Review: Pune NH7 Weekender 2013

31 October 2013

Your Wild City correspondent came to Pune’s NH7 Weekender as a blank slate. For the past two years, he had been traveling during Weekender season and this was a first chance to glimpse the event that’s selling thousands of tickets across India’s metropolises. While some of his companions – Punaikers who were coming for the third time – hearkened back to the first Weekender with nostalgia, he shared no such stain of “I remember it back when…” But the festival didn’t demand any such nostalgia to polish the experience; it held up on its own.

Naturally, as with any large event, we have a couple of quibbles. But before the quibbles we need to get to the really important part – the music – and before the music we need to excuse ourselves. Because with five stages covered by one Wild City correspondent, the odds are decent that we missed out on your favourite band. For that reason, we only touched in at the rock stages when an absolutely unmissable act came on – and sometimes even then we didn’t make it on time (Sorry Sky Rabbit, we got our schedules confused).

Now, on to the music.

We were (not unpleasantly) surprised by the preponderance of drum and bass at the festival. D&B made up either part or all of sets by Ox7gen and Vachan (no surprises there), Frame/Frame, Su Real and Chase & Status. Indian techno mainstays BLOT and Kohra even decided to switch the script with a melodic drum and bass set. But the surprise champion of the genre came from Ruskin’s superb old school jungle entry. With the set, Ruskin got a crowd mostly composed of punters about the same age as his tunes to collapse into a seething mass of sweat, dance, and Breezers.

Other Dubstation winners include Su Real (full disclosure, as part of Su Real’s Grind crew, I’m hardly unbiased), who brought an epic assault of bass to the stage. With his mix of bounce, club, ghetto house, drum and bass, trap and more, he did more damage to your correspondent’s hearing than the rest of the festival combined. In a good way. Su Real also dropped some epic grindin’ dance moves on the stage, and we hope that becomes a permanent part of the show.

Simple Sample and Deadly Hunta came with a barrage of diverse reggae styles, mixing the hard with the soft, and getting the entire floor moving with dancehall takes on classic ass-shakers like the Bee Gees’ Stayin’ Alive.

Canadian Sardar Humble The Poet, the only live hip-hop act to grace the festival, turned in a performance that alternated between hot and cold. He was great when he was on the mic, but he seemed to spend more than half of his set either dancing to Bhangra or telling us to shout in the general direction of his GoPro. We liked the emceeing. Not so much the dancing and shameless attention grabbing.

We missed out on some favourites on the stage: Big City Harmonics, Reji, Reggae Rajahs, and Bombay hip-hop statesman DJ Sa, but we know we’ll be catching at least a few of them at future Weekenders.

We spent most of our non Dubstation time at the Wolves Den stage, where live bands and electronic acts mixed, often within the same performance. Madboy/Mink turned in a perfect October afternoon outdoor set, all warmth and fun, with an unexpectedly funky polish. Donn Bhat + Passenger Relevator came correct as far as smooth electro-rock goes, and their accompanying vocalist Nayantara Bhatkal (Harbour Light) really brought the act together with her ethereal pipes. But we cringed, at times, at the lyrical content; it was so jarring that we felt the need to commit it to paper: “High up in the sky / Sing silly old rhymes / Before I die / I'll fly.”

Image credit: Navin Devnani

We missed Nucleya and Dualist Inquiry at the Wolves Den stage, not out of any animosity towards two truly talented artists, but simply because we have so many non-festival opportunities to catch their tunes. The highlight of the stage, however, and perhaps the festival, was the Krunk All Stars. EZ Riser, Sandunes, Ox7gen, Siddharth Basrur, Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy (Scribe), Suraj Manik, and Bradly Tellis took to the stage together to put a live spin on the Krunk sound. The groovy tour de force took stylistic turns ranging from (of course) drum and bass to future garage to prog-rock influenced electro bangers, fusing live elements with produced tunes throughout the set. The diversity of skills in the Krunk line-up meant that you were never technically disappointed, and the diversity of sounds meant that if one bass heavy genre wasn’t your cup of tea, the next probably would be.

But the strangest thing to happen on the Wolves Den stage was the Simian Mobile Disco set. SMD is probably best known for their late 2000s club hits Hustler, It’s The Beat, and the Justice remixed We Are Your Friends. Their more recent work has been firmly rooted in a rich but less accessible dark techno territory. Expecting to hear some of their new tunes, we were surprised by their warm and housey big room set. Despite the direction they’ve taken as producers, they seem to know what works on a festival stage. And they’re pretty damn good at delivering it.

Most of the time, that is. In Pune, however, things seemed a bit off. The centerpiece of their act was those three hits, dispersed evenly throughout the set, with the performance – the stage’s Saturday night closer – ending with an instrumental of We Are Your Friends with just the occasional lyrical snippet left in, intended to prime the crowd for a massive sing-along. But as the closing song played, SMD members looked puzzled. Nobody, it seemed, knew any of the words. We were excited to see Simian Mobile Disco, and there’s no doubt that their set would have worked perfectly in many settings. But somehow they failed to capture the imagination of the Weekender crowd.

The Bacardi Arena was primarily devoted to rock acts, with a lot of metal in the mix. We heard one act telling the audience to go fuck themselves if they didn’t like the performance, and so we mostly stayed away. No disrespect to the metalheads, but that’s not your Wild City correspondent’s cup of tea. But the biggest outlier on the stage was UK dance music duo Chase & Status. We were excited going into the performance, as the duo has been responsible for some absolute fire remixing work over the past year. NH7 materials promised “the best sounds of the UK electronica scene”.

Fair warning, we’re about to get snobbish here, so feel free to skip ahead if you’re more tolerant than us. But instead of the best sounds of anything, Chase & Status just dropped the cheesiest of the bassy cheese. Huge and hackneyed drops accompanied pop diva vocals on a whirlwind tour the most generic sides of the genres that the kids are calling “EDM” these days. There was drum and bass, there was dubstep, there was bass-house. But there wasn’t a lot that was interesting or new. Sure, the tracks they dropped were probably exclusive jams that aren’t on the Beatport charts just yet. But they will be next week, and then every mainstream dance music DJ in India will have access to them. It seems a shame to bring artists in from around the world who aren’t interested in showing us anything new.

We say that we’re being snobbish because it’s clear that we don’t take the majority view. The massive Bacardi Arena was thronged by the time Chase & Status was finishing their first tune, and thousands of festival-goers were heaving, jumping, thrusting, and headbanging away. Whatever our opinion of their tune selection, there’s no doubt that Chase & Status rocked the crowd.

A few other musical odds and ends:

A smash-up good time party set came from Bombay’s Party Scribe, with perhaps wilder dancing than any other time at the festival. The Supersonics came with an emotive and jangly set of just plain old good rock n’ roll. Your Chin’s short set was another festival favourite. Sky Rabbit frontman Raxi Tewari, looking cooler than a polar bear’s toenails standing behind a laptop and singing into the mic with heaphones and sunglasses firmly in place, stole Friday night with his brand of sincere electropop that can’t help but recall Postal Service.

With music behind us, we get to the bits of festivalgoing that we only notice when something goes wrong: logistics and organization. We won’t bore you with too much detail. The ticketing process was quick and well organized, the bars were sufficiently staffed with coupon counters well placed. The food selection was huge (though we admit we didn’t try any) and there was a dizzying array of goods – from folding bicycles to lamps made of melted bottles – on sale. We can’t figure out why anybody would want to go shopping at a music festival, but the stalls seemed to be doing brisk business; a tip of the hat is due to OML for bringing in an additional revenue source that ticketholders seem to like. Stage changeovers were fast and professional, and the sound was both loud and crisp.

We have only three complaints, and we like to complain. That means OML did well. But, for your reading pleasure, here they are in ascending order of importance:

1. Mobile phones barely worked at the festival site. There’s nothing that OML can do about this, but knowing this fact, it could have equipped all festival staff with radios. It’s unlikely that most festival attendees would even notice this, but for those of us trying to interact with stage staff and the press office, radio communication would have kept things running much more smoothly.
2. No beer. No beer! One more time, for good measure: no beer. There was no beer at the festival. We get it: Bacardi is a huge sponsor. Bacardi doesn’t own a beer brand. Hence no beer. But at 4pm in the afternoon in the pleasant Pune sun, one might not want rum or vodka, and there’s exactly no time when we ever want a Breezer, on account of the fact that we’re not 15 year old girls. But in these pages, we’ll admit our shame. We drank one. A cranberry Breezer. That’s not cool, and we hope they figure something out next time around.
3. Parking was a mess. Festival parking was at least two kilometres from the festival site, and the route between the two places wasn’t very well marked if you decided to walk it. This meant yet another bottleneck as people had to queue not only to get out of the parking lot, but also to get on one of the poorly managed shuttle buses. The lack of onsite parking options meant that we ended each day in a bad mood.

As a side note, we salute OML for allowing Weekender artists Sandunes and Mink to play at Pune favorite High Spirits, and High Spirits for keeping the party going, albeit briefly, between Weekender’s close each day and the opening of the official afterparty. Sandunes played a killer future garage set and Mink got our hips moving with a tight and precise electro swing set. Both provided the perfect post-festival transition when revelers needed a second to sit back with a cocktail and regroup while waiting for the party to continue.

At the end of the day, this year’s installment of Pune Weekender was a well orchestrated event that got thousands of music fans from across India grooving to many very different beats. It succeeded in uniting multiple scenes and bringing them together for collaboration. We didn’t have any of those transcendent moments when you lose yourself in the singular intoxication of the universal communion of the crowd, the beat and the dance.

But that may just have been because we were too busy running around trying to catch all five stages.


Words: Kerry Harwin
Image Credit (main): Francis M


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