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Will the metal festival, Domination, save Mumbai’s rock scene?

Last year, Mumbai’s original death metal festival, Domination, held a Hyderabad-only edition. It’s back now, but can it battle expensive venues and EDM’s high-spending crowd?

HT48HRS_Special Updated: Jun 02, 2016 14:44 IST
Manali Shah
Primitiv performing at Domination - The Deathfest in Delhi  this year
Primitiv performing at Domination - The Deathfest in Delhi this year(Photo: Jishnu Chakraborty)

Last year, Mumbai’s original death metal festival, Domination, held a Hyderabad-only edition. It’s back now, but can it battle expensive venues and EDM’s high-spending crowd?

The year was 2000. Some 800-odd metal music fans gathered on the lawns of Razzberry Rhinoceros, a popular Juhu nightclub that featured live acts back then. Eight metal bands from across the country performed at the day-long, open-air event called Domination — The Deathfest. Among the eight bands was Demonic Resurrection, now one of India’s leading indie bands. “They opened the show, and I think it was their second gig. Sahil [Makhija, vocalist, guitarist and a founding member of the band] was around 17 then,” says Nitin Rajan, co-founder of the festival, and vocalist of the metal band Primitiv.

At the fest, Mindsnare (from Bengaluru) set up a stall and sold cassettes (well, it was 2000) of the band’s album. Metal India, a magazine, launched its first issue there. “A lot of people travelled from Pune and Bengaluru for the gig. In fact, many who attended even went on to form their own metal bands. For instance, Infernal Rock and Pin Drop Violence (disbanded since),” Rajan shares.

The crowd at a past edition of Domination (Photo courtesy: Frozen Pixel Studios)

Domination is a landmark event in Mumbai’s metal scene for a couple of reasons. “Until then, there were no metal-only shows. Rock shows would feature maybe a stray metal band in the line-up. Even their organisers felt metal was too heavy. Second, even at I-Rock (Independence Rock), there would be one or two bands from outside the city. We had four (from Chennai and Bengaluru).” Since then, the fest travelled to Hyderabad and Delhi too.

Humble beginnings

At the time, Rajan was part of Morticide (which he terms Mumbai’s first death metal band), which formed in 1998. Domination was put together by Rajan and some of his bandmates and friends. “We were young kids who would pool in all our money to do this,” he says. Fresh out of engineering college, Rajan put in his first freelance writing salary (around `5,000 from the now-defunct publication, JAM) into the fest. “It was heart over head most of the time,” Rajan laughs. But they still managed to get sponsors for the first edition.

Witchgoat, a band from Bengaluru, at Domination - The Deathfest 2013 in Mumbai (Photo: Tushar Dhanawade)

Putting the fest together was also difficult because, unlike today, cell phones weren’t commonplace. But while technology was a challenge, the festival had its own website. “It was hosted by a friend, from a cyber cafe in Ambarnath,” Rajan says.

In 2003, though, after successful editions, the festival abruptly ended. “Some went abroad, some got into corporate jobs. It was also difficult for us financially to continue. It wasn’t a revenue-making thing but about creating a scene,” Rajan says, adding. “Even I concentrated on performing rather than organising gigs.”

The resurrection

The festival re-launched 10 years later, in 2013 with a gig at United 21, Thane. Rajan wanted to promote exclusive metal gigs again, which he found lacking in the city. Then, a Delhi leg was held in May this year, while the Mumbai edition is set to take place this weekend at Hard Rock Café, Worli. Rajan says, “The programmers have decided to experiment and dedicate the last Sunday of every month to promote metal bands.”

Plague Throat, a band fromShillong, at Domination - The Deathfest 2014 in Mumbai (Photo: Tushar Dhanawade)

But why does Mumbai lack a proper rock music scene? Rajan says finding a venue was a problem in the 2000s, and still continues to be. “Holding a rock gig is still not lucrative. Sponsors want attendees who will spend big on food and alcohol. Unfortunately, metal fans don’t spend that much at the bar since the demographic tends to be younger.”

But what about the EDM (electronic dance music) scene, we point out. The young are happily seen shelling out money to attend, and splurge on food and drinks. “The EDM crowd is a more party-oriented one. The celebratory angle is high,” Rajan justifies, adding, “But it’s better to focus inwards rather than think EDM is harming us. If rock fans come out in big numbers at gigs, that itself will have a snowballing effect.”

Also read: Rise of the machines: is EDM pushing other genres out?

Rajan adds that the prohibitive taxes in Mumbai are another hurdle, so most international bands choose Bengaluru over Mumbai. “In India, we still rely heavily on sponsorship to cover the costs rather than ticket sales,” he says.

HEAD BANG

What: Domination — The Deathfest will take place on June 5, 8pm.

Where: Hard Rock Cafe, Bombay Dyeing Mills Compound, Pandurang Budhkar Marg, Worli

Tickets: Rs 500 (cover) on bookmyshow.com

Call: 6651 1209