RadioandMusic
| 22 Feb 2020
Shillong will evolve into one of the most important centres for NH7 : Vijay Nair

MUMBAI: From a single-venue one day event to a massively-evolved multi-city multi-format establishment, the Vijay Nair led Only Much Louder’s NH7 Weekender has earned a few reasons to celebrate its evolution.

The diverse line-up over the years does not count as the only factor that reflects the festival’s popularity, but the ease in overcoming the challenges in a country still plagued by weak infrastructure and apathy to independent music also acts as a crucial attribute to its sustainability. Another example to define its influence is how several music promoters have eagerly and desperately followed OML’s footsteps, executing plans and ideas in a very NH7-esque manner.

From the trade and consumer perspective, NH7 has provided enough encouraging reasons to be excited about the prospect of associating with the festival. The festival undergoing changes through its venues isn’t a new development. However, in 2016, NH7 welcomed a new format, to the surprise of its loyalists, that hopes to cater to an audience never targeted earlier. The Express Edition, reviewed as a ‘fantastic’ addition by several critics, witnessed an average of 5000 visitors in Puducherry, Kolkata and Mysore, whereas the Nagpur edition received a footfall of 7000 attendees. But the most impressive figure arrived from Shillong, one of the three main venues, that received a turnout of at least 40000 fans for its second edition.  

Speaking to Radioandmusic.com’s Suhas Thobbi, OML founder Vijay Nair addressed the issues of exclusion of Bengaluru and Delhi from its 2016 circuit, the introduction of Express Editions , the importance of Shillong, organising 19 editions since inception and more.

You spoke highly about the efficiency experienced in hosting the Delhi edition last year. What led you to exclude the city from 2016 circuit?

One of the issues with Delhi is the venue. For events like NH7 or even EDC, you need a venue closer to the city or inside the city. Every city behaves differently. In Shillong’s case, the travelling fan wouldn’t mind travelling to the outskirts of the city, because it’s already far. That was not the case with Delhi. Fans had to drive to the outskirts and back in order to attend the event. In terms of venue, we are focusing on the fastest growing venues, and very clearly, Pune and Shillong have been the two cities that have achieved the goal.

So that exposes the NH7 loyalists of the north to no nearby NH7 venue? How did OML address that issue?

We are already seeing the highest number of tickets sold in Delhi for the Pune edition. The same was witnessed for the Shillong edition. Basically, the loyal fans are putting efforts to travel to the newer venues. It would be practically impossible to address the fans from across the country. Spreading different properties to different cities makes more sense right now.

Through your Facebook post (dated 25 Oct), you urged the people of Shillong to “start a discussion” concerning an issue that seems to be omnipresent in India – the capital culture. Is that the last resort for any music festival now – to seek support from fans in matters like these?

It was long overdue. The people in Shillong have an influence over the administrators and I believe, it’s necessary to ask people to get involved. Fans are a part of the festival, and they know their opinions matter. Unlike most other venues, the Shillong edition has most attendees living in Shillong, so the fans have a lot of power. So it was important to have their say in how things function in their hometown.

It might seem like a pessimistic view, but do you think people can change the mindset of bureaucrats and babus towards live events?

Well, the fact that the Facebook post was shared by several hundreds of people achieves one goal, and that’s the discussion. But in fact, that also resulted in a conversation with the officials. So it’s safe to say, the message reached the right people and got the right attention. It’s important to talk about issues, because when you do not talk about it, the issue will never be resolved. Now, one can be hopeful, a constructive outcome will occur and the same issues do not repeat at the next edition.   

Barring that factor, how was the second Shillong edition?

Oh! It was fantastic. The second edition had a bigger turnout. There lies no doubt that Shillong would be one of the most important centres for NH7.  

What was the vision behind the birth of Express Editions?

Express Editions are, literally, experimental editions for us. We are going to new markets. The Idea is to observe the kind of audience that exists in these cities and then create a strategy around it for years to come. Speaking about the response to this format, Pondicherry was exceptional. Nagpur had the maximum RSVPs, it’s been more than positive.

Out of the two main cities excluded from this year – Delhi and Bengaluru – which city was more difficult to let go?

To be honest, I don’t get emotionally involved with venues. So, I would say neither. Both were, pretty much, of the same scale, so I really cannot pick one. We wanted to try new cities for a long time. I genuinely did not have a choice in dropping the two for 2016.

It would be the fourth time NH7 Weekender Pune will move its base to another venue. Why is OML struggling to find a permanent home in Pune?

I do not think there can really be a permanent home. The reason why we have moved to a new venue is, we peaked out in the older venue (Laxmi Lawns). The traffic chaos, resulting during the festival, too was a factor. So we moved to the outskirts, it’s a matter of growth, not a choice.

The OML goal, echoed by Tej Brar (OML’s artist management head), is to improve the infrastructure concerning live music culture in the country. What are your short term and long term goals?

Right now, if we just focus on our properties, and strengthen the existing properties, that would be an ideal way to go forward. For example, if we do a huge thing in Shillong, then other promoters will follow. Not only does that help with music, but the tourism factor for the state concerned. Apart from that, growing relationships with state government really help, as has been the case with Maharashtra government.

For someone who introduced Pune as one of the possible venues to host a music festival in 2010, how do you perceive music festivals now acknowledging the city (and the region around it) transforming into a new home for other music festivals lately?

Unlike Mumbai, where you do not have an ideal venue, considering all aspects, to put up a music festival, Pune offers a perfect mix of several positive aspects for a promoter. It allows the Mumbai crowd to travel to the festival, and also the fact that the city already possesses a good amount of young music enthusiasts.

And you say that despite the fact that Mumbai just witnessed the biggest turnout to any live music event in the city – Global Citizen?

In order to organise a festival of NH7 size (or similar scale), you need the state and central government to come and work towards it (a factor that played a huge role in the success of Global Citizen). Such possibilities will not happen for every music festival. Plus, you cannot sell liquor on the MMRDA grounds and other complications drive promoters to Pune that offers fewer obstacles.

Nucleya managed to, once again, steal the spotlight at Shillong. Another example of Nucleya’s growth that it took some fans a Nucleya performance in North East to realise that the part of the country is not just about ‘Rock n Roll’?

I think we cannot give Nucleya more credit than what he deserves. North East always had an inclination towards dance music or EDM. If you ask someone like Arjun Vagale, you’d know there has been a techno scene for a long time there, and (Nucleya and similar acts)just continue to break the stereotype some still have about the North East.

Continuing with Nucleya, do you ever fear the musician would one day be no longer accessible ‘live’ to the audience that once could afford his gigs quite easily?

I don’t think that ever needs to happen. That is exactly why we put his music out for free. The reason why we provide one live show for free to his fans (like the famous album launch at NSCI in September) is because we are conscious of the range of fans his music goes out to.

Are you as surprised as anybody looking at his growth?

It’s not really that surprising to see his growth. Since Koocha Monster, we have been witnessing the rise in demand towards his show, and especially the response at his Weekender acts.  

Finally, have you ever given a serious thought about bringing Pearl Jam (apparently, favourite band) down for NH7 Weekender? If so, what’s the target to achieve so?

I have separated my personal choice with professional ambitions. One needs to look at the commercial factor. Honestly, there’s no wish-list. Right now, we are focusing on the upcoming Pune leg. Towards the end of the year, we would lay down the goals and objectives for 2017. We would just focus on what’s practical ‘now’.