Did Magnetic Fields Festival Just Die An Untimely (Yet Predictable) Death?
Image credit- www.MagneticFields.in
NEW DELHI: I almost didn’t write this article, for fear of being relegated to social pariah status by my “I support the indie Indian music scene” touting friends, but I thought Magnetic Fields Festival 2015 was a HUGE disappointment. Don’t get me wrong, I had a good weekend at the festival -- with acts including Ratatat, Soul Clap, Shigeto, HVOB (to name a few) part of the lineup; a 16th century palace in Alsisar, Rajasthan, the venue; and some overall cool folk for company. Where the festival went wrong is in its organisation; the obviously desperate attempts at making money; and the less than impressive attitude of organisers, volunteers and staff.
Let’s start with the organisation. I paid Rs. 30,000 for my tickets & tent accommodation. I booked within a week of the tickets going on sale, only to arrive at a tent in Alsisar Mahal with a huge slit in the canvas, no light or electricity, and no assistance from the organisers. Despite repeated attempts at calling the SOS number provided and hounding the people at the check-in desk, no one came. I eventually had to grab a few locals wandering about and tip them generously to go ‘steal’ a lamp and electricity connection from a nearby tent. I am not proud of it. My friends later told me that they had no blankets in their tent, and in what became a pervasive complaint -- asking the organisers to sort them out was entirely futile (they too stole blankets from an empty tent).
Another Magnetic -goer took over two hours to check in because the man at the desk could not understand her booking confirmation email. She had booked three tents, whereas the check-in in charge was convinced that she had booked only two.
A group of friends who don’t wish to be named had wanted to change their tent for a number of reasons (a huge ant hill in the middle of their tent, being one). The tent opposite theirs was empty, but the organisers were having none of it. No one ever occupied that empty tent.
Gayeti Singh, an editor with The Citizen, was peeved at being straddled with one of the worse tents on offer. “If you’re charging everyone X amount, shouldn’t you offer X quality?” Singh asks.
So why wasn’t everyone offered X quality? Money would be the simple answer. Magnetic Fields Festival is not a cheap exercise. If the organisers cannot guarantee an equal quality of service, accommodation and experience, perhaps they should consider including a gradation in the tickets. Or a simpler solution would be to NOT SELL THE NUMBER OF TICKETS THEY DID.
Magnetic Fields 2015 was overcrowded. There wasn’t enough support staff, volunteers or Wild City organisers to handle the number of people the palace opened its doors to. There weren’t enough of the same quality tents, beds or blankets. Heck, there wasn’t even enough space for the 2000 or so people at the music venue for some of the stages.
Take the late night/early morning set by Soul Clap. It was in a “dungeon” basement venue that could accommodate only 300 people (about 2000 people were at the festival). I didn’t bother with it, because the line to get in was reminiscent of a New Delhi/Bombay club opening, but the organisers had no alternative stage or programming. This was it. If you knew the organisers, or managed to beg your way in, you’d see Soul Clap and continue the party you’d shelled out a pretty penny for. Else, march back to that tent with a slit (or ant colony) down the middle...
“It was bizarre,” says Gayeti Singh. “I waited in line only because there was nothing else to do. It took over an hour to make our way to the front, and all the while the Prince of Alsisar’s friends and others in-the-know got to skip the line. When we finally made our way to the front, the organisers let only two of us in, even though a group of six to eight people had just walked out. We entered and waited for our two other friends who had been in line with us. ‘Get in or get out, you cannot wait here, and we’re not letting any more people in,’ was the response from the organisers. It was ridiculous.”
Singh’s friends were eventually let in, but not before the organisers let a few more people jump the line.
Aditya Wadhwani, who has attended the festival twice, says, “Magnetic’s charm was that it was not aspiring to be the next Sunburn sensation, but elements of elitist partying such as queuing in lines takes away from the charm.”
And when I think about it, that lost charm is directly linked to the lost attitude. Last year, the organisers were extremely cooperative. This year, even simple requests such as accommodating friends together were not entertained.
In 2015, Magnetic Fields overtly grew into the beast that is music festivals in India.
But perhaps I shouldn’t be so surprised. Those within the Indian music scene sure as hell aren’t.
“The whole "scene" -- it’s not only Wild City -- but 90 percent of people are only interested in programming their friends. It’s very cliquey. Magnetic Fields is no different. It never was. It would be ok if they didn't stand on a holy pedestal pretending to save the "Indian indie music scene", but just call it like it is, which is an excuse for the Wild City bunch to party, get their friends to play some music, and make some money off the crowd lapping it all up,” says Srijan Mahajan, a musician who plays with Parikrama, Shubha Mudgal and is one-half of FuzzCulture.
Mahajan makes a point that resonates with other musicians. Dhruv Singh, Founder, Pagal Haina Records, recently posted on Facebook, “What's with festival organisers/promoters booking the same acts year after year? These dosti yaari scenes in the Indian indie circuit are eating away at it from the inside. Look beyond your f**king buddies and/or favourite acts, will you?”
One look at Magnetic Fields’ line up over the years (barring the international acts) and you’ll tend to agree with Mahajan and Singh.
Perhaps it was just a matter of time before Magnetic Fields disappointed. A small part of me still hopes that the organisers will read this and take some of the feedback into consideration as genuinely concerned criticism and not a puerile rant -- but judging by the attitude I witnessed, I’m not too optimistic on that front.
So RIP MagFields, it was nice knowing you.