This weekend, as all manner of stoners and misfits converge upon a hapless Ooty for the MAD festival, I find myself at the other end of the peninsula, meeting Easter Sunday with a cracking hangover. I’ve clearly done a boo-boo: had I known earlier, Easter would have been made to wait in favour of tramping up and down hills, running my bank balance to the ground, being sick in the port-a-potty, and doing all the other nice things that people do at music festivals. But there we are.
So, what’s happening out there in the middle of South India? Going by the official listings, everything: the organisers have ambitiously gone all out to make this one truly comprehensive, and it looks like every group half-fit to stumble up on stage without falling apart from the exertion has been rounded up and herded into the grounds to deliver entertainment to the paying public. Of this wildly diverse lot, four aren’t from the country; the rest are a telling cross-section of Indian pop as it stands today.
MAD, presumably, stands for the last half of WOMAD, so there’s world music on the cards, i.e. folk bits and bobs from the earth’s ends set to bongo-thumping and such. Indian Ocean are on the list, as is the Raghu Dixit Project; all that tuneful, rhythmic, skilful round-the-campfire “ethnic” feel-goodery. The electric blues are represented by Soulmate, while the “awesome” Live Banned will be welcome after all the intense, sincere stuff. This is normal festival fare in these parts, and goes with the whole idyllic weekend-in-the-hills brand image.
And then we run into an ideological divide, with India’s awful arse-rock history on one side, the sooner buried the better – Thermal & a Quarter, Kryptos, Mother Jane etc., you can always tell because they try and look tough on their band photos – and the new and brilliant class of Indian bedroom pop on the other, staffed by the Fish-Eyeds, PCRC, and Sulk Station, groups who know better than to build their entire schtick on dumb rock-showman play-acting.
Straddling this gap, a foot in each camp and their head up in Uranus, is popular music’s answer to snuff porn, the quite singular Schizophonic.
And don’t say I didn’t warn you!
Festivals like these reveal a lot about popular tastes and a country’s collective artistic direction. That Indians hold their “fusion” in high regard and prefer the mushy and the pretty to the smart and the crisp is known. That the scene here is too small to support separate, customised audiences for each of the different kinds of music made here is also known.
The question I really would like answered, then, is this: who pays for this? At a few grand a pop, the ticket prices for MAD are neither a surprise nor a rip-off for all that’s on offer; nevertheless, a few grand is still way out of the reach of student layabouts, and student layabouts are going to make the best kind of audience for the Indian bedroom pop I hold out such high hopes for. Bangalore techies swanning about the great outdoors are fine, rich kids spending papa’s funds to drink Tamil Nadu dry are fine too. But, to grab and hold the one demographic that these groups can really play off, we’ll need to get past these full-frills events: in India’s license permit world, frills are one way to drive the prices out of control.
The way forward lies in stripping down.
But that’s for another day: for now, I hope it was a grand weekend over beyond the hairpins.