Ev­ery­body in the palace, let’s go!

The Guardian - G2 - - Lost In Showbiz -

Mag­netic Fields is a huge rave in In­dia’s desert. A vivid in­di­ca­tor of dance mu­sic’s global reach, or sim­ply an­other play­ground for the well heeled? Tara Joshi re­ports

Be­fore this, there was Bol­ly­wood, and ev­ery­thing else was deep un­der­ground.” These are the words of pro­ducer Karsh Kale, de­scrib­ing In­dia’s mu­sic scene as re­cently as 10 years ago. It is telling of just how much has changed that Kale is say­ing this by a fire­place in the mid­dle of a desert in Ra­jasthan, where an elec­tronic mu­sic fes­ti­val is tak­ing place.

Now in its fifth year, with a ca­pac­ity of more than 3,000 (hav­ing started at less than 500), Mag­netic Fields is one of many events cater­ing to a bur­geon­ing un­der­ground mu­sic scene in In­dia. Sets from Four Tet and Ben UFO that go on un­til 8am in the grounds of a mag­i­cal 17th-cen­tury palace are re­mark­able in them­selves (as are sur­real mo­ments such as a lo­cal DJ drop­ping Big Shaq’s Man’s Not Hot un­der the stars), but es­pe­cially note­wor­thy is the num­ber of In­dian acts and at­ten­dees.

The week prior to the fes­ti­val, Boiler Room, which streams DJ sets on­line, held a three-day se­ries of talks and shows in Delhi; mean­while, or­gan­i­sa­tions such as Wild City of­fer al­ter­na­tive mu­sic news, fea­tures and list­ings, and also run events; Red Bull has spent the past few years in­vest­ing in In­dian artists in­clud­ing Jivraj Singh, son­aluna, and the Sine Painter. And where once clubs were only found in ho­tel bars, pur­pose-built venues are now pop­ping up along­side an il­le­gal rave scene. This in­fra­struc­ture means that what was once a deeply un­der­ground al­ter­na­tive to the Bol­ly­wood mu­sic main­stream is quickly, fer­vently, be­com­ing some­thing big­ger. As Kale puts it: “There’s a thirst now for some­thing else, some­thing other than what has been fed to In­dian au­di­ences for decades.”

In­dia’s on­go­ing de­vel­op­ment as an eco­nomic power has pro­duced a mid­dle class with a greater dis­pos­able in­come than ever be­fore. But, as with most sto­ries in mod­ern mu­sic, the big­gest cat­a­lyst for change has come from the in­ternet. “When I used to come to In­dia as a kid, there were two chan­nels on TV, so I used to bring mix­tapes and share them with my cousins,” says Kale, who was raised in New York. “Now it’s to­tally dif­fer­ent; with so­cial me­dia and Youtube there’s an im­me­di­ate con­nec­tion with the rest of the world.” His own ex­per­i­men­tal blend of In­dian clas­si­cal and elec­tron­ica has pushed through the coun­try’s un­der­ground to reach a wider au­di­ence.

That con­nec­tion is a huge fac­tor in the new sounds com­ing out of In­dia; for Ban­ga­lore-based pro­ducer Oceantied (real name Ke­tan Bahi­rat), it proved es­sen­tial. He ex­plains how he and friends first got into the elec­tronic scene. “It was mainly via Youtube and [file-shar­ing site] Limewire, be­cause our record stores didn’t re­ally sell the lat­est house mu­sic. We’d burn CDS and share what we’d down­loaded with each other. It’s some­thing that makes the scene dif­fer­ent here,” he says, and as a re­sult “peo­ple were more fa­mil­iar with sounds than par­tic­u­lar artists or their back­grounds”.

The in­ternet has also helped pro­mo­tion, as Dev Bha­tia, the co-founder of Un­mute – In­dia’s first in­de­pen­dent artist book­ing agency – ex­plains. “When we started work­ing with a group called Jale­bee Car­tel in 2007, there was a huge gap in mar­ket­ing; they were pro­duc­ing mu­sic, but how did we get more peo­ple lis­ten­ing to it? Then Face­book started pick­ing up; at ev­ery gig we’d tell peo­ple to sign up and join our group.”

Of course, with a pop­u­la­tion of about 1.3 bil­lion, and gi­ant dis­par­i­ties in wealth, ge­og­ra­phy and – ar­guably – cul­ture, to talk of “In­dia” as one tan­gi­ble en­tity is re­duc­tive, and any un­der­ground in In­dia is more nu­anced than a western­ised hip­ster con­cept. As Taru Dalmia – vo­cal­ist of ska band Ska Vengers, and who is also known as MC Delhi Sul­tanate – ex­plains: “If you’re talk­ing about any­thing that’s not main­stream, you also have to in­clude folk mu­sic, Dalit mu­sic, artists like Kabir Kala Manch, Samb­haji Bha­gat, Gad­dar – artists that are not part of the an­gli­cised, ur­ban, up­per-mid­dle class, so usu­ally peo­ple don’t think of them when they talk about the in­die scene here.”

For all that non-main­stream In­dia might be giv­ing birth to bilin­gual in­die rock and low­er­mid­dle class hip-hop pro­duced on smart­phones, the elec­tronic scene feels less in­clu­sive. A fes­ti­val such as Mag­netic Fields – though ex­cit­ing and for­ward­think­ing – is largely for the coun­try’s young, ur­ban mid­dle classes. Per­haps that is not dis­sim­i­lar to else­where in the world, but un­der-

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