NH7 Weekender Pune 2019, featuring more Indian acts than international, trudges on despite allegations against OML

Anurag Tagat

Dec 08, 2019 09:48:54 IST

Just before Day Two headliners, progressive rock/metal band Opeth got on stage at the Bacardi Arena at NH7 Weekender, a public service announcement went up on the large LED screens – about how to treat female festival attendees, with dos and don’ts.

These announcements have been around for a few years now, but can probably be viewed in a different light in the last year. Late 2018 saw several employees of the music festival’s parent company Only Much Louder accused of sexual misconduct and creating an unsafe work environment for women, including former festival director Vijay Nair. While the OML co-founder was recently discovered to be working for the Aam Admi Party in Delhi, Bacardi NH7 Weekender’s 2018 edition featured two artists withdrawing from the lineup – electronic artist Disco Puppet and hip-hop label Azadi Records.

 NH7 Weekender Pune 2019, featuring more Indian acts than international, trudges on despite allegations against OML

Bacardi NH7 Weekender 2019 Pune highlights. Photo credit: Agniprava Nath.

2019 marked a decade of Bacardi NH7 Weekender, which has for long been at the front of promoting a culture of music festivals in India, branching out from its flagship Pune edition to travel all across India. This year, despite the heavy reliance on Indian artists more than international ones (which led to complaints from “top fans” on their Facebook page during the lineup announcement), the programming team breathed easy by the end of 29 November (Day One) when it was announced that tickets were sold out for the entire festival.

When you have over 20,000 people attending your festival, the artists, promoters and management agencies invited to the festival are arguably swayed by numbers more than anything else, such as the behind-the-scenes sexist work culture OML has been accused of giving a free pass to. Artists we spoke to, on the condition of anonymity, varied in their responses about why they continue to perform at Weekender. Some sought assurances from the team, others felt that no other festival sees 200-300 attendees even when you’ve got the opening 3:30 or 4 pm slot under the sun, which is an audience they don’t even see at club gigs. One artist brought up the varying degrees of sexual offences, opining that there’s greys in terms of how the festival should be treated.

Bacardi NH7 Weekender 2019 Pune highlights. Photo credit: The Clique Photography.

Bacardi NH7 Weekender 2019 Pune highlights. Photo credit: The Clique Photography.

Without a doubt, Bacardi NH7 Weekender operated like it had nothing to lose – if there were any specific amends they were making, it could also be seen as a general festival addition. Like an LGBTQIA+ tent for people who wanted a safe space, which was also being promoted by trans people holding placards educating people about the tent and LGBTQIA+ rights. Stage production became less busy and leaned more on massive LED panels which made for quite a photogenic sight regardless of who was on stage – R&B/Carnatic/pop artist Sid Sriram and his band on Day One, Opeth on Day Two or Israeli electronic trio Garden City Movement on Day Three at the Bacardi Arena.

LGBTQIA+ TENT. Photo credit: The Clique Photography.

LGBTQIA+ tent. Photo credit: The Clique Photography.

The likes of Bhayanak Maut (at the Bacardi Arena), The Wadalis (at the Doers Club) and Swadesi (Breezer Vivid stage) all used visuals exceptionally, to keep the audience hooked. Over at the smaller stages like Casa Bacardi and the Gaana stage, people were more likely swayed by the powerful music more than anything else. Malayalam folk-fusion artist Job Kurian was exceptional at the Gaana stage, while the Casa Bacardi staged moved from dreampop by Black Letters to ballads from pop singer Arunaja, flawlessly brutal death metal from Gutslit and one of the year’s biggest electronica artists Lifafa. Plus, a surprisingly loud and brash set from London grime-punk trio Pengshui. Their set on Day Two was a sort of detour from the metal-leaning proceedings of the day, including crushing sets from Nepal metallers Underside and the return of thrash/death metallers Devoid after four years.

Other noteworthy performances at the festival included Bengaluru-based rapper HanuMankind’s banging live set, laced with his impeccable flow, New Delhi’s instrumental rock band Submarine In Space, with their genre-hopping, in-the-pocket rhythms, plus American hip-hop label Dreamville’s showcase featuring rap acts like Cozz and Earthgang. There was an unconventional but stimulating performance of Sandunes’ piano-centric set titled ‘Hand of Thought’, while up-and-coming artists like Aarifah, Water and Rum, Azamaan Hoyvoy and JBabe made their mark with early sets. Afrobeat band Kokoroko, also a big draw in a sense at the festival, set a different, feet-shuffling mood, while Irish rock band Kodaline headlined Day One’s proceedings with emotive, arena-sized tunes.

Bacardi NH7 Weekender 2019 Pune highlights. Photo credit: The Clique Photography.

Bacardi NH7 Weekender 2019 Pune highlights. Photo credit: The Clique Photography.

A decade on, Bacardi NH7 Weekender trudges on despite all the cracks in the armor. Maybe there are more concerns behind the scenes and in music industry circles – about finances, logistics and ethics – but the festival clearly doesn’t look like it can be stopped any time soon.

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Updated Date: Dec 08, 2019 11:14:07 IST