The smartest thing the minds behind the Bacardi NH7 Weekender do is to cut the festival up into bite-sized pieces: instead of a single, vast, dust-ridden field, you get six manageable, more or less isolated gigs running all at once. This works for a number of reasons. When the programmers at NH7 book their acts, they do it from across the board: you have everything from acoustic balladry to dancehall, from indie to novelty fusion. Separating it by theme is not only a bit of clever space management, it also weeds the neo-hippies from the scrappy indie kids, the EDM bum-wigglers from the weepy folk-music waifs, and the metalheads from everybody else. As a punter, you get to make up your own listing as you go along. As a performer, you aren’t burdened with having to pull a whole stadium’s worth of crowd. The fact of it is, few of bands the bands on the roll have any particularly sizeable following: the Weekender turns this marvellously to its advantage, and gives you six cosy, tidily done festivals for the price of one.
The pop snob argument against this is that the whole thing lacks taste. As a magazine, NH7 trumpet their “alternative” credentials more than anyone else in the country; yet, at something like the Bangalore Weekender, the hip scene insiders are wholly outnumbered by office-goers, yuppies on a day out, casual fans of the big closing metal act, the merely curious, and the terminally bored: everyone, in fact, except the chin-stroking, punk-appreciating India of alt-culture dreams, because no such India exists. The Weekender turns a nice profit, and it does it by appealing on some level to practically any city-dwelling Indian who might conceivably buy into the idea of an open-air fairground out of town, with t-shirt shops, food, bars, and live music as entertainment. For all the alt-culture tags, NH7 know on which side their bread is buttered: and what’s more, they’re right.
It’s telling that, at the Bangalore Weekender, the dullest time to be had was at the Fully Fantastic stage, the corner to which all the poorly groomed bands are banished to play to their girlfriends, drinking mates, and the usual scruffy bunch of managers, promoters, and scene hangers-on you find at every “indie” event. One of the stages elsewhere had the great, grand, happy romp that was the Idan Raichel Project; the other had enough schlocky reggae to keep a lot of people on their toes for hours; even a monumentally self-absorbed bore like Fink managed to hang on to his crowd until the bitter end: yet, the best on offer at the Fully Fantastic – and this is the stage which every “scene” type secretly hopes will come to one day represent cult cool – were college-age kids who looked and acted like college-age kids. And that trick works well enough on a pub stage, but not one of them know how to grab you at a distance of fifty feet, which is the only thing which matters if you want your act to compete in an industrial-scale musical supermarket like this.
The Weekender is large enough and varied enough that you can get out of it whatever you wish. You can dwell on the lack of class acts in the country (the very best show I watched came out of the Middle East), or you can celebrate its success as some sort of coming-of-age of live music; you can go there hoping to pull and come out feeling jaded, or you can show up with friends and drink more than’s good for you, without noticing any of the acts one way or another: the fact of it is, music is only peripheral to the success of a festival like this. It provides a theme of sorts, and it makes for good headlines, but ultimately the Weekender works where other festivals often don’t because it’s well thought out in terms of organisation, because it keeps to the cities and still avoids the worst urban excesses, and because it sells something that’s preciously rare in a place like Bangalore: a place where you can wander about and take it easy without being forced to stick to a programme, without being harassed, hounded, crushed-in, or ripped-off. If you get really lucky, you might even find a band you’ll like.
This post first appeared on Wild City on 17th December, 2012.