Music festivals are mushrooming across India, and not just in the metros: What's driving the trend?

Ruchika Kher

Jan,22 2017 09:54:17 IST

“If music be the food of love, play on.” — William Shakespeare

It was not too long ago that only a handful of music festivals were organised in India. There was Sunburn, and then the NH7 Weekender — the go-to events on every music lover's list. Cut to today, when people are absolutely spoilt for choice.

Almost every part of India, today, boasts of a music festival. This weekend, Alibaug got a dose of foot-tapping sounds with Nariyal Paani (21-22 January). Apart from that, the year will witness impressive line-ups at the Ranthambore Festival (Chittorgarh), Goat Festival (Goa), Ziro Festival of Music (Ziro Valley), Riders Music Festival (Delhi), Goa Sunsplash (Goa), Lights Music Festival (Mumbai), Go:MADras (Mahabalipuram), When Mountains Call (Manali), The Lost Party, and Mad Decent Block Party (Mumbai, Hyderabad and Delhi), Ragasthan (Jaisalmer), Jodhpur RIFF (Jodhpur), Storm (Bengaluru), Escape (Naukuchiatal), Kasauli Rhythm and Blues fest (Kasauli), Gulmarg Winter Fest (Gulmarg), Mojo Rising (Kochi), World Sufi Spririt Festival (Nagaur), and Parvati Peaking Festival (Parvati Valley), among others.

These events are spread across the country, and as is evident, not restricted to the metros anymore.

Major Lazer at the Mad Decent Block Party in Bengaluru last year

Major Lazer at the Mad Decent Block Party in Bengaluru last year

So, what lead to this mushrooming of music festivals in India?

“Music festivals have been trending globally for a while, becoming increasingly popular. India is very much a part of this trend cycle now,” says Sarah Chawla, founder Wild City, one of the partners of Magnetic Fields, an experiential music festival that is held in the month of December in Rajasthan’s Alsisar.

On the other hand, Ashutosh Pande, programme director of the upcoming Ranthambore Festival (an event that has a strong focus on nature conservation), feels that over the past five years, India has turned into Europe in terms of destination music and cultural festivals. “I think this is a great sign and it helps people discover amazing destinations in India. It also gives the people in big metros a stronger reason to take time out of their packed schedules and plan a weekend trip filled with beautiful experiences,” he says.

According to Raj Desai, one of the partners of The Lost Party, a multi-genre festival that takes place in Lonavala, in February, a financially stable and more explorative young generation is spearheading a cultural revolution of sorts, and “festivals are a great way to explore this sentiment”.

Mikhail Mehra, founder Oji, organiser of the international travelling festival Mad Decent Block Party in India, says it doesn’t take much to create a music festival. “You throw enough money at it and boom you have a festival. It’s like a movie; if you have enough money, you can make one, doesn’t mean that it’s going to be good, and people are going to show up to see it,” he adds.

While these events are open for all, they are usually targeted towards young professionals between the age group of 25 to 35 years.

An impromptu jam session at the Magnetic Fields Festival last year. Photo credit: Parizad D

An impromptu jam session at the Magnetic Fields Festival last year. Photo credit: Parizad D

While their numbers are increasing, it is not a cakewalk to organise a music festival. This is what makes their proliferation even more surprising.

While some say logistical and statutory problems are always present in a country like India, others feel that the guest-list culture creates issues. “People somehow are under the impression that festivals make a lot of money. This is not always true, specially not in the formative years of a festival. We spend a lot of money and manhours to build this, and present a unique experience to the audience. It's not only petty but also unfair to not even pay the meagre entry amount for an experience,” says Desai. In addition to that, bureaucracy, high tax rates and “archaic practices across the private and public sectors” create roadblocks.

Even the selection and finalisation of the artistes require a lot of effort and time. Different festivals have different favourites, and international artistes are a must. Most festivals, both big and small, aim to add the global touch to their event, and hence, make sure to have at least a few international names on their line-ups. “The market does respond a lot more to international names, but there’s also a niche audience that responds better to the kind of music you play rather than the names you have on the roster,” confirms Desai.

Canadian MC and spoken word artist Humble The Poet at Magnetic Fields. Photo credit: Monish Bhatt

Canadian MC and spoken word artist Humble The Poet at Magnetic Fields. Photo credit: Monish Bhatt

However, in spite of the obstacles, most organisers feel that there is a long way to go before music festivals reach a saturation point in the country.

“There is a huge potential for boutique festivals around art, music, and culture in India,” says Pande. Desai echoes a similar stance, saying that the market in India is growing constantly. “There is something for each and every one here. The only ones who might be impacted will be festivals who don't keep up with the ever-changing tastes of young India,” he adds.

Chawla, on the other hand, has a slightly different view. She believes that like most things, music festivals will, too, reach a point when they will lose their steam. “Till then, I hope this trend brings more quality events, music, and supports the growth of the Indian creative community,” she says.

Not just music, many such festivals are also turning into experiential platforms, where they not only offer popular musical acts to people, but also other activities such as yoga and mediations camps, workshops, drum circles, interactive cookouts, and more.

But what about competition? Isn’t survival tough with the number of music festivals increasing with every passing year? “It’s important that there are other festivals on the market. Competition is healthy. Complacency kills creativity,” Chawla counters.

At the same time, for some, competition is just a word that should be shoved under the carpet. “Our biggest competition has and will always be ourselves. The moment I look back and feel like we haven’t stuck to our core values, is the moment I pack it all in, and become a hermit,” says Mehra.

Desai, too, says that it's a limited but expanding market now. He assures us: “Audiences sample all kinds of festivals.”

Music is the winner

An increase in the number of music festivals has also promoted the cause of indie musicians. The indie music sceene has received an impetus as these events serve as platforms for artistes playing non-film music.

Srikanth Unni, a 24-year-old advertising professional who is a regular at several music festivals, says these events serve as great educators of what is happening in the Indian underground music scene. “Every time I attend a music festival, I get to know of at least one great band I haven’t heard of before. I love the fact that I get exposed to great alternate music through these events. It was at one such festival that I was introduced to the music of Peter Cat Recording Co," Unni says. "I have been religiously following their music since then."

Updated Date: Jan 22, 2017 09:54 AM