Percept in the News

Sunburn Festival's return to Goa highlighted music across borders, a diverse artist lineup, a voice for climate change and unity in diversity
2 January, 2020

On the opening day of Sunburn Music Festival 2019 in Goa, the headliner, renowned French producer and programmer DJ Snake, urged his fans during his set to not discriminate against each other. He encouraged them to stay united, and not listen to what "the politician says." 

One could argue he was alluding to the ongoing Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) protests across India. However, his statement to stick together was a build-up to his 2015 chartbuster in association with Major Lazer, 'Lean On,' that was shot majorly in the country.
"Blow a kiss, fire a gun;
We need someone to lean on."
As the audience immersed themselves in the lyrics of 'Lean On,' the echoes of DJ Snake's statement kept reverberating at Vagator Beach. Was he really aware of the disturbing proceedings currently unfolding in the nation? The fact he was aware of Sridevi and Jeetendra's 'O Taki Taki' song from their 1983 hit Himmatwala indicated his deep interest in Indian pop culture. He briefly sang the chorus of the song after performing his popular collaboration with Selena Gomez and Cardi B from last year, 'Taki Taki.'
He concluded his set by waving the Indian National Flag. This was, however, only a flash of a political statement in an otherwise secluded music festival. There were no anti-CAA protest posters like 'Dumbledore would not have let it happen' or 'Winter is coming for Modi and Shah.' The festival was dedicated to pure Electronic Dance Music (EDM) enthusiasts, and was rather unapologetic about it.
But given the diverse lineup, with artists from around the world, Sunburn 2020 inadvertently made a significant political statement of its own. DJs from across the globe navigated countries to make inroads into India, only to entertain an audience, whom they could have ignored in their cozy comforts of Western privilege. Sure, they wanted to expand their fan base to other countries but in an era when the work of any artist can be accessed online, offering their fans a live experience only reinstates the fact that they believe in treating the world as one.
Music across borders
English songwriter Jonas Blue claimed he believes in exploring the diverse range of cultures the world offers in order to tap into his own recesses as an artist and human, and to observe how differently he reacts to different people from across the globe. In an exclusive interview to Firstpost, he explained, "I'm aware there's a huge culture of EDM in the West, in both the US and Europe. But that is just one culture, and I'm quite aware of it now. That's why I've traveled all the way to India in order to explore a new culture, that I'm not exactly familiar with. It will not only help my fans here with an opportunity to hear me but also add to my growth as an artist. So it's a two-way affair."
Earlier this month, Blue released a single 'Billboard,' in collaboration with Chinese singer Tifa Chen. He revealed he has plans to collaborate with Roger Karmanik (under the DJ name of Brighter Death Now) for a "part-Indian, part-English" single, that is likely to release in 2020.
Cuban-American DJ Maceo Plex says it is his maiden visit to India, and he is surprised by the number of people attending an EDM festival. "Indians are super passionate and very vocal about their music choices. Social media has helped them voice their interests to artists like me, who are too consumed in the other side of the world. I have to admit the crowd in Argentina also surprised me with their passion but the scene is a little different here. In Europe, they are exposed to a lot of opportunities to listen to artists from around the world. But in India, the choices are very limited so they make the most of every artists who comes to perform in the country every time. Not that the fans in Europe aren't passionate but I feel they're just spoilt."
Pleasing a diverse population
All the artists performing at Sunburn 2019 agree India is like a land of several countries. Given its diverse population, it is not easy to please their ears with only one EDM genre. Music enthusiasts from the North-East (which has a thriving music culture of its own), Himachal Pradesh, and Karnataka all congregated in Goa to enjoy the music festival.
The difference in tastes becomes even more layered when the larger definition of EDM is taken into account. From a genre of music that was limited to hardcore dance music, EDM has, over the years, embraced even those artists who specialise in sub-genres like techno and trance to please an audience that believes more in the 'vibe' than the foot-tapping quotient.
Artists like Blue, Belgian DJ Lost Frequencies, and Australian record producer Flume are glad Sunburn is also warming up to the broadening definition of EDM. "I agree most of the DJs go all hard on the audience. Initially, even I second-guessed the nature of the songs I specialised in. But over the years, I realised all these music festivals want me to perform there only because of what I do, and not because of what others do. So that was kind of a reaffirmation of my style of music," says Flume, who has come to be regarded as one of the pioneers of the sub-genre 'Chill-hop.'
Another artist, Lost Frequencies, who believes in going the mellow way with his music, thinks an eclectic festival like Sunburn, offers just the right mix of performers, for every kind of audience. "I'm performing here, after which Jonas Blue is in the line. His music is also kind of similar to mine. But then the night ends with DJ Snake, who is surely going to make everyone dance before the wrap. So I'm glad there is an artist for every kind of audience, from mellow to really hard. I'm also looking forward to collaborate with these different artists as our combined skill sets will produce something totally magical."
How Dare Ya?
Besides the notion of music transcending social and geographical borders, another issue that came to the fore, through this writer's interaction with an artist, was climate change. Flume, who has been an active voice from the global DJ circuit, raised awareness towards the conservation of the Great Barrier Reef, through his single two years ago, in association with Greenpeace.
He says he continues to get affected by the rampant issue of climate change and its constant glossing over by political authorities. "I had just taken a flight from Australia to India to come to this concert. I must say I was deeply affected by how some of my favourite places in the world got burnt down. Global warming is no longer a remote reality. I guess there's only so much artists like me can do to fix it. I hope the governments wake up to this at the earliest," says Flume.
Say nah to drugs
After three years of moving base to Pune, Sunburn returned to Goa this year. Along with claims of unpaid dues, another hurdle the organisers had to encounter was the allegations by local authorities and Congress that the music festival promotes the sale and use of recreational drugs in the state. Three attendees were reported dead over the course of the three-day festival (27 to 29 December) this year. While the police has clarified it is awaiting the detailed postmortem reports of the deceased, Congress members have alleged the cause of death is overuse of drugs.
Amidst all the hullabaloo, a fairly sensible artist, American DJ Luciano, had an insightful take on the issue of the drug menace, that stemmed from his personal experience. He claimed he was heavily reliant on drugs like marijuana in order to both create music and survive. However, after his rehab, he managed to bounce back and has remained sober ever since.
"I realised drugs are something impure. You don't want to pollute your body with something impure. However, if you are deep into it like I was, the only way out is to realise you control the intakes and not the vice-versa. I know it's easier said than done but one must realise the value of self-discretion when it comes to use of drugs rather than blaming it on all the authorities. I discovered something as pure as music can help me come out of it much faster."
From a political undercurrent to statements on controlling the drug menace and climate change, relevant issues did manage to sneak into the unadulterated fan experience of Sunburn Music Festival. For instance, when Maceo Plex was asked his take on music transcending borders, he had a rather selfish yet honest answer in store, "I'm sorry if this sounds politically incorrect but I don't make music for it to transcend borders. I just make it for my own sake. If it does unite people, it's just an added advantage."