Chasing the Mirage – Ragasthan, Part One: Logistics

This post should be about something else.
It should be a post about the many musical acts – some brilliant and others less so – that graced the stages of Ragasthan. And that’s what it was supposed to be.

But then Ragasthan happened.

And now, the attendees seem to oscillate between judgments; was Ragasthan a miraculous accomplishment or an organizational disaster of epic proportions?

Yes. It was.

We can’t help but marvel at the sheer scale of what was accomplished in the Kanoi Dunes last weekend. Three massive stages with a full complement of screens and lights were fueled by deep, loud bass, and a high end that was crisp by any outdoor standards. And there was so much more; a cinema tent, five food locations, tents with bathrooms those with big budgets, and clean toilet facilities for those without. At 3:00 in the morning, standing on top of the dunes, watching the lights mingle with the bass, scrape the sand, and emanate towards the sky, it was hard not to be impressed.

But…

It would be easy to write a laundry list nitpicking every problem with the festival, but that wouldn’t serve any great purpose. The greatest faults seem to flow from an organization that’s learning as it goes. As long as it keeps learning, we’re willing to overlook a bit of stumbling.

But, since we know you want to know, here’s the abbreviated laundry list, with some good bits thrown in as well:

The Site:

The Kanoi Dunes are astonishing; an amazing festival venue. They provide a massive canvas with which to work. But just because one has a lot of space doesn’t mean one has to use it. In this massive festival site, every move felt like a trek. While it’s understandable to leave space between venues for noise reasons, the ancillary stages, food options, cinema tent, and bar setups ought have been more centrally located.

But by far our biggest beef with the site was the lack of any common area in which to spend the days. The blistering desert sun and unventilated canvas tents meant that shaded outdoor areas were crucial. They were also nonexistent. For those of lucky enough to stay in the luxury tents, it was possible to cram five or six people into the shade of the canvas “porch”. We don’t know how those in the Bring Your Own Tent (BYOT) section fared: We weren’t brave enough to step out during the afternoon hours.

The stages, on the other hand, were well put together. The lights and visuals were competent if not mindblowing, the stages had ample room and visibility, and the sound was good. The electronic stage merits special mention. Nested in a valley between dunes, it offered an ideal dance moonscape, presenting revelers with a tantalizing glimpse of what the festival may become in future years.

The Acommodations:

Despite the complaints of some of our friends from Juhu and Gurgaon (that’s for you, Sasha), the “Swiss” luxury tents were fantastic. The beds were comfortable, the porches were lifesaving, and the bathrooms were clean and comfortable.

The BYOT area was less welcoming. Despite the confusing acronym, punters shelled out the same number of Gandhis whether they brought their own tent or used those provided by the organizers. And although the provided tents served their purpose, the lack of any opening or window made the insides very hot, very early in the morning. When one passes out at 6:00 in the morning, one prefers to be able to sleep past 8:00.

Despite the organizer’s fine record on drinking water, washing water proved more of a challenge. A bank of perhaps a dozen tents seemed to have a smaller water tank than a standard Delhi flat, and outages were common. Power, too, was intermittent, a problem for artists trying to prep.

F&B:

The continental food was disastrous. The Indian was passable. Enough said.

On the festival’s first night, the organizers apparently hadn’t thought to put bars next to the stages. Purely from a revenue generation perspective, this seems a disastrous oversight. Moreover, upon trekking up and down dunes for ten minutes, we were instructed that we had to buy coupons from the festival centre, another 15 minutes away. All seven of us left that bar empty handed.

To their great credit, the organizers seem to have seen the folly of their ways. By day two, bars appeared at the stages and cash was accepted at most food and beverage locations.

Most importantly, drinking water was always in ample supply. The organizers had banned bottled water saying that water coolers would be liberally distributed throughout the festival site. They were. And to the organizers’ great credit, we did not stumble across an empty water cooler even once. This can quite literally be a question of life and death when you let hundreds of irresponsible party kids loose in the middle of the desert.

Programming:

The festival was divided into three main stages; rock, world, and electronic. Unsurprisingly, the Border Movement team spent most of its time at the third. We were not pleased by the schedule.

There were many good DJs, and we’ll discuss them in the second part of our review. But what the stage programmers seemed to misunderstand was the tribal mentality of dance music communities. Many trance fans don’t want to dance to breaks and many breaks fans don’t want to dance to techno, and nobody other than the trance kids ever wants to hear a second of psy if it can be avoided. But the Ragasthan electronic stage lacked this awareness. Drum and bass led into trance led into progressive house led into techno. As each DJ changed, so did the crowd, reducing the attendance at the stage. A more cogent programmer would have sequenced artists to create flow and progressive build. I suspect most of us ravers would have rather had one night on which we were happy to dance until dawn than three nights on which we were happy to dance for a two hour set.

Artist Relations:

A festival lives and dies by its artists. Its ability to attract talent is its only currency. By this metric, you might think that keeping its artists happy would be the number one priority of a new music festival.

The Ragasthanis, if the phrase can be forgiven, fucked this up. Badly.

A few thoughts from us to the organizers:

The artists are doing their job. Give them a place to rest. This means you don’t make them double up, four to a tent. Either you misled artists or you struggle with basic arithmetic. Neither is okay.

The artists also have places to go after the festival. This means you don’t send them off to train station with nothing but waitlisted tickets and a prayer.

Keep them clean, with charged equipment. This means backup tankers for water, and extra diesel for your generators. When you ran out, that was just bad planning.

If you send artists home without playing, it’s because you failed to schedule your slots properly. Advaitya may not be our style, but there were a lot of festivalgoers who came to see them. Nobody’s happy they didn’t play. The same goes for the artists who were promised two-hour slots and saw them cut in half.

The primary problem with Ragasthan was the organizers’ desire to start at full power. The festival they threw this year should have been the festival of three years from now, after Ragasthan had the opportunity to learn and to grow.

But the organizers showed promise, improving the festivalgoer experience each day. It is this responsiveness that makes us reserve judgment. If all of the right lessons are learned, next year could produce the best music festival ever to hit the subcontinent. If none of them are, we’re unlikely to return for year three.

We came in search of the kind of transcendental dance floor experience, awash in the singular multitude of the crowd, that deep bass, open sky, and outspread dunes ought to deliver. The kind of dance floor experience for which we – and many of our readers – have spent much of our lives searching. We left a bit disappointed. But we can’t stop thinking about how close we got.

See you all next year.

written by Kerry Harwin

NEWS - 26. November 2012  

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