Magnetic Fields 2019: Five Key Performances

  • Ritwik Deshpande explores the pioneering festival putting India on the electronic music map.
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  • Magnetic Fields Festival aims to establish India within the global electronic music community. It facilitates an exchange between prominent international artists and local acts, introducing Indian ravers to new and unfamiliar styles in the process. In a scene that's slowly coming into its own, with local artists stepping out from under the shadows of their influences, the festival provides a platform to accelerate their evolution. In India, creating an electronic music scene requires an understanding of how to navigate around constraints. Between 1 AM curfews, a dearth of dedicated infrastructure and confusing bureaucracy around permits, you need to be inventive to make shows happen. Against this backdrop, Magnetic Fields is an example of what's possible. The festival happens in Alsisar, a small Rajasthani town six-ish hours away from the nearest urban centers of Jaipur and New Delhi. Towards the end of my drive from New Delhi, passing under arches with statues of Indian deities, overtaking tractors pulling bales of straw and pausing to let goats cross the street, I was struck by the powerful impression made by the venue. Previous reviews have said a lot about Alsisar Mahal, but no amount of images and words could prepare me for the visceral impact of hearing a four-on-the-floor stomp emanating from a fortress. Over the next three nights, I heard abrasive techno juxtaposed against rustic courtyards; explored rooms where arrangements of swords, shields, bows and arrows hinted at the stories of violence and valour that my grandmother used to tell; had conversations about what it means for an electronic musician to have a sound that's uniquely Indian; and walked back to my tent in fog thick enough to replicate the mood of an Andrei Tarkovsky film. While I was at it, I witnessed magical performances that elevated my expectations and sparked my belief in the possibility of India becoming a significant destination on the electronic music map. Here are five key performances from Magnetic Field 2019.
    SPRYK SPRYK, the brainchild of the Mumbai-based producer Tejas Nair, warmed things up on Friday evening with a festival commission called APEX. The music, which was augmented by visuals (Yash Chandak, AKA Cursorama) and lighting (Naveen Deshpande), unfurled a narrative that had IDM-inspired melodies swarming over bass-heavy rhythms. Geometric patterns strobed along to the beats, fleshing out the story. Sonically, Nair leaned a lot on his influences (a combination of Raster-Noton alumni and Two Fingers-esque glitch-hop), but his execution was robust. The set was a solid build-up for what was to follow.
    DJ Lag DJ Lag's closing set at Red Bull North Stage on Friday was a scorcher. The gqom pioneer's barrage of sharp rhythms and idiosyncratic samples—sirens? yelps? barks? grunts? whistles?—bore straight through cultural barriers and activated deep-rooted reptilian impulses. The set was as tight as a rubber-band threatening to snap. The angular blasts of percussion exuded breakneck energy and elicited relentless limb-flailing. The most surprising moment came when, out of nowhere, he dropped Benny Benassi's "Satisfaction." Perhaps he was continuing a tradition established during last year's edition by DJ Seinfeld, who dropped Darude's "Sandstorm" during an otherwise stellar performance.
    Deena Abdelwahed On Friday, the Tunisian artist Deena Abdelwahed filled in for Blawan, who had cancelled due to visa issues, with a dextrous back-to-back alongside Simo Cell. But it was her solo set on Saturday that solidified her position as an innovator. Though the performance was marred by technical difficulties, with the music abruptly stopping twice, she pulled off deft recoveries and melted the audience into a unified, pulsing mass. Channelling Arabic rhythms through techno, her sound was a reminder for local producers to draw from their immediate environment instead of trying to emulate Western influences.
    Abhi Meer Abhi Meer's foray into modular synthesis was informed by his dedication to the craft. He played a studiously constructed opening set on Sunday at the JioSaavn Sundowner stage. Performing against the backdrop of the village, he presented a meditative experience composed of patiently blossoming drones accentuated by a mechanized stomp. He took his time, orchestrating gradual accumulations, building and dissipating soundscapes that exuded a certain cosiness. Halfway through, he contrasted the synthesized elements with his voice. It was the perfect way to achieve the calmness required to prepare for the barrage promised by the final night.
    Daniel Avery Daniel Avery commanded the 10:15 PM slot at Red Bull North Stage on Sunday, delivering a propulsive pounding that filled the gap between techno and industrial. To drive the point home, he finished his set with "Closer" by Nine Inch Nails. Despite its power, his performance wasn't without nuance. He masterfully modulated the tension, creating spaces for the audience to breathe before ramping up the intensity to absurd extremes. Some of the best moments came when he hearkened back to the Drone Logic era, dropping highlights like the title track and "Naive Response," allowing the audience to trace the evolution of his sound. Resident Advisor hosted a Saturday night event at Magnetic Fields 2019.
    Photo credits / Uday Rana - SPRYK, DJ Lag R.C Photography - Deena Abdelwahed, Fieldlines Mohit Mukhi - Abhi Meer Abhishek Shukla - Daniel Avery, Jameszoo, Avi Del Mono - BFR Sound System, Crowd Sachin Soni - HAAi, The Peacock Club Parikshit Deshpande - Alsisar Mahal