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India: State of Hindipendents

If there were an award for the greatest potential touring market, India would be on that stage, brandishing the trophy, year in, year out. With a population nudging 1.4 billion and projected to surpass that of China by 2022, India is about as vast as countries get. Nonetheless, when a big band comes to town, the comparative rarity of the event still makes global headlines.

U2’s show in December at Mumbai’s DY Patil Stadium, the very last stop on the fifth leg of The Joshua Tree Tour, wasn’t the first superstar show to come to India – far from it: The Stones played Mumbai and Bangalore in 2003, while Beyoncé and Shakira came in 2007, Metallica in 2011, Coldplay in 2016, and Ed Sheeran in 2015 and 2017, with other significant visitors in between.

But each major concert fires up the expectation that India’s biggest cities could soon become routine destinations for the world’s biggest artists. And U2’s show before a crowd of 42,590, staged by local ticketing giant BookMyShow in partnership with Live Nation, got the country dreaming once more.

“There were a lot of reservations from everybody coming into India,” says BookMyShow CEO and founder Ashish Hemrajani, who freely concedes that India has failed to meet international expectations for live shows in the past. “It was the first outing for U2 here; it was the first show of this scale and magnitude; it was the last show of the tour. There was a lot riding on it and everyone was on tenterhooks.”

BookMyShow has been scaling up its promoting exploits in recent years, bringing Cirque du Soleil, NBA pre-season games, an adapted Hindi Aladdin and the Coldplay-headlined Mumbai edition of the Global Citizen festival, but Hemrajani says U2 represented a new level and a new set of pressures.

“There were a lot of reservations from everybody coming into India”

“We have got a great team in India, but nothing prepares you for dealing with Arthur Fogel, with Jake Berry and the whole team,” he says. “But if you talk to the folks that we dealt with, they were very pleasantly surprised by the level of professionalism they found.”

More than anyone else in the Indian business, Hemrajani has both a vision and a platform to bring about a revolution in the nation’s live entertainment offering. BookMyShow sells between 35% and 50% of all cinema tickets in a cinema-mad nation (“we are a hot, dusty country, which is an assault on all your senses, and cinema is the cheapest, most comfortable form of indoor entertainment,” he explains), and played a part in the massive success of the Indian Premier League (IPL) of cricket. If Hemrajani judges that India is ripe for some concert-going, the chances are he knows what he is talking about.

The same feeling has recently been in the air across the country. The preceding month, also at DY Patil Stadium, Katy Perry and Dua Lipa inaugurated the OnePlus Music Festival, along with local acts Amit Trivedi, Ritviz, as we keep searching and The Local Train. Both of the top-billers were new to the market, and again, the show was an unconventional labour of love, this time organised by the local operation of Chinese smartphone brand OnePlus, which rivals Samsung and Apple in India.

As OnePlus India general manager Vikas Agarwal told India’s The Telegraph newspaper: “[We were] not looking to organise everything by ourselves, but the country [was] not yet ready to organise such a large-scale event. [So] starting from the artist selection to the whole conceptualisation of the event, logistics – everything was done for the first time by the brand. I hope more such events will be organised in India.”

And then, of course, came Covid-19, to which we will inevitably return in a minute.

“The folks that we dealt with were very pleasantly surprised by the level of professionalism they found”

Still a mostly rural nation of numerous languages and cultures, heavily regionalised laws and huge inequality, India has always had more pressing priorities than slotting conveniently into a Western live music model. All the same, its entertainment market is highly evolved. The homegrown cinema industry enjoys a sophisticated, mostly mobile ticketing infrastructure, spearheaded by BookMyShow, with strong competition lately from Alibaba-backed Paytm. Both have diverse businesses and are busy across many sectors, including cricket, theatre, food and mobile payments.

Online ticketing was reckoned to be worth $330 million in 2017, according to Indian management consultant RedSeer, whose prediction of $580m in revenues this year has sadly been scuppered by recent events. In the past, the lion’s share of online ticket sales (55%), was for movies, with sport on 25% and events taking the remaining 20%, though both the latter categories are growing.

EDM, in particular, has found a booming home in India, where there is a large network of clubs and established festivals, from OML’s multi-city Bacardi NH7 Weekender to the monster Sunburn in Pune.

“The electronic music scene in the country has developed into its own industry and it’s spread to wider parts of the country,” says Dev Bhatia of dance music management and booking agency UnMute. “Having said that, I still feel we’re barely scratching the surface. Considering India will [soon] have five to six hundred million people under the age of 35 with cell phones and accessibility, the potential is endless.”

That potential is currently on pause. At the time of writing, India was attempting to relax its notably strict lockdown conditions even as it faced a record spike in Covid-19 infections. In a country where many millions of informal  workers live on a daily wage, the economy can’t stand idle for long.


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India sees live events boom in 2019

The number of tickets sold for live events in India increased significantly in 2019, according to new data from ticketing platform BookMyShow.

The number of events listed on BookMyShow – valued at US$1 billion and “easily the dominant force in Indian ticketing”, according to the International Ticketing Yearbook 2019 – jumped 23% last year, to more than 17,500, with concerts the second-biggest attraction after ever-popular cricket.

Live events “wholly executed by” (ie sold only via) BookMyShow, meanwhile, increased 156% in 2019, reports India’s Moneycontrol.

Among the most popular live events were Sunburn festival U2’s first Indian show

Among the most popular live music events in India, a market of some 1.4bn people, last year were the 2019 edition of the Sunburn EDM festival in Goa, which was attended by 300,000 fans, and U2’s first-ever Indian show – of which more than a quarter of those who attended were first-time attendees to a live event in Mumbai (Bombay).

Elsewhere, the CEO of BookMyShow’s chief rival, Alibaba-backed Paytm, Shreyas Srinivasan, says it sold more than 7.5 million tickets in 2019, with a 25% increase in the number of events ticketed.

While live events contribute an estimated 50% of India’s online ticketing revenues, it remains films which are doing the biggest business: Avengers: Endgame was BookMyShow’s biggest event of 2019, according to the Eastern Mirror, with 8.6 million tickets sold.


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Gaydon on GOAT Fest: ‘Most intense experience of my life’

When GOAT Music – the bookings and events agency co-founded by the Roundhouse’s former head of music, Dave Gaydon – announced last November its first festival would be in Goa, the choice of location met with some raised eyebrows at IQ Towers.

The coastal state had, after all, already driven away festival colossi Sunburn and Supersonic – each of which attracted hundreds of thousands of EDM fans (and rupees) to the region annually – and a chronic shortage of cash was then emptying venues and cancelling festivals nationwide.

As it turned out, however, the biggest hurdle to organising GOAT Festival, the newest addition to the festival calendar in the world’s largest democracy, came in the form of election season.

“We were told elections were definitely going to take place in April,” Gaydon explains, “but as soon as we stepped off the plane at the beginning at January, we found out they were on 4 February. So we had to rapidly rethink what we were going to do.”

Gaydon tells IQ the plan was originally to hold the daytime portion of GOAT Festival in the inland jungles of northern Goa, but was forced to decamp to a new festival site on Marbela Beach, in Morjim – originally slated as the night-time venue – after its licence was revoked.

“We wanted it to keep it about the locals while also exposing international travellers to amazing Indian artists”

The difficulty in staging live acts on Marbela also necessitated a change in format and line-up, with Hercules and Love Affair, Dope St Jude, Sorceress and Yussef Kamaal among the performers axed from the programme.

“People had already bought tickets, so we had to salvage something,” continues Gaydon. “We lost a few acts, but we were still able to do a really good, diverse programme, as well as other things like yoga, massages, gong therapy…”

Despite the logistical difficulties posed by the impending elections – the Goan government is disbanded after elections are announced, explains Gaydon, with an election commission taking over and rigorous restrictions imposed on public events – he emphasises the Department of Tourism was “hugely supportive” of GOAT’s vision for the event.

“We sold them the idea of a Western-style festival like Secret Garden Party,” continues Gaydon, who says he made it clear it “wouldn’t be like an EDM event” (read: loud music and drugs) but more of an exchange between Western and Indian culture. “We told the tourism board we wanted it to keep it about locals, Indians, while also exposing international travellers to amazing Indian artists, which is why we had half Indian artists and half from the rest of the world.”

The 2,300+ attendees, too, were a “really good mix”, he says, with an even split between Indians and foreigners.

“People had already bought tickets, so we had to salvage something”

In spite of the setbacks – which also included the festival kicking off silently at 2pm on 27 January because the final licence didn’t arrive until 3.30 – Gaydon says Team GOAT will definitely be back in Goa next year. “We’ve invested so much time, energy and money into the festival,” he says. “Amazingly, we only made a small loss – and now we’ve got great content and ideas [for future events]”.

Gaydon says while GOAT Festival, whose capacity is currently 3,000+, will never approach Sunburn levels, he hopes to increase visitor numbers year on year, to an eventual goal of between 5,000 and 6,000. “We ran it unsponsored this year,” he adds, “but we can now go to sponsors with imagery and figures and say, ‘This is what we’re doing…'”

GOAT’s long-term goal, he concludes, is to cement its relationships with the local industry and “establish ourselves as promoters in India”.

So, no regrets?

“It was the most intense experience of my life – but well worth it in the end.”


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Loss of festivals no big deal, says Goan minister

There will be no decline in tourism in Goa this Christmas, despite the state government having forced two of India’s biggest musical festivals to relocate, its tourism minister has declared.

Rival dance music festivals Sunburn and Supersonic – the former of which attracted 350,000 festivalgoers in 2015 – will both move to Pune (Poona), in Maharashtra, this December after Dilip Parulekar declared they would no longer be welcome in Goa in 2016.

Speaking to the IANS news agency, Parulekar says the impact on tourism should be minimal. “People come for Goa’s culture, not because of EDM,” he comments. “It will not affect [footfall] much.”

“People come for Goa’s culture, not because of EDM”

Announcing Supersonic’s move, Saugato Bhowmik, of promoter Viacom18, praised Pune for its “openness towards modern influences” – in contrast, perhaps, to Goa, where one local politician accused dance music of being “against [Indian] culture and [pro-] pushing drugs” – and a “world-class destination” for the festival.

“Deeply-rooted in culture and traditions, the city is known for its openness towards modern influences and thought, Pune is a seamless blend of local culture and global influences, thereby making it an apt destination for the upcoming edition of Vh1 Supersonic,” says Bhowmik. “We also see this as an ongoing journey to provide transformative experiences to today’s youth by creating the Supersonic world at the kind of world-class destinations that Pune is providing to us. We are looking forward to a very successful Vh1 Supersonic, celebrating Pune as our new home.”

Insomniac held its first event in the subcontinent, Electric Daisy Carnival India, at the Buddh International Circuit near Delhi last weekend.


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Goa declares war on Asia’s biggest music festival

Asia’s largest music festival, Goa electronic dance music (EDM) event Sunburn, is facing an uncertain 2016 after the Indian state’s tourism minister announced that no EDM festivals will be allowed to go ahead in the final week of the year.

The ban will also affect arch-rival Supersonic.

“At that time so many tourists are in Goa to celebrate New Year or Christmas,” Dilip Parulekar told journalists at Goa’s state secretariat, reports India.com. “We do not want these EDM events at that time. They should be organised before or after that period.”

Both festivals take place at the same time, from 27 to 30 December – Sunburn (which last year attracted a record-breaking 350,000 attendees) on Vagator beach and Supersonic on Candolim beach, both in Bardez – and have in recent years been subject to criticism from local politicians, police and businesspeople, many of whom would prefer that they be held at different times to better serve the economy and relieve pressure on Goa’s narrow streets and ageing infrastructure.

“We do not want these EDM events at that time. They should be organised before or after that period”

According to a December Goa News report, both Sunburn promoter Percept Ltd and Supersonic’s Viacom 18 are also behind on taxes following the Goan police’s decision to hike the festivals’ security bills and backdate them three years.

Aside from the logistical issues, it is also possible that many in the Goan government’s hostility to its world-leading EDM festivals comes from a deeper-seated moral opposition. Sunita Verenkar, of the conservative governing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said in December: “The BJP government should ban EDMs [sic]. While in the opposition, they had accused the Congress [party] of promoting such festivals, which according to them were against [Indian] culture and [pro-] pushing drugs.”

Supersonic has yet to announce any dates for 2016, while Sunburn’s website still shows the festival as taking place from 27 to 30 December.


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