Pandey Paan Masala presents: Notes from the Bacardi NH7 Weekender

Pandey Paan Masala presents: Notes from the Bacardi NH7 Weekender

By AKHIL SOOD | | 6 December, 2014
Lights, stage design, fireworks, confetti; everything had a distinctly pro feel. Photo: Nishant Matta

The Bacardi NH7 Weekender is a corporate festival. For starters, there's the name — a mandate is given out to all journalist-types writing about the festival to use the full name as often as humanly possible. Each stage is sponsored by some big name or the other. Maybe I was imagining things, but I even saw a bloody Mercedes SUV parked inside some improvised lounge next to the food area. The blatant eyesore advertising can get overwhelming at times (the UNTAMEABLE BACARDI SPIRIT) — more sponsors than an AA meeting (thanks and good night) — but is it necessarily a bad thing? My latent leftist tendencies say it is, but then the production values reflect the big money pumped into the festival. And without it, there would be no professional stage for indie bands to play on to thousands of people, no imported brand-name bands, no Mutemath with preplanned stage histrionics, no Skyharbor, no Vaccines, nothing. As much as we look at anything overtly capitalist with suspicion, this excess and grandeur is actually a good thing, and very important in the bigger picture. It's great that big companies are investing money in indie music. And for the crowd, the festival is legitimately a blast — there's an elaborate flea market, options to watch all kinds of bands (some even atop buses), festival apps, an obstacle course (?), loads of alcohol and food stalls, drones flying around clicking photos, jam spaces, competitions, a Ferris wheel too; it's a massive party, sort of like the famed Sundar Nagar Diwali Mela in New Delhi. 

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The number of stages was slashed — there wasn't even a stage for the Jamaicans and Rastafarians from Hauz Khas Village — as was the space the festival was spread across. That reduced the long, painful walks through the grounds, but I sort of miss last year's massive spread. Also, it seemed like the crowd was much smaller, especially after looking at photos from the Pune edition. It was a cold turnout (relatively), which begs the question: If audiences aren't showing up in big numbers for a festival of this sort — which has literally all kinds of music on show (Bollywood, comedy, metal, rock, electronic, folk, everything) plus all the endless frills — then what the hell are they going to show up for?

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Skyharbor — born in Sarita Vihar and now an international sensation spread across four continents (Delhi, Mumbai, North America, Europe) — headlined the rock stage on the first day and were quite possibly the highlight of the festival. They were plagued by sound problems at first, as the Wi-Fi available at the venue was interfering with the wireless systems the guitar players were using (chalk one up for technology, eh?). But that didn't affect the quality of the set much. (The same had happened with Fear Factory previously, but not being a fan, I couldn't tell through all the noise.)

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Skyharbor's vocalist, Daniel Tompkins, was blitzing through the set, hitting unimaginably complex notes with impeccable skill throughout. While his elaborate and often-theatrical delivery sometimes overpowers the music, and doesn't always work for me, Tompkins is without doubt a tremendously talented singer with great range. What's more, apparently he had been terribly ill with a completely destroyed throat, to the point where Skyharbor's gigs the previous two nights had been instrumental sets. For the Weekender, the man willingly got himself pumped with a couple of steroid shots just to be able to sing. Honesty and commitment to your craft are underrated attributes in rock 'n' roll, but that level of dedication to music is admirable, and it's only just that the crowd responded to the music with great enthusiasm.

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Chennai's pop-punk three-piece Skrat played an enjoyable, high-energy set. And their frontman had these moves where he would do frantic spins and jump around on stage without missing a note on his guitar. Either he's really good or it was all just too rehearsed.

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Nucleya was explosive as per usual. It's getting predictable — I can't think of a single set he's played that hasn't sent the crowds into a full-blown frenzy. I'm not that big a fan of dance music, but the vibe at the stage during his set was unmatched throughout. It helps that he's OG.

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There was a common festival merchandise stall, and the festival organisers were kind enough to also sell merch belonging to the bands playing. They were charging a princely commission of 20% on each sale, though, so bands decided to beef up the selling price of their stuff by 20% to offset the loss. So everybody wins. Except, of course, for the poor sod buying a band's CD or T-shirt.

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Until last year, the Weekender had glasses of whiskey, vodka and rum drinks available, as also these decadent buckets that hold eight drinks and mixers at a time, and get you obscenely hammered. This time, they introduced another novelty: the Mug, which settled somewhere between the glass and the bucket. One man, after finishing his big mug emblazoned with advertising, decided to chain that mug to the belt of his jeans on the first day. After that, every other person did the same — I saw a guy with eight mugs tied around his waist — and it became a badge of honour, like stripes on an army-man's uniform. Advertising pros, take note. Another guy finished his bucket, then duly plopped it upside-down on his head — and lo, a makeshift top-hat. Other unnecessary headgear included feathers, flowers, plastic flowers and monkey caps because jeans and sneakers just don't cut it anymore.

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What is it with the men of Delhi? When two people are walking toward each other from opposite directions, they're both supposed to move a little aside to make way; at least that's what I do. But the macho men at the festival, with their fuzzy forearms and pornstar-pecs refused outright. I must have been knocked over by a flailing manboob belonging to these testosterone-soaked rowdy-drunk sh*theads some eight times over two days.

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Many members of the bouncer army/security staff, looking super-sharp in their suits, were real pricks to the people. Then again, the people in the crowd, me included, were real putzes to the bouncers. It's a chicken-and-egg thing; in my case, they started it.

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There was no "specially-curated All-Star set" to close out the festival this year and the heavens rejoiced. No self-proclaimed A-listers playing famous covers in a self-congratulatory, self-proclaimed celebration of independent music. That alone made this festival fantastic.

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Where was that damn hot air balloon they had last year? Did it fly off to some faraway land? Or did the much-discussed Bollywood infiltration at the festival — I remember hearing a smashing version of Amit Trivedi's Emotional Atyachar while passing through one of the stages — fill up the hot air quota this year?

(Disclosure: This writer is part of the band Hoirong, which played at the festival.)

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