What do Pete Tong and thread-finned salmon have in common? They both make a ton of cash for local fishermen in the Indian seaside state of Goa, this year at least. During the Christmas and New Years period, tens of thousands of people flocked to the usually quiet villages of the Goan beaches to party at Sunburn, India’s premier dance music festival on the beach. The locals doubled their prices, visitors happily paid from their converted foreign currency, and much merriment was had by all. But it wasn’t always like this.
If you had told any of those freaky ravers in tie-dye linens, covered in Sanskrit symbols, back in 1995, that this isolated ocean paradise they treasured as an outpost in the war against London’s commercial superclubs would, in 2011, be hosting some of the biggest names in dance music including Pete Tong, Steve Angello, and Gabriel & Dresden, they probably would have assumed you’d imbibed a little too much of the local LSD. Late last December that is exactly what happened, as Goa hosted the 5th Annual Sunburn Festival and the line-up was nothing short of stellar, equal to anything you would find at a top-notch festival in Europe. When you bring together the stunning tropical beaches with world class DJ’s and the sweet people and culture of India, it’s a pretty hard combination to beat. Clearly event production in India has reached international standards with the giant beach front staging and soundsystems looking like something from an Alice in Wonderland play set in a Thomas Cook tropical holiday brochure – truly epic! Considering the promoters were negotiating with the government until late into the morning the night before kickoff over licensing issues, the Sunburn crew did a great job of repping Indian festival culture. Due to said licensing issues the festival was dry for most of the first day but it dampened no one’s enthusiasm, and may have saved a few overly keen foreigners who may not have coped so well with the tropical heat as well as the onslaught of the various beverages that came in by the trailer load toward the end of the first night.
One of Sunburn’s best-kept secrets this year was the bass stage. All though the festival is predominantly house, progressive, techno and trance oriented, Sunburn decided to pony up and add a dedicated Bass Music stage for 2011, which was steered mainly by the very talented locals with additional support from myself on the eve of the first night. It’s incredible how fast the Bass music bug has spread across the face of the planet and India is no exception. Artists like Mumbai’s B.R.E.E.D. and Delhi-based Nucleya are making deadly beats with an impressively futuristic slant and, while some of their tunes will fit into my set seamlessly, some of it really doesn’t sound like music from any where else in the world right now… which is even better!
Before Nucleya’s set is a sterling semi live performance by local dub sound system Dakta Dub and Reggae Rajahs out of Delhi. They have been working with UK Dancehall MC Mr Williamz and their opening set showed just why a hot UK MC would fly to Delhi to work with them. They lay down the bass foundations for the first day’s music with a set of heavy yet eclectic dub, roots and dancehall. Their tunes with Indian’s premier Dancehall MC Delhi Sultanate are in the cooker right now, but if this live performance is anything to go by, their subcontinental sound with pointed lyrics dealing with contemporary Indian social issues will be well worth checking out when the studio doors re-open post-recording.
So, gone are the days of the trance raves on the unspoilt Goan beaches of yore, but gone too is the omnipresent 24/7 trance music that came with it, and replacing both of them is an international scene of well-skilled producers, DJ’s and festivals all combined with the unique local flavors. It’s a predominantly 4/4 based musical landscape but one with a healthy variety of producers creating diverse and progressive sounds. I’m pretty sure I didn’t get spiked with the local LSD, but would you believe me if I said to you that in five years time the Indian subcontinent is going to have a booming local scene teeming with unique producers, DJ’s and new music lovers creating and exporting music steeped in the richness of their 4000-year-old musical culture? I’d put money on it, if Sunburn Festival 2011 is anything to go by. Let’s wait and see.
Words: Freq Nasty