NH7 Weekender Pune – Review
I can’t help but feel a little strange that this year’s NH7 Weekender snags nowhere in my memory. Plastered between embarrassing patches of sobriety, Weekender 2011 truly was happy in every way – fabulous phantom lapses intimately trailed last year’s fest to leave me feeling a warmth and fuzz well beyond its three day duration.
But it’s 2012, and I remember everything about this one.
What’s disappointing, really, is that there’s not much to take the place of those lapses. There was no impromptu secret set this time, no stretching of curfews just a little bit until the headliners petered into an afterglow. There was walking. A lot of walking. And if you were at the fest, this would have been your least concern as you navigated a frustrating mesh of bungling administration and schoolmarm security.
Comparisons to previous versions of the festival are inevitable, and it wouldn’t be a stretch to suggest that the weight of expectation off an entire demographic inundated this Weekender from the beginning. We’d been pampered into presuming fun would be an essential byproduct of a world-class festival, when fun panned out to be just another thing to put a solid effort into getting or having, like everything else at Amanora Park, the festival’s location over those three days.
The ‘indie’ supremacist torch was bound to burn the hand that held it eventually – it’s just that nobody knew this would be the year.
That doesn’t go to say that Weekender 2012 was a complete waste. For one thing, it happened. And there was music. And that music was good.
Which is why, to be objective and elucidate fairly, I’m going to judge the festival on the basis of two parameters: the quality of performances and artists (arguably the primary criterion to take into account here) and the festival as an experience in itself (which has more to do with organisation than anything else). Of course, certain areas overlap and directly affect each other.
The Music: Grade B+
Despite all complaints of the more famous artists favouring the shorter Delhi counterpart, there’s no doubt that the Pune version of the Weekender boasted a far more kinetic and diverse line-up than most music festivals in India have singlehandedly pulled off with any amount of aplomb. Sound travelled, but the stages were spaced well and although genres oftentimes clashed while walking across the venue or in the market, there was no interference once you slipped into the demarcated areas.
The audio was, for the most part, consistently slick, particularly across all three days at the Dub Station and the Wolves’ Den. The Dewarists stage, unfortunately, stuttered in jarring highs, something that didn’t sound completely remedied right until Seun Kuti and the Egypt 80 headlined the third day. There were no gaping mistakes I noticed otherwise, really, and the occasional aural fuck up (re: the surprisingly fresh Vir Das’ Alien Chutney show) is, I assume, to be expected.
On Day 1, the artists played as ‘NH7: The Future’ did a fun crowd-pleasing set complete with covers of Florence and the Machine. You found a large part of the attendees, unsurprisingly, at Talvin Singh and Jahcoozi – the two standout performances that evening. Feted Mercury Award winner Talvin Singh staggered slightly at the tabla before he found sure footing, the set building slowly and only truly organic when the electronica kicked in. It was all smooth sailing after, though, Singh completing a well-received set a in spite of the infamous eccentric quick exit rumours.
I have always disliked Swarathma’s half-hearted desi jam aesthetic and giving them yet another chance was, in retrospect, a mistake. Jahcoozi was, however, by itself (as the expression goes) worth the price of admission. A thin rain served only to dampen people physically. The frontlady , Sasha, launched into a massive attack of sheer infectious energy, electro-funking everything. My personal pick was a sleek and driven ‘BLN’. The set stopped short as the sound was gradually snuffed mid-action citing the strict police curfew (more on that later).
Day 2 had indie wunderkind Kishore Krishna (Adam & the Fish-Eyed Poets) play a far more refined set than the last time Pune saw him perform, when he’d only just begun to tour. Big Scary were very tight, but in their haste to avoid a White Stripes comparison they seem to have embraced pretty much everything else.
Africa missives Buraka Som Sistema began with their cult smash Hangover, unflaggingly raunchy for over an hour at one of the happiest shows the festival saw and definitely the highlight of the evening, dancing shoes treading dancing shoes.
The final day of the Weekender was, musically, my favourite. In Thermal and a Quarter I see a bit of the Grateful Dead – they play some steady rock ‘n roll to their same dedicated campus fan base, year after year. Peter Cat Recording Co. spread their gypsy-laced sensibilities further south. Vir Das’ Alien Chutney was hilarious and stuck through until the end despite some curious and uncharacteristic equipment issues. Jinja Safari’s professional hippie attitude, more like a stripped down, earthy Animal Collective than anything, suffered greatly for want of better sound on the Dewarists stage. Michal Menert (of, they’d have you know, Pretty Lights Music), I am told, played a wonderful ambient set and was topped off neatly by BLOT!’s 3D experience showcasing a Jahcoozi collaboration.
photo by www.nh7.in
Seun Kuti and his father’s band, the Egypt 80, were pretty much, at least for me, the performance of the year. Seun Kuti is a terribly cool cat, a man who brings the party with him and takes it away when he leaves. Over frenzied love affairs with the microphone, his late father’s songs and enigmatic African chorus-girls, he finally managed to tell us above the rushing tide of his many-piece band that ‘this is my political argument for marijuana’. The Dewarists stage had turned host to Pune’s hippest carnival, and all there was to do was listen to a mostly instrumental first half that was the best damn political argument for marijuana anyone ever heard. Over the raucous cheer of a gigantic pool of people, he led us in endearing Pigeon English to afro-chants of how Igbo never did anyone harm and ‘fuck it, I’m smokin’ mahn!’ until it built to a crescendo transliteration of the term ‘plant and let it grow’.
There was a lot to take home from the audio set up and the general quality of artists the festival displayed, although it lacked slightly in comparison to a now-benchmark Weekender 2011.
photo by www.nh7.in
The Organisation: Grade C
At best, this year’s Weekender, as an experience, was shoddy. The festival left a bitter aftertaste in most mouths, and lost a lot of credibility as it was plagued by problems that seemed, admittedly, slightly beyond its control. The now-infamous fiasco of the clash between the police and OML mere weeks ago at the very same venue apparently led to the police coming down harshly on the Weekender this year, looking for the slightest excuse to cause it difficulty.
Overheard off an artist: “Anyone who brings Enrique Iglesias down deserves what they get.” Very harsh.
photo by www.facebook.com/nh7.in
This, in turn, led to stricter security and more restrictions on the proceedings. It’s a bona-fide excuse, not least because everyone who attends a cultural festival like the Weekender is sympathetic to the plight of the organiser, especially in this city. Problem is, there’s a line between being strict and being a thug, and ninety percent of the security at the venue crossed it right on the first day. From near violation at the security check to the arbitrary confiscation of harmless paraphernalia (condoms, medicines) to long cattle lines for entry and sheer rudeness in general, I felt more like I was an Arab in America than anything else. It was only if you were above 25 years of age that you got to drink – in demarcated cattle sheds inside the venue. This generally reduced the consumption of alcohol to about as much fun as drinking at a liver disease awareness fund raiser. To add insult to injury, people as old as thirty were told their white bands were ‘too loose’ and promptly had them removed, regardless of the presentation of any proof of age. Attendees my mother’s age were refused alcohol bands for lack of age proof. The atmosphere in general seemed more hostile than anything else.
For a while, the alcohol consumption shifted to the parking lot (which was a long trudge from the actual festival, so you’d be sober again by the time you got to a stage anyway), but this bud was quickly nipped as even people legally allowed to consume low alcoholic beverages (21+) were denied re-entry if they smelled of alcohol. It felt more like retuning to school than anything else. If you were found drinking in the parking lot (which should actually be none of the festival’s concern), your precious wristband was snipped and you were banned from re-entering the festival with no refund given. And really, it can’t be stressed enough how FAR everything was and how unhelpful the staff was when it came to information. Reportedly, sniffer dogs were let loose in the parking lots.
The volunteers were generally extremely confused as to whether a 21 year old got through on an Under 21 pass, which led to a lot of people angered simply because they had a bad variation of the rule.
The concert also ended very early, and on the second day, when I tried to re-enter the venue at 9:30 PM, I was stopped because the festival was apparently over. For forty minutes I was, agonizingly, subjected to having to hear the strains of Roysten Abel’s Manganiyar Seduction float through while I was forced to stand outside.
Although this can’t be blamed on the organisation, there was absolutely no mobile phone range inside the venue. All meetings were purely circumstantial and meeting with friends ‘later’ was a myth. This was particularly grating at a three-day music festival. Perhaps if it was another festival, we would have chalked up the miserable time to inexperience. But OML really had no excuse.
I hope the Bangalore version makes me feel less like a fifteen year old.
written by Tej Haldule