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‘Indie music should be decentralised,everyone has right to hear good music’

With the cultural season round the corner,Vijay Nair,co-founder of Only Much Louder (OML),the company behind NH7 Weekender — the biggest independent music festival in India — talks about music elitism,finding new audiences and the impact of the economic slowdown on the music scene


September 16, 2013 5:34:17 am

Kevin Lobo: Tell us about the genesis of OML.

Music wasn’t a part of my growing up years. I had never bought a CD or an audio cassette. The first concert I ever went to was Independence Rock. I haven’t had the listening curve of most people — from Bon Jovi to Bryan Adams,then discovering better music. I started by listening to Indian bands. Also,I have always been someone who likes to put things together. A band that won I-rock the year I attended called Acquired Funk Syndrome and they wanted me to manage them. I started getting them gigs and it turned out to be fun. In the next six months,I was managing (bands) Pin Drop Violence,Zero and Pentagram,among others. All I had to do was ask bands if I could manage them and they would agree because there was no one else doing it back then,not because I was good at it. Now OML is a production house,makes television shows,music festivals and many other things.

Alaka Sahani: How has the audience matured or grown over the years?

There’s one thing that’s common between all the aspirational festivals around the world — they are all written for kids. But grown-up 25-year-olds are going for these festivals because I think in a way they want to just rewind and go back to a simpler time. Even at NH7 Weekender,people love it because it’s the happiest music festival. It’s the simpler,smaller things that we do is what really makes a difference. While Raghu Dixit and Swarathma might bring audiences together,there’s this elitism that comes with listening to independent music. Like someone famously said,“The reason we took the festival to Pune is because a youngster from Colaba may not come to Goregaon,but will definitely travel to Pune.” Someone wrote a review of the festival saying that they saw corporate yuppie-types coming in and people who look like they’ve just walked out of call centres. I feel good about that. But there are also people who believe that alternative culture belongs to only a select few. That’s why we want to programme music in different languages. I think Indie music needs to get decentralised,it can’t be just an urban,hipster thing.

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Sankhayan Ghosh: Do you think you will lose your core audience if you try and decentralise it?

I don’t know and don’t care. If the reason someone doesn’t listen to music is because everyone else is,then I don’t want that audience at all. We have a ticketing system and anyone can come to our show. The best show Pentagram has ever done is on Carter Road,where a bunch of youngsters from a nearby slum joined in at Celebrate Bandra. The kids were so excited,they’d never seen anything like it. The band became emotional after the gig. However,to do this we have to figure out the ticket pricing. In Shillong,it would be wrong to charge as much as we do in metro cities for NH7. I have seen people form human pyramids and throw each other over a fence and dig holes under wire meshes to make their way into a music festival. There was this one time we did a concert in the north-east. There was a curfew imposed on the town,everything was shut other than the concert. It started at 1.30 pm and went on till 7 pm. How do you deny people the right to hear good music?

Mayura Janwalkar: How much do you have to struggle with permissions for NH7?

I’ve never had to struggle with permissions. The only time you have to struggle is when you want to save money. Even after the fiasco at the Enrique concert,the cops could not stop NH7 in Pune from happening because our paperwork was in order. I insist on getting everything in writing. So if you deny me permission,give it to me in writing. Another thing I’ve realised is that you just have to be a little nice to cops and they will cooperate. If someone says they have a son who wants to put up an ice-cream stall at the show and you work with them on that,they’ll be on your side. In the first year of the festival,we actually had a fully functional road separating stages. I have pictures of women with Bacardi in buckets crossing the road,with cops helping them. In Delhi last year,a senior police officer was in the crowd,and is a big fan of (the band) Indian Ocean. He let us play till 11.15 pm,way past the 10 pm deadline.

Srinath Rao: Are there a lot of bands that you’ve had to reject over the years?

I’m ‘public enemy number one’ when it comes to that. I’ve realised there’s no good way to reject someone,in life or in music. Their music is very personal to them. At OML,we tried a standard reply saying that that we’ll hear their music and get back to them. But bands hated it. So we decided not to reply at all. On an average,20-30 artistes approach us daily. We just know that some of them won’t work for us. But I have to say we listen to every track that comes to us.

P Vaidyanathan Iyer: Are people willing to risk it all and shift to a career in music?

There are independent bands that make up to Rs 2-2.5 crore a year right now. Some are paid about Rs 7-10 lakh a show. All the bands that I’ve managed are full-time musicians,they don’t have day jobs. I don’t think musicians think of a career in music as a risk any more. It’s also because artistes have realised that they want to be musicians,not just perform at shows,but write songs for movies and commercials. Today,I have an artiste who is getting paid Rs 5 lakh to curate music for a store where his job is just telling them what music should play when someone walks in.

Stuti Shukla: Are you open to getting someone like Lady Gaga to NH7?

I’m open to getting Lady Gaga to India,but not to NH7. I’m open to even having Justin Bieber perform. I believe the best gigs we do are the pop ones because there is so much production work that needs to be done. They have 100 dancers and everything else. The audience loves it. But not at NH7,it would just dilute and distort the format.

Sharvari Patwa: Has the slowdown in the economy affected the investment you are getting?

The Dollar changing affects us massively. Let’s say I’m spending a million Dollars on an artiste. Now,for no fault of ours,we’re spending 350,000 more because of the change. For a small company such as ours,it’s huge. We’re looking at hedging Dollars for next year. I have foreign investors who have handled Fox and Rupert Murdoch’s conglomerate. I don’t think I am in any immediate danger of them withdrawing their investments. We are looking to expand and invest in other creative industries.

Vidya Prabhu: What creative fields are you looking to get into?

Three weeks ago,we made an announcement that we’re getting into comedy. We realised there is a lot of talent,but there’s no one getting them together and promoting them. It’s just like music a decade ago. We sold out (comedian) Russell Peters (show) in 72 hours. That’s 14,000 tickets! And the tickets are not cheap. We will soon announce a big comedy festival. It will be the NH7 of comedy. It will be a Mumbai-centric fest,with more than 200 acts. Also,we’re looking to organise a festival for visual arts and installations.

(Transcribed by Kevin Lobo)

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