I will travel for music.
Not only is it a great way to see new places and meet new people, but experiencing music you love and discovering new sounds is something I highly recommend. Far from the days when we could only pine for music festivals to be held in India, we’ve come a long way, with a multitude of Indian music festivals putting themselves on the map. Of course, there are the commercial ones targeted at the masses, engineered to churn out money like machines, but there are also those beautifully curated, smaller scale ones that renew my faith in the industry. Of the latter, the ‘Emerge Music & Arts Festival’ caught my eye mostly because of it’s lineup – Alt-J (an English indie rock band) and Rudimental (they are a quartet with a blend of live instrumental and electronic music), two of the best acts (in my opinion) to come out of the UK in the past couple of years and definitely not what I expected to see on an Indian music festival lineup, let alone together! With feverish excitement, I booked my tickets to the Bangalore edition of the festival (Emerge is a bi-city festival, which was to be held in Delhi and Bangalore).
Through some further digging, I was slightly disappointed to find out that Rudimental would only be playing a DJ set. I also came across this article, which really piqued my interest in Emerge: ’10 Things to look forward to at the Emerge Music and Arts Festival’. Here’s the opening quote:
“With the inaugural edition of the Emerge Music And Arts Festival just around the corner, there’s plenty to look out for. From exceptional stage curation and installations to some super-talented supporting acts that you might have overlooked, there’s much more to this festival than what meets the eye.”
Here’s another excerpt from the bookings page:
“Come with an open mind and emerge:
– Besides music, look out for stunning art installations, live art, sculptures and art by fresh and
sometimes twisted artists from your city and across India.
The one-day festival in Bengaluru and Delhi each will feature top class international music and live size art installations by Indian contemporary artistes. The festival will have the best of Indian and international gourmet cuisine as well as a flea market containing hip and edgy fashion and art like never witnessed before!”
I had purchased a ‘VIP’ ticket SOLELY because I was planning on going for the festival by myself, and I did not look forward to being squashed in a huge crowd of people. This usually entails a section near the stage with a ‘VIP’ bar and food counter, a better place from which to view the stage, etc. It was also mentioned on the bookings page (which has since disappeared, since the event is over) that there would be a special ‘VIP’ entrance to the festival.
In spite of the rain, which was nobody’s fault – we were all just really grateful that the show wasn’t cancelled (sorry, Delhi peeps). On the plus side, the visuals for the show were superb (holla, Wolves visuals!) and a couple of my friends covering the event (the fancypants boys at Shotgun Media) and working backstage worked really hard in their respective departments. The opening acts – Daniel Waples and Petebox, were just stellar. Parvaaz was a little out-of-place and most of the audience looked really bored, to be honest. I’m a massive Rudimental fan, and Alt-J’s set was stellar, despite the circumstances.
Let me also be clear that I have attended several music festivals and concerts, both in India and abroad, so my opinion comes from a broader viewpoint than just having attended India’s most commercial music festivals (cough, cough). I’ve been lucky enough to have worked with one of the best music venues in India for nearly 3 years, with amazing Indian and International musicians, so I know exactly how much blood, sweat and tears goes into putting on a live show, no matter how big or small the scale. It’s honestly the best feeling in the world – to know that something you’ve worked so hard at has turned out successful and that people had a good time. That is why I have written this article – out of sheer disappointment with regards to the organisation and production behind Emerge, because in spite of it being a first-edition festival with teething issues, this was just a mess.
In response to the promotions and hype around Emerge, this is my experience after having attended the Emerge Music and Arts festival at Bhartiya City grounds in Bangalore.
- Entry was disorganised. After traveling almost an hour to get there, and exchanging my booking slip for a ticket and wristband, I proceeded to the ‘VIP’ line at the entrance. There was not a proportional number of security booths to pat down and check all of us – there were two booths to three lines of people. We were also kept waiting for almost an hour in line (Gates were to open at 4, they opened by 5). I have to add that the staff was also extremely rude to everyone. The whole ‘VIP’ line was redundant because we had to merge with the other lines to go through security.
- There was no ‘flea market’. The stalls in question were: one stall selling bongs and other paraphernalia, a hipster tee shirt stall, a hair styling stall in addition to two promoter stalls – one for Vivo (the headline sponsor) and Cupick, (the art curators) who had a handful of unofficial t-shirts on sale and some posters (which admittedly, were the two things I bought) and were unfortunately even more than under-prapared. There were two food stalls as well, but I didn’t get to check them out.
- THERE WAS NO ART. And by art, I mean the promised, “stunning art installations, live art, sculptures and art by fresh and sometimes twisted artists from your city and across India”. There was one installation (if that’s what you want to call it) at the entrance, and a whale backdrop with ‘an awesome whale’ – a pun on Alt-J’s ‘an awesome wave’ by the acclaimed Shilo Shiv Suleman – both severely underwhelming, considering she’s created masterpieces like the Pulse & Bloom live-art installation at Burning Man. As for the stage, the ‘decor’ was just printed flexes with the representative logos of the festival and one or two butterflies. Yes, butterflies.
- THERE. WAS. NO. ART!!!! Let me emphasize that the art played a huge part in my attendance of this festival, for which I travelled all the way to Bangalore by myself. It was such a letdown to see only four large flexes with 3-4 images of an artist’s work and a couple of introductory lines, which was definitely not what I was expecting to be the definition of a self-declared Art festival. I didn’t even notice the flexes until half an hour later, after hunting and running around trying to find someone who could tell me where the art was at! I was expecting so much more, not just something I could literally make myself and hang on my bedroom wall. In fact, one of the artists who was meant to have a stall with her merch was completely absent from the festival!
- The sound production was bad. You don’t have to be a musician or a sound tech to be able to tell bad sound. This was bad sound. Rudimental’s set sounded really compressed and static-y, almost like listening to the radio. It was heartbreaking.
- Rudimental’s DJ set. I absolutely LOVE Rudimental, don’t get me wrong, but having them play a DJ set was really odd. Having a band play a DJ set is just awkward – no matter whose idea it was. I think they should have either had a full-band performance or not at all, but I guess you can’t always have your cake and eat it too.
- The VIP section. Set on a raised platform diagonally across from the mainstage, the bar and food section were kind of a mess. I don’t know what really set this apart from the rest of the audience except that we were on a higher level and just as packed. Not worth it.
- The Loo Situation. Any girl reading this will know what a NIGHTMARE festival loos are – it’s a problem exclusive to women because unlike the guys, we can’t just unzip and ‘go’ anywhere we want to. The portable loo stalls were not only filthy, but there was nobody present to keep an eye on maintenance and so there were unmentionable situations happening. Ten loo stalls with about fifteen women in line for each of them is every festival-going woman’s worst nightmare come true. Apparently, there was a loo in the VIP section but of course, nothing to mark it visibly (no signs or arrows).
- The Bar situation. Upon entering and having all kinds of bottles taken away from us at security (including a tiny perfume bottle I had in my bag by accident) we were told the bars would open in another half hour. A friend I met in line finally managed to convince the bar staff to sell him a bottle of water – and they did so, minus the bottle cap, which meant he had to either chug the entire bottle at once or roam around with an open bottle of water. When asked, the bar staff responded that this was on directive from the organisers.
- Transport. The venue was quite far from the main City area, so everyone had to spend a hour or so trying to get there. What made it worse was getting out of there post-festival. No cabs or rickshaws available and those that were, were demanding exorbitant faress like Rs. 6,000 just for a trip which would not have cost more than Rs. 200-300 at the most. A shuttle service or tie-up with a local cab company would have been greatly appreciated by everyone.
In all honesty, I respect that Emerge tried to pull off something really monumental, and I sincerely hope they learn from their mistakes and make it even better next year, without compromising on quality and the overall experience. By the way, PLEASE do check out all Rudimental and Alt-J’s music for yourselves – their charm lies in that they don’t bother with all the muss and fuss of being ‘celebrities’ and plastering their faces all over the place, they let their music speak for itself (and it really does).
I’ll leave you with a couple of opinions of other Emerge festival-goers:
“Emerge didn’t turn out to be the festival it wanted to be. The high standards of event organisation that the country has seen in other festivals around the country was missing. We have seen better organised college festivals than this. Alt J was brilliant though. Just a shame that played a venue like this, given they are playing Madison Square Garden next.” – Aniket Dasgupta, independent filmmaker
“From a festival point of view, it felt like a sizable tent pitched in the middle of nowhere. The rain didn’t help their case and I honestly felt bad but so happy that the gig didn’t get canned. The upside was that Rudimental felt like a great build up to get everyone up and grooving. Putting every single thing aside, it was brilliant watching Alt-J live. One thing off the bucket list.” – Apoorva Gavarraju, media professional
“Alt- J were the only solace. They were great.. but the event overall wasnt exiciting or energetic… and I really wanted some official merch!” – Shreedhar Bhende, photographer
“The best part about Emerge was Alt=J. It pretty much started and ended right there. It was audience-anarchy. There were hardly any volunteers and those you managed to find were horribly misinformed. Had to circle the whole venue twice just to find out where to get water from. Don’t even get me started on the bathroom facilities. The whole organisation felt very amateurish and ruined an otherwise great experience.” – Swathy Sethumadhavan, independent filmmaker
“Well firstly, the art element of the music and arts festival was almost absent. The environment was generally chaotic rather than a happy buzzy vibe. There was almost no thought applied to the musical soundscape for the festival, considering an EDM set from Rudimental played between a Sufi rock live band Parvaaz and the headlining alternative and experimental rock playing Alt-J. It was quite the anticlimax. It heavily altered the quality of the sound as well because the PA system that was well rung out during the live bands was ridiculously gainy and distorting heavily during Rudimental’s set. A lot of people had to cover their ears due to the screechy levels on high frequencies. Apart from this, Emerge should have foreseen bad weather conditions and chalked out some contingency plans. People were using food tables as shelter and garbage bags to keep themselves dry. Overall, the evening was enjoyable only due to the fact that Alt-J were playing. Other than that, it was a festival to forget. Quickly.” – Karan Pandav, musician