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Nikhil Chinapa Talks New Dance Music Festival

Submerge’s Nikhil Chinapa gets candid about his new festival, set to be held in North Goa this December, the Submerge philosophy and his basic love for dance.

14 Oct, 2013

Abhimanyu Meer

Sub-Editor

Your timelines and twitter feeds have probably seen a fair amount of Nikhil Chinapa action lately. With the Submerge co-visionary speaking out in the candid manner that he’s done, Chinapa’s managed to draw attention away from the now public Sunburn-Submerge rift by opening up about his love for dance music and the reasons behind all of what he’s accomplished for the genre in India. And rightfully so. When it gets down to brass tacks, there are few as qualified as Nikhil Chinapa and Pearl when it comes to talking electronic dance music, its symbiotic relationship with Indian audiences, and the myriad festivals that cater to these audiences.

Last week, Chinapa announced a new music festival that’ll take place in Goa this December, in partnership with LIVE Viacom18 – a five-day-long dance party, heavy on its community aspect, one that’s super safe for women, and with some solid local talent being programmed. All of that is in the face of the now-Submerge-dissociated Sunburn festival, the Goa edition of which will also take place around the same time (if Chinapa’s Facebook page is to be believed, the very same weekend in fact). Chinapa also indicated on Facebook that the festival will take place on Candolim beach (though the press release only mentions North Goa), the same beach were Sunburn is held. We were earlier alerted of the news that Sunburn would not be taking place at Candolim when news reports of local authorities opposing the festival being held at Candolim appeared last month. Soon after, news emerged that a new promoter had booked the same venue for another dance music festival to be held on the same weekend. This is now likely to be the joint venture festival of Chinapa and LIVE Viacom18. However, Times of India reported over the weekend that a special State Level Event Planning Committee (SLEPC) of the government was as yet undecided whether any event, Sunburn or, as the news report suggested ‘Supersonic’, could take place at Candolim in December. While the authorities take their time making up their mind, one thing is for certain, Nikhil Chinapa is back in the festival business, and isn’t backing down.

An excerpt from Chinapa’s last Facebook post is below. Read all of it here

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Needless to say, it’ll be a new concept for electronic music festivals in the country. This year’s Bacardi NH7 Weekender capped ticket sales at 9,000 people to ensure a friendlier, more inclusive experience. At its most basic level, limited capacity = more room to dance, better security = audiences feeling safer, a community vibe = happy people. In essence, Chinapa agrees, not with the size issue, but with most other things, “No, the idea was never to make it smaller. The idea is to connect people with a unifying thought. We don’t necessarily need to go smaller with the festival to achieve that. We just need to get the people there to engage in that thought process together. The best festivals I’ve been to are ones where I walk in and I feel like, yeah, I belong. It should feel like family. That’s what I’m going for with this festival.”

When prodded on how the new festival will look aesthetically, Chinapa lets me into his mind for a bit, “I’ve always wanted to the festival I worked on to look like the pages of a comic book. I like fantasy elements and I would really like it to look that way and tell a great story. The only hinderance I see with this now is the timeline. We’re already in October, and I don’t want to additionally pressure the production team with the ideas in my head. We’re gonna start soon and build from there. I don’t want to overshoot my expectations of what it would look like, but I’m aiming for a balance. Like a good three-course meal.”

With Sunburn in Goa and its usual slew of big-name headliners across its various properties, it’s easy to pit the Submerge and Sunburn giants against each other, and even easier to talk about it now that they’ve parted ways, but it’s also fair to assume that there’s enough space in India’s festival calendar for many more festivals to coexist. However, Goa in December, when there exists a distinct possibility for fans and supporters to be divided over where to go, what do you do? Why choose the more inclusive, community-like festival experience for five days with Submerge over three days of top DJs? “I think it boils down to preference and choice. Take NH7 as an example. They’ve managed to curate an amazing festival with a feeling of belonging and without the added glamorous-big name tag. The communication is effective. They call themselves the happiest festival and they deliver on that. To be honest, there’s nothing wrong with one or the other. Of course, venues, price points and accessibility will also come into play, but it’s just personal preference at the end the day.”

Recent buzz notwithstanding, being touted as the pioneer of dance music/Godfather of EDM in India (a tag Chinapa indisputably hands over to DJ Akbar Sami) naturally comes with a lot of baggage. At the end of the day though, Submerge’s immense footprint and whatever Chinapa has gone on to achieve since, stems from a basic love for dance. Recalling history, Chinapa says, “(laughs) There’s only so much you can dance to ‘Kaliyon Ka Chaman‘ and ‘Mambo No. 5′. Back then, I was in clubs every weekend just to dance. And I wanted to hear something different. So, we decided to start parties, called DJs so we could dance and gave them the chance to play the stuff that they couldn’t play anywhere else.”

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Fire ‘N’ Ice, Mumbai, more than a decade ago. Nikhil Chinapa showing all the cats in the club how it’s done.

On lineups, venues and other details about the new festival, things over in Chinapa’s camp are predictably hushed. There has been mention of more local programming at the festival and Chinapa, in his capacity as festival director, stresses on balance. “I did the bulk of the programming at Sunburn, and what I know is that a lot of artists tend to sound very similar. An upcoming techno artist playing on Serato or Traktor sometimes sounds just like a guy who’s been a techno veteran playing for years. Even an experienced house DJ can tend to sound the same as that young dude headlining Tomorrowland. Things have become so much easier now. You can literally download a top DJ’s set, sequence tracks differently and call it your own. So, I’ve always maintained that it’s not just great to have killer music. You really need to evolve a style of your own. Create a style, stick to it. If you want a slot to play, you need to find a way to evolve your own style of music. Essentially, the overall festival will have a balance. There are some acts that are unique but may not be conducive the dance floor arena. And some acts that are just the opposite. We’re figuring all of that out.”

Coming back to his love for dance music and Submerge, Chinapa lets me in on the two cardinal rules that were put into place when Submerge was started. “Rule One was that you couldn’t tell the DJ what to play. You recognize he was an artist and if it wasn’t working right, it was your fault as a programmer. And Rule Two is don’t let DJs use the microphone. Let their music do the talking. DJs need to deliver the night. When it comes to programming anything, a high school dance, a disco night at a club, you need to be sure that the artist delivers.”

In this snippet below recorded at the Blue Frog, Nikhil Chinapa and techno legend Richie Hawtin talk shop.

Many years on, Nikhil Chinapa is on his way to create the festival that he sees in his head, one that’s free of things extraneous to the feeling of community that the dance music he’s believed in conjures up by itself, “You walk into a stage and feel like you fit. That’s what I wanna do.”

Photo credit: Fire N Ice/Vishal Shetty

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