Music festivals can no longer rely on just music to draw in the crowds. They are throwing in art installations, gaming arenas, and workshops to keep you (and your Instagram account) busy.
At Vh1 Supersonic in Pune (February, 2017), we sang Thrift Shop along with the crowd during American rapper Macklemore’s performance, and danced to Russian-German DJ Zedd till our feet hurt. But a distinct memory involves goofing about in a ball pit.
Suddenly, gaming activities are increasingly a common sight at music festivals. A Ferris wheel has become the visual marker for all NH7 Weekender editions. At Enchanted Valley Carnival 2016 (Aamby Valley City, Lonavla), you could even have ticked bungee-jumping off your bucket list. Adrenaline rush meets movie-style background music.
From the time the indie music scene in India exploded a few years ago, competition between festivals has only intensified. That means having a stellar line-up of musicians is still a primary requisite, but it doesn’t guarantee bigger, newer crowds. In a bid to outdo each other, and offer more for attendees, hipster-approved shopping and leisure activities are being added to festivals. So much so that today, you no longer need to be a hard-core music lover to have a great time at a festival.
There’s plenty of other stuff to keep you engaged: art installations, flea markets, workshops. Look at this year’s Nariyal Paani (January 2017, on a virgin beach in Alibaug): apart from camping under an open sky, you could do yoga sessions and learn to hula-hoop at a workshop.
When they started out, concerts would, at best, sell band merchandise and music CDs. Vh1 Supersonic 2015 (Goa) featured about 20 stalls at its flea market. But this year, the same festival saw nearly 45 stalls that sold everything from neon headgear to clothing. There was even a tarot card reader on site.
EDM (Electronic Dance Music) and multi-genre festivals didn’t start off being this elaborate either. The first two editions of NH7 Weekender (Pune) didn’t feature any art installations. But 2014 onward, as they spread to other cities, all of them saw multiple art installations. Among the most notable was artist Shilo Shiv Suleman’s innovative biofeedback installation Pulse and Bloom in 2014.
Drawing the crowds in early
Most all-day and overnight festivals begin by mid-afternoon. The crowd — largely teenagers and young professionals — tends to come in only once the weather is pleasant enough — by 4 to 5pm. Saugato Bhowmik, business head, integrated network solutions and consumer products, Viacom18 (which organises Vh1 Supersonic), says festivals try to draw in people early. “When people come in for lunch, and for leisure activities, it helps you build an audience for the early-slot musicians (typically, smaller, upcoming ones) as well.” Sometimes, you might want to catch an artist at 3pm, and the next one only at 6pm. Bhowmik adds that other activities ensure that people don’t leave the festival in the interim.
All of this makes great business sense too, since people coming in early means more money spent on F&B, and more crowds means happier sponsors. City resident and festival regular Shivanand Kotian (a 26-year-old entrepreneur) says, “The gaming areas help unwind and regain energy for dancing later when your favourite artist comes to play.” At The Lost Party (TLP; Lonavla) 2016, when Kotian and his friends wanted to take a break, they tried their hand at rope walking. “It turned out to be a new, fun experience. We even met some strangers.”
Is this the best place to see art?
TLP, too, featured plenty of art — an interactive installation called Ride the Horse involved riding a stationary bicycle; there was a wind vane scarecrow made of recyclable materials; and a tree full of colourful umbrellas. Coupled with the barren, sandy terrain of the venue, the festival had a distinct Burning Man (an annual art gathering that takes place in Nevada, America) feel to it. Raj Desai, co-founder and organiser, admits that “considering that some of our founders have been a part of the Burning Man organising team, the ethos does seep into TLP. When we conceived it, we wanted to explore various forms of art, including design, dance, and other performances.”
Internationally, popular music festivals such as Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival (California, USA) and Ultra Music Festival (Florida, USA) have always given importance to art installations. Coachella’s 2015 edition saw a giant caterpillar which turned into a colourful butterfly overnight and a huge red robot sculpture holding a flower.
Festival organisers tie up with design studios and companies to showcase artwork that goes with the theme and vibe. TLP curated art with the Transhuman Collective. Desai says, “There were no rules, directions, or interference. We did not even give the artists a brief. We just told them about our ideology, artists that will perform, and the vibe of the fest.”
But what makes artists come on board, considering that festival attendees may not be an art-buying crowd? Vijay Nair, CEO, Only Much Louder (which organises NH7 Weekender) believes the kind of audience that attends their festival is indeed the kind you want to show your art to. “The idea of there being only one type of art-buying audience no longer applies. The artists we feature offer art in different forms and prices, making it more accessible,” he says.
While the art adds to the character and vibe of a festival, you must admit that it primarily creates selfie-clicking zones. Which isn’t a bad thing when you’re trying to get organic social media traction. Viacom 18’s Bhowmik acknowledges that audiences are always looking for things worthy of a picture. “Even in the stage area, people often spend more time on Snapchat or Instagram. Keeping that in mind, we had Wi-Fi zones at Vh1 Supersonic.”
While taking selfies is a debatable way to appreciate art, it certainly brings a younger audience closer to viewing it. The average teenager is less likely to visit an art gallery, but is likely to stop and marvel at a sculpture at a music festival.