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As Hardwell is confirmed for Shailendra Singh's new benefit festival, the EDM entrepreneur chats with IQ about the local scene—and why child poverty is everyone's problem
By Jon Chapple on 21 Apr 2017
Indian promoter Shailendra Singh, the self-styled ‘entertainment maverick’ best known as the creator of the wildly successful Sunburn EDM brand, this week took the wraps off World’s Biggest Guestlist: a festival franchise with a difference.
Headlined by superstar DJ Hardwell and promoted by Singh’s new nonprofit social enterprise, Guestlist4Good, World’s Biggest Guestlist Festival (WBGLF) has as its goal to educate 100,000 underprivileged children through three days of music, sports and live Bollywood.
The new festival, which Singh tells IQ allows ordinary fans to “experience a world-class show from a [free] guestlist”, follows a previous World’s Biggest Guestlist event in Mumbai (Bombay) in December 2015, also headlined by Hardwell, which was streamed by 10 million people and raised enough through donations to educate 18,000 children.
“Although we achieved, and excelled, with our donations goal, we all knew that more could be done,” comments Hardwell, “so it is for this reason we decided to go back to India and make the goal even bigger by aiming to educate 100,000 young children. And this time, I’ll be joined by some of my biggest and best DJ friends who will be helping us achieve this aim.”
Singh discussed the genesis of the project last month in a wide-ranging interview with IQ, explaining how, in contrast to events such as Live Aid in the West, India had never had a benefit concert of its own. He noticed, he explained, how “everyone is driven by commerce; no one is driven by love”.
“It won’t be long before we get that one Indian superstar”
While “driven by commerce” would also be a fair descriptor for Percept joint MD Singh, whose career has included spells in advertising, talent management, sports marketing, film and live entertainment (in addition to its flagship festival, Sunburn hosts smaller shows in 78 cities across India throughout the year), he is also associated with more than 50 charities and describes World’s Biggest Guestlist as his “latest game-changer”.
Percept/Guestlist4Good’s role in WBGLF, which is produced in partnership with Magic Bus, the charity that provides the education, is to attract the talent necessary to get Magic Bus’s work in front of the biggest number of people possible.
Charities, said Singh, are “honest people – they need people from our corrupt, commercial world to make events like this happen.” (He likened it to a Hindi proverb, ‘Who saw a peacock dance in the woods?’, which alludes to the necessity of making good things public in order to be appreciated.)
He adds that the effects of child poverty stretch far outside India’s borders. “India has the youngest population in the world, but 84 million children are under-educated,” he continues. “We also make up one in every seven people in the world, so it’s not just an Indian problem – it’s a global problem.”
Hardwell and other as-yet-unannounced EDM stars will play the third day of WBGLF, held on 3 December at DY Patil Stadium (56,000-cap.) in Mumbai, with the first and second days given over to India’s two other passions: Bollywood and sports.
On EDM (electronic dance music) – which has become a phenomenon among young people in India, packing out stadia and attracting the attention of international heavy-hitters such as Electric Daisy Carnival and Ultra – Singh praised the strength of local scene, saying it’s “only a matter” of time before India produces its own DJ superstar.
“Charities are honest people – they need people from the commercial world to make events like this happen”
While Sunburn headliners are, for the most part, still white and European, Singh said the past few years have seen homegrown DJs “exploding”, becoming global brands in their own right.
“All it needs is one Indian success story to open the floodgates,” he commented. “At Sunburn we now have 40–50% Indian artists… It won’t be long before we get that one Indian superstar.”
While the emergence of dance music in India has seen its fair share of opposition – Sunburn itself moved to Pune after being driven out of Goa amid controversy over its ‘immorality’ – WBGLF should hopefully go some way to changing the minds of those who consider EDM “against Indian culture”.
For Anna Knaup, Hardwell’s manager and agent, WBGLF is an opportunity for the DJ’s United We Are Foundation to “kickstart an educational revolution”.
“During our first trip, we had a chance to connect with the children living in the slums and, later, witness the power of support from not just the local community but the world at large,” she says. “The extremity of the poverty for these children is real and truly heart-breaking. Now we have a chance to make a bigger impact on helping to change their lives for the better.”
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