Sunburn Festival aims to unite youth in entertainment-starved India

Sunburn Festival, which will be held from 28-31 December, is a paean to club culture


Shailendra Singh, joint managing director at media and communication conglomerate Percept Limited, and also the guiding force behind Sunburn Festival. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint
Shailendra Singh, joint managing director at media and communication conglomerate Percept Limited, and also the guiding force behind Sunburn Festival. Photo: Ramesh Pathania/Mint

Inaugurated in 2007, the Sunburn Festival remains one of Asia’s most popular amalgamation of music, entertainment, food, shopping and lifestyle organized in Goa each year.

In an interview, inceptor Shailendra Singh, also joint managing director at media and communication conglomerate Percept Limited, says he’s currently preparing for the three-day event to be held from 28 to 31 December this year. He talks about the growing sponsor interest in the brand, breaking even and the challenges of hosting the electronic dance music festival without government support, in a country that has never known club culture. Edited excerpts:

How would you evaluate the market for a music and entertainment festival in India in the ten years that you’ve been hosting Sunburn?

It’s actually grown significantly in terms of sponsorship. The cool quotient of this community is very high. Hypothetically speaking, if there are two million fans of dance music, they are worth 20 million to the brands because they are strong influences to society. It’s like one Mercedes in Borivali can inspire five million people in the colony to own the car. So one dance music fan in Byculla is the coolest guy because he’s doing something that nobody else is doing. But when it comes to fan or consumer base, there’s been a steady and average growth. In other words, the fans haven’t grown alarmingly over the years, or gone up by 100% or 200%. Sometimes the growth was 10% to 15% or 20% yet another time.

Of course over the last 10 years, we’ve doubled the crowds, but 10 years is a long time to double up something which is so cool.

Why do you think that hasn’t happened?

Because of the culture (in India). The origin of dance music (which) can be traced to club culture and club life is dead in India. In Bengaluru, you can’t dance in a club. In Mumbai, your last order will be taken at one o’clock. Generally across the world, clubs peak from 1-5 am. But here, before you can even want to club, it’s closed. There are only lounge bars across the country, there are no clubs. And festival lifestyle originates from you going to clubs and listening to music. If you don’t listen to music, you won’t know the artiste. If you don’t know the artiste, you won’t love the music he is playing. You’re just going for the whole experience of 30,000 people saying ‘3-2-1 jump.’ Of late, I’ve seen that for people, going to gigs is like going to amusement parks. They’re going for entertainment, not for the love of music. Overall, I think our government does not understand the power of music tourism or have a policy for it. Like Europe does—be it Croatia, Ibiza, Amsterdam—they develop these destinations as music destinations because they know young people want music. But our country does not seem to have any policy for music tourism, forget festivals and nightlife. It’s not on their agenda at all. And of late, the night-going audience has moved from nightclubs to lounge bars. Everybody’s just standing and talking now. So it’s a very random disconnect between what the reality is and what it should be.

How do you think music festivals in India fare in comparison to other entertainment options?

We are a starved country as far as entertainment is concerned. India gets entertained through religion—be it dandiya and Ganpati or Diwali and Holi. And then we have Bollywood and cricket. There is nothing to consume beyond cinema. There is no Madame Tussauds or Walk of Fame. Either you go to the movies or you listen to the music at home. So Bollywood for me is a dying industry. The power of Sunburn is to unite the youth in this country. And I did it for dance music, somebody else can do it for Sufi, rock, pop, classical, Bollywood—it’s up to you depending on the size of the audience. I think the government should have taken excitement out of this and said it is brilliant. It’s a significant movement but not protected by law or government policy. We’re trying to get the business model to survive independently. It’s very tough.

How would you explain your business model? Is the festival entirely ticketed?

About 55% of it is dependent on sponsorships and the remaining 45-50% on tickets depending on the event though that’s the typical range, as well as food and beverage. Sponsorships have grown a lot and there’s a huge amount of support from them. It’s an entirely new experience for the brands who want to catch the young customer. They can give the audience a live experience with the brand on-ground, it’s not like putting ad spots on a televised comedy show. It’s got something to do with real life. I think sponsors are loving it.

Which categories are advertising?

All categories. Automobiles, banks, deodorants, alcoholic beverages, soft drinks, cosmetics, clothing, lifestyle products, all kinds. Sponsors can come in for anything between Rs 20 lakh and Rs 20 crore. If you buy a season sponsorship, it is for Rs 20 crore. (This year, Sunburn has brands like Renault, Gionee, Kingfisher, Ola, Ray-Ban and Cleartrip on board as sponsors).

What do you spend on?

Artistes, infrastructure, security, hospitality, medical facilities. It’s like a full-blown village set-up. Whenever you do an event, you’re setting up a small township. You’ve got to feed people, secure them, look after them, receive them, and send them home safely.

Is there a profit in Sunburn for you at the end of the day?

Yes, it started in the fifth year. In terms of take-home, we look at anything between 18-27% profit and of course, the valuation of the brand is at its peak. So it’s been a good journey but it took five years before we broke even and it took a lot of consistent guts to hang in there. It’s common knowledge that we have to take a 178 permissions for every event that we do and there is no single window for approvals.

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