| 14 Jul 2024
Percept D'Mark COO Manuj Agarwal - We expect 40,000 people over three days at Sunburn this time

In a short span of three years, Sunburn has become synonymous with electronic dance music festival - the only one of its kind in India.

Property of Percept D'Mark, Sunburn is getting recognised by international media and artistes for its festive focus. Some of the big names like Karl Kox, John Fleming, Armin Van Burren have already performed here. Despite the high ticket prices, the number of people attending the festival has gradually increased - which also makes Sunburn one of the most sucessful 'ticketed' events in India. What makes Sunburn unique? And why do people throng to Goa when it's December?

Percept D'Mark COO Manuj Agarwal speaks with's Chirag Sutar on what went behind developing this music festival, the long term focus which proved beneficial and about the scope of electronic dance music in India. Is this the next thing?

Read on...

In the last three years, how has the growth been…?

The response to the brand has been fantastic. It's very difficult to gauge the audience in terms of numbers…but last year was an exceptional year – despite 26/11 and and its aftermath when tourists were asked not to travel to Goa. In terms of media space, other festivals on similar lines have taken a minimum of 5-6 years, but Sunburn has managed to break even in two years.

We invested a lot in the first year – our investments have actually come down through three years. The main effort was that Sunburn has to be noticed in India and abroad. It was necessary to get credibility from international media and artistes because the genre that we deal with is still getting popular and people are still getting used to it. The other reason was, we also wanted to become a gateway for this genre of music because we knew it was coming into India – rather than somebody else taking it. We felt Sunburn should become that gateway.

Many event organizers had cancelled events on their own last year due to 26/11 why did you choose to go ahead?

We went ahead with an aim to conduct the event for peace and bringing people together. There were many international artistes who wanted to come down, despite the threat and Sunburn was more of a music promotion rather than a party event. We had a fantastic audience last year, in fact we doubled our audiences to 35,000 over three days.  

What kind of audience are you expecting this time?

We are expecting around 40,000 people over three days at Sunburn. We opened early bird tickets and even before the line up was announced, around 500 tickets were sold in 36 hours 

Is Sunburn supported by the Ministry of Tourism?

Yes, right from our first year. For them it's a huge platform. We started at a time when Goa wanted to shift from being a party destination to a family tourist and fun destination  If you see their campaign that started three years back, it said about Goa being 365 days of holidays and a place where you can be with your family.

Sunburn was a fantastic bridge between Goa being a fun place, to a clean party place and not the negativity of night parties because we were a day festival – we said we don't want to go beyond 10 pm    

People who come to Sunburn, come for the music – partying is a by product. With the kind of pull we have, we can easily do it on December 29, 30 or 31st but we don't want Sunburn to be confused with a New Year party. Sunburn is a music festival, it's an electronic dance music festival – people need to recognise Sunburn for the music and its experience 

Why Goa? Is it more tax friendly?

More than tax friendly, I would say it's event friendly – but that doesn't mean they don't have the proper regulations and taxing structures. The thing is they are just more open to innovations and experiments but at the same time, it is also stringent – for them, tourism is the biggest industry, so they are very careful in terms of what is happening as a public event.

Do you take any precautionary measures when it comes to anti-drug policy?

We are very careful about anti-drug policy ours is possibly the only event where you'll see 50-60 cameras. We have sniffer dogs and we also invite media inside. We have thrown people out even if we suspected of anyone having consumed any kind of drug.

There were plans to take Sunburn abroad?

If last year's economic downturn had not happened, we would have gone abroad too. We were in touch with Atlantic Dubai to host the festival in Dubai. Obviously, Sunburn will travel. In terms of Asia, we are touring within cities to connect to audiences which we feel are Sunburn audiences  In India, sampling is required because we have a diverse audience.

Why not one of the metropolises?

Metropolises work – but then it becomes very local – it will become a 'Mumbai Sunburn Festival', whereas in Goa it's not a Goa festival but an India festival… whatever you do in Goa, you are not doing it for the local audience. You are either doing it for the international audience or the tourist audience. So when you pick a place like that, it becomes a national property.

Do the international DJs have a special price for Indian markets?

When we got Karl Kox in the first year, we got them to promote themselves in the first year – music festivals always have a different relationship with the artistes than any other private concert or gig would have. Music festivals promote the genre and electronic dance music as a genre is still very new to India.

We do have a special relationship with most of the artistes because they are coming down on dates like December 27, 28 and 29 – on these dates, such artistes have the highest billing. They do make an exception because India is a huge market and secondly, because Europe and US were hit badly in the clubbing scene.

What percentage of the total costs is the cost of bringing the artistes?

It's around 35-40 per cent. A third goes in content,  another third goes on production and technical, and a third goes on promotions – that's the standard template that we follow. If we are going heavy on artistes this year, the promotions will have to come down a bit – that's how we balance it out 

Do you think the business opportunities in this genre are more compared to other genres?

The consumption opportunities are much more in this space – it's all to do with opportunities. If you increase the opportunities to consume something and put it in the right packaging, the market is going to grow. Till now, rock has never done that. They have relied so much on the artistes, and so much on one-off gigs - that is one of the reasons why it has not grown beyond that. They are not taking a steady long term approach.

A lot of sponsorship has gone to cricket wasn't getting a sponsor challenging?

Sponsors are looking for short term goals because of the entire downturn and we are very strict about that if the sponsor does not agree with our vision, we will not have them. So, last year the slate was clean – we did not take any sponsors and that way it was difficult. We don't want to create a property which keeps on changing its image...

You spoke about long term tie-ups… this year features Fly Kingfisher as your title sponsor – are they going to be your sponsors from now on?

We have a great relationship with the brand our sports division handles 'Team India' the team which Vijay Mallya supports. Though it's not long term on paper, in terms of understanding they are  

What is a Mini Sunburn?

Mini Sunburn is a bit different from the Sunburn. For Mini Sunburn we sample some good international artistes and then we promote sunburn in terms of experience and this is going to increase now – it is going to be a regular feature every month, the scale is going  to go up because the idea is to make a community.

What happened to Metalfest? It was started around the same time as Sunburn... why was it put on hold?

We launched Metalfest the same time when we launched Sunburn the problem with Metalfest is in terms of the audience. Rock and metal are sponsored genres in India still. The audience which goes behind rock is much younger and they are also limited in terms of financial capacity, to add, you cannot have a total ticket model. We on the other hand, want to promote properties which are 30 per cent sponsorship and 70 per cent ticketed – right now it's reverse. We wanted to go the entire heavy metal way, but the audience is limited there. We are planning to revise it and it'll be in a different way when we come back again – it will be more in a festival way. We are planning to change the format a bit and include rock and blues besides metal.