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Review: IndiEarth XChange 2015

Wild City just got back on Sunday after a hectic but very enjoyable weekend in Chennai for IndiEarth XChange 2015 – a multidisciplinary, independent film, music and art festival that features a series of conferences, workshops and performances through the day, which brought in over 300 delegates together from 20 countries, over 3 days.

I landed in Chennai on a bright Friday afternoon (one of the few sunny days the flooded city has seen lately though waterlogged pockets were still visible from the plane) and was immediately shuttled off to the Vivanta by Taj in Connemara where the XChange was taking place.

The IndiEarth XChange might be the only event of its kind in India. It’s interdisciplinary (therefore avoiding, to an extent, the pitfalls and clichés and that go along with specific ‘scene’ oriented events), internationally represented - yet still very much focused on Indian industries, informative and a ton of fun. The schedule was packed on all three days and we managed to attend a fair share of conferences, workshops and evening performances, which we’ve tried our best to summarise.

A packed hall for French duo Ko Ko Mo

As someone who represents a magazine focused on alternative culture, specifically music, my attention targeted conferences that were relevant. The packed program timings and scheduling made it impossible for me to attend every single event I was interested in, but there were incredibly interesting panels through the day that covered topics that ranged from creative animation and graphic novels to social change with relation to cinema, and a particularly interesting (partly because I still have little idea about what it was meant to be about) workshop called ‘Mindfulness for Creatives’ hosted by Phoebe Kiddo, who also performed an avant-garde electronic set later in the evening.

The workshops are something I’d strongly recommend for people (particularly Indian musicians) who are considering attending the XChange next year. They were hosted by people who knew what they were talking about (their curation in general is something that IndiEarth should pat themselves on the back for) and included educative crash courses in DJing, basic production on Ableton Live, ‘Effective Storytelling with Sound’ hosted by Dolby, film editing, screenwriting and sound design and even a three day long workshop on music journalism. Of course, one of the highlights this year was the Indie100 program which gave studio space to a couple of lucky young musicians.

IndiEarth had good quality and extremely informative conferences and panels this time (which we hope will be better attended next year). Talks included one on protecting copyright and revenues with digital music platforms hosted by Manojna Yeluri from Artistik License and Patrick Mathieu from French artist rights and distribution organisation SACEM. Sure, it sounds like a total snoozefest on a surface level but the topic of conversation (how to register with the right companies to make sure you’re paid for performances and content) is something Indian musicians need to know. It was a shame that it wasn't better attended.

The energetic Thapattam performance at XChange 2015

Other interesting panels included one on music, media (or the lack of it) and its relationship with the audience with Suprateek Chatterjee of Huffington Post India and Nikhil Udupa from Pepsi MTV Indies, in conversation with Amit Gurbaxani of The Daily Pao, as well as a conference on music on digital platforms and its engagement with the audience, which briefly touched upon some current topics in the industry.

The diverse selection of music in the evenings deserves a special mention. There was a slight fear that IndiEarth could venture into the uncomfortable terrain of forced ‘fusion’ music by juxtaposing forms like Sufi, qawwali and Baul against singer songwriters, Afrobeat, classic rock and electronica. But (at least on the first two nights we were present), the team managed to bypass the problem and introduced audiences to some of the most original musical content we’ve heard in a long time.

The unbelievably energetic Thappattam performance (which included a bassist and drummer) was an unexpected highlight. Alternative music regulars Curtain Blue, Komorebi and Tripura based freestyle rap-rockers Borkung Hrangkhawl also didn’t disappoint. A special shout out goes to the incredible performance by Bangalore based Black Letters, who played a very engaging alternative/indie rock set.

The second day saw packed halls for Tajdar Junaid and French 70s reminiscent classic rock duo Ko Ko Mo, as well as a set by veteran DJ and producer Howie B (Bjork, Tricky). I also managed to catch upcoming OML signee Naezy, whose honest, old-skool desi-rap style - backed by multi-instrumentalist, producer and recent DJ Sid Vashi - is brimming with potential and will without a doubt see a lot of attention in the future, despite a few rough patches.


A few words about the event from EarthSync CEO Sonya Mazumdar - "We’ve had incredible support from international arts organizations, Indian media platforms, industry professionals and educational institutions - longstanding partnerships that have supported us through the years and understand the importance of our work toward industry sustainability, beyond the sponsorship model. The reality particularly in India is that sponsors tend to lean towards more mainstream events with larger footfalls or mass audiences. They have not yet understood the longer term value of sponsoring events, artists and art forms that will down the line reap returns or develop the culture industry as a whole. Alternative genres and traditional art forms that are not being adequately promoted by local sponsors, while often these are what international markets actually look to India for. The concept of arts funding is still at a very nascent stage in India - looking more towards ‘M&E’ rather than a longer term impact investment. We'd like to see this change”.

We’re quite confident that the coming years will see the IndiEarth XChange grow and expand their vision of widening, interconnecting and bringing about positive change to Indian creative industries, most of which are still at a very nascent stage. Wild City will definitely be going back next year.

Head over to IndiEarth’s website here for more.

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02 December 2015