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Is India actually destined to become the ‘next EDM hub’ of the world? [Editorial]

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It’s likely that anyone familiar with the Indian EDM scene has read a multitude of articles that serve to highlight the “vast” scope of electronic music in India, or how India will become the next “trending electronic music destination.” There is, indeed, no shortage of pieces dedicated to discussing the topic in this light— citing the paradigm shift in music played at metropolitan nightclubs and the growing attendance at Indian dance music festivals as a yardstick for the same. In fact, EDM in India stared to gain media popularity post the year 2013, which was around the time when Sunburn Festival started to gain significant traction in the international community and found its way into a number of top 10 global festival rankings. This basically reflects a ‘herd mentality’ when it comes to writing about Indian EDM; one agency writes an encouraging report, and the rest follow suit.

However, a crucial problem with such opinion-based articles is the fact that they are generally written by mainstream Indian journalists who have little or no knowledge about the genre, and are therefore unable to communicate their justification in an efficient or eloquent manner.  Another rather amusing issue arises when said journalists do manage to get hold of an eminent DJ or franchise head, and proceed to ask them the same dreary questions on the same dull topics that have been continuously rehashed ad nauseum. Such monotony has become commonplace over the past several years.

Yet, despite lackluster reporting, there is absolutely no denying the fact that India really does have the raw material to dominate the EDM industry — a fact that has been reiterated by the co-founder of Tomorrowland himself. Most importantly, it has a huge population of about 1.3 billion, around half of which is below the age of 25, which lies in the “Goldilocks zone” of EDM consumers, as studies have shown.

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A giant crowd congregates at Sunburn. Photo courtesy of RUDGR.

Another pivotal factor behind this growth is how well developed India’s tourism sector is, ranking a respectable seventh in terms of tourism revenue in Asia. The emphasis on the travel industry in India can easily be seen in the vast international attendance at prospective dance music festivals held in the country. Thanks to the formidable reputation that Sunburn festival has established for itself over the past decade, for example, it’s easy to spot ravers from countries like America and Russia in the event’s massive crowds; for a frame of reference, the Goa-based festival drew over 350,000 fans to its 2015 edition.

Unsurprisingly, electronic music in India started to grow around the same time as Sunburn began to gain international traction. in fact, Sunburn has not only brought EDM to India, but has facilitated a musical culture change in certain areas of the country as well. For starters, elements of Big Room can be found in the songs of almost all mainstream Bollywood movies, including Diplo’s much hyped Bollywood debut with “Phurrr” for Shah Rukh Khan’s film, Jab Harry Met Sejal.

Homegrown DJs are also getting their fair share of fame. Mumbai-based DJ Chetas used his unique hybrid of Bollywood-EDM tracks to climb to a lofty rank of 33 in last year’s DJ Mag Top 100 poll 2016. Delhi-based producer Nucleya debuted Raja Baja album in front of a crowd that filled Mumbai’s NSCI dome — the same venue where Armin van Buuren held  ASOT Asia in 2015. These factors, coupled with Ultra Music Festival’s eagerly awaited India debut this September and Sunburn’s recent expansion to Australia, are enough to sway anyone into believing that India is destined to become the spiritual home of EDM in the coming years.

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Diplo and Shah Rukh Khan pose in the “Phurrr” video. Photo courtesy of Diplo.

 

However, it would be irresponsible to believe this is the case, as there are still a number of problems that need to be overcome, and quickly, lest the genre lose traction in India as it has been the case worldwide. Firstly, the current popularity of the genre is not nearly as widespread throughout the country as one might be led to believe. This is mainly because EDM seems to have not yet made it into the playlists of most rural populations, which make up close to 70 percent of the Indian population.

In my own experience, I’ve encountered countless people hailing from villages who hadn’t heard a single track from the Western world — let alone, a dance music track — before coming to IIT(BHU) in Varanasi, one of the oldest and most prestigious colleges in the country. It’s worth noting that television acts as the predominant source of communication for the rural populace, rather than dance music’s greatest circulator, the internet. Additionally, the top 5 music channels featured on Indian television play exclusively Bollywood music.

Because of this informational imbalance, rural Indians (who make up around 70% of India’s total population) have severely limited exposure to EDM, and indeed, Western music in general. As a result, most of this demographic gravitates toward the Bollywood music which pervades their media intake. Meanwhile, the exact opposite trend is in effect in major cities like Mumbai & Delhi, which are home to a large number of India’s top DJs and producers, and wherein dance music thrives.

Another big issue for dance music’s presence in the subcontinent is the linguistic diversity that for which India is so well-renowned. India has 22 official languages, and English isn’t one of them. About 125 million Indians are capable of conversing in English, while only 360,000 of them prefer to use it as their first language, as per reports.

Furthermore, the number of internet users in the country stands at 450 million — so, even if we consider all forms of English speakers to have a working internet connection, it makes up a measly 10% of the entire population. This statistic is of particular relevance because most dance music publications, are based off the internet and are in English. So, if the current model is to be followed, only 10% of the Indian population will ever get authentic dance music news from credible sources.

But perhaps the biggest impediment to the growth of the industry is the lack of critical support infrastructure and musical knowledge that producers so desperately need. Despite the ample opportunity for producers with the emergence of all-Indian dance music labels and with Sunburn’s policy of having at least one Indian performer at every festival, there isn’t a single world-renowned producer to come out of India.

This abysmal statistic is a direct reflection of the lack of musical expertise present for Western music in the country and has somewhat of a snowball effect, specifically since Indian consumers aren’t exposed to the same quality (and quantity) of EDM as their Western counterparts. A majority of Indian dance music enthusiasts prefer to listen to the rapidly stagnating Dutch big room sound, forcing producers to create within the saturated genre in order to gain national recognition. However, this is a major stumbling block on the international platform as most listeners have a more eclectic taste, and tend to ignore Indian releases due to their lack of originality.

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Martin Garrix performs at Sunburn in 2015. Photo courtesy of RUDGR.

In fact, EDM in India will probably never reach the standards it possibly could, unless the genre adapts to Indian listeners’ tastes. At first thought this may sound absurd, but it has already been put into action in South America, where a large portion of electronic tracks feature distinct elements of Samba, Latin Dance and other popular genres of the region.

A similar tactic could be especially successful in India, as most mainstream songs are produced specifically for Bollywood films, and are able to find their way to a significant portion of the public. Although this has taken place to an extent, it’s been limited to big room, which is but a drop of water in the prophetic ocean that is dance music spectrum. So, by integrating the myriad elements of all the sub-genres of electronic music into Bollywood, a much larger portion of society would get acquainted to the genre, and would help boost the popularity of local producers as well as Indian music festivals.

Another way to ensure the long term survival of the genre in the country is to facilitate contact between talented Indian producers and internationally-renowned taste makers who will help expose them to international audiences. However, this will only take place if producers expand their genre pool, which is directly dependent on Indian dance music consumers wanting to hear more forms of electronic music. The opinion-forming process has been helped to a large extent by the increasing popularity of streaming platforms, which have helped expose a growing number of Indians to foreign music. However, it can be further expedited if the Indian public has easy access to credible information about worldwide electronic music trends, in the regional language of the area.

So, will traditional EDM ever become mainstream in India? This seems unlikely, especially if it is viewed as a competitor to established Indian musical genres. However, that doesn’t necessarily mean that the industry is destined for failure. Its salvation lies either in artists “Indianizing” their music to suit local tastes (as Indian superstars DJ Chetas and Nuleya have effectively done), or by educating Indian music consumers through proper levels of exposure, so that they can enjoy the broad spectrum of dance music to the fullest.

Sources: Indiatimes, Business Standard, BW Business World, Insider, Livemint

Featured image by RUDGR.

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