Sense of Sound Assignment 2: NH7 Weekender

Map of the dewarists

For one who considers herself aligned more or less with the rock and punk rock scene, trance and EDM music is a genre that seems so far at the other end of the planet, it nearly seems to drop off it. In fact, trance and EDM really do sound like strange, mystical noises from space, with electronic thumping and a mixture of noises one cannot quite put a finger on.
So when I bought tickets for the NH7 Weekender in Pune last year I had to ask myself, “What the hell is an ‘emo’ kid going to do at a festival like this?’. Boy, did that question haunt me for those 3 days.

I must admit, the NH7 Weekender does make a very brave attempt at fulfilling its famous slogan of being the ‘happiest music festival’. The crowds are dressed up in skirts and headbands, smart t-shirts and boots, glitter and flower-crowns. Lanterns are hung across Pune’s Lakshmi grounds as people spill into the fields and await the night.

The stages are dedicated to different genres and (thankfully) the Bacardi Stage and Red Bull Tour Bus are dedicated to rock, metal and indie rock. Unfortunately, they are the least populated. On the other hand, the center, largest stage—the Dewarists—has lineups like Indian Ocean and the Raghu Dixit Project, fusion at its finest but ‘meh’ to me. On one side of the Dewarists was the Eristoff Wolves Den, with strange thumps and bumps that seemed to be emanating from it; and on the other the cave-like DubStation that well-dressed zombies seem to pour out from.

Despite actively avoiding both stages, curiosity (and considerable peer-pressure) got the best of me and I abandoned the mosh-pit to see what the fuss was all about. At first, DubStation seemed to be an underground club, darkened with a temporary roof and carpet as flooring, so unlike the other wonderfully open air stages. The place was thumping to say the least. People seemed completely intoxicated, moving their bodies in perfect sync to the music. They seemed like a shoal of fish moving in time. No eyes left the DJ who played on a small raised platform. The music was so loud it drowned any conversation, although I doubt there was any being held. I stood there awkwardly, not understanding what I was supposed to do. People swayed as if hypnotized but this wasn’t the least bit hypnotic to me. What made these people like the music so much that it totally took over their bodies? I was almost convinced everyone had taken some ceremonious drug before they entered, but then my friends pulled me back outside. Surprising that these regular EDM listeners had no taste for trance and hardcore beats.

Eventually, I arrived at the Wolves Den which made DubStation seem like a walk in the park. There were bodies everywhere. Not a square inch of space was wasted. People were pressed up in a sweaty congealment as they attempted to dance to the EDM that blasted from the stage. Nucleya was playing—not that I really knew who Nucleya was—and everyone seemed to be a long-time fan.

I found his music a shade better than what I had experienced at the DubStation. It was rhythmic, and verses and choruses could be followed. Despite the techno beat and electronic sound there were remixes of old Hindi songs with interesting melodies that served as harmonies to his beats. It was more comprehensible despite its abstract sound. If the song was about tigers or taxis, I wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference but at least I knew when the song started and ended and that was good enough for me.

As night fell, most of the crowd sat themselves on the grass around the Dewarists stage as the line of lanterns lit the sky like tiny floating moons. The stage itself was beautifully decorated with a colourful set that moved with the songs. It was a large map that mapped the journey of the Dewarists, and animals and constellations twinkled along with the beat as the night drew on. This seemed like the most ‘chilled out’ stage. The music wasn’t particularly to my liking but was fantastic to see as a live performance. The mixes between distorted electric guitars and sweetly picked violins was an incredible end to the night.

In retrospect, the Dewarists felt the most like artists. I was adamant in my opinion that DubStation was the last stop for the drunk party goers at the festival. I realize now how insulting that was to the musicians and fans of the genre, much like how it was insulting to see so few rock fans at the Bacardi stage. I know the trance or dubstep or EDM is not my cup of tea, but writing it off as music is unfair. Generations have changed and music had evolved with it. When the 21st century is considered electronic, why shouldn’t the music incorporate that? After all, wasn’t my most prized possession an electric guitar and not an acoustic one? And what about the bright orange distortion pedal I treasured? Wasn’t that too an electronic influence on music?

Ray Toro, ex-guitarist of (my favorite) band My Chemical Romance once tweeted that what makes EDM so special was that it wasn’t simply throwing sounds together. It took real musical talent to find harmonies and melodies in sounds which can appear to be disconnected. And the best part was that there wasn’t a set way to approach EDM. There weren’t any scales or chords that some 3rd century musician dictated, but it took honest talent and a good ear to know which beat went with which boop. Now how could I disagree with Toro?

He was right. As much as I disliked the music, I couldn’t honestly say it wasn’t music at all. It was different and required its own niche. NH7 was one of the platforms where people could really see that, and despite having the opportunity, I missed it.

I’m not saying that I’ve shed the black and become a Skrillex fan. But it is interesting to know he headed a metal band before turning DJ. And now I see how my favorite bands, 30 Second to Mars, Fall Out Boy, Paramore, Panic at the Disco! and even My Chemical Romance have adopted the EDM beats to their advantage. Rock doesn’t necessarily have to be just guitar and drums. With the new addition of the pop/EDM feel, rock too is evolving and changing. Although I sometimes (alright, most of the time) feel that current mainstream fans love EDM because they can dance to it–while at least slightly drunk– at least I can appreciate the effort and knowledge behind the music and be willing to be open minded about this much.

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