NH7 is India’s first multi ethnic rock festival, the first three-day multi-music festival to be held in India. In addition to showcasing India’s biggest and brightest bands (that comprise 95% of the bill), the lineup also features Britain’s Magic Numbers, Reverend Sound System and the incomparable Asian Dub Foundation. Spread across eight stages in a relaxed and lazy part of the city, review by Karan Pradhan
It’s nearing 11.15 pm on Friday night and electronica legends Pentagram are midway through a first ever hip-hop tribute show at Pune’s Hard Rock Cafe and I’m in the process of recovering from their extremely bouncy version of Insane in the Brain (Senn Dogg and B-Real would be proud. Real proud). After a piss-weak response to the first day that featured such titans of the Indian metal scene as Scribe, Demonic Resurrection and Bhayanak Maut tearing it up alongside comparatively smaller (but in no way inferior) bands like Infernal Wrath and Noiseware (more on them in a bit), the crowd is finally heaving at the last performance at the night. About fucking time. No rest for the wicked, they say and the maxim rings true as the band’s cover of Bulls on Parade (Rage Against The Machine, need you even ask?) begins to unfurl and threatens to be the biggest blast in Pune (so far) since the German Bakery bomb attack earlier this year.
I am at Pune (a college town barely three and a half hours from Mumbai) at the Bacardi NH7 Weekender, the first three-day multi-music festival to be held in India. In addition to showcasing India’s biggest and brightest bands (that comprise 95% of the bill), the lineup also features Britain’s Magic Numbers, Reverend Sound System and the incomparable Asian Dub Foundation. Spread across eight stages in a relaxed and lazy part of the city.
Rewind a few hours and you’ll find local quintet Noiseware opening up the show. While still a bit rusty, the band has to its credit some aggressive and fiery tracks (including the musical equivalent of throwing MJ’s Smooth Criminal down on the floor and brutally beating it to submission with lead pipes and billy clubs) and the fact that it is the only Indian act that uses 8-string guitars. Over the course of Friday and Saturday, I watch the whole arena metamorphose into distinctly different zones that pulsate with their own unique energy, drawing in distinctly different crowds ”â from the dance/rave scenesters to the casual curious onlookers all the way to the metal-horn wielding, black t-shirted, obscenity spewing, drunken oiks.
While IndoWorldFolkRock superstars the Raghu Dixit Project (almost bonafide British citizens considering how extensively they’ve toured the UK this year), Swarathma and Indian Ocean create a gentle frenzy over at one of the stages, you’ve got Pentagram tearing it up two nights in a row, ADF throwing all sorts of shapes and the crowd following suit, RSS playing to small but insanely enthusiastic crowd and Indian rock veterans Zero putting on another quality performance over on the rock/metal stage.
Bear in mind that this is the first of its kind in India and so, the punters are still getting to grips with the idea that they are not going to be able to catch every single act on the bill. Not even half. What they can however do is catch fractions of various performances. And over the course of the weekend, I see a lot more people running from stage-to-stage catching bits and pieces, just like at all the major European and American festivals. But before you begin to think this is just a clone of the Western festival template, allow me to put it right. First off, there’s no camping facility. The infrastructure and mindset just isn’t right for camping. Secondly, amid the high production values, brilliant sound and elaborately designed arenas, the festival exudes this laidback and very quintessentially Indian vibe that you really need to see to believe.
Among the biggest highlights of the weekend is the typically festive atmosphere that flooded Pune’s Elysium and Raga Lawns. While you have Khiladi bassist and comedian P-Man holding a talkshow on the sidelines and random people throwing in cameo appearances at various performances, Scribe frontman Vishwesh Krishnamoorthy invites members of all the bands that performed on the metal stage to participate in a massive onstage moshpit. It’s fair to say that the melee of limbs (both onstage and off) sees participants end up with several shades of shit beaten out of them. These include a little wuss who spent hours crying about a twisted ankle. True story.
The final night sees the biggest crowd of the night flocking to catch a glimpse of ADF’s energetic liveshow, leaving old hands at this rock mallarkey, Parikrama playing to a less than 30% capacity crowd. Parikrama are no little fish either. Bear in mind, they opened for Iron Maiden in India and at Download (among other shows). But these are inescapable aspects of festivals. Cutting through the green billowing smoke, Steve “Chandrasonic” Savale, Al Rumjen and the boys hit the stage and bust out a 70 or 80 minute-long set, complete with international crowd pleaser Fortress Europe.
The festival’s all done and dusted now. While there could always have been a bigger turnout, it’s safe to say it was a massive success. After all, it introduced India to the idea of a three-day multi-music festival and put Pune on the map. On the map enough to entice Tesseract, Enslaved and the mighty Meshuggah to perform at the very same venue the following week.
P.S. – Keep an ear out for Noiseware, who will be opening for Meshuggah.