SULAFEST ’17: NOTES FROM THE FESTIVAL GROUNDS
Day Three: In which Your Chin sets the mood for a boozy Sunday afternoon, day-dreaming in the sun with a glass of wine, Dhruv Ghanekar scratches the surface of angst against the system, and Hilight Tribe and Infected Mushroom send the crowd into a right frenzy.
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07 February 2017

Day 3 begins with a set by Sky Rabbit frontman Raxit Tewari’s electro-alt solo act Your Chin. The festival organisers had clearly realised that the lack of shade in the amphitheater was a problem. Yellow Sula umbrellas are now spread across the amphitheater, creating small oases of shade where people could watch the acts from up close. There was a respectable crowd for such an early set, small clusters of people sitting and grooving along to Your Chin’s sun-kissed beats and familiar inscrutable drawl. It’s great music for boozy Sunday afternoons, day-dreaming in the sun with a glass of wine.

 

After the customary Reggae Rajahs interlude – I wonder what it is about a fake patois that makes people so enthusiastic about such inane doggerel – it’s time for yet another ska band to take the stage. This time it’s Mumbai’s The Fanculos. Fronted by Ramon Ibrahim, the band also features drummer JJ and saxophonist Ryan Sadri from erstwhile SoBo jam band Something Relevant. The Fanculos offer up a smoother, poppier take on ska and reggae than the 2-tone inspired Ska Vengers or Dubioza Kolektiv. This is ska via Goa, its rough, aggressive edges sanded off. The crowd is eating it up, prodded on by Ramon’s plentiful banter from the stage. A few tracks in, the group of hippies/circus performers make their entrance in new, but equally extravagant costumes. “That’s amazing,” gasps the girl next to me, as one of the men pulls off a particularly neat juggling trick. There’s a distinct carnival vibe to the festivities today. Some of it is probably due to Infected Mushroom’s presence on the lineup pulling in some of the psy-rave crowd. One of them waltzes past, a girl wearing glitter pants and a lush red and gold cape that she keeps swirling around her.

 

“The Fanculos offer up a smoother, poppier take on ska and reggae than the 2-tone inspired Ska Vengers or Dubioza Kolektiv. This is ska via Goa, its rough, aggressive edges sanded off.”

 

But it’s more than that. Taking a break from the music to get in some grub, and some people watching, I observe what seems like a fashion arms race where the weapons of choice are jewellery, temporary tattoos and high heels. It’s not exactly high fashion, but there’s something charming about the unshackled enthusiasm with which people are dressing up. And the men are no slackers either – shiny faux leather shirts, pink hot pants and suspenders are all around me.

 

The food court also seems to be where the Saturday night casualties have set up base. You can tell them by their glazed expressions, and the dark sunglasses that hide their bloodshot eyes. Some of them are slowly shovelling food into their mouth, refueling their systems for a long day of raging. Others are trying to drown their hangovers in more alcohol. I’ve always preferred the latter process myself. Especially when there’s such a variety of booze to choose from.

 

“I observe what seems like a fashion arms race where the weapons of choice are jewellery, temporary tattoos and high heels. It’s not exactly high fashion, but there’s something charming about the unshackled enthusiasm with which people are dressing up. And the men are no slackers either – shiny faux leather shirts, pink hot pants and suspenders are all around me.”

 

I return to watch Dhruv Ghanekar on stage with his new project Dhruv Voyage. Ghanekar fancies himself a curator of world music, each song tracing out a particular section of musical geography. Their set is littered with moments of individual brilliance – a masterful Ghanekar guitar solo, Artur Grigoyan’s magic on the sax, Kalpana Patowary’s transcendental vocals. But it suffers from some of the same problems that marr much ‘world music’ – self indulgence, an over-reliance on musical chops vs songwriting. Still, it gets the crowd moving. The songs with Patowary on vocals go down pretty well, especially with a small but vocal cadre of dedicated fans right up front. The set ends with a rousing song about “revolution”, which Dhruv dedicates to “every politician fucking things up in India.” Much hand-waving ensues, but I wonder why desi indie bands are so generic when they try to talk about politics? Perhaps one day they’ll feel confident enough in their politics to actually specify what their beloved revolution will actually be about, or who it will be against. Even love-bombs need a target, you know?

“I wonder why desi indie bands are so generic when they try to talk about politics? Perhaps one day they’ll feel confident enough in their politics to actually specify what their beloved revolution will actually be about, or who it will be against. Even love-bombs need a target, you know?”

 

Around this time, I and my friends get ambushed by an old colleague on a mission to get us all drunk. Never one to turn down a free drink, I get talked into doing not one, not two, but four round of whiskey shots. Between that trip to the bar, and having to pop backstage for a chat with the boys from Infected Mushroom, I end up missing most of the Afro Celt Sound System set. What I did manage to catch sounded fascinating though, especially the decision to supplement their Celtic and West African sound palette with a Punjabi dhol. I would have never thought bagpipes and dhol would be a good combination, but they managed to make it work.

 

“The amphitheatre stage is the most packed I’ve seen it, with a younger crowd that has come well prepared for Infected’s brand of high tempo psychedelia. When they break out into Becoming Insane, it seems like not one person in the arena is standing still. I half-expected a mosh-pit to break out.”

The rest of the night was given over to high energy psy-trance, which is almost as exhausting to watch as I assume it is to dance to. First up were France’s Hilight Tribe with a set of acoustic techno, or as they like to call it, “natural trance”. Tribal rhythms intersect with space age electronics, accompanied by the seat-of-the-pants rush that only comes from musicians playing live. They’re followed by Infected Mushroom, the Israeli act that has been at the forefront of progressive trance and electronic music for over two decades. The original duo now complemented by a guitarist and drummer, Infected Mushroom started their set with the more dubstep/EDM leaning sound of recent years, before digging into their back catalogue for some of their old trance classics. They may not have brought down their fill live visual rig, but the set is still a visual feast of projections, lights and confetti blasts. The amphitheatre stage is the most packed I’ve seen it, with a younger crowd that has come well prepared for Infected’s brand of high tempo psychedelia. When they break out into Becoming Insane, it seems like not one person in the arena is standing still. I half-expected a mosh-pit to break out. After one final burst of manic noise, the PA falls silent. It’s over, nothing left but to make a mad dash out of the gates before the narrow road is choked up with pedestrians and slow-moving cars. And then, it’s the open road back to Bombay. So long, Sulafest. It’s been real.

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