“India's music festival scene seems to have taken a leaf out of the big fat Indian wedding booklet. They keep getting grander,” I overheard a fellow attendee who was attending her first major music festival in India.
First of all, let's establish that I'm no expert on the subject. But music fest regulars keep telling me about amplified audiences and improved logistical arrangements in the last few years. These efforts have definitely put India on the world map of parties and merrymaking in the name of music. I assume that most of you reading this are at least aware of the Fyre documentary on Netflix; so we know how bad things can get.
My friends from the PR industry insist that Budweiser, especially with its vertical Budweiser Experiences (BE), has had a critical impact in this space. To be honest, it's hard to ignore the good things that have happened in electronic music via BE fests like Tomorrowland, Electric Daisy Carnival, and Sensation. In India, it has also introduced 'What's Brewing' – a global music platform where local and international artists perform exclusive sets and BUDx Boiler Room, which claims to be the first global electronic music lab in India.
Budweiser Experiences calls itself an innovative platform curated with an aim to shape youth culture in India and provide world-class experiences for our consumers across the passion points of music, art, sport and lifestyle. And going by our experience at Sensation, when they invited us over for arguably India's most well-known dance music festival Magnetic Fields, we had to answer the call.
It was my first trip to the magical land of musical experiences in the North West corner of Rajasthan, Jhunjhunu. The festival takes over the ostentatious Alsisar Mahal every December to bring together the most regal rave in India. Around 4,000 partygoers gather to freely glamp in the sand, meander across sunbaked roofs, and enjoy the fluid nature of the festival's structure (you aren't given the Festival Guidebook until you arrive at the venue) across three days.
Plot twist: I was sober throughout the rave.
I'm not averse to experiments, but ingesting psychedelics didn't feel as inviting at that point in time. It's easy to feel like a misfit in that sea of 3,999-odd others in that situation but I got through and had a lot of fun in the process. With the party season is in full swing right now, you might also find yourself in similar situations. That's why your saviour has made you a proper guide to stay sober and yet make the most of India's big fat music festivals. And it goes like this:Immerse in the travels
There's only one way to approach Alsisar Mahal i.e road transport. Most attendees chose to drive but our media junket was provided with our own bus from Delhi. The camp site was around 225km away and the landscapes after exiting the NCR confines were a huge relief from city life. More so for the music journalists who were travelling from Mumbai.
There's only one midway restaurant on the way though. Cars had made a beeline and the costumes of their passengers were a definite giveaway about their destination. Do try their pakodas with chaai, and have a plate of the biryani if the hunger pangs are too intense. Pro tip: Carry your own cigarettes and carry your own snacks. Everything else you're too careful about, I'm sure.Make friends
I met a few familiar faces from my Mumbai circles, in Delhi. But little did I know about India's music journalist community. Some of them, just like the sports and auto sectors, are true nerds of their craft. And eventually, nothing beats a good old glass of rum to make new friends.
The rest of the fest's audience was drawn from across the country, particularly the party-friendly cities of Mumbai and Bangalore. There were also expats from the Gulf and a number of Europeans, of the backpacking, hippy variety, who were climaxing on this orgasmic intersection of 'culture' and history.
“Ek bottle paani,” I heard a white dude ask a local vendor. A few quick exchanges later we exchanged numbers and promised to host each other in Germany and Delhi respectively. Pro tip: Just go up to people and talk. Most fest goers don't bite.Eat well
Speaking of local vendors, don't fall into the trap of glamping restaurants; rather eat at the by lanes running along the palace's boundary walls. The entire village comes to life during Magnetic Fields and locals conjure up tiny eateries, extending from their patios. Try out all the local food and especially some of the desi chicken and mutton preparations. It was so cold I couldn't resist the Maggi and eggs either. Pro tip: Carry toilet rolls if anything goes wrong. You're in the middle of a fucking desert.
Colder climates don't run a high risk of dehydration unless you're drinking. Alcohol can easily be obtained at one of these makeshift local shops. Prices are nearly double the standard rates, but that's the least you can pay for that convenience. Either way, stay hydrated under the day Sun (which can be scorching at times) and pee responsibly.Enjoy the countryside
Apart from satiating gastronomic requisites, the Rajasthani countryside also offers unique handloom shops and other surprises. It likes to pride itself in being a capsule illustrative if a time when the land was ruled by Rajput warriors. Look carefully and you'll find ancient frescos and carvings on the medieval era buildings.
Lucky ones, like yours truly, also get guided tours from the palace's prince himself. He followed him around the maze-like gullies and arrived at a pop-up staged called Pukaar. No trip to Rajasthan is ever complete without a dose of folk music and Kutle Khan's group was just that glimpse of the region's melodic prowess. Pro tip: Talk to the locals, they're fascinated by everything that's happening around them. PS: The more orthodox ones might just be a little pissedLet the music guide you
And finally, the variety of musical experiences is a fitting exhibition of the festival's essence. There's a stage called Oasis, which is a cute little setup in the sand. DJs from Monica Dogra to Kristy Harper, and Delhi Sultanate played under the winter Sun here across the three days. Grab a six-pack from a nearby counter and you're sorted for a few hours.
The sundown magic begins at the terrace party, where I discovered the effortless coolness of Lifafa and the nights then unfold at the North Stage, the South Stage and the BudxYard. Along with the likes of Daphin, Pangaea and Carista at these arenas, a Delhi band called Submarine in Space enthralled a niche crowd at Piano Man Jazz Club's 'The Peacock Club' stage.
My personal favourite at the festival though was undoubtedly Tajdar Junaid. Before his participation was announced, big acts including Nabihah Iqbal were cancelled. Music journalists were especially bummed, but Junaid put a smile on everyone's face and a tear or two in a few eyes. Pro tip: Keep listening, there'll be a tune for you.
So there you go. Next time you're feeling left out at Mag Fields or any other big fat Indian music fest, here's your tried and tested guide to merriment. Thank me later.