The electronic music scene is blossoming in India and set within a royal palace in a remote desert city, Magnetic Fields is the jewel in the crown.
If you're looking for a festival that's as much of an adventure getting there as it is being there, Magnetic Fields is calling your name. The contemporary music, arts and culture festival is held in the midst of a desert in a remote village called Alsisar in the region of Rajasthan. It takes five hours to reach from its nearest big city neighbour, Delhi and its remoteness demands dedication from the people who go as well as the promoters.
The reward on getting there however, is discovering one of the world's most unique festivals. Magnetic Fields began life with a chance conversation between one of the promoters and the prince of Alsisar and this year it celebrates five years in operation between December 15 and 17.
Ten years ago India's dance music scene revolved mostly around Goa. Outside of the westernised hippy rave enclave, the scene was fragmented. EDM kickstarted a new wave of interest among the country's raving middle classes and just like the US where EDM proved to be a gateway genre for fans to get into the good stuff, in India the scene has rapidly matured. Last month we told you about Mumbai's City Session and Magnetic Fields shares a similar devotion to cutting edge dance music.
Four Tet, Ben UFO, Actress and Special Request are among some of the revered artists invited to play for the festival's music stages and Boiler Room and Red Bull Music Academy will also be hosting stages throughout the weekend.
We spoke to festival co-founder, Sarah Chawla, about the journey Magnetic Fields has been on so far, the challenges of putting on a festival in the desert in a country like India, and what we can expect this year.
Ibiza Voice: Can you describe what we may find we arrive at Magnetic Fields?
Sarah Chawla: A desert that has been converted into a pop-up sprawling township complete with accommodation for 3,000 people. Beautiful installations, murals that stand alongside centuries old frescoes, a loving and supportive community of fans and a whole village which is proud of what takes place in their home. And of course, some of the best artists from India and around the world.
How has it changed over the last five years?
It has grown from a large party of 400 in its first year to an impressive gathering of 3,000. The 2016 edition was especially nerve racking as we introduced a number of new content streams and partnerships, there was also a lot more hype and expectation from the audience. 2017 sees us gather steam with newer content streams like [wellness area] Magnetic Sanctuary and more stages and newer spaces.
How did you decide on the site for Magnetic Fields?
It was a fortuitous meeting between one of the partners, Smita Singh Rathore, with the Prince of Alsisar, Abhimanyu Alsisar that sparked off the initial conversation. And when we saw Alsisar Mahal, we just knew that this where our vision of the kind of music festival we wanted to do, would come alive.
All of the partners got involved in Magnetic Fields for different reasons but for Munbir and I, we were really excited by what was happening in India and didn’t feel there was a space that reflected the beautiful and vibrant music scene here. We wanted to instigate that magic mix of community, music and hedonism.
Is it a challenging festival to produce?
The location, as magical as it is, is also a logistical nightmare. We’re in the middle of Rajasthan and pretty much get everything from Delhi or Bombay. Our Bedouin city comprised of over 500 en suite tents. There is also the fact that most people probably don’t know 99 per cent of the artists on the lineup. Water, alcohol, licenses, ticketing, artist visas and sponsorship are all challenges and hurdles that we face every step of the way.
What is the main ethos of the festival?
The opportunity to showcase a side of India that most people miss, or worse, ignore. It’s important for us to showcase contemporary and alternative Indian culture.
What is the scene like in India?
It's exciting and changing with every week. India is slowly coming into its own with respect to sound, aesthetics and confidence. Artists like Sandunes, Parekh & Singh or Oceantide are creating ripples that are travelling far and wide.
Can you describe the character of the stages and how they differ?
The Bira 91 South Stage is in the palace gardens and is where we showcase live music, from bands to producers. This year, it features Machinedrum, Teebs, Khuarangbin, Different Trains 1947 alongside Indian acts like Komorebi, Ape Echoes, Aerate Sound and more. The Red Bull Music Academy North Stage is where some of the world’s most exciting DJs and producers and selectors hold fort. We also have the Renault Desert Oasis which basically wakes up the Bedouin village and energises them for the day and night ahead.
The Peacock Jazz Club came out of an idea to offer attendees an alternative to the night stage, and is curated by Delhi’s best jazz venue. This year we are also introducing two new spaces, Bira 91 Freeflow Garden which is a beats-meets-BBQ space, and Saavn Sundowners, where as dusk falls, live electronica will take centre-stage on the palace rooftop. So each space has its own unique sound.
What part does art play in the event?
We are a contemporary arts and music festival so art does play a very essential role in our aesthetic. Additionally, Alsisar Mahal is in an area known as the biggest open-air art gallery, every building has frescoes.
Has it been difficult promoting the festival to other parts of the world?
Munbir and I are from the UK and have a network of friends and peers in the music and arts industry back home. That helped kickstart conversation but the international press and artists have been so generous in their praise that word has spread quickly and far.
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