most attention-seeking attire, we observed, came courtesy of international attendees, one of whom traded his tiger-print baby onesie for a gladiator skirt the next day.

Disclaimer: We attended the festival as guests of Budweiser India, which paid for our flights and accommodation for the event.

Updated Date: Dec 22, 2018 19:03 PM