Sixty bands, six stages, 16,000 fans. At the Bacardi NH7 Weekender festival, Asif Khan sees each indie music star shine in the constellation
SORRY BOSS, not interested.” Rohan Kulshrestha, 29, smiles wryly into his phone. He’s the bassist of Peter Cat Recording Co (PCRC), a Delhi band with a reputation for their experimental sound. As their most vocal member, Rohan manages publicity and communications. It doesn’t help that their name can be confused for a sound studio’s. Rohan often has to field calls from people who find them through the yellow pages — this one from a proud father looking for a break for his daughter. Alternative and independent music remain unacknowledged and underpromoted, and PCRC know they have to fend for themselves. But right now they are backstage at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender music festival and the fans are waiting. In its third year, the fest has expanded to include two-day versions in Delhi and Bengaluru, while retaining the full three-day flavour in its birthplace, Pune. Its growth, Sunburn’s expansion beyond Goa and Ziro Music Festival’s premiere in Arunachal have folks in the know dubbing 2012 the year of the music festival, heralding hope that alternative in India isn’t equated with amateur.
The organisers chose the Buddh International Circuit, the Formula One venue in Greater Noida, for the Delhi chapter (13-14 October). It is, as PCRC frontman Suryakant Sawhney, 25, says, “in the middle of the post-apocalyptic nowhere”. Still, he acknowledges, it might have been an inspired choice: “There is nothing in close proximity, so the people who turned up must be true music lovers”. Despite the isolated venue, official tallies showed an impressive turnout of 16,000 over the two days.
‘The Bengaluru and Delhi indie line-ups could have been swapped to up the ante,’ says PCRC
PCRC played on the Fully Fantastic Stage, named in tribute to the late Amit Saigal, founder of Rock Street Journal, and the father figure of Indian independent music (‘fully fantastic’ was his favourite phrase). Alongside PCRC, it featured Delhi altrockers Menwhopause, “posto” punk Bangla rap group Gandu Circus, Mumbai based alternative hiphop-rock act Bombay Bassment, and the electro-dance-rock band Shaa’ir+ Func. Stages were largely genre specific. The Dewarists Stage had folk and world music, headlined by Anoushka Shankar; the Wolves Den was a haven of electronic music lead by German house and techno duo Kaiserdisco; Dub Station had Reggae Rajahs doing a stellar job as the DJs. The grandest act was festival headliner Megadeth at the Black Rock Arena, propped up by the biggest names in Indian metal and rock.
Starting their set around 5pm, PCRC began in a slow, mood-setting tempo. As the crowd built up, low decibel cheers were heard. Midway, and feet were moving to the beat. The crowd radiated happiness, varying degrees of which were seen on both days — a three-year-old running in circles at the Dub Station, the metalhead rushing to the Rock Arena as Megadeth soundchecked, the guy jiving to Indian Ocean’s Bandehat The Dewarists Stage, and the tranced out folks dancing to Karsh Kale’s trippy set. That, right there, was a marker of the festival’s success. In the months preceding it, Vijay Nair and the Only Much Louder team had publicised the Weekender as India’s happiest music festival. As a campaign claim, that’s hard to live up to, especially on the heels of Delhi’s Metallica fiasco last year. But the joy and excitement doing the rounds at Buddh were organic and infectious. The ‘something for everyone’ credo — over 60 bands performing across six stages — made the festival an eclectic, an essential experience. Many things could have put off an intoxicated crowd — the distance, the dusty venue. But a desert off the Greater Noida highway was transformed into a carnival, with colourful banners fluttering in the wind, saluting those in the pursuit of good music. PCRC described it as “the best organised festival we’ve played at”. With sundown, the lights came on, cigarettes lit up like fireflies at dusk and everyone was transported to their favourite manufactured memory of the great global festivals.