Review: Sunburn Festival 2012

24 January 2013

Sunburn surprised us.

Sitting in Bangalore, Bombay, or Delhi, it’s easy to get lost in our own little world. We complain about the size of the scene, always wanting more, and forgetting how fortunate we are to have access to interesting and creative artists and venues.

To put it plainly, we can be snobs.

And when one is a snob, an event like Sunburn presents an easy target. Many of India’s highest flying mainstream electronic DJs play with the star-studded international lineup of last decade and a small smattering of more interesting artists who’ve lucked into a spot on the bill. It’s not really our thing. Which means that we dropped into the festival without taking it seriously. In fact, we were mostly anticipating a piece on the army of early-twenties Andheri boys gleefully accompanying their once-yearly drug experimentation by losing themselves to cheesy club tunes in the midst of a gyrating mostly male crowd.

Although the cheesy club tunes were in full effect, and there were surely too many dicks on the dancefloor, the rest of our discoveries surprised and humbled us. As we chatted with festival goers, we found that the average attendee was far from the person we had imagined. After speaking with about ten people, not a single Bombay boy was found. Yes, we found Delhi and Bangalore, but also Brisbane, Pune, Nasik, Jabalpur, Madgao, and a host of other second tier cities.

We also found a rabidly excited fan base. Every person we spoke to raved about the festival, most were second or third time attendees, and all planned on coming back this year. The Brisbane girls, who told us they partied at “all the major commercial festivals in Australia”, said it was best run festival they’d ever attended.

Sunburn may not be our thing, but it’s doing something very right.

One of those things, we’d imagine, is making money. Percept is shameless, in a somewhat admirable way. No attempt is made to gloss over the fact that they have high costs to cover. Every surface, every booth, every gate, and every stall was individually branded. Sure, there were the usual festival suspects like Absolut and 7-Up. But also Philips and Micromax. Any surface that failed to garner a sponsorship was emblazoned with the Sunburn identity: Name, Logo, “A Percept Property”.

Blank space doesn’t generate revenue.

And the business consciousness shows. There were no lines at the box-office or the entry. The process of getting in was quick and painless. The site was immaculate, the sound was loud and crisp, and the female dancers paid to shake their stuff in fairy princess costumes gyrated in precise time with the music. The hypeman on the first stage was as fit as the hypewoman on the second was buxom, and they were both experts at telling us to come on and join the love. The visuals were well executed and the cupcake castle and ice cream cloud stage was as incongruous and decontextualized as it was pretty much awesome.

We saw Arjun Vagale, Pearl, AN21 and Paul Van Dyk. We don’t really have much to say about them. There is a point – and we exclude Mr. Vagale here – when it doesn’t matter much if you’re playing techno, house, or trance. Once you crossover far enough, it’s pretty much all just electro-pop.

This great sonic homogenization may just represent the brilliance of Sunburn. The festival is 20% music and 80% spectacle. And it’s a cleanly produced extravaganza that gives the people exactly what they want and keeps them coming back for more. But when their presenters don’t even know how to pronounce the names of the artists (AN21 is “Antoine”, guys, not “ay-en-tee-two-one”), Percept makes it clear where their priorities lie. But then AN21 comes out, and drops a four to the floor house remix of Florence and the Machines’ “You Got the Love”, and you know what? Everybody really does.

Some of our preferred performers noticed the lack of diversity in the Sunburn bill. Ska Venger, Stiff Kittens head honcho, and general Delhi impresario Stefan Kaye opined the festival’s all-for-cash style; “We had fun. But Sunburn mostly demonstrated the power of brand advertising in inducing a bovine behavioural disposition. People prefer to consume only what they are accustomed to, or what they are led to believe is cool.”

Bombay bass artist of the moment Sandunes echoed some of Stefan’s frustrations of the challenges of playing on a poorly populated (and well hidden) alternative stage, but had only praises for the consummate professionalism of Percept; “Sunburn was everything I had heard it would be. We had great tech-support from crew members, and apart from fighting for sound- space with the larger stages, it was a great party.”

So okay, it’s not for us. And yes, we’re going to notice when the visuals match so closely to the vocals that we can’t really imagine how some of the sets were anything other than prerecorded. But we went to Candolim and found thousands of gleeful ravers. Fuck yes, dude from Jabalpur. Once a year, you get to go out and spend three days dancing your heart out to electronic music. Because of Sunburn.

That’s pretty neat.


Words: Kerry Harwin
Image Credit: Zacharie Rabehi




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