It’s named after an epic stretch of highway that spans six states and 2,300km. Its promos featured a grinning Bappi Lahiri in the stylized red and blue of the iconic Obama “Hope” posters, and it hopes to help Indian indie music turn the corner it’s been poised to turn for quite a while now.
Vijay Nair is the co-founder of Indian artiste management firm Only Much Louder (OML), and the man behind the just launched NH7. A year in the making, the NH7 project seeks to contribute to every aspect of the Indian independent music industry. Its online home, NH7.in, is an intriguing new platform (and magazine) for discovering local acts. In December, OML will host a two-day, 5,000-capacity music festival in Pune, modelled on big European and UK events such as the Glastonbury Festival or All Tomorrow’s Parties.
Going global: Indian bands such as Swarathma (left) have toured the world; Nair hopes the reverse will now happen with NH7. Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
Nair spoke to Lounge on getting people to discover new bands, organizing a truly “Indian” music festival and fixing crater-sized holes in the local indie scene. Edited excerpts:
Are there precedents to what you’re hoping to do with NH7?
Gigpad.com (a popular portal for all things Indian rock that became defunct in 2009) was my entry into the independent music industry—it was the first thing here that got the community together, and the impact that had was huge. Once you get people organized in that manner, things start happening on their own. So we’re hoping that NH7 does something similar—one, become a platform for people to discover independent music and two, bring more people into the independent music fold. We’re looking specifically at what we call the “fringe”, people who can get interested in this genre, come and attend gigs and then become converts.
Are you hoping for NH7 to act as a site for music “discovery” as well, similar to, say, US-based indie blogs such as Stereogum or sites such as Last.fm?
Yeah, the code works in very interesting ways, which is part of the reason it took about a year to finish. There’s a lot of active data mining—once you create an account, it tracks what you’ve been listening to and draws connections to new music you might like. The problem right now is that there isn’t a massive amount of independent music out there, so what’s going to happen over the next few months is that a lot of folk, electronica and classical music will be available on the platform.
Then things get interesting. A lot of Shubha Mudgal fans, for example, like the music of the Raghu Dixit Project and vice versa. Now Raghu Dixit fans already like alternate acts like Avial or Swarathma—but this gives us the chance to cross-pollinate between these (previously impassable) genres. It’s kind of similar to services like Last.fm.
Was this an attempt at fixing a hole that existed in local indie music?
It’s more like a massive crater, actually. Music blog Indiecision (www.indiecision.com, now integrated with NH7) was the only thing, and that’s essentially one man writing one blog. So we bought Arjun Ravi, who edits Indiecision, on board, and we’re trying to create an “Indian” website for all things indie. I must clarify that NH7 is a product, and NH7.in, which is the website, is just one of (the) many things that it’ll consist of.
Where did the idea for the two-day festival, the NH7 Weekender, originate?
It was about a year and a half back. I won the 2009 International Young Music Entrepreneur award that the British Council gives out, and it was awarded to me by Martin Elbourne, who is a veteran at booking artistes for music festivals like Glastonbury. We got along famously, and we were discussing the idea of a big festival—which is another big hole in the scene here. So about a month ago, when I was in the UK, someone called someone who put me in touch with Stephen Budd, an artiste manager, and he and Martin came on board along with Jon Mac, who organizes The Great Escape festival.
What’s been finalized? What form is the festival taking?
So it’s scheduled for 11 and 12 December in Pune. It’s a capacity festival—that means we have a fixed capacity of 5,000 people a day, and tickets will be “sold out” once we reach that number. We have about five stages and 65 acts in all. This will cover everything from the top names in Indian indie—Raghu Dixit, Swarathma, et al—as well as the best new exciting live bands from around the world. These could range from experimental, two-piece acts to punk rock to the best metal bands in existence. We’re looking at a really eclectic mix, and we want to charm and surprise people. And, of course, blow their mind. We’re announcing the tentative line-up in about a week’s time.
Was Pune an automatic choice for the festival’s location?
We had a huge discussion about that. It was initially going to be Bangalore, but a lot of stuff already happens there and one of the aims we had with NH7 was to really spread this out across the country, and bring the fringes in. Pune, I think, is the most ready place for something like this. It has a huge student population, and it’s close enough to Mumbai and Bangalore for folks there to hop over for a weekend.
Is it modelled on other Indian festivals such as, say, Eastwind (which was cancelled this year) or Great Indian Rock?
The first truly Indian festival, I think, was the Big Chill in Goa, which we helped produce. Three stages, 45 bands, and it was a huge success. Now, others like Sunburn have come in too. So we have experience in doing this kind of stuff. But the NH7 Weekender is modelled more on the UK and European festivals like Glastonbury. That’s where we’re coming from.