MUSIC FESTIVAL IN THE HIMALAYAS YOU SAY? DON’T MIND IF I DO!!! ESCAPE FESTIVAL – REVIEW

When it comes to summarizing Escape Festival, the annual event held in Naukcuchiyatal, India; the first word that undoubtedly springs to mind is ‘location’. Nestled within the foothills of the mighty Himalayas, the site boasts magnificent views including the glorious Naukuchital Lake. ‘Nau’, meaning nine, and ‘tal’, meaning lake, legend has it that any wondering pilgrim able to place themself in a position to simultaneously view all nine corners, will gain instant enlightenment… Take that Glastonbury stone circle!

What’s more, Escape is not just about the music. Although that is obviously a large component, the festival has spent a great deal of energy on ensuring that the vibe is just right and turning things into a multimedia event along the way. With on-site artists producing exciting work (Aakash Anand being of particular, stand-out quality), a cinema showcasing independent films for those wanting a rest, and a fashion show where audience members are offered the chance to be dressed up and model for the catwalk, all set to the calls of a host of exotic birds and the hooligan antics of the resident monkeys. This truly is a unique experience.

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Over the course of a weekend the diversity of music on offer was staggering, with the stages playing host to genres ranging from Opera to Trance.  On the inaugural night the main acts were a fluffy prelude to what was waiting around the corner, that said they were still able to provide the audience with an occasional, awe-inspiring surprise.  Most notably, one of the initial acts named Delhi Roots, who started as a light, fairly work-a-day, reggae covers band fronted by a cross between Jamie Oliver and Sting, took a stunning U-turn into the land of barbershop harmonisation, leaving the audience wonderfully dumbstruck.

Thereafter the Soul Garden Stage delved into a more serious note with Bangalore’s Thermal And A Quarter dominating the evening with their groundbreaking Indian rock. The band have completed several international tours and appear to be pioneering the genre in India, receiving both awards and acclaim for their efforts. Finally, closing the Friday procession was New Delhi’s Faridkot. Perhaps the most inspiring thing about this act is that they have taken a contemporary rock sound and fused it with their Indian roots, while many of the songs are conducted in both English and Hindi; their darker, instrumental style the perfect closing performance.

It would be foolish to deny the unique contrast that existed between the two stages on Saturday and Sunday night.  To the left in the Soul Garden there was Toshanbor Singh Nongbet, captivating the audience with his operatic rendition of Sinatra’s ‘Fly me to the Moon’, whilst to the right there was the delightfully eclectic genre clash of Loop Baba.  Integral to starting the show at the Magic Forest were Fuzz Culture, the New Delhi duo’s act was simply jaw dropping, setting the dance floor alight with their combination of live instruments and ‘mix-tape’ electronica.

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Remember; this is India and anything may be possible, but nothing is certain.  It would appear that in orchestrating a professional event in this part of the world, the management team has to negotiate a minefield of problems quite alien from those encountered in the West.  On the one hand they are walking on easy street with the usual health and safety headaches and rain anxiety is pretty much non-existent. On the other, issues such as electricity supply or police corruption are major obstacles to overcome. Unfortunately this year, the latter hurdle meant the night ended prematurely.

Defeat was not an option however, and praise be to the Escape production team for reorganizing, obtaining permission to continue with the festival, an apology from the police involved, and re-arranging the entire line-up so that all artists were able to play the Sunday.  It was difficult not to feel sympathetic towards Bristol’s WagaWaga, or India’s Praketh Sunder, who were now given the difficult task of performing their sets in the midst of the afternoon, to an audience of exhausted festival-goers. Yet they still managed to keep the atmosphere alive until later that night when the party kicked into high gear, with a selection of Trance from all around the globe. The organisers were keen to point out that each year they aspire to have a different genre dominating the line-up on the last night. Last year it was Metal. This year it was Trance.

Certainly Sunday night at the electronic stage was fascinating in that the night jumped from Japan’s Tadayan, to the Goan inspired might of Arjuna, from the Psy-sounds of the UK’s Dirty Safi, to the mind bending tweaks of Israel’s Technical Hitch.  Meanwhile at the Sound Garden, the vibe was distinctly more shanti shanti. Of particular acclaim was Raunak Maiti, whose stunning vocals served as a great, big, sonic hug to all that beheld him. Tough on Tobacco also played a thrilling set and were intrinsic in upping the tempo for the headline act the Skavengers.  Now, whilst the Ska-vengers are undoubtedly a band of outstanding talent, with their performance and musicianship equally tight, the Ska itself seemed to lack anything to distinguish it as being unique to the Indian scene, meaning the appeal of seeing an Indian Ska band was somewhat lost.  Minor grievances aside though, the bands playing that night acted as a fantastic finish to what was undoubtedly a brilliant weekend.

Words: Emily Morus-Jones

Images: Kuntal Mukherjee

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