It claims an above and beyond kind of vantage to fix up an immersive experiential festival these days. So much can go wrong (as we have deduced from our share of Fyre Festival documentaries) now we know! Hence our need to document these benevolent individuals who are thorough game changers who most definitely have their heads where it should be and have created intimate oases for us electronic music lovers.
A decade in his kitty doing the Music Festival rounds, Shiv Gupta the conscientious founder of the broadly popular GO MADRAS Festival is recognized as a strong independent figure in the electronic music industry. He has given us some unconventional setups and sturdy lineups via his brainchild, and in essence of that we congratulate him for completing 10 years of GO MADRAS. Let's take a glimpse into his musical journey below:
GO MADRAS has proven to be one of the pioneer electronic music festivals in India. What was the focal driving factor behind the conceptualization of GO MADRAS?
I have been part of the electronic music industry in India since about 1999. I started off by Dj’ing and organizing small parties in Chennai by the beach. I also studied Audio Engineering at SAE in 2002 and 2003 where I met a bunch of like-minded people from across the country that shared the same passion I had for electronic music. Over time the parties we organized became bigger and more popular, with people travelling from all over the south and even the north just to attend a good musical event by the beach. That’s when I felt we needed to do something unique, a musical platform that we could execute year after year that showcased the developing talent we had in India while putting them alongside some of the best musicians from around the world. It was this healthy competition and camaraderie that ensured the quality of music at the festival was truly top notch and built us a solid reputation as a festival that took its electronic music very seriously.
What inspired you to get into the festival business. Was it scary? If yes what were the challenges that came along with it?
After organizing events and playing gigs for over 20 years now, GO MADRAS is really a product of the experience I gained over the years. When i studied in Los Angeles in the late 90’s i was exposed to a huge number of music festivals that were starting to build a name for themselves, Burning Man, Coachella, Electric Daisy Carnival to name a few. It was this experience abroad that inspired me to begin my career as a DJ and Promoter many years ago. The festival business has its own trials and tribulations but it’s the true passion for organizing quality well organized musical events that drives me. I have learnt a lot in the early days from the small events that I did and the ten years of being the festival director at GO MADRAS, the whole goal is to constantly improve the festival experience for our fan base and people attending the festival.
The moment you decided you want to throw a festival, what was the first thing you did? How did the name GO MADRAS come about?
Well I had already organized a few festivals prior to GO MADRAS which were actually very successful one off events with attendees ranging from around 600 to 1500 people. These events were similar to the early editions of GO MADRAS and based on the success of these I felt there was a space for a new festival that we could execute year after year and a catchy name that rang in people’s heads was a must. The government was also busy changing all the names of metros around that time, and we the people of Chennai had strong reservations with the new name and a sense of cultural loss. GO:MADras the name symbolized the era of beach parties and events that had led to the creation of this festival as well as the play on the words GO MAD showcased the carefree emotions one feels on a dance floor when the music takes over your soul.
What are the ingredients of a great festival? What does it take to organize a festival of such a scale?
There are so many things that need to fall into place to have a great festival it's hard just to say a few things are key ingredients. The number one thing would be the passion of the team behind the festival and their ability to learn from past experience and also the confidence to be able to try new things and new ideas. Other important things would be curating a balanced music lineup, having the best possible production for your budgets , ensuring your attendees have a seamless experience at every area of the festival which eventually translates into them going back home with a huge smile on their faces.
As a festival owner what are the biggest perquisites/disadvantages of organizing a music festival in India?
It’s a lot easier these days to organize a music festival than it was 10 years back, but some of the issues we face being a festival in India are,
1. Sponsorship – Technically music festivals across the world are great advertising platforms for brands, liquor and lifestyle companies. Usually bigger music festivals get sponsorship that pretty much covers their whole cost of the festival or a significant part. While the smaller festivals like us only get about 10 – 15 % sponsorship if we are lucky, making us extremely dependent on ticket sales to break even.
2. Good venues – Finding good venues that can host multiple stages, have rooms for festival goers, enough car parking , ability to get required licenses and permissions, service staff to keep the place tidy is extremely hard in India. Which is why once we find a good venue, we end up hosting a few editions of the festival there.
3. Dates - India has the most freaky weather patterns, trying to figure optimal dates for the festival with less chances of rain but also avoiding extremely hot sun is another difficulty we face in planning a festival. Plus with the rising number of music festivals in India, clashes on dates invariably happen and some times 2 festivals or even 3 big festivals happen on the same weekend and that affects the finances of smaller festivals like us, as the national audience gets split up.
What do you keep in mind while curating the lineup of the festival. How important is that process for any festival and especially you in particular?
It’s definitely the most important process for me and the way the lineup is structured can really make or break a festival. My 20 plus years of experience as a DJ is what helps make this process easier. Its really like DJing with Artists, where each Artist or Dj is placed based on the style of music he plays and how best it is suited to that particular stage or time of day. People who have played at the festival a few times kind of know the flow of the festival and tailor make their sets for the kind of audience they encounter at GO MADRAS, we also book artists who fit into our flow of things. Newer artists some times struggle or complain about their slots, but some one like me who has grown from a rookie to a seasoned DJ knows how important it is to be able to adapt your music to suit the audience on the dance floor and it's very important for the newer guys and girls to learn this progression and not only play banging peak time music.
How has GO MADRAS progressed each year in terms of music or overall festival experience?
Well from my perspective the growth in the last 7 or 8 years has been incredible. What started as a small one day festival in 2009 with around 800 people attending is now a multi stage two day festival with 3000+ people attending combined with people staying at the venue for the weekend and the neighboring coastal town of Mahabalipuram. This also gives a huge boost to the local economy and keeps my home town at the forefront of India's music scene year after year. The festival offers a luxurious experience of quality music, great production and a discerning crowd that comes from across India to GO MAD each year in Chennai.
Tell us your favorite memory from GO MADRAS. Also who is your favorite Indian Artist?
My favourite memory from GO MADRAS would be playing the last and final set at the 10th anniversary edition. For the last 5 or 6 years due to the workload of the festival I really haven’t been able to play a proper set by myself at the festival and usually end up doing a b2b with my close friend Tarun Shahani which was also a lot of fun. At the last edition, I played a techno set at the after party to close the festival, which everybody loved and the dancefloor was really on fire. It was also great to have all my friends on the lineup who are some of the best musicians in this country dancing their hearts out after so many years to just me playing, it was a really special set that I will hold close to my heart.
I don’t have a particular favourite, and I would say that my favourite artists from India in no particular order are Ash Roy, Ashvin Mani Sharma , Tarun Shahani , Arjun Vagale, Madhav Shorey we all kind of grew up in the scene together and it's amazing to see how far these guys have gone with their music. There will always be a place for them at the GO MADras Festival and guys like Ash, Ashvin and Tarun have been a huge part of the festival's growth and ideology.
Who is Shiv Gupta personally? What keeps you busy when not planning a prodigious festival?
I’m actually extremely passionate about nature, which is why I focus mainly on outdoor events as a promoter. I also have a real estate business that keeps me busy when I’m not planning GO MADRAS. My passions revolve around being outdoors, love going on diving or beach holidays, riding vintage motorcycles, working in my garden and also a passionate south east asian chef and foodie.
You have also been a DJ yourself, tell us about that journey.
I have been DJ’ing for 20 plus years now, funny how time flies really. You could call me along with the other friends I mentioned earlier as from the first generation of electronic musicians and DJ’s in India. I still do gigs but over the last 4 or 5 years planning GO MADRAS takes up a lot of my time, so now I just focus on playing a few really good clubs or festivals a year and that gives me happiness. I also feel the older generation has to give the newer guys space to grow and perform, so I focus a lot on showcasing talent now via the festival or any events that I do besides the festival.
What is in the future for GO MADRAS? What is your ultimate vision for this festival?
The festival has crossed a decade, and is one of the longest running music festivals in the country purely through the efforts of our small team in Chennai. My vision for this festival is something that constantly evolves with the ever-changing musical landscape in India and around the world. Every year we bring in subtle changes for a better experience at the festival, staying fluid like this helps us stay current despite being around for so long. I would like to add more stages and more genres of electronic music and live electronica over the next few years, as well as take the same concept to other cities in India, now that we have a dedicated following across the country.
As we all know this year has been pretty much negated by the whole covid situation but is GO MADRAS 2021 in the books? What is your take on virtual festivals? Could we be expecting an online version of GO MADRAS?
The plan was to host the 11thth edition of the festival in Sept 2020, but thanks to the current pandemic and situation it looks like we will need to wait a little longer. Hopefully by 2021 things start going back to some kind of normalcy. I have thought about and seen the current trend of online festivals, but feel the essence of our festival would be lost if we went the online route. I would rather wait this out and be able to provide our followers the true festival experience, festivals are all about group interactions and creating memories, this is very hard to do via the online route.
We truly thank you for shelling out some valuable time to do this for us. Any last words for our readers or those who want to get into the festival business?
First of all don’t treat it as a business. It needs to be 100% passion at first, if your focus is making money you will lose out on building a brand in the long run, the focus should be what is the best festival you can create with the money you have available or resources you have at your disposal. Start small and slowly build your following from there. The comfort and safety of the people attending the festival should be your number one priority and also taking care of your artists in terms of hospitality, maintaining transparency in all negotiations and ensuring that everyone attending has the best possible experience ever. I’m proud that we have a 4.9/5 rating on our FB page after 11 years, it really shows something about the team's efforts over the years.