Sunburn 2017: EDM fest still scores with the music, but new location presents problems

Aatish Nath

Jan,07 2017 09:46:55 IST

The thing about music festivals is there's a sense of diminishing returns over the course of the extravaganza. The unbearable traffic to get to the venue of the first day is untenable by day three (in the case of Sunburn this year, there was still another day to go) and the navigating of the heat, dust and crowds means that you long for a compact highlight reel, rather than four days of extended afternoon into night affairs.

In its 10th year, Sunburn, the first large-scale EDM music festival in India, has decamped from Goa for the equally sand-toned hills of Kesnand, on the outskirts of Pune. What the festival has learned in planning and organisation over the past decade is obvious — the facilities on top of the hill, from which you can look out at the lights of Pune are an achievement, especially considering the fact that the only way up the privately owned 90-acre property is via a one-lane road that zig-zags up the side of the growth. It's also what contributes to the aforementioned traffic — getting an average of xx people up to the venue daily, with a single access point is Herculean at the best of times, but doing so for four successive days might strike some as madness. The organisers are facing legal woes for supposedly leveling the top of the hill to put up the stage, but these regulatory hurdles did nothing to mar the enthusiasm for performers and the crowd alike.

The Sunburn grounds on the first day of the festival, before the crowds. All photos by Aatish Nath

The Sunburn grounds on the first day of the festival, before the crowds. All photos by Aatish Nath

Sponsor set-ups peppered the festival area, along with five stages, and numerous drinking pens (alcohol had to be consumed within designated areas, and could not be taken out to the festival proper). The Vinyl Ambulance, which started playing at Sunburn Goa last year, was part of the scene, as were an array of acts on stages that were dedicated to different types of music, or sponsored by brands like Gionee and Ray-Ban. Food and drink was easy to find, but expensive, with alcohol starting at Rs 350 for a beer or small vodka, and food starting at Rs 200.

As with any festival, the headliners were the best received with acts earlier in the day, especially on the smaller stages playing to a crowd that could be counted on one single hand. It's fair to say that the audience, which was supposed to be shuttled up said hill by Ola Cabs after parking on a field at ground level didn't anticipate the traffic and probably got delayed on their way to seeing their favourite acts.

Siana Catherine was the first person to play the Main Stage at the festival

Siana Catherine was the first person to play the Main Stage at the festival

When the first night ended after Armin Van Buuren’s energetic two hour long set (and an encore) almost all was forgiven. Transporting users to his customary state of trance, the Dutch artist peppered his set with everything from a remix of his Game of Thrones theme to Kygo’s ‘Firestone’ mash-up. The majority of his set consisted of tracks like ‘I Live For that Energy’, his anthem to celebrate 800 episodes of his A State of Trance radio show. Just preceding him was Dannic, the baby-faced 31-year-old Dutch DJ who sprinkled his set with a liberal mix of popular tracks — like Mike Posner’s ‘I Took a Pill in Ibiza’ and Icona Pop’s feat Charli XCX’s ‘I Love It’. Angerfist, a masked DJ who was supposed to play on day two ended up taking the main stage on day one, playing his customary serrated sound — featuring a series of drops that fracture into each other — for an aggressive onslaught that numbed the senses.

Day two featured a host of artists including stalwarts like Dimitri Vegas and Like Mike and Afrojack alongside newer talent like Lucas and Steven and Tom Swoon on the main stage. Swoon, a Polish 23-year-old was (to this reporter’s memory) the first international act to include a Hindi track in his set.

Dannic played a set heavy on popular songs on the Main Stage

Dannic played a set heavy on popular songs on the Main Stage

By the end of the second day though, a certain music fatigue had set in — with most DJ’s peppering their sets with current favourite songs that were played four to five times on any given day. The Chainsmoker’s featuring Halsey’s ‘Closer’, The Weeknd featuring Daft Punks’ ‘Starboy’ and DJ Snake’s ‘Let Me Love You’, which features Justin Bieber were just three of the songs that were overplayed — albeit with each DJ remixing the song in accordance with their style of music.

By day three, our last day of the festival, which saw Axwell Λ Ingrosso headlining, we were roaming the festival area checking out acts on the smaller stages, though Nucleya’s set on the main stage, with his thumping bass, horns and energy, were a highlight. The Ray-Ban rostrum closed with performances by the Finnish DJ Yotto and Swedish DJ Christian Smith, who played to a small but committed audience. While the former is signed to Anjunadeep, Above and Beyond’s London-based dance imprint and makes house music, the latter has his own label and radio show, and he originally made his name with techno music.

The production at the festival was world-class, with balloons, fireworks and more keeping attendees entertained

The production at the festival was world-class, with balloons, fireworks and more keeping attendees entertained

Armin Van Buuren addresses the crowd from the stage

Armin Van Buuren addresses the crowd from the stage

For revelers looking to bring in the New Year, Indian-American KSHMR was headlining on the last night that festival was on till 12.30am, as opposed to the 10 pm shut down of the previous three evenings. The last day also featured Anish Sood, Bassjackers, Sonic Species and more, the latter on a stage dedicated to Psy Trance.

Sunburn, as a property, is well known enough that it does not matter where in India it takes place. That said, the festival’s location this year, and its difficulty of accessibility (there were numerous stories of people walking up and down the hill on which it was perched, as there were no cars in sight), and teething problems like a lack of any alcohol on day one, marred an event that is for many festival goers as much about the experience as the music. While the names that the festival attracts was top-notch, if the move to Pune is a permanent one, more needs to be done to look after festival goers who have paid for tickets and made the trek out to the hills of Kesnand.

Updated Date: Jan 07, 2017 09:46 AM