Within a short span of time, electronic dance music—or EDM, as it is popularly known—has exploded in the country, with several international and local DJs bringing the house down with their electrifying tracks and mass appeal
When Robert van de Corput, popularly known as Hardwell, came on stage to perform at the Buddh International Circuit in Greater Noida recently, he was greeted by thousands of young, neon-sporting ravers, most of whom had queued up for as long as three hours prior to the show just to catch a glimpse of their favourite musician. The world’s top DJ, crowned by DJ Magazine sometime last year, stood there, eyes closed and arms outstretched, before introducing himself with a namaste in a smoky haze. What followed was complete madness taking over the crowd.
Under the huge LED panels, psychedelic lasers and booming speakers and in a ground full of revellers united by a shared passion, a new musical revolution—electronic dance music, or EDM as it is popularly known—was being fortified, one that has become mainstream only recently abroad and, not surprisingly, has taken India’s young music lovers by storm.
Last year, the Swedish House Mafia, Armin van Buuren and DJ Tiesto—arguably the three biggest names in EDM—had all played their tracks to sell-out concerts across several Indian cities. This year, too, big names like Dead Mouse, Martin Garrix, Axwell and Ingrosso, among others, have already performed, with another one—Afrojack—touring the country right now.
For those who came in late, tracks for EDM—made up of genres like house, trance, dubstep, and drum and bass—are created on computers by mixing tracks using sound samplers and synthesisers. New patterns of music are created by DJs with their skill and creativity. While music plays an important role, fans also look for an overall experience, which includes coordination between music and lights. Installations and the best of technological innovations only add up to the electrifying experience.
Martijn Garritsen, commonly known by his stage name Martin Garrix, says, “India has such a fascinating culture and history that it’s amazing to see how so much space has been created for EDM in India and in such a short span of time.” The teenage EDM sensation from the Netherlands adds: “I have performed in India before, almost a year back, but I am performing for Sunburn for the first time. I am extremely excited to be back and would love to meet my fans here.” Garrix was in the country in the first week of November, playing in New Delhi and Mumbai.
Popular video jockey Nikhil Chinapa, an alpha DJ himself, has seen EDM in India grow from Bollywood remixes in the mid-2000s to the thriving nightclub scene today that’s penetrating even smaller cities like Jaipur and Indore. “This range will ensure that the genre will sustain over the ages—even when it seems dance music has died. In my lifetime, I’ve seen it ‘die’ twice,” says Chinapa, whose company Submerge books and manages artistes when they come to India.
Rumour has it that when Chinapa parted ways with Percept, organisers of the popular EDM festival Sunburn, he told his friends that if given the resources, he could organise a music festival in 45 days. Indeed, 45 days later, India saw Vh1 Supersonic, which Chinapa’s company Submerge organised in collaboration with Viacom 18 in Goa.
“Last year, via a video, I found out that I was no longer a part of the festival that I helped create. Essentially, I had been pushed out of Sunburn. Around the same time, Viacom 18 had taken the decision to march into the nascent live music industry in India and an electronic festival was one of Jaideep Singh’s (the head of Viacom 18 live business) plans. When he saw I was no longer a part of Sunburn, he invited me to partner with Viacom 18 on Vh1 Supersonic,” explains Chinapa.
The enthusiasm for this genre is so much that even after an event has gotten over, one can find people at several clubs across the country discussing and reliving the experience for days. EDM enthusiast Archit Agarwal, narrating his Hardwell experience at Hard Rock Cafe in Delhi recently, offers, “We attended the concert despite meeting with a serious accident while driving down to Delhi from Jaipur. All the worry and irritation evaporated the moment Hardwell set foot on stage.”
EDM has managed to do what other music genres could not—it has managed to tap into the potential of the Indian market. Over 18,000 tickets were sold for the Swedish House Mafia concert in Mumbai in 2013 at an average of R4,000 per head. The figure was trumped by the Hardwell concert in 2014 in New Delhi, with some reports pegging it at above 22,000 spectators. Compare that to international rapper Snoop Dogg’s concerts in Delhi and Pune, in which about 1,000 tickets were sold, at an average of R2,500 per head. Sunburn, the three-day year-end music festival organised by Percept in Goa, is Asia’s largest. Sunburn Arena, which is a single-artist format, sells around 2,000 VIP tickets (at upwards of R6,000 each), when pitted against Guns N’ Roses, which visited India last year and in which 2,500 people showed up.
Sources in the industry say these arena events run up revenues of anywhere between R3 crore and R5 crore per city, or R10 crore to R15 crore a tour. As per sources, the live music market in India is valued at R100 crore to R150 crore a year by expenditure alone. As per reports, DJ Tiesto’s average nightly gross fee ranges somewhere around $3,00,000 and his rate remains unchanged in India.
Globally, EDM had been big in Europe since Ibiza’s super clubs in the 1990s. Festivals like Berlin’s Love Parade attracted more than a million people to open-air street parties, but it really came to the fore globally around 2007 when American singers like Rihanna, Pitbull and Flo Rida began collaborating with European artistes like David Guetta, Calvin Harris and Daft Punk to produce catchy electro-pop songs. The year 2011 saw electro-pop tracks We Found Love, Party Rock Anthem and Give Me Everything hit number one on the US Billboard Singles charts for 15 out of 52 weeks. Billboard and iTunes both now have dance music charts to go with pop, rock and country music. American EDM company SFX Entertainment was recently valued at $1 billion, making electronic music mainstream globally.
The years 2006 and 2007 saw a few key DJs come and play in India, like Ferry Crosten, John 00 Fleming, Paul Van Dyke and John Digweed, which created significant buzz about the Indian market. All these DJs went back with sweet memories, which they communicated to the larger fraternity repeatedly. This developed a curiosity for, and enthusiasm among, other artistes to perform in India, say industry observers.
In the words of Manuj Agarwal, CEO, Percept Live, “Our aggregate footfall has been doubling each year—both organically with each event growing and also with new events and formats being added to the fold. The years 2011 and 2012 saw the introduction of Sunburn Arena and then last year saw the beginning of Sunburn Campus & Reload.”
One of the major reasons for the EDM boom is that artistes have a platform to share their music and consumers have access to all of it. Websites like Soundcloud and YouTube give producers, both amateur and professional, a chance to share their mixes or adaptations of existing songs and sets (usually one- or two-hour-long collection of tracks mixed together in a continuous flow). It’s a platform other genres have not exploited much.
And with events like Sunburn, companies such as Percept have been able to deliver international-quality live musical events in India and package dance music as the ‘new-age genre’. “Popularity of Sunburn has crossed borders and now we are striking licensing deals in markets like South Africa, the UAE, Russia, Sri Lanka and Singapore,” adds Agarwal of Percept.
While discussing the position of India on the EDM chart, Chinapa says, “We’re at the tip of the iceberg right now. Somebody in Australia’s Electronic Music Conference last year said the Indian giant is awake. To which I responded, ‘It’s just got one eye open’, for dance music offers a ton of range, from entry-level artistes to more evolved, underground producers.”
For EDM, the moment is right here, right now.