Akhil Sood tries to understand the role of live music at a festival.
It’s all just a big show, isn’t it? The frontman of Malaysia’s bubblegum punk/pop band An Honest Mistake was a bit of a natural-born superhero. The entire band had choreographed jumps that look incredible from afar, and they were very animated on stage. But the vocalist was a different league. He had this one move mastered, where he’d jerk his body with such force and precision that his guitar, hanging precariously off his shoulder, would spin around him and return to its starting position in a matter of micro-seconds. Then he’d start running around the stage, jumping manically, and doing 360 spins. The crowd loved it; finally, there was some injection of energy, manufactured as it may have been, to the second edition of the Vans New Wave Musicfest. By all accounts, the indie music festival, held last year at the Xtreme Sports Bar in some absurd corner of Bangalore from December 25-27, should have been a grand success. It is, after all, Sunburn for punks and poor people. (But of course no one showed up.)
An Honest Mistake’s set had plenty of energy to accompany their bubblegummy sound
Let’s see then: What are the essential requirements for a music festival to exist (forget success)? It’s a never-ending catalogue of frills, and that’s it. Naturally, you do also need music, but only on a technicality. The music is purely incidental, an occupational hazard of running or visiting a festival. It has no real value. Rock ‘n’ roll is a phony spectacle — white noise to fill up the background during rare moments of introspection — meant only for superficial consumption, like performances at a circus that you point and laugh at, in between the cotton candy buzz. It’s live entertainment accompanying the carnivalesque shenanigans, the equivalent of the loud-speaker belting out Bollywood hits at a Diwali Mela.
Instead, what takes precedence is the big gaudy swanky frivolous featherbrained hoopla: with sporadic network reception, passive-aggressive fashionista posturing, and selfie-sticks getting in the frame of photos being taken via other selfie-sticks.
From an outsider’s perspective, any festival checklist would have to include those big, blazing, roving laser lights that literally no one can stand — they pinch the eyes periodically, forcing you to constantly keep moving; the heat those things emit contributes directly to global warming; and they smell. Their only purpose is to make photographs look cool, so that festival sponsors can clink their crystal glasses filled with duty-free single malt at a job well done, and fund the festival again next year. (Plus can you even imagine how much photographers would whine if you removed them?) So they stay.
ViceVersa’s entertaining act got the crowd going
You need those big smoke machines because, you know, when you’re watching a band, you want to not be able to see them. They should be a cloudy haze of artificial smoke and artificial light (playing artificial music). You need alcohol — no shit, because how else will anyone ever have any fun? And you need food to line the stomach for said alcohol. There has to be a ‘flea market’, with stalls selling merchandise, ‘ironic’ T-shirts, kitschy keychains, cuff links, flower hairbands, purple-coloured belt-buckles. You need an atmosphere of festivity, with just the right amount of Danger and Edge in the mix. The bigger, the badder, the wackier, the most ridiculous… the better.
Beyond the two performance stages, the festival also had a little jam space for visitors
New Wave went a step further, hosting the festival at a sports bar with an extended ‘play area’. The place had pool tables, shooting ranges, archery ranges, video games, each with a neat little printout on the wall warning customers that SHARING IS NOT ALLOWED (as if a reminder of the basic human instinct of selfishness was ever needed). Two artificial rock-climbing walls and a skatepark surrounded the main stage, which itself was set up at the basketball court. A small football field next to the court even witnessed an impromptu game under floodlights, complete with diving and everything. The second stage, the Electro Pop Stage, was indoor, on the first floor at the bar.
Sapta’s stage set up was futuristic and expensive looking. They also ended with the longest ever ‘thank you’ speech in recording history
It being a pretty specific kind of a festival, the music is usually niche and underground, so you can’t expect the world. That said, the first edition of the festival, held in 2014, had this peculiar charm to it. The Danger and Edge I speak of didn’t seem contrived or synthetic. The posturing was restrained, if not entirely absent. And while it was held in Goa, it was also held on a hill in Goa, far away from the state’s notoriously uncivilised civilisation — the season-time-travelers, the junkies, the partyhounds — that rears its head in the winter months. In fact, the hundreds of people attending the 2014 version of New Wave didn’t even know Goa had hills until then.
So 2015’s edition in Bangalore did actually promise plenty, hence the reason I was there. That and the fact that, like the year before, the band that I’m a part of, the world-famous-in-India punk outfit Hoirong, was slated to play. We witnessed a grand turnout of some 30 roaring fans this time. And, without boasting, that number was on the higher side compared to what some of the other artists had to bare their souls in front. Your Chin, the electronic side project of the Sky Rabbit vocalist where he sings live to a backing track and plays Candy Crush Soda Saga on his iPad, saw some 15 people at best; Bombay’s Nicholson, whose striking vocal delivery and thoughtful compositions have caught the imagination of many a hipster, also got a similarly tepid response. Same with Aqua Dominatrix, the preppy electronic solo project started by the guitar player of Scribe and Pangea. Even Bangalore’s own Hindi Sufi rock sensations, Parvaaz, got middling double-digit attendance. Apparently, ViceVersa’s set had well over 40 people, which had to have been some kind of record for the festival. Bands tried their best to get people going, from An Honest Mistake’s trickeries to game, if overenthusiastic, efforts by Fuzz Culture, to differing results.
Love x Stereo closed out the festival, and the vocalist’s delivery earned her many new fans
At the risk of resorting to vague abstractions, the festival didn’t quite have the same heart as it did in its first year. It’s still a very new and raw property, so dismissing it outright would naturally be not just unfair but also incorrect. Who knows where it’ll go from here. But it raises a larger question going beyond just New Wave: What the hell works? Do we blame anyone — maybe it was inadequate marketing, or that the place was far, or Bangalore weather was for once its life just average, or there was no alcohol till 6 PM because of some Karnataka dry day thing, or the artists programmed weren’t big enough brand names, or it was just bad vaastu that caused it — or do we just realise the hollowness of it, count our losses, understand the grown-up concept that not everything has to have some great meaning attached to it, and move on?
By Akhil Sood
Photography by: Fahama Sawant